These bamboo structures made in Assam to celebrate Bihu explore contemporary themes
Bhelaghars are traditional conical makeshift huts made of bamboo, leaves and thatch for the Bihu Bhogali feast. This year, the organisers experimented with themes ranging from environmental pollution to the recurring floods.art and culture Updated: Jan 14, 2018 16:08 IST
If you were in Assam, you would have virtually seen London’s Tower Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, the India Gate or the Red Fort. There’s more. You would have even come across Iceland’s igloos and the 9/11 twin towers in the US and a recreation of the crash-landing of a plane carrying the then Prime Minister Morarjee Desai in a paddy field at a village in Jorhat district 40 years ago. Both Desai and the then Arunachal Pradesh chief minister PK Thungon escaped unhurt.
These are all themes of ‘bhelaghars’ for the harvest festival Bhogali or Magh Bihu in Assam. The traditional conical makeshift huts ‘bhelaghars’ or ‘mejis’ made of bamboo, leaves and thatch for the Bihu Bhogali feast this year saw these new motifs. Themes on burning issues concerning Assam such as saving the rhino, the river Brahmaputra, the environment and recurring floods were also taken up to raise awareness.
Local news television channels have announced ‘best bhelaghar’ competitions and selfies in front of them. With granaries full after a good harvest, Uruka (first day) celebrations were held across the state. People from all communities participated by building structures to prepare local delicacies of fish and meat for a grand feast inside the mejis in open farm fields.
Ruhini Gogoi, an organiser of the Morarjee Desai plane crash bhelaghar,, said “We took this theme to tell the new generation about the five IAF elite Communication Squadron pilots who made the supreme sacrifice in saving the life of the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai.” A tree was planted then by the villagers at the crash site to mark the area. We thought of commemorating the occasion (now on its 40th year) by making a life size structure of that Air India One plane,” Gogoi said.
One of the organisers of the Tower Bridge meji in Nalbari district said he visited London last year and wanted the people of his hometown to see what it looked like. The initial budget was Rs 5 lakh, but that has doubled by now. It took nearly 15 days to construct it and decorate it with coloured light fittings, he said.
People of Basugaon in Chirang district made a replica of the Big Ben clock tower. A replica of the two-storied Rang Ghar was built in Sivasagar where the original oldest surviving amphitheatre in Asia exists. Rang Ghar, built by Ahom kings in the 18th century, had served as a royal sports pavillion for royalty and nobles to witness games like buffalo fights and other sports at Rupahi Pathar.
India Gate and Red Fort in Delhi, ancient temples and the 9/11 twin towers with the plane hitting one of the buildings have also been showcased as bhelaghars. A full-size train with an engine with compartments where people can sit was made at Boralipothar in Gohpur district.
In the hill district of Karbi Anglong, a ‘Save Brahmaputra from pollution’ theme was adopted at Howraghat, while locals at Demow in Sivasagar and Nagaon’s Amonisali chose Save Kaziranga as a theme to create awareness.
A made-to-scale model of France’s Eiffel Tower was constructed at Dhupdhora in Goalpara district where another bhelaghar depicting the man-elephant conflict was made with an elephant destroying a thatch house. In Golaghat district’s Merapani bordering Nagaland, the theme was Iceland with igloos, sledges drawn by animals, leafless tress and ice skaters, while at another place a giant-sized model from the Gulliver’s Travels was the choice.
The people in Lakhimpur district, worst affected by the recurring annual floods, chose deluge as their theme to highlight their sufferings during the monsoon. After last night’s merry-making and feasting, the bhelaghars and mejis were set ablaze to the chanting of prayers appealing to the fire god (Agni) not to cause destruction during the coming dry months.
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