Assam’s biggest festival, Bohag Bihu—better referred to as Rongali Bihu – which heralds spring and marks the beginning of the Assamese New Year will miss the standard feasting and festivities this point, thanks to the lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus. The week-long Bihu celebrations, which start with Goru Bihu – the bathing and worshipping of cattle – falls on Monday, but the lockdown will result in curtailing of most rituals. Follow coronavirus latest updates here. The Assam government has asked the public to follow lockdown guidelines by staying indoors and directed Bihu committees to restrict celebrations by just hoisting a flag. “I request all Bihu committees to conclude this year’s programme by hoisting the flag in the presence of no more than 5 persons,” Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said following a cabinet meeting last week. Bihu is marked by preparing various sweets and delicacies called ‘pitha’ and ‘laru’, making ‘gamochas’ (traditional towels) in handlooms, which are distributed among loved ones and month-long cultural programmes across the state. The first day of the year, which falls on Tuesday, is marked as Manuh (human) Bihu when young ones touch the feet of elders in the family to seek their blessings—but that ritual is likely to get affected due to social distancing norms. In view of the spread of coronavirus- 26 Bihu committees in Guwahati had decided to cancel cultural programmes this year on March 20 itself, five days before the three-week lockdown was announced and 11 days before the first COVID-19 case was reported in Assam. The All Assam Students Union (AASU), the influential students’ organization, which has been holding Mukoli Bihu (Open Bihu) at the Judge’s Field in Guwahati since 1982, had decidedto do away with the event this year and won’t be hoisting the flag as well to mark the event. “Let us all resolve this Bohag to fight the menace of coronavirus unitedly. Let us maintain all rules and safety measures. Only then we will be able to win this battle,” AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said in a statement. Assam has recorded 29 COVID-19 cases till date. One patient, a 65-year-old from Hailakandi, died this Friday at Silchar Medical College Hospital.
Coronavirus mars Rongali Bihu celebration in Assam
Dharani Barman would take his cattle to a nearby pond or the river along with others for community bathing of the animals on Goru Bihu every year. However, things have changed slightly this year owing to the lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. “This time, we will not take the cows outside but bathe them on our premises,” Barman, a farmer in Nalbari, said. After being bathed, the cattle are smeared with a mixture of turmeric and other herbs, cleaned with dighloti (a long, leafy plant) and garlanded with a new pogha (rope), before being brought back to the stable. Goru Bihu is the first day of Rongali Bihu, which heralds spring and marks the beginning of the Assamese New Year. Rongali Bihu functions are organised across Assam for a month. However, Assam police on Friday issued instructions to Bihu committees across the state to limit celebrations to hoisting the flag and directed only five people to assemble for the ceremony, which should not last for more than 30 minutes. Guwahati Bihu Sanmilani at Latasil Khelpathar here is regarded as the pioneer in organising Bihu functions, since 1952. However, this time it will only hoist the community flag. “The last time we limited celebrations was in 1983 during the Assam Agitation when we simply hoisted the flag. This time five persons will assemble for the ceremony,” Guwahati Bihu Sanmilani committee member Kailash Sarma said. The All Assam Students Union also decided not to organise its Mukoli Bihu function at Judges Field here on Monday. It has been organising the function since 1982. AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi urged everybody to unitedly fight the COVID-19 threat while greeting people on Rongali Bihu. “This time Bihu has to be celebrated at home, adhering to lockdown restrictions and maintaining social distancing,” he said. “It is for the well-being of people that functions have been barred. We will comply with whatever directive comes from the administration. To observe something, we have to be alive as well,” a resident said. Bihu committee members have also raised concerns on the well-being of artistes. The artistes were able to earn well from the month-long functions, which have been cancelled this year. Committee members urged companies and industries to come forward to aid the artistes. “As Bihu functions will not be held this year, the companies can help the artistes from their corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds,” Sarma added. The coronavirus outbreak has also barred community observation of rituals during Shab-e-Barat and Easter. Governor Jagdish Mukhi and chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Sunday greeted the people on Rongali Bihu. Mukhi and Sonowal appealed to the people to celebrate at home adhering to social-distancing norms. Dibrugarh legislator Prasanta Phukan on Sunday distributed traditional herbs and items to the people of Milan Nagar in Dibrugarh town to perform traditional rituals on Goru Bihu. He also appealed to the people to maintain social distancing during Bihu. Additional reporting by Avik Chakraborty in Dibrugarh.