Magh Bihu (also called Bhogali Bihu – festival of bhog/feasting or Maghor Domahi) is a harvest festival celebrated in the state of Assam, India. This festival marks the end of harvesting season in the month of Maagh (usually mid-January).
The festival is marked by feasts and bonfires. The feasts are generally prepared from the products of the new harvest. Hay collected from the field after harvesting, is used in preparation of meji(bonfires) along with wood. Young people erect makeshift huts, known as bhela ghar, from bamboo, leaves and thatch, in which they eat the food prepared for the feast, and then burn the huts the next morning. Popular belief is that lighting bonfires will drive away the coldness of the winter season for the year. The celebrations also feature traditional Assamese games such as tekeli bhonga (pot-breaking), buffalo/cock/mynah, etc fighting, koni juj (egg breaking competition), etc.
Out of all the other 3 bihu festivals in Assamese culture (the other two being Rongali Bihu and Kongali Bihu), I enjoy Bhogali Bihu the most. It’s maybe because it involves feasting, mejis, etc. lasting from the Uruka night to the next morning. For me, Bihu means visit to our paternal ancestral home, meeting all the cousins under the same roof and having loads of fun. My father has 5 brothers and 2 sisters and with all their sons and daughters, we are one huge family. Any get together of the family is no less than a wedding! 🙂
The night of feasting or the day before the Bihu is called Uruka. Usually we reach our ancestral home on the Uruka day and start preparations for the night right away. All of us form groups and divide work amongst ourselves – the difficult jobs done by the senior ones and the easier ones by the younger ones. We prepare the meji by making a conical frame with 3 thin bamboos and filling the inside portion of the cone with pieces of wood stacked one top on the other and giving it a conical shape toward the upper portion. Bhela ghars are generally made by those who have the community feast in the paddy fields. We also help in preparation of the feast by cleaning, chopping, grating, powdering, etc all the ingredients of the menu for the grand feast. The senior people – uncles, elder brothers, etc. take in charge of the firewood, preparation of the chulha/cooking area with mud (we always opt for the food to be cooked in firewood during any such kind of feasts) and making the lighting arrangements at the field where the event will happen.
Cooking starts right from the evening itself done by our uncles. The women folk is given rest on that day :). Bonfires are lit and all of us gather around them and have fun. We also barbecue marinated chicken pieces in the fire. It is one of the hottest selling items on that day. Rounds of tea and pitha (Bihu delicacy) happen till the food gets cooked. Post dinner, all the elderly folk go off to their beds and we the younger ones volunteer to stay awake the whole night and guard the gardens and fences. This bihu has a tradition of stealing the neighbour’s vegetables/fruit from the garden, poultry from the coop and bamboo fences from the houses/fields and using them in the feast/bonfire
In the wee hours of morning we go to sleep, sometimes in the tent itself. On the day of the bihu, we have to wake up punishingly early in the morning and have our baths (how we resented this tradition). One of the cousins, usually the youngest one, lits the meji and then we all bow down before the leaping flames. Tea and freshly made pithas of various shapes and designs are served by the women folk by the meji. Sweet potatoes are roatsted and eaten till the bihu jolpan (breakfast) is getting ready. The eldest member of the family (grandfather / uncles) is given Gamocha along with paan – tamul in a Xorai. We all bow down to him and he then gives his blessings and asks God for his blessings and good wishes for the entire family throughout the year and then all of us sit down for the Bihu jolpan.
Bihu hewa (bowing down) and Bihu jolpan [thats us and a slice of our big family]
These simple traditions are repeated every year and bring us immense joy. It reaffirms the importance of family ties and of our roots. Now, most of the cousins being married away and settling down with their own families and demise of two of my uncles, the fun is not what it was used to be. But then going back to those memories and recreating them has a charm of its own. 🙂