It’s that time of the year again when nature bursts forth in all abundance of her exuberance, when the festive feels permeates the air already fresh and crisp and lively and when folks in our part of the world rejoice in seeking out the choicest indulgences of life. For indeed it’s that pleasantly ambient turn of the season that marks already the onset of spring in our minds when spring itself might not be very close yet, with celebrations galore and feasting fantasies awaiting to see fulfilment close on the heels of the bumper harvest. It’s Bhogali Bihu indeed in our land of Assam, where dhekis and urals set in motion the most peculiarly charming of all sounds buoyant with the euphoric notes of the many a delicious uttering of the delectables, at a time perfectly enough in sync with our fresh embarking upon yet another new year of hopes and longings and indulgences indeed. The beloved festival of the bihu boliya land, Magh Bihu has set in already and we can’t help but absolutely surrender our piquant minds and sugary souls to traverse the trails of the treacle. How exactly? In the khati Axomiya style we say!
Feels like Bihu already, even when it’s just New Year!
Bhogali Bihu might not set in into the new year until at least the second week but come Jan 1 and the atmosphere in Assam speaks already of the hustle and bustle of her beloved festival. So while it might be the sound of fireworks that the world recognises as the advent of the new year, new cheer, Assam instead treasures its native rhythm of the dheki as the true harbinger of the January spirit.
The sound of Dheki has its own fan base
The recurring resonance of the pounding dheki that grinds fine powders out of the new harvest of rice marks the onset of this festival of feasting with preparation underway in full swing for making mounds and mounds of pithas, larus et al to satiate indeed every appetite to its fullest.
Buzz in the Air
Bihu for sure is no time to laze about- with all preparations to be made from prepping for the fest to adhering to traditions and attending to rituals and customs and making space indeed for get togethers to take centerstage, every Assamese is pressed for time right since the beginning of the year. The buzz of all this activity is matched exactly by as excited a state of mind as the very vibe of Bhogali Bihu is one characterised immensely by euphoria. And yet seeking time out from all these chores carried out in utter willingness to partake of the very blissful custom of gathering around a bonfire of more than ambient glow and warmth is an indulgence that Bhogali Bihu grants not just to the senses but also to the soul.
The enigma of flavor
But even as friends and family and relatives sit by a crackling fire emanating of the warmth that stems from the very bliss of togetherness, quintessential preps would still be underway- whether it be potatoes or meats left to roast in the fire, checked on at timely intervals to ultimately devour by one and all when they are the most perfectly charred or the ubiquitous pitha making art finding expert expression in all familiarity to dish out stacks of these good ol’ delicacies gobbled up in numbers on the pretext of ‘tasting’ a couple of them with of course accompanying tumbles of Assam tea, the essence of bhog flows indeed through every single tradition that makes Bhogali Bihu the enigma it is.
The Uruka Morning show
The Uruka morning shows indeed the day for the extravagance to follow in as the night of the ultimate feasting offers not just a never ending spread of dishes but also as unmissable a dose of excitement. With all the buying and shopping done, it is now time to prepare for the grand show. So immense is the celebration of food pertaining to Bhogali Bihu that a range of dishes ranging from the basic to the exotic are prepared and partaken of in as zest. From the winter season’s bountiful of veggie offerings are made simple dishes that though are absolutely lip smacking. Fried baby potatoes, fritters of many kinds, the typical alkaline preparation called the khar, mix veg dishes, daals, fish curries, meats including chicken and mutton and duck and pigeon are all made in extreme deliciousness availing of the bounty of winter harvest that Magh Bihu essentially pays obeisance to every year through its observance.
Uruka Night – the D Day that commends all attention
The almost fortnight long celebrations do not however cut down to any extent the last minute splurge on the sumptuous fare awaiting to be feasted upon on Uruka night. It always is the catch on D- Day that commands all attention, even with prices skyrocketing and prospects abundant in duping, buyers flock markets in pursuit of making their Uruka feast as grand as possible. Budgets are way exceeded and the month’s salary all done and dusted but nothing can prevent any hardcore Assamese ever from indulging to their heart’s content on this occasion guided in fact by the very necessity to splurge- whether in spending or in savoring. Thronging the markets on Uruka morning is a ritual that every Assamese grows up to love, even if for the sheer thrill and vibe of it.
The magic of Meji
Feasting late into the night with family and friends for company, traditionally in the makeshift bhela ghar, with of course fun rendezvous with songs and dances and drinks and virtually every single thing that makes the recipe for a lit indeed party is what characterise the eve of Magh Bihu. But the dawn of the next morning is no any subdued as well. As revelers wake up as early as dawn and get all bathed to set to fire the ceremonial meji and pray to the fire God in as collective a show of spirit as what had ruled the proceedings of Uruka night, the Bihu days pursue further the essence of what makes it the lifeline of every Assamese. As rounds of a variety of pithas and larus as well as a diverse mixes of jolpan make up the Bihu spread enjoyed once again in collective spirit, the Bhog of Bhogali takes centerstage once again. Followed by mandatory feasting of the previous night’s lavish spread made in such generousness that inevitably entails yet another indulgence out of it, the Bihu spirit continues with full gusto and in hearty appetites, leaving every Assamese full for yet another year and not just in the fullness of the stomach but also in the overwhelming feels of the heart.