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Folk Festival Bhatheli and the Bhatheli Festival of Ramdia | English Article by Lalit Chandra Bharali

 Folk Festival Bhatheli and the Bhatheli Festival of Ramdia

Abstract: 

Celebration of festivals is an integral part of our culture all over the world. As a performative art, festivals form an important part of culture and community life. Every community in the world celebrates festivals to keep their identity alive and define their Socio-Cultural boundary. The main characteristic of a festival is its popularity and Universaliity. The basic aim of celebrating a festival is to refresh the people from their daily routine and to remind them of their collective conscience and group identity. Festivals are basically celebratory events in history and tradition. Festivals provide an important space for social integration, interaction and  towards shaping a cultural identity.

         People in the past performed agriculture related rituals across the globe. But as Hinduism has no founder and central authority to enforce uniformity of beliefs and practices, the allied festivals are not celebrated with equal fervor in all places. Festivals celebrated in one part of the state/country may not be known in another corner. One of the significant Agrarian festivals of Assam is the Bhatheli festival. It is mainly celebrated in the Assamese month Bohag (mid-April to mid-May) in Kamrup and Nalbari districts. The dates and modes of celebration of the Bhatheli festival vary from place to place. The chief feature of the Bhatheli is planting of two or more bamboo poles which are decorated with various coloured cloths, choaries, garlands and gamochas (traditional Assamese towel).

        The Bhatheli of Ramdia is different from other Bhatheli festivals of Assam. Bhatheli festival is being celebrated here on the day when Madhavdev left Ramdia. Icons of 15 Satras of Shankari, Damodari and Chaitanya Cults are brought to the festival ground on the day of the festival. In the evening, the icons of the said Satras are returned with a cultural processesion. The second day is called "Bhanga Bhatheli" and there is no religious ritual associated with it.

Introduction:

       Celebration of festivals is an important part in folk culture all over the world. The recent trend to shift focus from content to process has led performance studies to become a valuable medium for confronting issues in cross cultural situation. Various types of celebration and representation or a performance, shows and communicates meaning at different levels of life and every community in the world celebrates festivals to keep their identity alive and defines their socio-cultural boundary. The basic aim of celebrating a festival is to refresh people from the mundane daily routines. The observance of traditional festivals by different communities in different parts of the world reflect cultural affinity, emotional integration, points of contact and foster strong bonds of unity amidst a plethora of diversities. There are different types of festivals celebrated by people at different periods of the year and most of the festivals in the world evolves around mystical rituals. So there is a close relation between myths and religion. Festivals are the outward expression of social behaviour. In the past rituals were performed to tame the disastrous natural powers, to lengthen the day time and to avoid cold. In order to satisfy Gods and Goddesses of agriculture, woods, sky, water etc. they were worshipped. The aboriginal inhabitants of the world considered the Sun, the Moon, the Wind, the Thunder, the Earthquake as a thing of surprise among the Gods and Goddesses. A few of them are aggressive in mood and others are colourful in nature. A few Gods and Goddesses are worshipped by performing sacrifices and yajnas while others are worshipped through prayer, dance and music relating to the birth,marriage and death of these deities. Some rituals or beliefs originate from these festivals.

Objectives:

The main objectives of the paper are as follows:

• To analyse the idea of folk festival

• To introduce the concept of Bhatheli festival

• To explore the peculiar concept of the Bhatheli festival of Ramdia.

Methodology:

        The paper is both descriptive and analytical in nature. Data have been collected from primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources include books, journals, souvenirs, magazines etc. It is a fact that there are very few written records of the Bhatheli festival of Ramdia.

Discussion : 

          In most cases festivals emerge out of rituals and practices related to agricultural activities. A number of instances may be cited in this regard. In South Africa, people in earlier days performed some rituals before starting cultivation with a view to have abundance of agricultural output. In North America people worship goddesses Northus and in Rome Sibis and Rohio at the advent of the spring season (Goswami 1994). In the islands of Pacific Ocean and in South America people play drums and played it in the agrarian land for production of plenty of crops. In China and Japan, people keep the seeds of crops in the midst of a drum and played it in the agricultural land (Sharma et.al 2005). In England, Carnival and Maypole festivals are celebrated as seasonal festivals (Sharma:1993).

          The Indian situation presents a very rich and unique tradition of celebrations of festivals. In India festivals are not just secular, but also has a sacred origin and most of them show a lineage to the Vedas and the Puranas and the other sacred text which had been produced at different times and are still being produced. The Puranas give a detailed account of the origin lore of feast, fast and festivals and the way they were actually observed. The puranic pantheon consists of 33 crore and three Gods and Goddesses headed by Brahma-the creator, Vishnu- the preserver and Shiva- the destroyer. Shiva and his phallic cult are probably as old as the Indus valley civilization. After the decay of Vedic Hinduism and rise of the Puranic religion, Shiva and his wife became the dominant deity of the pantheon. The wife of Shiva has an independent Cult of her own known as shakta or Shakti. But as Hinduism has no founder and the central authority to enforce uniformity of beliefs and practices, the allied festivals are not celebrated with equal fervour in all places. Regional or Seasonal festivals in one part of the country may not be known in another corner. The names of the festivals are also as varied as the people in India. For example, among the HO community in Chhota Nagpur, the girls are given sexual freedom in festivals. Similar thing happens in the Kot society of the Nilgiries. At the advent of the new year in West Bengal, Rongali Bihu is celebrated. In Punjab Baisakhi is celebrated traditionally and among the Nayars in South India, Bishu festival is celebrated at eve of the new year.

