The celebration of Rongali Bihu, the spring festival of North East Indian state of Assam, has started. But this time, the celebration is altogether different. Amidst novel coronavirus scare, the spirit of people of Assam is still undeterred. Upasana Das, while reminiscing her childhood days, gives an account of celebration of the spring festival in Assam in this testing time.
…ব’হাগ মাথোঁ এটি ঋতু নহয়!… নহয় ব’হাগ এটি মাহ… অসমীয়া জাতিৰ ই আয়ুস-ৰেখা, গণজীৱনৰ ই সাহ…(Bohag is not just a season, Bohag is also not just a month, it is the lifeline of Assamese community, the courage of the Assamese mass)
Yes, the Bard of Brahmaputra, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was aptly right, when he described the spring festival of Assam, the Bohag or the Rongali Bihu as the lifeline as well as the courage or strength of the Assamese community. The Bohag Bihu, or the Rongali Bihu is not just a festival which marks the beginning of the Assamese new year, but it is an emotion that binds together the greater Assamese community at large…
The fondest memories of Bohag Bihu go in those days when as a child, I would accompany my aunt to the Kharghuli Bihutoli (Bihu field) and sang the Bihu anthem, “Sreemoi Axomi.….”, after the flag was hoisted. I would also very sportingly participate in different sports and games, besides taking part in the drawing and fancy dress competitions. Evenings during the Bihu, meant, going to the Bihutoli donning the new dresses to watch popular singers of the state belting out thier popular numbers one after the other till midnight.There were also other traditional cultural programmes and the Bihu Husori competitions which attracted lots of crowd.
Being born and brought up in the Guwahati city, I was not lucky enough to witness the different traditions associated with the Bohag Bihu which were performed by the people living in the countryside. Yet whatever little we could do, we did it with full fervour, may it be putting paste of “haldi and lentils” before taking a bath or offering Gamusa to the elder male relatives. Of course the money which I used to get from relatives as bihu gift, was something I really looked forward to as a child.
With time, Bihu celebrations also took its own course. With the advent of Satellite Television, most bihu functions across the state were telecasted live by the local channels. Thronging the Bihutolis for most people like me became a thing of the past. We would rather prefer to watch it from the comfort of our home. However nothing could match the feel of going to Bihutolis and eating nicknacks from the foodstalls. Inspite of all these changes, if one thing that has remained constant, is a visit to Latasil Bihultoli to watch the Bihu Samraggee Competition, which is considered to be one of the most prestigious event for any female bihu dancer of the state and winning the title means a real big thing.
Like the previous years, though the cuckoo bird sang, plants got their new leaves and nature bloomed at it’s best, yet this time Bohag Bihu had seen no celebration at all in the state. All because of the ongoing lockdown situation due to COVID-19 pandemic. And this is unprecedented for a community which is so obsessed with it’s cultural identity. As one senior journalist rightly said in a social media post that probably for the first time after Burmese invasion, Assamese people are not celebrating bihu. And by the year count, Burmese invasion of Assm took place almost 194 years ago.
However, the lockdown couldn’t completely dampen the spirit of Bihuboliya Axomiya Raij (Bihu obsessed Assamese people). People from all over the state took to social media to wish each other Bihu and Assamese new year greetings and tried to give a feel of Bihu by uploading images of thier Bihu performances at home. The Assam Police, which is trying hard to impose lockdown in letter and spirit in the state, came up with a novel idea of educating the masses on danger of COVID-19 and precautions to be taken for it, by a video of Bihu song and dance performed by it’s cadres.
Bohag Bihu in the state is not only meant just celebrations and merry making. It also brings along with it, a huge market and reasons for source of income for many. Right from the weavers who weave Gamusas and the makers of traditional food items which have got very high demand during this time to the shopkeepers who sell those, from the persons who are involved in the making of the Bihu stages, to the artists and the performers, all look forward to the “Bihu season” to earn a few to hefty bucks. But this time, it’s all together a different story and this is because of the challenge entire humanity is facing now in the form of novel coronavirus disease.
Pockets may be empty. Challenges may be enormous. But, when it is Bohag, the hearts of every Assamese is always full. That my mom is humming the Bihu songs while cooking food in the kitchen or the Assam Police doing a Bihu video to inform the people about the precautions to be taken for Covid-19, itself speaks out loud and clear, আমি অসমীয়া বিহুতে বলিয়া (We the people of Assam obsessed with Bihu).
( Ms. Upasana Das, an alumni of Department of Mass Communication, Tezpur University, Assam, is a young journalist and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)