Bhogali Bihu chronicles: of winter’s warmth and festive feasts

magh bihu celebrations

Winters the world over mark an unique assimilation of sorts- even with the kind of drab, dreary vibe associated with what has often been explored in profound musings of the literary as being the end of the good things in life or even life itself, the rhetorics that shape up this season of the ending are one immersed in a multitude of fancies. Particularly along the blessed eastern lands of the world, winter is seldom nestled in such desolateness in which it is evoked across other expanses of the globe, imbuing within itself instead a spirit of surprising magnificence. For indeed winter here means vividly bright and sunny days that makes all its weary notion dissipate and disappear into the still chilly but crisp and thin air, winter in our area of existence speaks in its extravagance across the many spheres in which life dwells- multihued baskets of seasonal produce, amber glow of crackling bonfires, the light of warmth emanating from friends and family and loved ones huddled together to drive away the ambient still chills, of the reverie arising out of the many festivals and celebrations that essentially mark these days in supposed unpleasantness elsewhere, of laughs shared over steaming delights whether it be cups after cups of tea or an exotic walk through the season’s choicest offering of its most irresistible delicacies, the winters of the eastern lands of the world has always been an occasion to rejoice and revel and laud and not one to wallow in the freezing cold of its misery.

And winters in our part of the world, specifically in our country of the most spectacular colors and even more precisely in our corner of residing along the exquisite picturesque trail of the nation are even more exuberant a period of time to discover joy and cheer through all its winding along these delightful days of aplenty. While the rest of the world awaits for the New Year with bated breath after the merriment of Christmas has drenched them already in the festive spirit, ours is a tale spanning across far more euphoric a facade of what characterise the lively in life. For when the rest of the world ambles on along the singular vibes flowing through the utter promises infesting every sphere of the new beginnings and thereafter when, driven to mundanity they begin to instead slip more miserably into oblivion, the folks of our being begin instead our preparations in full tow for such an unending lineup of festivals to follow that simply refuses to let go of the excitement essentially setting in over the course of every calendar turn. Ceremonious and celebratory in observance, held in such reverence of both the traditional and ethnic essence, and encompassing in part the infectious energy of the festive with the irresistible urge of the feasting are such harvest festivals characteristic of the winter bounty that make their status known in all imminence the moment the new sun dawns upon the horizon, infusing the environs with an energy of such zest that ushers one and all to reside in a spirit of the most enthralling kind.

The experience is one that is universal as far as what does up the airs of the country across its length and breadth during this time of certain excitement with synonymous celebrations marking the confines of many different regions simultaneously in essentially similar fanning of the spirit, albeit in somewhat different manifestations. As festivals of such measure that pay ode to the rich reaping of a harvest and that which involves evoking the sun God, the flair of these myriad celebrations essentially encompasses both religious and cultural meaning and spans out therefore as festivals that asserts the identify of whole regions or communities, through such rituals and traditions and essence integral indeed to their existence in continuation. Whether it be Pongal down south or Uttrain up north or the more specific Lohri and Maghi celebrations of Punjab and such other assertions across the subcontinent, it indeed is the colloquial understanding of Makar Sankranti that marks the exuberance along our part of the world every year through the course of the winters, elevating not just existences but an entire season otherwise steeped in lifeless allegations and bleak reputation to what marks indeed the pinnacle of revelling in the defiant spirit of ultimate wintery connotations.

And while the hearty feels permeating every soul in abundance in this particularly festive celebration of life of sorts is nowhere any less pronounced than the others, there still resides still quaint a charm in the similar such observance that plays out across the awesome land of Assam, resplendent indeed in her exquisite honoring of the bounty bestowed through such celebrations that span out under the name of Magh Bihu in all gusto. Indeed, in being heralding of the auspicious month of Magh as per the Assamese calendar, this assertion of the Bihu festival that has been the lifeline of every Assamese through generations of their being is one unmissable in all its excitement and enthusiasm. But what still sets apart this particular mode of celebration of the bountiful harvest that the whole of India indulges in at the same time is the even more extravagant essence of it, dutifully dished out to extravagant indeed extents through such alternate identity of it that smacks of the gluttony associated with Bhogali Bihu. The world might indeed chide one for indulging in this sin infested with all elements of the most undesirable kind but come to Assam anytime mid January and there’s no partaking of any guilt but only flavors and tastes and cuisines galore as you let your gastronomic senses take over for an ultimate feasting experience worked out across this sumptuous spread of what the world might shun in all its virtuous purging against greed but that which translates into our jargon as displaying of gratitude of the most ultimate kind, in such assertions that has us heartily digging into platefuls of the most sumptuous stuff dripping with the warm goodness of what every ethnic platter necessarily has on offer.

