There has always been two occasions during a year, when I miss being at home the most... First being Durga Puja and second during Makar Sankranti or 'Magh Bihu' in Assam...
Bihu is the most celebrated festival of Assam. It is celebrated during different periods of the year as it marks the three stages of cultivation, i.e. beginning of the agricultural season, completion of transplantation and end of the harvesting season.
There are three forms of Bihu that are celebrated in Assam:
- Bohag Bihu, celebrated in the middle of April which marks the New Year at the advent of seeding time;
- Kati Bihu, celebrated in the middle of October which marks the completion of sowing and transplanting of paddies;
- Magh Bihu, celebrated in the middle of January which marks the end of the harvesting period.
Out of the three bihus, Magh Bihu, which is celebrated during Makar Sankranti, has always been my favorite. Magh Bihu is also known as Bhogali Bihu, which originates from the word 'Bhog' and signifies eating and enjoyment.
The festival is marked by feasts and bonfires. On the eve of the Bihu, called 'Uruka', young people build makeshift huts, known as Meiji or more popularly known as Merameri in Cachar, from bamboo, leaves and thatch, in which they eat the food prepared for the feast (purely non-vegetarian). The entire night is spent in and around the Meiji with people singing or playing Bihu songs (Bollywood songs in more recent times), beating 'Dhol', or playing games.
The next day, on Magh Bihu, people get up very early in the morning, take bath and burn the 'Meiji'. People gather around the burning 'Meiji' and throw 'Pithas' (rice cakes) and betel nuts into the fire, as offering to the God of Fire. They offer their prayers and thus, mark the end of the harvesting year. The whole day is followed with community celebrations all across with Pithas being distributed to all. Some Pithas commonly made are Puli Pitha, Chandro Puli, Doodh Puli, Paati Shapta, Malpoa, etc.