The Bihu is the greatest national festival of Assam. It is celebrated all over Assam, though, nowadays, such festival is held with greater rejoicing in the villages than in the towns. The word ‘Bihu’ in Assamese, means festival.
There are three Bihu in Assam and these festivals are celebrated in three different seasons every year. Accordingly, these are named the Bohug Bihu, the Kati Bihu and the Magh Bihu. The names are given after the names of the Assamese months in which they are held.
The Bohug Bihu begins on the last day of Chaitra. It lasts for a week in the month of Bohug or Baisakh. It is the most important of the three Bihu. During this festival, people get up early in the morning of the first day of the festival and take a bath in rivers or ponds. Old people read religious books. They go to Namghar or the prayer hall and assemble there for prayer and religious discourse. Young people take part in sports and games, dance and songs. Thus they pass the day in merriment. On this occasion, the people of Assam put on new clothes. They offer new garments, especially new napkins, to their friends and relatives. They also hold feasts and invite their friends and relatives at their homes. It is a highly joyful time for them. During this festival, the domestic cows get special attention. Rural people bathe their cows and put garlands around their neck, and new ropes are used to tie the cows. They also serve good food to their cows during the festival. The Bohug Bihu is also called Rangali Bihu. ‘Rangali’, in Assamese, means colourful delight and the festival in this season is full of joy and merriment. Hence it is called Rangali Bihu.
The Kati Bihu takes place in the month of Kartik. People put lamps on the top of bamboo poles (as Akash Pradeep in West Bengal) in the evening on this occasion. They also put lamps at the foot of tulsi plants on the sacred tulsi platform in the courtyards. There is no feasting or pomp and splendour. Hence the Kati Bihu is also called Kangali Bihu, as Kangal means poor. It is performed not with much merriment, but with simplicity and devotion.
The Magh Bihu is observed on the last day of the month of Poush, i.e. the Poush Sankranti Day, and continues for a week after the annual harvest. People take bath early in the morning. They prepare different kinds of cakes and sweets at home and have a good feast on the day. They build media or the huts made of straw and dry bamboo in the open place. In the evening they burn these media and worship the god of fire. Thus they pass the day in feasting and merriment. Hence it is called Bhogali Bihu, as Bhogali means merriment and feasting after harvest.
The Bihu festival, especially the Bohug Bihu, is an important festival in Assam—like the Durga Puja festival in West Bengal. As the Bengalees eagerly wait for the Durga Puja festival, so do the Assamese wait for this festival. All these Bihus including Bohug Bihu, Kati Bihu and Magh Bihu represent the valuable culture and colourful civilization of the Assamese.