Bhogali Bihu - A Celebration of Life

 By

Nishanta K. Baruah, Columbus, OH

Bhogali Bihu_A_Celebration_of_Life

The importance of celebrating Bihu was taught to me at an early age. Rongali Bihu was always the favorite of many of our family, and no one really thought much of Kongali Bihu. But Bhogali Bihu, or Magh Bihu, to some, has always been my favorite. Ma and Deuta would have plenty of food ready; mangsar jhool, masar tenga, dal, and sarsari would be heating in the oven, made days in advance. Deuta would roll teelar laroo by the dozens, and Ma would be stirring something, anything, at the stove, the same posture she’d held for days. While the scent of jeera and dhania was never strange at the Baruah residence, the fresh winter air would be spiked with the scent of a myriad other spices as the cooking continued.
Oftentimes I would be oblivious to the amount of work it took to make a feast worthy of Bhogali Bihu. I would be playing Zelda on my Nintendo, reading a book, or finding some other way to avoid doing work. Reluctantly, after being “asked” multiple times, I would finally vacuum the house, maybe shovel the driveway if the yearly January snowstorm happened to hit just before Bihu. When people came over I would treat it as any other party, enjoying the company of others as well as enjoying the food, then saying goodbye and feeling the depression that a newly empty house always brings. But I never stopped to think of exactly what we did and why I enjoyed it so much.
It wasn’t until I left home did I truly understand why I enjoyed Bhogali Bihu so much. Sure, there’s great food, and don’t let anyone tell you I don’t enjoy good food. But it’s so much more than that. As I matured, I realized that the feast Ma and Deuta prepared for their guests during Bhogali Bihu was symbolic of the feast Assamese people over the generations have prepared. And that’s when I got it.
Having been brought up an Assamese in America, I have often compared my two cultures, the one of my heritage and the one of my birth. I am an American, by birth and by culture. But so am I an Assamese, also by birth and by culture. So I cannot separate the two. I think of Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday, because it brings family together for a feast during the Harvest Season. I have always thought of Bhogali Bihu as the “Assamese Thanksgiving.” We don’t follow the same customs and give thanks as directly as is required inherently by Thanksgiving, but the similarities are uncanny. Bhogali Bihu is a celebration of the Harvest Season in Assam. It is a celebration of life. Without the harvest, there would be no food through the winter, and a lean winter would lead to a lean New Year. Rongali Bihu wouldn’t be the same without a good harvest, and this is why I place Bhogali Bihu first in my mind.
Back in the days of my youth, we did not have nearly the contingent of Assamese in Columbus as we do today. Last year I spoke of a great member of our community who dedicated his life to broadening the scope of Assamese tradition, and I can say that, were he alive today, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika would be proud of us. Just imagine it—a small state in India, known for its tea and unique music, spreading out internationally and celebrating the most Assamese of traditions in cities across the globe.
Bihur Morom, Raiz Hakal, and thank you for celebrating it with us! Dhanyabad! <<Namaste>>

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