Bihus: The National Festivals of Assam


The Bihus are the national festivals of Assam. There are three such festivals in Assam: in the months of Bohaag (Baisakh, the middle of April), Maagh (the middle of January), and Kaati (Kartik, the middle of October). The Bihus have been celebrated in Assam from ancient times. Each Bihu coincides with a distinctive phase in the farming calendar. The Bohaag Bihu marks the New Year at the advent of seeding time, the Kaati Bihu marks the completion of sowing and transplanting of paddies, and the Maagh Bihu marks the end of the harvesting period. Bohaag Bihu is also called the Rongaali Bihu or the Festival of Merriment, Maagh Bihu is also called Bhogaali Bihu or the Festival of Food, Kaati Bihu is also called Kongaali Bihu or the Festival of the Poor.

Of the three Bihu festivals which are secular and non-religious, the Bohaag Bihu ushers in the period of greatest enjoyment and marks the arrival of Spring. The folk songs associated with the Bohaag Bihu are called Bihugeets or Bihu songs. The Bohaag Bihu lasts for several days during which "the young people in the vilalge may be seen moving about in groups gaily dressed or forming circles in the midst of which the prettiest girls dance" (The History of Human Marriage by Edward Western-March) singing songs of love and romance. Such gatherings are called Mukoli Bihus (Open Bihus). The songs are very popular among all sections of the people.

The language of the Bihu songs have changed from generation to generation. The songs are composed in couplets that rhyme (and are almost always accompanied by a distinctive form of dancing), and each couplet depicts a different emotion. The language is simple and suggestive, and the style is neat and clear. Scholars agree that the songs have no influence of Sanskrit, the ancient language of religious text and learned commentaries.

The Bihu songs have exercised great influence on Assamese literature. Even the translator (Madhav Deva, 1849-1596 AD) of the great Hindu epic Ramayana and the great hymn composer Sankar Deva (1449-1569 AD) could not escape their influence.

At the current time, Mukoli Bihus are not common any more. In towns and cities, there are well-organized Bihu fairs where professional or amateur troupes perform Bihu songs on stage with accompanying dancing. Bihu Kunwori (The Princess of the Bihu) contests are held widely. In these contests, young women compete in dancing to the tune of Bihu songs. The best dancer is given the title of Bihu Kunwori.

Now-a-days popular Bihu songs are available in audio cassettes. Every year, new cassettes are published with old and new Bihu songs.

Jugal Kalita (with help from Assamese Literature by Birichi Kumar Barua, The International Book House, Ltd, Bombay, 1941.)

Bihu-related links