January 14th, 2023
People hold Magh Bihu festival in January to honor the end of the harvest season when everything is in abundance. They also refer to this cuisine festival as Bhogali Bihu. This is essentially the season of feasting and drinking. It is the time of year when the hardworking farmers of Assam sit down to harvest the fruits of their labor.
Everyone in Assam celebrates the Magh Bihu holiday with zeal, from the smallest villages to the largest towns and cities. However, the celebration differs from village to city. People wake up early to wash in water and set fire to ‘Mejis’, which are makeshift pavilions made of wood, bamboo, tree leaves, grass, and hay. Everyone brings their edibles to the auspicious Meji location and offers sweets such as ‘Pithas’ (rice cakes), ‘Laru’ (coconut sweets), ‘sira-doi’, ‘jalpan’, other delights, and betel nuts to the fire after the Meji is burned as a symbol of thanksgiving for the harvest that has been gathered. This is the most essential component of the Bihu celebrations, which the villagers have been performing for centuries.
People also pray to The Agni Devta for his blessing on the upcoming harvest season. They then settle down to eat traditional Assamese cuisine. People in the rural amuse themselves with intriguing bird battles and bullfights. The birds are captured a few days before these occurrences and are thoroughly cared for, fed nutritiously, and trained. The winning bird or buffalo’s owner receives the prize money as well as a trophy as a collectible.
On this occasion, people visit the houses of their friends and family to share pleasantries and Bihu greetings, ignoring their differences. The festivity is marked by young women dressed in colorful traditional festive costumes woven out of pure Muga (silk) in red and saffron, and men dressed in white dhoti with Gamuchas (traditional scarves) tied around their foreheads and a red scarf across their hip sing Bihu songs to the beats of the Dhol and Pepa!
Magh Bihu is a time for community and celebration, with lots of food such as Pitha, Laru, Sandoh, and Mah-korai. Humans have been celebrating harvests since the dawn of agriculture. Assamese people prepare for the harvest festival when January begins. The name Bhogali, meaning feast or enjoyment, suggests that this event centers around food. People treat themselves after a year of toiling in the fields in the sun and rain by eating nice food and guarding their hearths.
People hold the Magh Bihu event for over two days. Uruka is the first day or eve of the year. People organize community feasts on Uruka. On this evening, residents of a neighborhood gather to construct Bhelaghar, or improvised dwellings, and a Meiji, or stack. People eat around bonfires and sleep in the Bhelaghar at night. On Magh Bihu, folks light the Meiji and pray for a secure hearth and a prosperous year. People serve Jolpan and other festival-specific items following the rites.
The feast on the eve of Uruka is perhaps the most popular aspect of Magh Bihu. The Uruka feast is a large event, and every Assamese merchant and lady hopes to sell their produce for it. The markets on Uruka are a visual feast. The Uruka feast is traditionally a communal celebration. Uruka feast is a time for family and community, whether in a village or in the city.
Pitha, Laru, Sandoh, and Mah-korai are traditional Magh Bihu dishes. This, however, is simply a broad concept. Farmers in Assam grow a variety of rice varieties which they use to make different types of sweet treats. On Magh Bihu morning, people make Jolpan with milk or curd and jaggery using many varieties of rice such as Bora saul and Kumol saul which they soak before eating. They also make Sandoh, another rice dish, by frying the rice for a few minutes and then grinding it in a Dheki (a wooden, homemade mill) to make crushed rice which they eat with milk and jaggery.
Any Assamese Bihu is incomplete without Pitha. It is made of rice flour and has various fillings. Pitha is a general word for at least 50 different types of Pithas found in Assam. Among the most popular are Narikolor Pitha, which is made of Bora rice flour and a jaggery-coconut mix, and Til Pitha, which is made of Bora rice flour and a jaggery-grounded sesame seeds combination.
Mah korai is a one-of-a-kind food item available only during Magh Bihu. Fried bora rice, sesame seeds, black grams, green grams, black chickpeas, and peanuts are used to make it. Roasted ginger and coconut cubes are also included sometimes.
A Bhog composed of milk and rice flour is served to the people. Every household that raises cows performs this ceremony of cleaning the cowshed and providing Bhog to them because they, too, have contributed to the fields. Although there are minor changes in Magh Bihu food and culinary traditions, the essence is the same throughout the state. It is to honor nature and express gratitude for warm hearts and delicious cuisine.
Woahhh! Hello there! Stop! You don't wanna do this.