The word Bihu evokes ecstatic childhood memories; memories so happy that it leaves a lingering smile and a feeling of deep content. As I stepped into adulthood and responsibilities and moved away from Assam, the Bihu celebration remained a blissful echo of the past. Nothing compares to the celebration at home and the celebrations away from home were a frail attempt to rediscover and indulge in the erstwhile pristine ecstasy of childhood celebrations.
I like the uniqueness of Magh, Rongali and Kati Bihu but what stands out as my favorite is the Magh Bihu. I have grown up in the lush tea estates of Assam and celebrations there had its own unique touch. I remember coming back from home thrilled to go to the ‘Bhooj’ (feast). The prospect of donning the new bihu frock, meeting with friends and partying throughout the wee hours of the night was an adventure for my little mind. The feast eaten basking in the warmth of the bonfire, while it crackled; the wafting smell of smoke mixed with the aromas of the traditional oxomiya (assamese) dishes, left me feeling complete and warm. I remember falling asleep in my father’s lap while my subconscious mind echoed the voices of people talking and laughing; distant bihu songs playing and a sense of bliss.
The Meji is the rockstar of the celebration I must say! The smell of dry wood gathered by the helpers in the house; the feeling of anticipation and excitement as the Meji was crafted; and arranging the offerings for Lord Agni had its own charm. My father often woke me up at 3 in the morning and made me shower in cold water. I hated to bathe in cold water in those January winter months but trust me, it all makes sense. It somehow adds to the purity of the being. The very fact that you showered in cold water on a chilly winter morning adds to your appreciation of the blessings of Agni when you finally light up the Meji.
I have seldom felt so pure; the prayer, the offering of special Prasad to Lord Agni while you stand in the smoky blushing night, engulfed in the halo of light and purity that Meji creates. Being surrounded by people you love, saying a prayer with the anticipation of more celebrations throughout the day left me content. It’s a contentment that I wonder if I will ever find again. What makes it so special is the purity, love and positive vibrations pulsating throughout the celebration.
Young as I was, I somehow found myself lost, while watching the various colors of flames that lights up – the light blue and the light green color at the center of the flames left me at awe. We put sweet potato and ‘ kaathkol’ in the fire to roast. Our dogs lie lazily around the fire with us while the family sits together in front of the Meji, prayers said, offerings made; simply being a family, taking in the warmth and biding the winter goodbye. At the far distance some people play Bihu songs adding to the flavor of the celebration. When I look at the distant family picture I realize life could not have been better.
The dawn breaks and my father show me the sun coming up. It is a new thing for me I have never seen the dawn break earlier. The sun softly illuminates the earth, quietly without disturbing the feasting fire that slowly goes out. The birds sing, the morning shift helpers come into the bungalow with their faces cheerful at seeing the family by the fire. The night chowkidar who indulged in the revelry the previous night loiter around in the premises after his shift hoping for the celebratory breakfast. My mom brings in the Jolpan – traditional Assamese breakfast. The roasted sweet potato and kathkol tease the taste buds with their essence. As I bite into a peeled roasted treat the smell of smoke still lingers in the taste.
As I sit eating my breakfast warming myself and thinking of the daylong celebrations to come by the fiery charcoal that the Meji left behind I cannot imagine a better celebration than this.