A time to fish and feast

Sushanta Talukdar

Assam begins celebrating Magh Bihu, the biggest post-harvest festival

GUWAHATI: Mouth-watering traditional Bihu delicacies brought by women entrepreneurs from Upper and Lower Assam sold like hot cakes in the city markets as Assam began celebrating Magh Bihu, the biggest post-harvest festival, from Friday. While town and city folks made a beeline for markets, looking for varieties of fish, there was community fishing in the beels and ponds of rural Assam.

Fish delicacies form an essential part of the grand community feast on the occasion of Uruka. This is observed on the eve of Magh Bihu.

In the paddy fields of rural Assam one sees Meji, a tall structure made of bamboo and thatch. Mejis are burnt in the morning of the first day of the Magh month of Assamese calendar. Half-burnt bamboo sticks and ash are strewn around, as it is believed that this increases the fertility of the soil.

In rural areas, people build Bhela ghar, a temporary structure made of bamboo and dried banana leaves, where community feast is cooked and bonfires made on the Uruka night. Prototypes of Meji are a common sight in cities too. At the `NEDFi haat' in the city, Bihu delicacies that vanished from the shelves within hours of their display included varieties of pitha (rice cake), chira (rice flakes), curd in bamboo tubes, cream, chunga pitha (rice cake in bamboo tubes) and ladoos made of coconut and black sesame seeds. Gift baskets of Bihu delicacies were also a hit.

Six entrepreneurs coming from different districts of the State took part in the four-day pre-Magh Bihu fair here that showcased the traditional Bihu cuisine. The fish market at Uzan Bazaar attracted most buyers. The local variety Chitol ( Notopterus chitala), sold at Rs. 350-400 a kg, was a big draw. Chicken was sold at between Rs. 120 and 140 a kg while a pair of duck was sold at Rs. 280. Of the three Bihus celebrated in Assam - the Rongali Bihu, the Magh Bihu and the Kati Bihu - the Magh Bihu (also called the Bhogali bihu) is known as the festival of feast.

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