Bihu, Assamese New Year – Guest Post by Pranjal Borthakur


Bihu, Assamese New Year

Guest Post by Pranjal Borthakur

Bihu is a set of three cultural festivals celebrated in the Indian Province of Assam and other regions of the Indian subcontinent. The most popular, Rongali Bihu, celebrates the onset of the Assamese New Year in mid-April (around April 15). The second, Kongali Bihu, occurs in mid-October, while the third, Bhogai Bihu, happens at the end of the harvest season in January. Rongali Bihu commemorates the first day of the Hindu solar calendar and the beginning of the agricultural season when farmers cultivating their fields feel a sense of joy and optimism. The ancient festival lasts seven days and is known for its feasts, lively performances, and merriment. The celebration generally transcends castes and religion and has evolved into a more secular festival that promotes humanity, peace, and fraternity between the classes and faiths.

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The festival begins on the last day of the previous year — usually April 14. On the first day, called Goru (Cow) Bihu, cows are washed and smeared with paste, struck with sprigs of herbs, untethered, and allowed to roam free for the day.

On New Year Day, Manuh (Human) Bihu, celebrants clean up, put on new clothing, and ring in the New Year with vigor. Elders are shown respect, receive bihuwan (gamosa cloth), a hachoti (kerchief), and are asked for blessings. The red-and-white gamosa hand woven on a loom by mothers and daughters (see below) is especially revered as a mark of respect for the Assamese and a prized gift. Husori (carol) singing begins, and people visit family and friends.

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The third day, Gosai (Gods) Bihu, is dedicated to the worship of the gods, with requests for blessings in the New Year, and cleaning house. The remaining days, Hat Bihu, Senehi Bihu, Maiki Bihu, and Sera Bihu, each represent a special significance in the New Year.

Pitha, traditional cakes made from rice flour and fillings such as coconut, and larus or jolpan snacks help make the season more festive.

Music plays a central role in Bihu. Folk songs associated with the Rongali Bihu are called Bihu Geets (Bihu songs). Husori (huchari) are traditional carols that celebrate Bihu. Huchari comes from the Dimasa Kachari words for “land” (ha) and “move over” (char). Rongali Bihu is also a fertility festival, where Bihu dancing celebrate young women’s fertility with its sensuous movements. It is a time for young men and women to seek partners and mates.

 

Bihu Performances

Singing, dancing, and performing is a very important part of the celebration. Dancers dance on an elevated stage in an open area known as a Bihutoli popular throughout Assam. Performances may include Bihu dances, theatrical performances, concerts by solo singers, and standup comedy that entertain audiences late into the night. They keep the audience enthralled well into the early hours of the morning. In the photos below, village children in small groups sing husori and dance in traditional Bihu style.

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My niece Mamu posed with the village kids after their Bihu dance. She enjoyed it so much that she begged to take photos with them in Assamese, “Munu mur photo tana.”

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Children, adolescents, and teens perform suori or dhodhi monthon, a reenactment of the god Krishna’s childhood.

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Various tribal groups take the stage to compete with one another singing husori. The singers announce their arrival with drum beats and come on stage, where they sing songs and perform a ring dance. At the end of the performance, they are thanked with an offering. In one dance, young men engaged in a mock war with one another on stage. It was quite unnerving!

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In some parts of Assam, Kali Puja is also performed as a prayer to the goddess Kali. It typically involves the sacrifice of goats and other animals.

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40 idol of goddess Kali

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44sacrificing black goat

Young unmarried men and women wearing traditional golden silk muga dance the Mukoli Bihu and sing Bihu songs to celebrate female sexuality. The songs have themes of requited or unrequited romance and love. Although the songs describe tragic events, they are treated lightly by the audience. Bihu dance groups from different villages compete with one another for the privilege of joining the Village Bihu Group.

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proud moments for the group

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Other forms of Bihu that are celebrated in Assam include Fat Bihu, an old form characterized by spontaneity that is popular in Lakhimpur, Assam; the Jeng Bihu performed and watched exclusively by women; Beshma, and Baisago.

About Shree Sai Siksha Niketan School

The Shree Sai Siksha Niketan School is located in Guwahati, the capital of Assam Province in India. The school for boys and girls has 51 students in grades 1 through 12. Although the school is financed by private sources and resources are limited, Mr. Borthakur and his dedicated staff and teachers work hard to provide a quality education to these promising students. Since its founding, the school has grown from 12 students and continues to grow. Below are photos of the school’s students performing at the First Annual Day Celebration held in early 2012.

