The Rongali Bihu of Assam
The Rongali Bihu or the Bohag Bihu as this festival is called is the major festival of Assamese people. The word ‘Rongali’ is derived from the root word ‘rong’ meaning gaiety and happiness indicating thereby that the festival is marked by a fervour and gaiety that find their manifestation in the various Bihu songs and dances that are performed through what is known as the ‘husori’. The word Bihu is used to mean a festival though the word is connected with the word Mahavisuva Samkranti meaning Vernal Equinox – the passage of the sun from one zodiac house to another in mid April to other house to another in mid April to usher in the spring season. On the other hand, the word ‘husori’ is used to mean a performance of songs and dances with the accompaniment of various musical instruments like the ‘dhol’ (drum),’pepa’(the buffalo horn ), ‘bahi’(flute), ‘tal’(cymbals) an so on in traditional Assamese attire –the ‘dhoti’ and ‘gamochaa’for the men and ‘rihaa’,’mekhelaa –saadar’ for the women.
Together with the ‘Magh Bihu’ and the ‘Kati Bihu’, the ‘Rongali Bihu’ constitutes as it were, a trilogy of the annual life cycle of the Assamese people on the one hand and their ethos, culture and civilization on the other .That is, while the ‘Magh Bihu’ can be called a harvest festival, the ‘Rongali Bihu’ can be called a spring festival. It is a festival of spring not unlike similar festivals that are celebrated in various parts of the world. At the same time, it is important to state that the ‘Rongali Bihu’ was not imposed from outside by an alien civilization. It is the spontaneous expression of an innate energy and a native culture: a culture with its bearings on various perspectives of social and domestic life of the Assamese people.
Not unlike the other folk-songs of the other cultures, the Bihu songs also of other cultures, the Bihu songs also present a picture of the social and domestic life of the early Assamese peasantry was intimately bound up with a variety of customs, tr
“Sote goye goye bohage paalehi
Phulile bhebeli lotaa
Koino thaako mane orake napare
Aamare bihutir kathaa”
(“Sote has departed and Bohag has come”
Look how the creepers are in bloom
The more I talk about the Rongali Bihu
There’s always more to talk about.”)
These lines superbly convey the picture of the changing of the seasons. We are not just told here that a year has passed by; we experience the year changing and the wild jubilation that follows.
The spring rain brings to the Assamese agricultural worker the hope of life .His whole existence is dependent on the benevolence of nature .At the same time; he doesn’t fail to perceive his dependence on nature for his agricultural pursuits. This agricultural background explains why the first day of ‘Rongali Bihu’ is observed with a ritualistic homage to the cattle known as the ‘Goru Bihu’.The concept of this ritual goes back to the Aryan cult of Bull worship ,where the Bull is venerated as sacred. The bull symbolizes creation and thus, the ceremonies connected with the ritual are an enactment of the fertility cult by an agricultural community. The rituals include bathing the cattle and expressing the hope that the cattle will prosper. The prosperity of the agricultural worker is dependent on a number of factors, prosperity of the livestock being one.
Another significant perspective of life reflected in the ‘Rongali Bihu’ is the practice of weaving and spinning which happens to be a way of life of the Assamese womenfolk. This way of life is reflected in a number of Bihu songs related to the theme of weaving and spinning as the following lines show:-
“Otikoi senehar mugare mohuraa
Tatotkoi senehar maako
Taatotkoi senehar rangali bihutir
Napati kenekoi thaako,”
(“How dear is the bobbin of the silken thread
How dear is the shuttle of my loom,
Yet dearer still is the Rongali B ihu
It’s time for fun –do cast away your gloom.)
The song is intimate and personal, sung out in a white heat of passion. At the same time, one doesn’t fail to notice that the vocabulary of the song is drawn from the culture of weaving and spinning: words like bobbin, silken thread, shuttle, loom, used in the above song, being some of them. Here is another example:-
“Dholat saapor maari dhuliya olaale
Bohi boi aasilo taat
Topolaar xendur topolaate thaakile
Khaboloi nohol bhaat,”
(The drummer came out with a beat of his drum
I was sitting at my loom,
The vermillion remained in its place,
The meal, it was forgotten.)
Indeed, activities like weaving and spinning happen to occupy an important place in a woman’s domestic life.
From the agricultural worker in the field to the maiden at her loom, the Rongali Bihu has been able to capture hearts of everyone alike. More so is the case with the young women who like to identify themselves with the spring season. A young woman decks her hair with orchids that bloom in the spring i.e., the ‘Kopou Phool’. She likes to paint the palms and soles of her feet with the red juice of the ‘jetuka plant’ (mehendi/heena) and her lips with the redness of the ‘borhomthuree flower’ (a plant which is used by the ladies to color their lips). She also likes to wear a ‘red rihaa’.
“Haatore aanguli kino saai zaabaa
Zilike zetukar bol
Morno mainaak kino saai zaabaa
Boi jai ghaamore zol
(Would you see her fingers
There shines the color of the jetuka,
Would you see my love
Sweat stream down her body.)
The association of redness in her fingertips, palms, lips and her dress is meaningful. Red symbolizes ripeness and maturity and hence announces an inner vitality.
One of the social customs that have died down but exists in the Bihu songs as a reminder of those forgotten times is the custom of payment of what is known as ‘bride price’. In ancient times there existed the custom of making payments of bridal price to the prospective father-in-law. Often a young man had difficulties in raising the required sum of money as the following song indicates:-
“Haatore besim moi kojolaa damaraa
Gohaalir besimei gaai
Teo zodi dhanare zoraaba nowaaro
Besim sohoodarar bhaai
(I’ll sell the dark one of the ploughing pair,
From the cowshed, I’ll sell the cow
Even then I can’t get the proper sum
I’ll sell my grown up brother.)
There is a slight exaggeration in the song of course. But that is understood. The young man is too smitten by a love for the lady and hence hyperbolical utterances can very well be excused. But the important point to note is that even in ancient times arranged marriages were a way of life of the Assamese people.
The language of these songs is the language of ordinary day- to –day conversation.
“Parbate Parbate bagaaba paaro moi
Lataa nu bagaaboloi taan
Boliyaa haatiko balaabo paaro moi
Tumak nu balaaboloi taan
(I can climb up the mountain tops
Though it is hard to climb a creeper
I can tame the wildest elephant
But I can’t tame you.)
However, there is a lavish use of figurative language and imagery. In the Bihu songs, the beloved is addressed in a number of ways. She is referred to as the jewel of the heart, the moon that brightens up the soul’s heaven, a flame of the body and many more.
Likewise, the lover is address