One of the Seven Sisters, Assam, a state in Northeast India, is known for its vibrant and colourful festivals and fairs. Home to innumerable tribes, the festivals in Assam symbolise brotherhood and unity, bringing together the diversified faiths of the natives here. The festivals are all about celebrating the essence of the truest spirit and keeping traditional values alive. The lovable aspect of the festivals is that these are pretty entertaining and offer tourists spectacularly memorable experiences.
Some key local festivals in Assam are Bihu, Rongker, Karam Puja, Baikho, Baishagu, Me-Dam-Me-Phi, Bohaggiyo Bishu, Ali-Ai-Ligang, Ambubashi Mela, Rajini Gabra Harni Gabra, and Jonbill Mela. Besides, Assamese also celebrate typical Hindu festivals like Diwali, Holi, Durga Pujo, Kali Pujo, and so on. Let’s explore some of the fairs and festivals of Assam.
Assam is a beautiful state located in the northeastern part of the country. The state is not only known for its beautiful environs but also its cultural and religious diversity. The state organises various festivals based on good harvest, religion, culture, and fun. Let us have a look at some of them.
This is the main festival of Assam. Assamese, irrespective of their religious faiths and beliefs, caste, or creed, come together to celebrate this festival with joy and enthusiasm. Every year, there are three occasions for celebrating Bihu.
Bohag Bihu. The first one is called Bohag Bihu. It is celebrated in the month of Baisakh, which falls in mid-April. In the local language, Baisakh is called Bohag. This festival, also known as Rongali Bihu, marks the onset of the Assamese New Year. This is harvest time, as spring is around the corner. The first day of Bohag Bihu is known as Goru Bihu, when cows, oxen, and bulls are given a bath with turmeric and are fed vegetables like gourds and brinjals. The ropes are also changed. The festival's second day, which coincides with the Assamese New Year, is called Manuh Bihu. The entire family is clad in new clothes, and traditional festive dishes like pitha’s are made. People visit the homes of their friends and families and exchange gifts.
Kongal Bihu. The second type of Bihu is called Kati Bihu or Kongal Bihu. It is celebrated in mid-October or the Hindu month of Kartik. This is celebrated when the sowing of seeds is completed. This is one of the festivals where celebrations are subtle and toned down. The central entity of the festival is an earthen lamp. The lit lamp is placed near the Tulsi plant, and the entire family offers prayers for a good harvest. Farmers light the Sky Lamp, a special lamp, and place them on bamboo poles in the paddy fields. This way, they keep their crops safe from pests and insects.
Magh Bihu. The third Bihu festival of Assam is called Magh Bihu. This is celebrated in mid-January or the Hindu month of Magh. It is also known as Bhogali Bihu, and this festival is centred around food. It is celebrated to mark the close of the harvest season. On the eve of Magh Bihu, Assamese families feast around a bonfire. In the morning, after a bath, locals torch the Meji, made with wood and bamboo. They gather around the Meji and offer prayers. The Holy Fire is fed Maah Khoral and pithas. This is followed by the traditional breakfast consisting of flattened rice or chira, puffed rice or akhoi, kumol saul, and bora saul. These are eaten with curd, fresh cream, and jaggery.
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In the month of April, the festival of Rongker. It is the traditional festival of Assam, observed by the Karbi Tribe. Being spring, it coincides with the Rongali Bihu. The celebrations are mostly centred around pacifying the local deities so that the village remains safe and away from bad omens. It is believed by the locals that the festival help in keeping the residents free from diseases and natural calamities.
The celebrations go on for three days. Since rituals must be performed together for the village's safety, all residents contribute to the expenses. Ten earthen altars are positioned where the rituals are performed in the south-north direction. There are four types of rituals that are performed during the entire duration of the festival. The main rituals are performed by the priest and assisted by the headman. Once the deities are worshipped, meals are offered to them, and it is then followed by a feast in which everyone from the village participates. Another interesting aspect of this festival is rongphu-rongling-kangthin, in which it is believed that all the evil spirits are forced to leave the village. At night people dance to drive out the spirits, and a chicken is sacrificed and offered to the deity.
The menfolk conducts the entire ritual. Women are not a part of the religious ceremonies. Also, husking, agricultural activities, etc., are forbidden during this time.
This is a famous festival of Assam celebrated by the entire Ahom community. On 31st January every year, the Ahoms dress up in their traditional finery and take out colourful processions. The festival's purpose is to network within the local community and develop social contacts.
‘Me’ stands for worship, Dam denotes the dead, and Phi means God. As per the Ahom community, there is no rebirth cycle when a person dies. The dead body is kept in a box. During this festival, people pray for their dead ancestors so that they become ‘Phi’ or God. The festival is mostly celebrated in the districts of Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, and Sivasagar.
As per the locals, it is believed that if the festival is not observed traditionally, the gods can get angry, and there could be trouble for the entire state. They fear that in such a case, there could be natural calamities, infighting, wars, militancy, etc., that can harm human lives.
Therefore, great care is taken to observe the festival customarily.
All the tea-growing tribes in Assam celebrate the Karam Puja on the 11th day of the full moon in the Bhado month as per the Hindu calendar. This usually falls between August and September. In this festival, the Karam Tree, which represents the Karam God or the God of youth, is worshipped. Prayers are offered to God for a good harvest and to keep everyone safe and sound. Before the puja, a few selected unmarried girls fast for three days. This is known as Karam Nachis.
After the girls break their fast, the main rituals begin. Everyone heads to the forested area while dancing and singing. The beat of drums accompanies the folk songs. Jhumur dance is performed. After this, a branch of the worshipped Karma Tree is brought back and planted in the chosen courtyard. It is then covered with mud and cow dung. People dance and sing around the branch the entire day. After the religious rituals, there’s a feast where adults drink the local haria.
This is a famous festival of Assam celebrated by the Boro Kacharis tribe. In mid-April, the Boros celebrate the springtime or the advent of the Assamese New Year during this festival. Cows, considered holy by the Boros, are bathed and offered prayers. On the second day of the celebrations, the younger folks seek the blessings of their elders. Lord Shiva or Bathou is offered the native chicken dish and local rice beer.
There’s much pomp and show, with folk dances accompanying the celebrations. Bagurumba dance is performed where everyone joins in irrespective of age or gender. The tribe uses traditional musical instruments like the gogona, khawbang, Kham, siphung, tharka, and jotha. Towards the end, the people of the village gather at a particular spot outside the village to offer community prayer to their deities. This is followed by a feast and merrymaking.