Assam is a land of festivals! Across the year many festivals are celebrated across the State by the many indigenous communities inhabiting the State. The people of Assam are fun loving as and they are, various communities of Assam have numerous fairs and festivals during different times of the year. But the most enticing fact is that every festival is participated in and equally enjoyed by all the people of Assam, irrespective of their caste and religion. Most of the festivals celebrated in Assam have their roots in the diverse faith and belief of the inhabitants, but a spirit of accomodation and togetherness characterizes the celebration of all festivals. The perfect fusion of heritage of numerous races has made Assam, the home of the most colorful festivals which are passionate, compelling and mesmerizing reflecting the true spirit, tradition and lifestyle of the people of Assam. Each and every festival is celebrated with equal passion and fervor, thus reflecting the lifestyle and tradition of the people of Assam.
Some of the prominent Festivals celebrated across Assam are ~
1| Bihu – Harvest of Happiness
Rongali Bihu (April)|Kongali Bihu (October)| Bhogali Bihu (January)
The biggest festival of this fertile land and the most popular Assamese festival in India – Bihu’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it comes thrice a year – twice as massive celebrations and once just as a quite observance – every year (details already given above). When you are here during Rongali or Bohag Bihu, just try to listen to what they sing when they dance to the irresistible rhythm of the dhol, taal, pepa, tojka, gogona and sutuli; they sing of love – love of nature, of the rivers, trees, flowers, birds, sky and rains, as also of love between individuals; and then, over the decades, Bihu songs have also documented socio-cultural, political and economic changes. Also see how they revere and worship the cattle on Goru-Bihu, the last day of the year when Rongali Bihu actually begins; cattle are taken to the nearby river, rubbed with paste of mustard oil, raw turmeric and mati-mah, bathed amid ritual songs that speak of better health of the animals, fed with chaat – pieces of gourd, brinjal and bitter gourd – early morning and then with freshly woven ropes after the cowshed is specially cleaned with a paste of mud and cow dung and densely fogged by burning hay. Greeting others with a home-woven gamosa is the tradition.
The Bhogali Bihu, which is the harvest festival, on the other hand is about feasting. Taste the various kinds of pithas made of rice-powder, gur, sesame and coconut powder – baked, fried or specially baked in a chunga – a piece of stuffed bamboo pipe heated in fire. A jalpaan comprising of chira, akhoi, hurum, sandoh, pitha-guri (all made of rice), doi, gur and a sonda-kol (a local banana variety) is just not irresistible but also unforgettable. The uruka feast in a bhela-ghar made of bamboo and hay in the post-harvest paddy field on the eve of the Bihu on the other hand comprises of various recipes of different fish species served with newly-harvested rice.
Kati Bihu or Kangali Bihu – observed on the first day of Kati, the seventh month of the Assamese calendar – doesn’t involve any celebration. Marked to pray for a good harvest with a pest-free crop,people lighten earthen lamps in the paddy fields and under a newly-planted basil plant at home, while some satras and homes also light an akash banti – a lamp placed inside a decorated earthen urn or paper balloon and suspended up in the air with bamboo poles. The akash banti ritual at Auniati Satra in majuli attracts a large number of tourists.
2| Ambubachi Mela – the Celebration of Womanhood
Maa Kamakhya Temple – June
The whole of Assam stops and takes part in the celebration when the Ambubachi Mela is held at the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati. This fair is the celebration of the yearly menstrual course of Mother Earth, here also symbolized as Mother Goddess Kamakhya. Devotees believe that during this time the fertile energy of Mother Universe is awakened and blesses all seekers with creative verve. As the monsoon rains unleash the creative and nurturing power of Mother Earth, it becomes available to the devotees during the period of Ambubachi.
Millions of tantric worshippers, sages, sadhus and foreigners from different corners of the World participate in this festival. The temple remains closed for three days during the mela and people practice many kinds of restrictions during this period.
There is no idol of the presiding deity and Goddess Kamakhya is worshipped in the form of a yoni-like shaped rock over which flows a natural spring inside the sanctum of the temple which itself is a cave. The fair is unique in the sense that people can witness the cult of tantric practices, as some sages display their psychic power during the festival. They appear in public only fr this meal and remain in seclusion for the rest of the year.
The fair is organized in the Assamese month of Ahaar during the monsoon season when the sun transits to the zodiac of Mithuna. THis generally falls around the middle of June as per the Gregorian calendar.
