The festival of Makar Sankranti, which falls on Janaury 14 this year, is the first big Indian festival of 2018. And while all festivals are celebrated in slightly different ways in different parts of the country, Makar Sankranti is unique in that almost every part of India has its own distinct way of celebrating the festival. Makar Sankranti is seen as a celebration of the end of the winter solstice month, effectively the end of the long winter nights. It also marks the end of the winter harvest, another milestone in the massive agrarian side of India. As such, each region in India has its own way of celebrating the occasion, and today we are looking at Assam.
The festival of Bihu itself comes in three forms to signify changes in the season, and Magh Bihu is the first one to be celebrated every year. It marks the end of the harvest season, with fresh produce coming to the stores and homes of farmers. It is, thus, a time of celebration and feasting, to give thanks for the good harvest reaped. Magh Bihu isn’t just celebrated in the agricultural pockets, though. It is celebrated everywhere in Assam, from the smallest villages to the biggest cities. Within Assam itself, the specific rituals can vary.
The festival is also called Bhogali Bihu, which roughly translates to the festival of food, in reference to the produce harvested. It marks the shift from winter to spring, and the night before is called Uruka. On the night, before the festival community feasts and entertainment events are held in some parts of Assam, while people in some other parts prefer to give their thanks through prayer and fasts. On the day of the Magh Bihu festival itself, bonfires called ‘Mejis’ are lit, made from the wood, bamboo and hay used to build the temporary pavilions for the community feast the previous night.