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Dharitri Narzary
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Bwisagu

16 May 2019

Bwisagu is the New Year festival of the Boro community in Assam (India). It is the most awaited time of the year, which annually begins on 14th April and lasts for at least a week. It is also celebrated as Baisakh in Punjab and as Bihu  by the larger Assamese society that involve lot of merry making by all age groups. But what makes the Bwisagu of Boro community unique is the way it is celebrated.

The celebration begins with a practice called gwkkha –gwkkhwi janai, which literally means eating sour-bitter food, in the form of thirteen varieties of indigenous herbs and edible plants, cooked with meat! Traditionally, village community gather in a common place/building, or it maybe the house of a well regarded member of the community, where greetings are exchanged and respect shown to the elderly. I had the opportunity to be part of one such gatherings in April 2018 that brought back so many memories, especially the ones of us as young girls dressed in traditional dokhna paying visit to homes in the village while dancing and singing all the way!

Such festivities and gatherings are incomplete without jou (rice beer) and traditional musical instruments kham (drum) and sifung (flute). Jou is first offered to the Bathou bwrai (indigenous almighty) along with rice and the sour-bitter meat dish. This is one tradition among the Boro, which has not changed. Without jou Bwisagu festival is unthinkable for the Boro people and it is totally acceptable to become drunk publicly and dance to the tune of kham-sifung without feeling conscious!

There are different types of jou prepared especially for Bwisagu, using different rice varieties. Jou bidwi (sweet type), jou gwran (spirit type), jou gisi (not so hard) and jumai (newly made) are the names one will come across during Bwisagu. The quality and taste of jou is determined by two factors: the variety of rice used and the skill /knowledge of making it. And it is the women of the community who hold this knowledge, passed down through generations in the familial space.