With the Assam assembly elections passing off by-and-large peacefully and registering an all-time high voter turn-out of 84.72 per cent, Assam is now in the grip of Rongali Bihu – the New Year festival – with everybody talking of change.
“Rongali bihu is definitely the biggest festival of Assam. It is a folk festival that has an assumed universal form that cuts across language, culture, ethnicity and religion. In this era of television and digital media, our bihu itself has undergone a change, from its agrarian origin to a kind of performing art form. Rongali bihu signifies change in nature that also brings about change in the minds of people,” said veteran litterateur and former Asam Sahitya Sabha, Nagen Saikia.
But Saikia is worried that bihu has been “too much commercialized” in the recent years. “Bihu has come into the grip of commercialization. There are more bihu songs and music in CDs and videos than in the lips of the common man. The original ethnic and agrarian form of the festivity that was so full of simplicity and spontaneity is today most of the time missing,” Saikia said.
No doubt the All Assam Rongali Bihu Coordination Committee had as early as in December 2015 come out with a list of Do’s and Don’ts that had also triggered off a controversy especially over a dress-code it suggested for those performing bihu songs and dances in the urban bihu functions. In April last year, a top singer was prevented from performing on the bihu stage because had allegedly not adhered to the dress code specified by a particular bihu
“It is true that bihu has its roots in the annual agriculture cycle. There was a time when young boys and girls used to sing and dance during bihu under a tree. Other people were not permitted to watch them. But things have come such a pass that today bihu organized in towns and cities has very badly lost its original fervour and sanctity,” rued Joykanta Gandhiya, a renowned scholar of the bihu festival.
“Watching bihu performance only as part of reality shows and contests on television channels and the urban stage, the present generation will never be able to understand what bihu actually means and stands for,” Gandhiya said. “Contests held with winners getting hefty sums and gifts offered by multi-national companies are definitely not part of our culture,” said singer and music researcher Loknath Goswami.
The Guwahati-based television channels on the other hand have been facing criticism in the past few years for mixing up bhogali bihu and rongali bihu, with scholars wondering why songs and dances related to the rongali bihu (New Year festival) held in spring were being performed and shown as part of bhogali bihu, which is the harvest festival held in winter.
“What is worse is that women are being increasingly portrayed as objects of sex in certain bihu songs and dances. Bihu has its own sanctity through which it has enriched Assamese culture. That is why such changes cannot be accepted at any cost,” said Anil Kumar Saikia, another noted scholar. “The only solace is that rongali bihu continues to maintain its unadulterated fervour in the rural areas. Those who want to see real bihu should go to the villages, Saikia said.