In Assam, the festival of Bohag Bihu marks the beginning of the new year and the crop-planting season. But unlike other festivals, Bihu is devoid of religious connotations. It is celebrated across religions and communities, even though various groups celebrate the onset of spring or Bohag in their own ways.

Bohag Bihu is the season of fertility. The dry earth is impregnated with the rains that lead to agricultural reproduction and the earth becomes bountiful with crops and vegetation. The medieval text Deoburanji mentions Bohag Bihu as the time when all sorts of flowers bloom.

In Bihu songs, there are frequent references and extensive descriptions of the season. The flowering of the nahor, the blooming of wild orchids (kapauphuls), the spring breeze, the dark heavy clouds, the wild gusty winds known as Bordoisila find mention across the range of the Bihu songs. They chart the vibrant change from a barren state of lifelessness.

Of course, agricultural societies are not dependent only on the forces of nature. They have another requirement – labour. As a consequence, the symbolism of fertility that characterises the celebration of the festival are just limited to nature but to humans as well.

The posture of Bihu dancers, particularly those of the boys, are a reminder of the importance of procreation, notes the prominent Assamese poet and politician Hem Barua. Bihu songs, along with the music of the drums and buffalo-horns, intensify the emotional reactions of the youthful participants. In the Bihu dance arena, life partners are often found.


There are references to a variety of flora in the Bihu songs. They include the nahor, keteki, bhebeli lota, madhoimaloti. Plantain species and grasses – khagori, birina, keya-bon – find mention in the songs with reference to their daily use. Bathing with maah (black gram) and halodhi (turmeric paste) on the first day of Bohag is considered auspicious. It washes away the germs and offers protection from ill health for the coming year.

Bhupen Hazarika in his popular Bihu song Modarore Phul Henu notes that the flower finds no use in either pujas or ceremonies, but embellishes and adorns nature with colour in Bohag. This, along with many other such references, stands in striking contrast with the modern conceptions of nature that equate it with utility.

But Bihu songs see nature not through its use, but its mere existence. Nature is as living and breathing in the songs as are humans, and as integral to the festivities.


As with flora, Bihu attaches importance to the fauna as well. Along with rainfall and labour, draught power was also essential for agriculture. The reverence to cattle finds its way from that premise. On Garu Bihu, the first day of the festival, cattle are fed and attended to.

The Bodos, on their part, devote each day to honouring a different animal. This signals the relationship between humans and animals – a relationship not of exploitation but of symbiosis and reverence.

Some birds that find reference in the songs are the koel and black necked stork. Several types of fish also find mention – xol, xingi, borali, elenga, cital, among others.

This expansive vocabulary of Bihu encompasses all beings that are part of it.


However, Bihu has not always remained the same. Spontaneous celebrations under trees in open fields have been replaced with organised celebrations on stages, in both urban and rural contexts. But the change was not sudden.

Hem Barua points out that with the advent of feudal society, Bihu began to be performed within the precincts of the king and nobility. This prompted the creation of a new form of Bihu dance, husori nritya, and possibly, a new form of Bihu celebration – Moncho Bihu (on stage).

There are many who lament the dissociation of Bihu from being celebrated in open fields and the commercialisation of the festival. Now highly paid individual artists often overshadow husori and Bihu groups. But the essence of Bihu lives on, as it has throughout history, spanning ecological, economic and social contexts through the very songs that are sung – songs that hum the tune of nature.

Krishanu Kashyap is a student of economics and social anthropology at Ashoka University and Associate Editor for the Centre for New Economics Studies, Delhi.