Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Bihu - The Breath of Assam

Bihu was a very serendipitous thing that happened to us during our recent visit to northeast. We had no idea what or when Bihu was before we made an impromptu visit to Dinjan village in Tinsukia district of Assam. Before I proceed, I would like to thank wholeheartedly Ms. Ali and her family who were very hospitable to us in the village.

Bihu (Rongali Bihu) happens in the month of April marking the Assamese new year and spring arrival. In the countryside, its observed by groups going from one house to another singing and dancing Bihu; while in cities its organized as a stage event. Fortunately we got to see the countryside way of celebrating Bihu and the experience is a very memorable one. This photoblog is all about that.

By 6 in the evening we were at Ali's house sipping hot tea and munching a sweet made of sesame seeds and jaggery. Outside it kept drizzling and the twilight was speedily fading to night. The pleasant sound of the Bihu beats was in the air, few lads, dressed in dhoti, were rehearsing the drumming for the upcoming event. It was dark when we came out of Ali's house, the drum sounds guided us along the narrow alley completely covered with puddle of mud. I was in a very compromising situation as I walked through, my slippers got stuck in the mud slush, I had to carry them in one hand, camera in the other with the shaft of the umbrella held between my head and shoulder to protect the camera from rain.

We first reached a house where a group of elderly men were celebrating Bihu. They were delighted to see the bright flashes from the camera, they knew there was a tourist. The celebrations were very noisy and chaotic, the whole group was high on rice wine. Like I mentioned earlier, this group would go dancing from one house to another house where they're offered wine, food and tambul (betel nut & betel leaf). Probably they were already drunk from their previous visits, they were high and happy.

The hosts invited me inside their house and offered me rice wine in a bowl and a spicy potato dish on a leaf. I savoured the dish and swilled the wine, the rice wine tasted great, very different and much better than what I had tasted in China. The taste could be compared with toddy of Kerala while the one in China tasted more like Fenny. They asked me where I was from and where my wife was from, they were particularly fond of her, as she, like them, belonged to Mongoloid race. I came out and continued my photography, they worshipped the Xorai covered with plantain leaf having betel nuts on it. The drum beats started and the crowd started dancing again in a frenziedly frolicsome way.

Our next destination was indoors, a large unfurnished hall filled with old ladies, mostly dressed in white, drunk and dynamic, dancing Bihu. This was the considerably well lit dance floor compared to the others we visited, some ladies were seated along the periphery of the room watching others dance and taking turns. Seeing the camera flash, the ladies got very overenthusiastic and upped their tempo, they came very close to camera to get photographed and I was more than glad to click them. Unlike other group there were no resounding drums here, their singing and applause was their only music source. We took leave from them to witness the last, the most colourful, the most energetic Bihu dance of the evening.

We entered the courtyard of a house, few young men were warming up for the event. Inside the house, young girls aged from 8 to 18 were all set for the event attired in colourful sarees. They were glad to pose for few individual portraits, it was sad that I didn't have a fast lens to shoot really sharp portraits. Finally the dhol beats kicked in and all the girls lined up in the courtyard, it drizzled mildly outside, girls were hesitant initially but after a small nudge and encouraging smile by their comrades they hit the dance floor and displayed some exquisitely gracious Bihu moves. Two-three girls danced for about 5 minutes and left the dance area to give way to others, men controlled the moves of the ladies with their dexterous drumming.

After dancing for about 20 minutes of dancing, it was time for worshipping the Xorai with tambula. And the group moved to the neighbouring house (it seems each group visit around 11 houses every day) and by this time the drizzle had turned to rain. The host of the second house, a newly-wed husband grabbed all the attraction, he danced with all energy and enthusiasm while the ladies stood in groups under umbrellas watching him. He invited his wife to accompany him, but she was too shy to join him; he lived up the quote "Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt. Sing like nobody's listening; live like it's heaven on earth!" Even the younger ones got inspired and there were a couple of eight-ten-year-olds dancing Bihu which was cute to watch.

I just loved the experience of being there in the midst of the Bihu celebrations, among warm-hearted countrymen of Assam. For the region accursed by extremities of nature like rains and floods, Bihu is definitely a much desired breath to Assam. All photographs were shot with Canon 450D, with 17-40/4L lens and built flash.

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