Evolution of Bihu-Nach
First stage or phase;-
Bohag Bihu , a colorful festival of Assam has been celebrated in a befitting way since time immemorial .It is observed for a period of seven days from last day of the month of‘Choita’ to the sixth day of the month of ‘Bohaga’, usually from 13th to 19 th April .
Centuries back when people found some leisure time after learning the method of cultivation, they started engaging in creative works like composing songs, stories and practicing dances etc. It has been said that after harvesting rice for the whole year, they also got time for indulging in celebrations during the months of February ,March and first half of April. They composed songs and sang them on the bank of river or by the side of a forest or in a corn-field near under a tree in the evening. The people, especially the youth learnt to dance to these songs. This dance- practice that presumably started from the evening until midnight, and sometimes continued throughout the night, was the first stage of Bohag Bihu.The songs which were composed in two lines with a message of love, melancholy of life and merriment is termed ‘Bihu-Songs’ and dances performed with the songs are termed as Bihu-Naach( i.e. Bihu- Dance) . In this stage it can be speculated that the rhythmic pattern of the Dhol ( a drum like instrument made of wood whose both sides are covered by leather) was in its nascent form. The rural folk enjoyed themselves by singing and dancing by making circles among themselves.
Second Stage:- It may be imagined that it took several ages to acquire the final shape of Bihu –nach ,bihu-songs and Dhol playing. But when the singer and dancer (male only) felt that it could be performed in front of the public, then on the 14th day of April ( 1st day of Bohag ) a group of dancers and singers formed a procession on the main street of the village by dancing and singing One can imagine that some of the well- to-do families invited the team for a performance in the courtyard of the residence. This practice was assumed to be Second Stage or phase of Bihu- nach. It has been said that in the second phase of Bihu-dance it took a finer shape and came to be performed in the courtyard of household.
There has been another speculation that the Bihu-dance groups were invited by the mighty King Rudra singha in 1706 (approx.) to perform in the courtyard of Ranghar (A famous monument of the Ahom Kingdom built by King Rudra Singha ), where competition among the invited Bihu-teams took place .After the public performance, the teams were invited by the King and his officials to perform Bihu in their residence. From that time onwards the tradition of Bihu-dance performed in a majestic procession came into practice and began to be known as Hussari (A group performance of male-folk by observing certain methodical grammars and rules).
Third Stage: Bihu Dance acquired its third phase when Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449-1569) rejuvenated the Assamese culture in many ways (which one is a separate chapter of study). Srimanta Sankardeva - who had propagated Vaishnava religion in Assam, was a social reformer, poet, dramatist, musician ,artist and architect. He had blended some of his classical music with various styles of folk music of Assam As a consequence the people also started infusing some tunes of Vaishnava music in Bihu-songs while reciting them in the residence of public.
Fourth Stage:- Bihu-dance ,Bihu-songs and the rhythmic pattern of Dhol had acquired its fourth stage when the British came to rule Assam in 1826. Colonial rule had changed the entire socio- political, economical ,educational, and cultural scenario of Assam. They brought forth newer concepts to the colonized land and its people, as a consequence of which the language and lexicon of Bihu-nam ( Bihu –Songs ) changed to a certain extent. The most important colonial outcome was that the British introduced the system of public - service-sector in their administration in Assam, such as in Schools, Colleges, Tea-gardens, Courts, Railways and others due to which a new section of middle class people emerged in the society. Bihu-nach acquired a newer shape in a refined form in this phase.
Fifth Stage:- Mancha- Bihu (performance of Bihu in Stage) is the fifth stage of Bihu-nach. Bihu was celebrated on stage for the first time in 1934 in Golaghat district and thereafter in Dergaon (1935) to be followed by Sibsagar (1941).Finally when it was celebrated in Guwahati (1952) it drew the attention of the entire public of Assam. When the Bihu-nach either in form of Hussory or solo Bihu-nach or Jeng-bihu (Bihu of female folk) began to be performed on the stage it became so gentrified and sophisticated that it lost some of its folk nature and flavor. From the year 1972 onwards ,terms like ‘Hussori-Bihu’,‘Bihu-Samragri’ ‘Bihu-Rani’etc started becoming popular in Assam.
Sixth Stage :- In the sixth stage – ‘Bihu-Songs’ started to be recorded and broadcasted and it become a profession for many performers. Most of the professional singers recorded Bihu-Songs ( Bihu-album : Audio in first phase ) in a commercial way during the time of Bihu-season. In the years between 1980 to 1999 it turned into a vibrant profession for many of the singers and they earned a windfall profit by producing Bihu Cassettes. In this stage, Manch-Bihu emerged as the dominating trend across the state spreading even in the remotest rural area. The popular practice of organizing competitions of Hussories, Solo Bihu-nach, Jeng bihu etc became the vital part of the Manch Bihu.
Seventh Stage:- In the seventh stage ( 2001-2012) Bihu-nach and Bihu-song began to be audio-visualised in a C.D.(Compact disk) format by developing a story-line or plot in the video form .But now a days it has become almost obsolete due to piracy of the products. In the seventh stage of the Bihu the Bihu-Committees play a crucial role in awarding prize in terms of cash money. Some of the Bihu committees offer cash prize of Rs. 5 Lakhs for Hussori Competition which is of course an unprecedented development.
Eight Stage:- When a traditional dance turns into a profession of a performer or a group of performers, and when it draws the attention of the people of the Nation or aboard, then one can assume that it has some systemic appeal and enduring strength to survive the onslaught of time. Bihu-Dance is one of the important traditional dances of Assam which follows most of the basic principles of ‘Music’. Bihu song has its own unique tune , clapping and rhythmic patterns which are played in performance of ‘ Bihu-dance’ . It also has its enchanting and enthralling playing style. Bihu-dance has its own hand- postures , foot-works and body gestures.
Now from 2015 onwards -- what Bihu-Dance( either in Group-form or in solo ) is going to become remains a topic of research in itself !
Dr. Anil Saikia
( Dr. Anil Saikia has been engaging with folk music and culture for several decades. He is a retired Principal of Moran College.)