          In Arunachal Pradesh, the Wancho celebrates Luku festival, the Jangha celebrates Sambunker, the Golang celebrates Mapin or Chalong, the Monpa celebrates Luche festivals which are similar to Assamese Bihu festival (Goswami 1995). In Mizoram the Kuki celebrates Arem festival at pre-harvesting stage for four days. They also celebrate Chap-Chor-Kut festival for abundant production in agriculture. In Manipur, Puram worships Nung Chungha with songs and dances for seven days in the pre harvesting and post-harvesting period. In Tripura especially among the Reangs community Bishuchoni festival is celebrated. In Assam too, the Assamese boys and girls perform Bihu dance in the agrarian land to increase the fertility of the land(Sarma 1995). The seasonal festivals held in the spring season are Holi, Ashokastami, Sori, Deul etc. are celebrated. The Missing community celebrates Ali- Ai -Ligang and Porag festival which are agricultural in nature.The Karbi celebrates Hacha Kakan,Chajund,Chomangken,Rongker etc. The Rabha worships Khoski,Tamai,Baykho while the Tiwa holds Changrmichawa festival.

       One of the significant though little known agrarian festivals of Assam is Bhatheli festival. It is mainly celebrated in lower Assam especially in the districts of Kamrup and Nalbari in the Assamese month Bohag with a one or two day long programme. The date and mode of celebration of the festival varies from place to place. The chief feature of the Bhatheli festival is planting of two or more bamboos in the public places selected for the purpose or in the campus of a village namghar. On the auspicious day, the young men of the village taking a holy bath ceremoniously, cut one or more bamboos and remove its leaves and branches and thereafter the bamboos are purified by cleaning. Again, the bamboos are decorated with various coloured cloths , Choaries, garlands and gamochas. The decorated bamboos are planted in an auspicious and festive atmosphere made by beating of drums playing of cymbals and blowing of conches.

       Regarding the origin of the word Bhatheli various opinions have been suggested by the scholars. Etymologically, the word Bhatheli is derived from the word 'bhathi' which means downstream part of a river. (Bhattacharya,1991). The moment of musthing period of an elephant is called Bhathi khola in the dialect of the mahouts. Goswami suggests that as the festival is celebrated in the spring season there may be reference to lust in Bhatheli festival. The word Bhatheli may be derived from the word Bhatheli which is available in Padma purana the term may be derived from nabhasthlika>bhasthalika>bhatheli (bha means sky and sthalika means region). As because the bamboo staffs implanted on the occasion are supposed to reach the acial region that is navasthalika (Kakati 1972). The implantations of the poles is also prevalent in the Shiva cult. This was regarded as an activity of purity in sadak Puja and funerals. This very practice was prevalent in Arya society too(Kakati, 1957). Besides bamboo has a close association with the kiratas or the Indo -Mongoloids (Bhattacharya1991).

        The major aspects of Bhatheli festival are: 

 a) decoration of the para or paura, 

b) implantation of the para or paura, 

c) fairs, 

d) performance of music and musical instruments and 

e) Dismantling of the Bhatheli Ghar. 

      The bamboo poles used in Bhatheli festival are known as para or paura which derives from the Sanskrit word parawat. The tallest bamboo pole is regarded as the male para or groom while the lowest one as female para or bride and others are attendants. According to Goswami the term para or paura is derived from the Bhutanese word parlsa which means a flag staff. The word para or paura may be related to the Sanskrit word Parawat (pigeon) which is used for sacrificing in tantra worship and sometimes pigeons are flown away for the welfare of the people as a result of which lots of pigeons are available in temples. The word para or paura is perhaps used as a modified form of Indradhavaja(Kakati,1952). It may be mentioned here that the coloured clothes are regarded by some people as a symbol of clouds. The Choweries hung on the bamboo staff are regarded as a symbol of wind. The logic behind it is that the village folk mostly live on agriculture and wish for rain for fertility of the land. People offer reverential salutation to the flag staffs. The Bhatheli Ghar is made by  plantating  banana trunk with leaves and offered in the name of the deity. The festival starts from midday and continues till the evening. When the customary rites and rituals relating to the festival come to an end the young boys are divided into two groups- one group dismantles the Bhatheli Ghar shouting that  Bhatheli is over, while the other group obstructs the act of dismantling the Bhatheli Ghar. As a result, a mock fight takes place between the two groups and eventually one group dismantles the Bhatheli Ghar. In some places the para or paura are dismantled by mock fighting between two groups and then thrown into a nearby river.

