Festive Connections

Bwisagu, the Bodo New Year celebrations in April is the perfect time to immerse oneself in the vibrant sights, sounds and rhythm of Bodoland
 Bodo villagers gather near a Sijou tree altar to offer prayer on the 2nd day of Bwisagu festival. Photo Credit Alongbar Basumatary
Bodo villagers gather near a Sijou tree altar to offer prayer on the 2nd day of Bwisagu festival. Photo Credit Alongbar Basumatary

Come spring and all of Bodoland, as it were, bursts into joy. The air rings out with the beats of the &lsquokham&rsquo (traditional Bodo drum) and the melodies of the &lsquosifung&rsquo (Bodo flute) people gather to dance the Bagurumba, imitating the gentle fluttering of butterflies families come together to worship and feast with no animal or plant excluded from the festivities. Games, rituals, laughter and gaiety add to the fun. This is the atmosphere during the seven days of Rongjali Bwisagu, the annual Bodo festival ushering in the New Year and with it a fresh cycle of seasons. Eagerly awaited all year, Bwisagu is a week of togetherness that celebrates every aspect and spirit of Bodo life.

While spring is celebrated all over India across communities, Bwisagu is unique in its celebration of Bodo culture and cuisine. Each day of the festival celebrates an aspect of the pastoral, agricultural and community life of the Bodos. The first day is dedicated to cattle, which are led to the local tank or river for bathing. This is accompanied by a grand ceremony where the cows and buffaloes are smeared with oils and unguents, garlanded with brinjal, gourds etc. The cattle-sheds are cleaned and even the ropes are replaced with new ones. 

The first day is also marked  for &lsquogwkha-gwkhwi khaji janai&rsquo or the eating of the bitter-sour curry. Many varieties of bitters, sour greens and vegetables are foraged from the forest and cooked with meat, either pork or chicken. The curry is served with generous helpings of Zau, the favourite rice beer of the Bodos. This is how the Bodos say goodbye to the year that&rsquos gone by. 

The second day, the start of the new year, is called Mansi Bwisagu, and is dedicated to humans. Homage is paid to ancestors and the supreme deity Bwrai Bathou is worshipped with offerings of chicken and Zau. This day is given to visiting friends and relatives. The subsequent days are dedicated to &lsquoSaima&rsquo (dogs), &lsquoOma&rsquo (swine) &lsquoDao&rsquo (fowl) the sixth day to ducks and other birds and the seventh is meant for receiving relatives and friends.

The centre of the festivities is often the village commons or the village headman&rsquos house. In every corner of Bodoland, music fills the air. Young men play the &lsquosifung&rsquo, &lsquokham&rsquo, the four-stringed fiddle or &lsquoserja&rsquo, and beat out infectious rhythms with a piece of split bamboo called &lsquotharkha&rsquo. Young women join in with the &lsquogongona&rsquo (harp) and &lsquojotha&rsquo (small cymbals). It is beautiful to witness the traditional folk dance of Bagurumba being performed by women bedecked in traditional attire, wearing the colourful &lsquodhokona&rsquo, &lsquoaronai&rsquo and &lsquojwmgra&rsquo &ndash their bright, traditional garments. Mimicking the butterfly, the quick-stepped intricate dance is a fluttery ode to the fluid movements found in nature.

Sumptuous feasts of rice, pork, fish and red ant eggs are cooked and served with great gusto and washed down with liberal quantities of the much-loved indigenous rice beer, Zau. Traditional games and races are also part of the festivities. Along with energetic sprint races, traditional tasks get translated into highly engaging games such as duck catching, egg fights, cock fights and the like. 

There is another interesting aspect to the Bwisagu festivities that takes place on the first day, also known as &lsquoSankranti.&rsquo A large number of devotees undertake Baukhungri Hajw Gakhwnai or the climbing of Baukhungri Hill, near Kokrajhar. This is considered to be a highly auspicious place and the trekkers pay obeisance to the mighty Bwrai Bathau at the thansali or shrine atop the sacred hill. 

Travellers to Bodoland can immerse themselves in the joyous, festive spirit of Bwisagu at the grand annual festival organised by the Tourism Department of the Bodo Territorial Council at Harinaguri. They can sample the local cuisine at the ethnic food festival, catch the vibrant traditional Bagurumba dance at the cultural show, and even try out Bodo indigenous sports. It&rsquos a festival that ought not to be missed if one wants to experience the joyous revelry at the very heart of Bodo culture.


Bwisagu lasts for seven days in April, starting on the last day of Chaitra and extending six days into the month of Baisakh. 


An excellent place to join in the Bwisagu festivities would be in Kokrajhar, where a magnificent event is put up in the grounds of the Kokrajhar Government College (College Rd, Kokrajharl 0366-1270245)

For about five days around Bwisagu in mid-April, the Bodoland Tourism Department -hosts the Baukhungri Festival, a huge annual event at Harinaguri, 10 km from Kokrajhar. Among the many events are an ethnic food festival, a cultural show, as well as adventure and indigenous sports. See https://bodolandtourism.in/ for more information (Brahmapuri, Tengapara, Kokrajhar, Assam 783370 Tel 088118 32288)

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