With Bhogali Bihu (a.k.a. Maghor Bihu) just around the corner, I can not help but reminisce about the innocent and lovely memories attached to it. Magh Bihu is the harvesting festival of Assam, which is celebrated in mid January. It is equivalent to the Bengali festival of Makar Sankranti. 'Bhog' means feast and 'Magh' is the harvesting month of the India calender, which starts mid-January. Traditionally, the villages' youth build makeshift huts with hay and bamboo in the crop fields. The harvest feast takes place in this hut and the next morning, the hut is set on fire. This makeshift hut is called the 'meji'. Meji is also be made by just heaping bamboo and hay. During this festival, there is also a tradition of stealing vegetables and other eatables from the neighborhood and eating those on the night of feast. This festival is all about feasts and bonfires.
The fondest memories of the festival are my childhood celebrations. We resided in the Assam Agricultural University campus in Jorhat, Assam. The feast is usually organized colony-wise. There were only five quarters and so five families in our area. There is a long pond in the middle and three and two quarters respectively on either side. In the initial years, we just had the normal feast with the bonfire. The men would sit and chat around the fire. The women would cook in the garage, taking part and enjoy the warmth of the fire from time to time. The children would run around and play. Then we children decided that we would do something special on Magh bihu feast nights.
I do not remember exactly how, but we decided to organize and perform a cultural programme. As the winter vacation started from December and schools reopened after the Bihu, we had plenty of time to prepare. We would prepare dances, chorus, songs and short plays (usually comedy). We would practice and prepare all vacation. It was so much fun. Finalizing songs, performances and costumes, we were busy all the time. The dancers would choreographed, the non-dancers prepared singing performances, with the older ones teaching the younger children. Every child had a role to play. We were about a dozen children.
Usually the middle house, of the side having three houses, was selected to have the feast. The front veranda would serve as the stage, the audience would sit on the lawn with the bonfire and the garage was the night's kitchen. To give professional effect, we used to have curtains also on the stage. Our cultural programme used to be the highlight of the evening. The function would start in the evening after everyone arrived, the bonfire was lit and our mothers could take a break from the cooking. Tea and snacks would be served in between. After the performances were over, we would all sit around the bonfire and chat. After the dinner, chats would continue long into the night. Happy voices and laughter would softly float through the winter air. It would be past midnight and our parents would still be talking and laughing. What happy times were those.
And the next morning, after taking a reluctant bath, we would light up the meji and offer puja. It is said that after that day, the winter season wanes. After the meji burning, the families would often have breakfast also together, sitting in the winter morning sun.
As the years went by, the families went to different quarters and colonies, and we, the children, also grew up. So the function thing also came to an end. But the other colonies started having their children shows, in which the parents are also involved. Bhogali bihu feasts are not so much fun anymore. For me, it is all about spending time with my family now. My highlight of the evening is now barbequed chicken, on Deta (my father)-made sticks. This year I will be celebrating Maghor bihu with my folks in our ancestral town. But nothing can ever match the innocent happiness of my Bhogali memories from my childhood.