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Fairs, Festivals and Melas

Assamese Celebrate Baisakhi as Bihu

          GUWAHATI: The people in Assam celebrated the traditional harvest festival of "Rongali Bihu" or "Bohag Bihu", the regional version of Baisakhi.

          True to the rural lifestyle of the community, the celebrations began with giving cattle a thorough scrub and pampering them with specially prepared food. Spread over seven days, the festival marks the beginning of the new Assamese year. Sports events are organised during the day while music and cultural events are performed in the night at select venues in all villages and towns of the state.

          Large crowds are treated to performances of music and the traditional Bihu dance. Bihu festival is a festival of spring, new year and harvest rolled into one. Trees, creepers and orchids are in full bloom and the air turns fragrant with flowers in the lush green Assam hills and plains.

          "When spring comes, people in Assam start this Bihu. It is called Rongali Bihu. We have three Bihu festivals (the two minor ones falling in January and October). We enjoy that's why it is called Rongali Bihu," said Basant Das, secretary of a Bihu dance festival committee.

          The festival is known in different parts of the country by different names. While it is celebrated as "Baisakhi" by the people of Punjab, in Assam it is observed as "Bihu". Preparations for Bihu began a fortnight ago. The occasion is celebrated all over the state to welcome the spring season which marks the beginning of the new year in the Assamese calendar.

          During Bihu, Bihuwans, typical handwoven 'gamuchas', are gifted to the near and dear ones. This is not simply a gift, but taken as a symbol of love and respect. Hectic work on handlooms turning out Bihuwans, specially in villages, indicate that the big day is almost at the doorstep.

          Anu Barman, a housewife, said, "I am weaving 10 gamuchas to be presented to my family members. It is our tradition to gift Bihuwans during Bohag Bihu. Hopefully, I will be able to complete the job before Bihu arrives. In fact, I will have to do so. If I don't, it will be taken as a sign of impending danger."

          The weavers do a good business by selling gamuchas and other items on this occasion. Satyabati Deka, another housewife, said, " I have prepared two types of Bihuwans, one for gifting and other for selling. Moreover, I have also to prepare food to entertain the guests visiting us during Bihu."

          During the two weeks preceding the event, youths in every village, town and city rehearse Bihu songs and dance to the beats of 'dhool,' a traditional Bihu drum. Culutral nights are also organised. Dance competition is a part of these programmes and for the winner, it is a matter of prestige.

           Pradeep Boro, a Bihu dancer, said, "We are trying to win the first prize in different dance competitions. This we did last time. This time we are eyeing at the more prestigious competitions at Guwahati. We started practising last week and this will continue till Bihu is here. Our group consists of 8 girls and 18 boys."

          Lipi Das, another dancer, said, "I used to dance for a different group. I have joined this group this year and am practising hard to win as many contests as possible". Singers too have a big role to play. They remain busy for months. The renowned among them, already booked, earn huge sums of money.

                                                                                 April 15, 2002

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