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Northeast Today

Evolution of Bihu Dance

Evolution of Bihu Dance
May 15
15:17 2017

April Edition, Culture, Dr Anil Saikia

The sky is open and bright.
It is a nice after noon
The mind is entirely free. Because the granary of rice and other corns is full for the whole year and other food grain like pulses, mustard- seed are also well preserved for the year.
It is a very nice comfortable season of the year, that is Spring followed after Winter.
The sensitive youth compose a song.
-a song, within two lines… 

The first line is an exampleof nature or a historical event or anything that is related to the culture or beauty of nature, and the second line conveys a melancholic message of the heart, that communicates the tune of love, desire for conjugal life and frustration. The song was previously sung without rhythm in the bank of rivers, by the side of a jungle or in any open space of a field. After that the songs were sung with a vibrant rhythm and following the rhythm the composer of the Bihu song practiced dancing. Subsequently the people become proficient in singing and dancing.

Bihu dance is presently performed during Bohag Bihu, a traditional festival of Assam celebrated in mid April for seven days. Of the many rituals observed during Bohag Bihu, the most remarkable tradition is the performance of Bihu dance which follows the tunes of ‘Bihu-Nam’ and the rhythmic pattern of the Dhol, a drum made of hollow wood and covered on both sides by leather. Bihu dance is a ‘dance-drama’ type performance, traditionally performed in the courtyard of a household and nowadays publicly celebrated in stage or in open spaces.

A Brief History of Bihu

It has been said that after harvesting rice for the whole year, people find leisure time for enjoying in the months of February, March and first half part of the month of April. During that time, people composed Bihu-songs and sang them in the evening. The people, especially the youth practiced to dance with the songs.

It may be imagined that it took several years for Bihu Nach to acquire its final shape. This was then performed in front of the public by making a procession in the main street of the village. Soon, well- to-do families invited these dance teams to perform in front of their residence and were perhaps rewarded. This could well be thought to Bihu dance becoming more refined and modest. The concept of Husori, a group performance by male artists developed during this time.

Bihu dance acquired yet another modern shape when Srimanta Sankaradeva, who had rejuvenated Assamese culture in many ways, started blending some his music with folk music of Assam. This was picked up by the people who began to blend some tunes of Vaishnava music in Bihu songs. Vaishnava words like Krisha, Gobinda, Rama, etc entered into Bihu.

During the rule of King Rudra Singha (1696-1714), Husori groups were invited to publicly perform and compete in front of the Rang Ghar. These public performances along with intermingling of religious tomes made Bihu dance more modest and acceptable. It was during this time that Bihu dance became more sophisticated.

The changes witnessed in social, political, economical, educational and cultural scenario of Assam when the British rulers came yet again gave a new shape to Bihu dance, songs and the rhythmic pattern of the Dhol. The people of Assam become educated and performance of Bihu dance in the night gradually shifted to performances on stage, namely ‘Mancha Bihu’.

Evolution in Modern Times

Mancha Bihu or stage performance of Bihu has been celebrated since 1931 in Golaghat district, reaching Guwahati by 1952 and subsequently drawing the attention of the public of Assam. When Bihu Nach started to be performed on stage, it became so refined that it lost some of its folk elements.

Soon Bihu songs and dances began to be recorded and broadcasted and it became a profession for many performer to produce Bihu albums. Mancha Bihu covered the whole state, even remote rural areas. With the advent of modern technology and visual mediums, Bihu Nach and songs began to be conceptualised in the form of visual stories, marketed like films in compact discs (CDs).

Nowadays Bihu is as a whole, a part of television programming. Competitions are held inside studios while outside, Bihu organizers award huge sums of money to the winners of various stage competitions. The audience of Bihu has expanded to shores outside landlocked Assam. While Bihu dance workshops have become necessary for the new generation to acquire knowledge of the dances, songs and Dhol, the roots though eroded remains. There may be change. Nobody stopped the process of evolution. And the community knows what to be accepted and what to be rejected.

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