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 Porters of Kilimanjaro


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The porters of Kilimanjaro are featured in my book Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, which chronicles my attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The book is on sale now as an e-book for $3.99 and in paperback for $9.99 from Amazon and other booksellers.

They are the unsung heroes of any mountain climb — the guides, porters, and cooks who help climbers reach the summit and get back safely. The workers who serve on Mount Kilimanjaro are brave and dedicated souls who work for low pay and risk their lives to assist climbers in their quest to realize their dreams.

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Guides, porters, and cooks have helped thousands of people climb Kilimanjaro since the mountain was first summited in 1889. That team, led German professor Hans Meyer and Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Purtscheller, included a local guide, nine porters, and a cook.

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Although climbers are responsible for getting themselves to the summit, their support team carries most of the gear and equipment they need to do the climb. Each porter and cook carries up to 15 kilograms (33 pounds), a heavy burden to bear for days and hours on end, again and again, up and down, in any kind of weather, over different kinds of terrain.

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Cooks carry all the food and equipment needed to prepare meals.

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Porters haul climbers who need to be evacuated from Kilimanjaro down in a mobile stretcher — something that looks like a wheel barrow.

Workers arrive at camps ahead of time and set up campsites so they’re ready when the climbers arrive. For every climber on the mountain, there may be three or more assistants helping them.

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Although working conditions on Kilimanjaro can be difficult, most guides, porters, and cooks are passionate about their jobs and take pride in being a member of an elite group. Many start out as porters or cooks and become guides after graduating from mountaineering school. Park management hires some graduates as park rangers. A few go on to start their own tour companies.

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Workers who don’t earn much money often make do with whatever clothing or equipment they can afford or hand-me-downs donated by climbers. In some cases, their wardrobe may consist of tattered shirts, light jackets, worn pants, loafers or tennis shoes with inadequate soles. Underdressed workers often race up the mountain and pass climbers with expensive clothing and gear.

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If you hire an outfitter or guide to help you climb Mount Kilimanjaro, please consider these suggestions when you’re on the mountain.

  • Meet your team. Get to know the guides, porters, and cooks who help you fulfill your dream. Tanzanians are generally friendly and helpful. They go to lengths to help those they care about, including their clients. Learning a few phrases in Swahili, the local language, will go a long way to building rapport with your team. They will remember you as the foreigner who spoke their language.
  • Pay decent tips. Many members of the support team earn very little on a climb. The pay is small but more lucrative than most jobs on the local economy since the guides and porters earn additional money from tips. Giving them a decent tip is the right thing to do. They work hard for you. There’s no set rule for the amount, but a decent tip is reportedly 15 percent of the fee you paid your guide shared among all members of the team.
  • Donate extra gear. You may not need some of your clothing and equipment after you finish your climb. Many climbers donate extra gear to the team. It’s a personal decision whether to give away your belongings, but your team will appreciate it. You can make a donation to any of the many porter support groups that help workers by giving away used gear in good condition. Many are online.
  • Treat workers with respect. The workers on Kilimanjaro work for you and other climbers. They are dedicated professionals and deserve your respect.

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I appreciate what my team did for me on my climb. There was no way I could have focused on climbing Kilimanjaro if I had to what they did for me. I’m grateful that they carried my heavy bags, set up and took down my tent every day, cooked and served me food, and made sure I survived.

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The workers on Kilimanjaro are heroes behind the scenes who deserve credit and respect for doing the difficult job of helping climbers reach a place that would otherwise be uninhabited by humans.

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More About Kilimanjaro

Click here to learn more about the book Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill about the author’s attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.

Click here to learn about the fauna and flora on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Click here to read the story of the iconic wooden sign on Kilimanjaro’s summit and the metal one that replaced it in January 2012.

Click here to read about the vanishing glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Click here to read about The Snows of Kilimanjaro, the 1936 semi-autobiographical short story by Ernest Hemingway, the 1952 film, and the main character, Harry Street.

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M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. His collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.