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54 child performing bihu

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51 head girl of school52Below are photos of the school principal and the staff. They are a dedicated group of individuals.

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Students and staff participate in a class activity at the school.

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About Pranjal Borthakur

Pranjal Borthakur is head of the Shree Sai Siksha Niketan School. Married and a father of two, he has dedicated his life to running Shree Sai Siksha Niketan School and offering an affordable education to children in Guwahati. Below are photos of Mr. Borthakur and his family in Guwahati.

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Pranjal’s daughter Asmita (center), son Manas (left), and niece Mamu.

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50 my daughter Asmita in Black specs

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Pranjal’s wife with a group during a school outing.

51 my wife front posing back in school picnic

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Photos from Pranjal’s childhood. Riding horses with his brother Pranab and with his father, Dr. Borthakur, and brother.

me and my brother pranab in our childhood(left me)

my father dr.borthakur,me and my bro

For more information about Assamese culture, the Shree Sai Siksha Niketan School, or to inquire how you can support the school, contact Mr. Borthakur at:

E-mail: pranjalbarthakur@gmail.com

Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/@pranjalbor

Web page: http://sssniketan.blogspot.com/

Blog:  http://pranjalborthakur.wordpress.com/

Phone: +917399555359

Address: Pranjal Borthakur, Airforce Gate, Village Raibori, Police Station Palasbari, Post Office Bongora , Guwahati-781015

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The Giant Swing


September 25, 2011

My family and I paid a visit on September 25 to Sao Ching Cha, also known as the Giant Swing.

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The free-standing structure stands in front of Wat Suthat temple in the middle of a busy traffic circle on Bamrung Muang Road in central Bangkok. Built from tall teak wood beams with an ornate wooden crown on top, it stands more than 30 meters high (almost 100 feet) and looks like an inverted goalpost.

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Sources indicate that the original Giant Swing built in 1784 by King Rama I was used to celebrate the year’s rice harvest, to thank the Hindu god Shiva for a bountiful crop, and to ask for his blessing on the next one. The Swing is based on a Hindu epic that tells the story of Shiva’s descent to the Earth; its pillars symbolize mountains, and its base depicts the Earth and the seas.

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During an event known as the Swing Ceremony (Triyampawai), Brahmins would swing on a platform suspended between the pillars of the Giant Swing and try to catch a bag of silver coins dangling from the Swing with their teeth. The ceremony, performed during the reigns of King Rama I and Rama II and again from 1920 until the early 1930s, was discontinued after several fatalities occurred. The swing was renovated in 1920 and 1959; its most recent incarnation was dedicated in September 2007.

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On our way to the Swing, we walked from Wat Saket (also known as the Golden Mount) about 1.5 kilometers along Bamrung Muang Road in the Banglamphu neighborhood of Bangkok. One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Banglamphu has some charming and historic buildings. Unfortunately, the area where we walked was gritty, chaotic, and forgettable.

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Another 1.5 kilometers on the same road takes you to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, two of Bangkok’s most prominent and popular sites. We decided to cut our journey short at the Giant Swing in midafternoon and to save the palace and temple for another day. The hot, muggy day had left us exhausted and tired of touring.

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What should be a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare that links major attractions, Bamrung Muang Road is actually an exercise in accident avoidance for tourists who opt not to travel by taxi or tuk tuk. We walked on narrow sidewalks along streets choked with cars that spewed smoky exhaust and dodged vehicles fighting to make their way through heavy traffic. We abandoned Bamrung Muang Road after one block and fled to a side street. Although this street was just as busy, idling traffic dampened the noise level.

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I enjoyed browsing shops that catered to local tastes. One shop sold fans galore, another oversized Buddhist icons that reminded me for some reason of FAO Schwarz, and another was crammed wall to wall with old compressor components, dirty rags, and newspapers. I was surprised that anyone could navigate through a place so jam packed with stuff.

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Banglamphu looked as if it had seen better days and had deteriorated into one of the poorer areas of inner city Bangkok. However, it was not a slum by any means.

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For those adventurous enough to get lost in its labyrinthine streets, one can find some hidden gems, such as antique furniture stores and artisanal shops, lurking in the shadow of some of the city’s most popular attractions. The neighborhood is definitely worth a visit.

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