Photos: Celebrating Baikho with the Rabha tribespeople in Assam

Observed during the pre-monsoon month annually, Baikho Puja or the springtime festival is the prime pre-harvest festival for the indigenous Rabha people in the north-eastern state of Assam. The festivities observed by this traditionally animistic community, that now practices a faith blended with Hindu customs, focus on the worship of Baikho, an agricultural deity, and centre on the community’s well-being and a good harvest. Other highlights include the traditional Rabha dance competition and lewa tana or tug of war contest. The community’s priests running over burning charcoal is another important ritual during Baikho.

UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2019 12:06 PM IST 9 Photos
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A Rabha priest dances around burning charcoal as part of rituals during Baikho festival at Pantan village, west of Guwahati. Every year, the Rabha community in Assam celebrates the Baikho Puja festival, performing traditional rituals to please a deity of wealth and ask for good rains and a good harvest. (Anupam Nath / AP)

A Rabha priest dances around burning charcoal as part of rituals during Baikho festival at Pantan village, west of Guwahati. Every year, the Rabha community in Assam celebrates the Baikho Puja festival, performing traditional rituals to please a deity of wealth and ask for good rains and a good harvest. (Anupam Nath / AP)

UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2019 12:06 PM IST
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On the first day of the weeklong rituals, people scrub their homes and belongings clean. They clear jungle lands of fallen foliage near the village where the deity is believed to live. (Anupam Nath / AP)

On the first day of the weeklong rituals, people scrub their homes and belongings clean. They clear jungle lands of fallen foliage near the village where the deity is believed to live. (Anupam Nath / AP)

UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2019 12:06 PM IST
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A man practices before performing a cultural dance with traditional drums during Baikho festival After sunset, spiritual leaders visit each household, sing ceremonial songs and sprinkle rice on the rooftops. They are offered rice beer. (Anupam Nath / AP)

A man practices before performing a cultural dance with traditional drums during Baikho festival After sunset, spiritual leaders visit each household, sing ceremonial songs and sprinkle rice on the rooftops. They are offered rice beer. (Anupam Nath / AP)

UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2019 12:06 PM IST
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A Rabha priest makes the traditional rice beer. Then the community gathers near the house of the head priest and sings ritual songs while drinking and dancing. Worship begins the next day. A man from each household and village priests go to designated worship places in the jungles, pray and sacrifice animals. After the ceremonies, men share more cold rice beer. (Anupam Nath / AP)

A Rabha priest makes the traditional rice beer. Then the community gathers near the house of the head priest and sings ritual songs while drinking and dancing. Worship begins the next day. A man from each household and village priests go to designated worship places in the jungles, pray and sacrifice animals. After the ceremonies, men share more cold rice beer. (Anupam Nath / AP)

UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2019 12:06 PM IST
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Rabha women participate in a tug of war. After all rituals are finished, people dress up for dances and performances. Villagers from neighbouring communities gather for the all-night celebrations. People play a traditional game known as rope fighting. Men and women play music, dance and sing songs. (Anupam Nath / AP)

Rabha women participate in a tug of war. After all rituals are finished, people dress up for dances and performances. Villagers from neighbouring communities gather for the all-night celebrations. People play a traditional game known as rope fighting. Men and women play music, dance and sing songs. (Anupam Nath / AP)

UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2019 12:06 PM IST
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A Rabha woman performs a traditional dance as villagers watch during Baikho festival at Pantan village. (Anupam Nath / AP)

A Rabha woman performs a traditional dance as villagers watch during Baikho festival at Pantan village. (Anupam Nath / AP)

UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2019 12:06 PM IST
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Rabha tribal girls adjust their traditional head gear during Baikho festival. The festival lasts between three and seven days. Traditional music and the locally brewed local rice beer are both in abundance. (Anupam Nath / AP)

Rabha tribal girls adjust their traditional head gear during Baikho festival. The festival lasts between three and seven days. Traditional music and the locally brewed local rice beer are both in abundance. (Anupam Nath / AP)

UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2019 12:06 PM IST
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Priests cover their bodies and faces with rice powder. They burn a “mejhi,” a wall of bamboo filled with festive food and plant debris. Fire and the beating of drums create an atmosphere and are believed to protect villages from evil spirits by energizing the air. (Anupam Nath / AP)

Priests cover their bodies and faces with rice powder. They burn a “mejhi,” a wall of bamboo filled with festive food and plant debris. Fire and the beating of drums create an atmosphere and are believed to protect villages from evil spirits by energizing the air. (Anupam Nath / AP)

UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2019 12:06 PM IST
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The flames and sounds are also seen as the source of adrenaline for holy leaders who run barefoot over hot coals. Afterwards, village women wash the priests’ feet and serve them refreshments to honour their bravery. (Anupam Nath / AP)

The flames and sounds are also seen as the source of adrenaline for holy leaders who run barefoot over hot coals. Afterwards, village women wash the priests’ feet and serve them refreshments to honour their bravery. (Anupam Nath / AP)

UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2019 12:06 PM IST
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