When the air resounds with the tunes of the pepa (flute made of buffalo horns), people are drawn to it like the sound of some Pied Piper’s flute. When many parts of the country deck up to celebrate their respective new years, Assam sways to the beats of the toka (drums) and the gogona (made from bamboo, held between the teeth). The cymbals define the tempo of the Bihu geet and the rhythm of the bihutolis leaves every onlooker dripping with sheer ecstasy.
Rongali Bihu, also referred to as Bohag Bihu, marks the onset of Spring – which ushers in the Assamese New Year. The scent of blooming flowers herald the onset of burgeoning sexuality in young men and women. And the sensuous beats of Bihu are laden with brimming fertility. Traditionally, Rongali Bihu marks the mating season of the youth; the season of fruitfulness and fertility, the celebration of abundance and maturity. No stone is left unturned in giving a perfect shape to the exhilaration that is born in every heart, and the festivities continue all round the first month of the New Year.
The women, dressed in the Muga Mekhala Xadors and the men, clad in Dhoti-Gamosas are a delight to the eyes. The beats of the Bihu are maddening, and the youngsters are known to dance the nights away in the spring breeze, basked in the moonlight. Slowly, the ascending tempo of the songs reaches a steep crescendo, and then cascades down in tunes of utter joy. Bihu has begun. Bring on the festivities, light the fires, and let love prevail over every other feeling. For the next seven days, the people of Assam will revel in the happiness of the onset of the season of cultivation of paddy, and will let go of restraints when it comes to celebrating Rongali Bihu.
Goru Bihu marks the first day of the mid-April festival. True to its name, the day is spent in worshipping cows, and thanking them for their numerous sacrifices for the sake of mankind. After Goru Bihu, Manuh Bihu is observed on the second day. The day sees people cleaning themselves, wearing new clothes, and preparing themselves to welcome the New Year. The third day marks the Gosai Bihu when Gods are felicitated and the devotees pray for a smooth and trouble-free year. Rongali Bihu is an amalgamation of all three, and itself derives its name from ‘Rang’ or colours. And that it is a brilliantly colourful festival, it goes without saying.
Husoris, village elders who move from house to house singing Bihugeets, are greeted and offered dakshina of paan (betel leaf) and tamul (betel nut) in a xorai (a dish made of brass, with a stand), in return of which they bless the household and pray for happiness and prosperity. Assam’s rich tradition is still alive, and engenders new tradition-bearers with every passing year. The festival of Bihu is a living reminder of the richness of the tradition of the east.
Yet again, the air is fragrant with the smell of Bhebel and Kapou flowers, and every heart leaps up to welcome another year... letting the not-so-perfect memories pass with the passing year, and carrying the good ones forward. Rongali Bihu is a celebration of budding youth, of the fertility of the earth and man, of being grateful to Nature and respecting its myriad forms and layered whimsicalities. Bihu is a beginning that marks the end of a year, complete in its perfections and imperfections. And like every dawn, fills people with the promise of many such beautiful dawns and intoxicating dusks!