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Bhogali Bihu: Eat, pray and love

Snigdha Choudhury/thestatesman.com | New Delhi |

It's new year and the harvest is over. There's celebration everywhere. People in all parts of the country are celebrating Lohri, Pongal, Makar Sankranti, etc. And these festivals devoted to agriculture play a great role in shaping the rich cultural heritage of India, which has a large rural and farming population.

In Assam too, the harvest festival called ‘Bhogali Bihu’ is being celebrated. ‘Bhogali’ means variety of rich food items. Going by its name, there is mass feasting of different traditional Assamese food during the festival.

“During this bihu, authentic Assamese food items such as 'kath alu fry’ are cooked in the ‘meji’ and the symbolic ‘pitha’ are carefully prepared with roasted rice," said Rumi, a 40-year-old school teacher speaking about the festival to thestatesman.com.

She also spoke about the significant use of jaggery in ‘cera (flat rice) with cream and ‘doi’ (curd) and the authentic Assamese fish curry, duck curry and the sweet ‘khurma’, ‘larus’ prepared with sesame seeds, coconut and puffed rice with honey.

It's a two-day celebration. On the first night of the festival known as ‘uruka’, every household prepares rich food items as people gather around the ‘meji’, Assamese bonfire prepared with wood or tree leaves for a community feast.

But what really is the specialty of this two-day celebration?

“This is the festival we come together with our whole family. Even our faraway relatives join us for the feasting. This festival keeps us rooted to the Assamese culture," said Tina, 22-year-old college student in Guwahati.

In this fast-moving life, we don’t have much time to make calls every day and arrange dinner parties frequently. In Assam, there was once a time when dinner invites were popular and people had more time for home visits.

‌“It's big family time. When I was young I remember addressing even our neighbours as family. I don’t remember using the term ‘neighbour’ then," One Surojit, a senior executive working in a bank, said.

"We sometimes don't realise how fast the kids are growing up and how much they need gatherings like these to sustain the family traditions and norms,” he added.

Upon nightfall, the locals build ‘Bhela ghor’, temporary house build with hay to be burnt the following day at the crack of dawn. Everyone takes early bath as they gather around ‘meji’ to chant prayers and burn the ‘bhela ghor’ as people offer respect to the fire god. They also offer pithas to the burning meji as an offering, thanking god for the harvest and seeking his blessings for the next season.

“This festival keeps us deep rooted to our assamese culture with all the traditions. We bow down to touch the elders feet by offering ‘gamocha’ and ‘taamul-pan’ (areca nut and betel leaf) in the ‘horai’ (a prominent Assamese souvenir). As we see, the Western culture has quite an impact on us, this festival helps us keep our roots intact,” said Tarun, a 28-year-old engineer employed in Delhi.

Apart from the traditions and culture, Bihu holds a great significance in the life of people in Assam, be it Hindu or Muslim. Both community celebrate the festival together and feast together.

Apart from participating in feasting and ritual activities, this Bihu also attract every-age groups for the local fun games like ‘tekeli bhanga’ (breaking pots by being blindfolded), marble-spoon run (balancing marble in the spoon while running or walking fast), egg fight, buffalo fight, cock fight, etc. A childhood in Assam without the fond memories of these amusing games equates a life without music.

Making our hearts melt with the high-spirited bihu songs and the menfolk playing ‘dhol’ (assamese drum) and the ladies flaunting their graceful ‘mekhela-chador’ (a traditional Assamese attire) add to the vibrancy of the festival.

According to the Assamese calendar, the festival marks the ending of the ‘Puha’ month and the beginning of the ‘Magha’ month. Hence, this festival is also known as ‘Magha Bihu’.

Come let's eat, pray, love this Bhogali Bihu or Magha Bihu!