The most important festivals of Assam are the Bihus, celebrated with joy and abundance by all Assamese people irrespective of caste, creed, religion, faith and belief. In a year there are three Bihu festivals known as Rongali, bhogali and Kangali. The most important and colourful of the three Bihu festival is the Spring festival “Bohag Bihu” or Rangali Bihu celebrated in the middle of April. This also initiates the agricultural season. The merriments include dances accompanied on the wild and lusty beats of Dhol and Pepa (buffalo hornpipe). Songs sung in this Bihu are woven around themes of love and often carry erotic overtones. People adorn traditional attires like Dhoti, Gamocha and Chadar, Mekhala.
Bihu dances performed by young boys and girls characterised by brisk stepping, flinging and flipping of hands and swaying of hips represents youthful passion, reproductive urge and ‘Joie-de-vivre’.
The Magh or the Bhogali Bihu, the harvesting festival is celebrated in January by community feast, buffalo fight and such other entertainment, compared to “Rongali” and Bhogali Bihu, “Kati Bihu” is a tame affair celebrated in the month of Kartika. Tribal groups like the Misings the Deoris and the Morans celebrate “Bihu” with dances of their own distinctive style. In more recent time Assam saw a fairly large scale migration of people from other parts of India, the Santhals, Gonds, Mundas and others from Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, brought as indentured laboures for tea gardens also carried with them distinct cultural heritage which blossomed forth in exotic festivals like Tusu Puja, Sarak Puja, Karam Puja and captivating dance like Jhumur.
The Tea festival organised by Assam Tourism in the month of November is a unique experience. One cannot miss this festival which offers holidays combining visits to Tea Gardens, Golf and River Cruises. A visit to the “Guwahati Tea Auction Center” (GTAC) in Guwahati, the largest in India is a must.
This festival is organised every year during monsoon period at the Kamakhya temple of Guwahati. The fair attracts thousands of devotees from all over the nation. Ambubasi is closely related to the Tantrik rituals that are performed during this festival. The legend associated with the fair is that this period comes during menstrual cycle of Goddess Kamakhya. On the occasion, the temple remains close for first three days and devotees can worship the Goddess only on the fourth day.
Jonbeel of Jagiroad is host to one of the most spectacular and popular fairs in Assam. Come winter and tribes & communities like Tiwa, Karbi, Khasi, Jaintia come down with their products for this Mela. This is perhaps the only fair in India where barter system is still alive. A big market is organised during this fair and people from various tribes and communities exchange their products. But before the fair opens fire worship or Agni Puja is performed. Another interesting feature is that the King of Tiwa tribe collects taxes from his subjects. Colourful dances and music mark the fair. The whole atmosphere is swinging with fun and joy. Mutual understanding and harmonious living is the message of the fair.
Famous for its myriad of colours and merriment, ‘Baishagu’ is generally celebrated by the Boro kacharis in the month of baishak or mid April. It is the most cherished festival of the Boros, as the Spring celebration at the advent of the new year. The first day begins with the cow-worship. The next day which synchronizes with the first day of month of ‘Bohag’ of the Assamese almanac, the actual marriment begins with the young people of each household reverentially bowing down to their parents and elders. The supreme deity ‘Bathou’ or Lord Shiva is also worshipped on this day by offering him chicken and rice beer. In the Baishagu dance there is no bar of either of age or sex to join in their respective groups.
The traditional musical instruments that are used in this dance festival are ‘Kham’ (drum), ‘Jotha’ (Manjari), ‘Khawbang’ (Taal), ‘Gogona’ (mouth-organ) and ‘Siphung’ (Flute) etc.
It is also customary at the close of Baishagu festival to offer community prayer at a particular place called, ‘Garjasali’.
Unrestricted joy, merriment and fun accompany the Bohaggiyo festival that is celebrated during mid-April at a stretch for seven days. The term Bishu can be understood as ‘Bi’ means extreme and ‘Su’ means rejoicing. This festival is mainly celebrated by the Deoris. It is commonly believed that this festival comes on Sankranti day but observations prove this is not a fixed rule. But the festivals begin on Wednesday and it is initiated by Than Puja. Every fourth year a buffalo is sacrificed. This sacrifice is in place of the traditional human sacrifice. Deodhani dance and Husori or carol songs are the main attractions of the festival.
Rajini Gabra & Harni Gabra
This essentially a religious practice before starting the new cultivation. The Dimasa tribe celebrates the festival. Rajini Gabra starts with Kunang or the village headman propitiating the family deity by closing the village gate on the Puja day. In the night, presiding deity is worshipped for protection and prosperity of the people. This function is called Harni Gabra. An interesting feature of this festival is that if any outsider enters the functions after the gates are closed, then the celebrations are considered spoiled and the intruder has to bear the cost of starting the functions afresh.
Although the Rabha community do not have any national festival of their own, the different groups celebrate their own festivals. The ‘Baikho’ or the Springtime festival is only celebrated to propitiate the goddess of wealth ‘Baikho’. But unfortunately the pomp and grandeur of Baikho are not to be seen now a days in the villages.
Dosa Thoi! Long Nai
This is a very important religious dance performed at the ‘Bathou Puja’ or worshipping of their God-Shiva. In this dance the priestess called Deodhani dances with a bowel on her head in which the blood of a sacrificed fowl is kept. It is believed that while the Deodhani performs this dance in a condition of trance lord Bathou (Siva) will snatch away the bowel and drink the blood.
This again is a spring festival celebrated by the Mising tribe. This is one of the most colourful festivals of Assam. It is organised in the month of ‘Ginmur Polo’ (February-March) on the first Wednesday of the month. ‘Ali’ means root, ‘Ai’ means fruit and ‘Ligang’ means sow. Hence, it is festival which initiates cultivation. Fish is essential in the feast and certain taboos like cutting trees, fishing, ploughing, burning jungles are strictly observed. Young boys and girls perform this dance.
Rongker and Chomangkan
Karbi Anglong, the serene and beautiful abode of the peace loving Karbis. This Mongoloid tribe migrated to this region several years ago. They celebrate two festivals Rongker and Chomangkan. Rongker is essentially a spring festival, which propitiates different God and Goddess for the welfare of village. The festival is organised to keep away diseases, natural calamities and ofcourse for good harvest. On the other hand Chomangkan is an elaborate death ceremony. There is no fixed time for this ceremony and it is organised according to convenience of the community. This four day and four night ceremony is a must for every Karbis.