At a time when cow vigilantism in several states has become a widely discussed issue, Assam’s spring festival — Bohag or Rongali Bihu got under way with the first day being dedicated to cattle.
The week-long Rongali Bihu, the first after Sarbananda Sonowal formed a coalition government led by BJP, began on Friday.
The Twitter world was bombarded with festive wishes as soon as the day dawned. A few Bihu-specific tweets in between triggered a discussion on the degree of sacredness attached to the cow in the Northeast.
Raju Das who describes self as a corporate dropout, tweeted:
Today is 1st day of Bohag Bihu in Assam, 1st day is Cow Bihu. This may be a big surprise for many who think cow worship does not exist in NE— Raju Das | ৰাজু দাস (@rajudasonline) April 14, 2017
Some were, however, quick to point out that cattle – the backbone of a largely agrarian society – in rural areas are pampered on Goru (cow) Bihu, not revered.
“Cows and bulls are given a bath and new pogha (rope) and fed with special meal and their gohalis (sheds) are cleaned on Goru Bihu, not worshiped,” replied vocalist Queen Hazarika.
Another tweet by @Oushinar said: “Well, I don’t think that they are worshipped in Cow Bihu. They are in some sense ‘honoured’.”
Others insisted Bohag Bihu is all about merriment. It is the feistiest of three Bihus throughout the Assamese year, the others being the mid-January Bhogali or Magh Bihu and Kati or Kongali Bihu in October.
Bohag, Baisakh elsewhere, refers to the first month of the Assamese calendar year. But the Bihu begins from the last day of Chaitra month dedicated to upkeep of livestock and a cattle show.
In villages or semi-urban areas, people bring their cattle to a water body, bathe and massage them with a combination of oil, paste of pulses and turmeric. The cattle are also whipped lightly with two shrubs locally called dighloti and makhioti, and fed specific vegetables.
“The demand for such vegetables was so high because of Goru Bihu that a gourd sold for R150 apiece instead of the normal Rs 25-30 while eggplants commanded up to Rs 250 a kilo,” Ratan Dey, a vegetable retailer in Guwahati’s Silpukhuri area, said.
The solemnity of Cow Bihu contrasts sharply with the exuberance of the remaining days of the festival marked by singing and dancing to the beats of dhol (drum), pepa (buffalo horn pipe), gogona (bamboo harp) and cymbals.
On Friday, the All Guwahati Students’ Union organised the now ritualistic community Bihu in which people from diverse communities and celebrities participated. The students’ body also felicitated a number of personalities on the occasion.
Assam governor BL Purohit and chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal extended Bihu greetings. “Let this Bihu be a harbinger of a new dawn of warm and harmonious relationship and peace, prosperity and progress in the State,” the governor said in a customary message.
Sonowal wished that the festival would bring lasting peace and prosperity and strengthen mutual bonding among people.
Unlike the Hindi Heartland, Assam is not obsessive about cattle. But on April 6, three people – a minor among them – were arrested in Jorhat town after locals complained that they displayed beef in the marketplace.