makar sankranti
Source: Big Bazaar

Bhogali Bihu is for sure unlike any other observance that characterise Makar Sankranti festivities anywhere on earth for at the very heart of it lies an immensely inviting proposition of unrestricted furthering of the universal love affair with food. Nowhere else is this eccentric unfurling of character observed in such dimension as across the Bhogali Bihu festivities, not at the least in essence even if in practice, that which encompasses this identity of the feasting fetish in the mere conjuring of its name. Bhog in Assamese itself translates to feast and to have an entire community rejoicing in a festival of such dynamic nomenclature speaks indeed of what it is about this particular expression of celebration that makes it the absolute favorite occasion that every Assamese waits for in anticipation the whole year round.

uruka preparation
Source: Tacfftales

And indeed, the spread of the delicacies is no less diverse than what sums up the adulation that this particular celebration of the Bihu festival commands in all its spirit overflowing with the essence of wherefrom life stems. The day marking the eve of Magh Bihu is one exclusively reserved for such feasting more than satiating of even the most gargantuan appetite, indulged in to the fullest by one and all with such preparations that gets as sumptuous as it can. Everything from meats and fishes and veggies and exotic dishes make up part of the most luxurious feast there ever can be, traditionally partaken of as a community meal replete with of course accompanying elements of the bonhomie and the carousing, the laughs and the smiles, the songs and the dances that serves up every appetite to the fullest. With even specific premises called Bhela Ghars built exclusively for this night of feasting for days on end preceding the festival, the Uruka experience is one entailing what has to be the most standout gastronomic experience ever. This though only marks the beginning of the entire splurge into all things edible as the days of the Bihu has on offer even more delectable an offering of the most exquisite traditional dishes very discerning of the culinary substance of our land. Marked by an wide array of rice cakes called pithas and as expansive a platter of larus of every imaginable kind and further expanding to mealful indeed conjuring of jolpans as such heavenly bowls of flattened rice mixed with dollops of cream and ladles of curd and sweetened to exquisite extents with more than generous drizzles of jaggery resplendent in the most deepest of browns even as roasted potatoes of every kind and a fried medley of grams and rice and sesame seeds called maah korai delivers such flavors and tastes and even aroma of enticing exoticness are the Bihu days that though extend beyond these mere couple of dates in celebration to do the rounds throughout the Magh month, upholding the significance of both names across which the festival expresses its remarkable reputation.

Bhog being the definer of Bhogali Bihu, it is no wonder that even the nostalgic streaming along which the festival meanders is one exclusively adhering to such traditions that revolve around the feasting premise. From such frivolous adherence to ‘stealing’ woodfire and stuff from the neighbour’s house to eyeing for days on end the most plump of the meaty duck as the ultimate uruka kill to also the roundest ash gourd that grows up the roof of a farmer’s hut, the fun of Bhogali Bihu is one that spans from the most surprising of ‘nuisances’, albeit in all harmless pursuance indeed of the very spirit of feasting. As therefore a festival that overlooks the ‘sins’ in favour of true celebration of life in all togetherness as a community, as an identity that stands forever strong in its unity, all in furthering the most basic of life’s pleasures- of the foods and the festive, of not allowing trivial grudges to hold ground over the greater endeavor of goodwill, of holding onto one’s traditions not just in cherishing their heritage but also as a means of bonding, of evoking nostalgia and staying forever committed to one’s roots in very simple humility, Bhogali Bihu is a true epitomiser of the feasting prominence from which it flows, whether that be in offering the most sumptuous charting from across the culinary or other cultural flavors making life more than worthwhile.