        A section of Assamese Muslims at Chamata and Laotola(Ghoga)in Nalbari district celebrates Bhatheli festival (Sharma 1995). The festival is also celebrated in southern part of Kamrup district as sori or suwery. The Bash Puja or Madan Kamdev Puja of Goalpara district has a great deal of similarities with the Bhatheli festival. In Bash Puja 1 to 3 bamboo poles are installed ceremoniously as a symbol of Kamdev and his wife Rati. The erotic songs and dances around the bamboo poles suggest sex motif and procreation. In the early stage Bhatheli had some suggestions of eroticism and fertility but within the passage of time the erotic elements disappeared from the rites and rituals (Sharma 1993).

      The Bhatheli festival of Ramdia is different from other festival of Assam. Ramdia is not a revenue village. It is a collection of 14 revenue villages in the district of Kamrup. Ramdia is surrounded by Bihdia and Nalbari on the north. Niz Hajo and Tokradia on the east. Hajo suti and Paschim Bangsor Mauja on the south and the stream of Brahmaputra river on the west. The Bhatheli festival of Ramdia is the most popular folk festival and it is synonymous to Xaat Bihu for the people of the Ramdia. The origin of the festival is dated back to the ceremonial farewell to saint Madhav Dev from Ramdia. According to some Charit Puthis (Hagiographes) Madhab Dev and a group of followers accompanied him in 1589 A.D. to Hajo and propagated the faith of Neo-Vaishnavism. The people of Hajo and it's neighbouring villages at Ramsota as well, which is now known as Ramdia  paid a religious homage to the saint . It is mentioned in Bardow Charit, Sri Sankardeva Charit and that Madhav Dev stayed at Ramdia for six months. But another Charit entitled Katha Guru Charit states that Madhav Dev stayed at Ramdia for three months. According to local beliefs Madhav Dev stayed at Ramdia from the Assamese month of Aghon to Bohag (mid November to mid April). So from the above point Madhav Dev stayed at Ramdia for 6 months. During that period, Madhav Dev discussed on Vaishnavism with his followers and disciples and there was always a festive atmosphere following the beating of khols, playing of cymbals and blowing of conches. Drama and satriya dance were also performed. Laxmikanta Atai of Hajo and Sanatan Atai of Dodhi were always in contact with the Saint. During their stay at Ramdia, Madhav Dev received an invitation from the mother of Koch king Laxmi Narayan and then he decided to return to Kochbehar. With a view to offer farewell to Madhav Dev before he set out for Kochbehar, the people of Ramdia assembled at Bhathelikhola or Matheli with a cultural procession and the time was 6th Bohag in 1589 A.D. Since then the Bhatheli festival has been celebrated at Ramdia as a symbol of respect to Madhavdeva. To place the icons each satra has a well decorated pavilion and covered by special kind of clothes(Chandrataap). On the fifth Bohag the icon of Sri Sri Dhular satra is carried to the festival ground with a procession in a Chaudola and again returned to the satra premises with same manner. On the way to the satra, the people pay a reverential prayer to the icon. In the Satra premises of Sri Sri Dhular Satra,the devotees are divided into two groups who throw bananas at each other. On the very next day i.e. 6th Bohag 15 icons of 15 Satras of Ramdia are carried to the festival ground along with a procession and then place the icons in their respective pavilions. (earlier 12 icons of 12 satras were carried out on the festival ground). Another unique feature of of Bhatheli festival of Ramdia is that the satras of Damodari, Shankari and Chaitanya cults are mingled together in the festival ground. People pay obeisance by offering garland, incenses and coins to the icons and seek blessing from Lord Vishnu. In the evening, the icons are returned to their respective Satras. On 7th Bohag the festival is called Bhanga -Bhatheli. No rites and rituals are performed on that day. Alongside the festival a big fair is held. Several bamboo products, weaving instruments, 8 earthen products, cloths and various types of spices and vegetables are available in the fair.

Conclusion: 

         The Bhatheli festival of Ramdia is similar with Bash Puja of Goalpara, Bhathelis of Kamrup and Nalbari along with the Sori of South Kamrup. But because of the coincidental farewell of Madhav Dev the festival took a religious turn under the umbrella of Vaishnavism. It may be mentioned here that originally the village (Ramdia) was located in the sandy beach of river Ramsota. But as time passed this very sandy beach gradually turned into a fertile land and influx of different people from nearby areas turned it into a full-fledged village i.e.Ramdia. It is presumed that the migrated and newly settled people initially started the Bhatheli festival. But the advent and coincidental departure of Madhav Dev from Ramdia bore a new form of celebration of the Bhatheli festival with a religious colour.

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Writer's address:

Lalit Chandra Bharali, 

HOD,English, 

B. C. Medhi College, Ramdia.

Kamrup.

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