Trivia: The prasad distributed after the temple doors are thrown open are Angodak and Angabastra. Angodak means the red fluid of the body – which refers to the water from the spring and the Angabstra means the cloth covering the body – a piece of red cloth used to cover the stone (yoni) during the days of menstruation which is distributed in tiny bits to every devotee.
How to reach Kamakhya Temple: The Kamakhya Temple is located atop the Nilachal Hills at a height of approximately 280 meters above sea level in the heart of Guwahati city. While Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi Airport is the nearest airport 16 km away, those arriving by trains alight either at Kamakhya Station or at the Guwahati Station.
By Road: Till a few years back the only way to reach the Kamakhya Temple from the main road below the Nilachal Hill was to climb a unique flight of stairs up the steep hill, constructed by king Narakasura in the mythological era. Now a 3 km winding motorable road takes the devotees up to the temple from the city’s main road. Regular city buses and taxi ply to and from the city to the Temple.
3| Jonbeel Mela – the Festival of Barter Trade
Morigaon District – January/February
The Jonbeel is derived from the Assamese word Jon meaning Moon and Beel meaning wetland. The festival is so called because of its venue, which is a large natural water body in the shape of a crescent moon. The high point of the fair is the ancient barter tradition which is still prevalent here. This charming fact attracts people from different parts of India, who participated in the fair to see local rituals and cultural performances.
As per history, King Gobha Raja of the Tiwa tribe held political parleys with the Ahom King and other hill chiefs near the Jonbeel in the 15th century; Fairs were held during the meet and people from every kingdom embraced each other and bartered their goods.
Few days before the Mela, people of various communities like Tiwa, Karbi, Khasi and Jaintia come down from hills with their various products. These people exchange their products with the local people through the barter system.
Before the Mela they perform ‘Agni Puja’ or fire worship for the well-being of mankind. The fair stands apart because of its theme of Unity in Diversity. While some 10,000 tribal people descend at Jonbeel Mela during these three days, city-dwellers and tourists too flock here. They however have to buy thins paying in cash.
Hardly 45 kms east of Guwahati, this Mela is also marked with traditional dances and music, while sale of various ethnic food adds up to the festive mood. Jonbeel Mela is host to one of the most spectacular and popular fairs in Assam featuring cock fight, fish bazaar and handicraft markets.
Trivia: Gobha Raja or King of Tiwa tribal community, along with his courtiers, still visit the Mela and collect taxes from the subjects, which they happily pay.
How to reach to be a part of Jonbeel Mela: Jonbeel Mela is held 5 km north of Jagiroad, an industrial town that is about 40 km east of Guwahati. The best way to reach is to hire a car or catch a bus from Guwahati. One can also take a train from Guwahati to Jagiroad and then ride a rickshaw or just hitch-hike. Nearest Airport is the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport at Guwahati.
4| Raas Leela Festival – the Life of Lord Krishna depicted in an Art form
Majuli Island – November
A natural heritage that already mesmerizes tourists from all over the world, turns into a fairyland during this festival. It is a three day event around Raas purnima, which generally falls in the second or third week of November, with celebrations centering around the fun, frolic and other activities of Lord Krishna. All 22 Vaishnavite Satras in the heritage island stages special performances of Bhawona, a traditional theatre form pioneered by the 16th century saint reformer Srimanta Shankardeva, while several public Bhawona performances are also held elsewhere in Majuli during those three days. Thousands of people flock to Majuli Island to be a part of the Raas Festival.
Visitors also relish in various delicacies put out by people of Majuli Island, while one can also buy various handloom and handicraft products, both tribal and non-tribal. While crossing the Brahmaputra by large boats to get to Majuli Island is an adventure of sorts, one also gets to see a large variety of migratory and resident birds all over Majuli.
It is also best time to visit the different Satras of Majuli Island. While the Raas Leela performances are held in the evenings, daytime can be spent watching young monks – Bhakats – displaying mati akhara and other traditional acrobatics to the rhythm of khol and bhor-taal that are taught to them by the Satra Gurus. Some Satras have also specialized in mask making, and masks of Krishna, Ravana and various other mythological characters of Samaguri and other Satras have found place in museums across the globe.
How to reach Majuli: The nearest city to Majuli is Jorhat which is well connected by air to rest of India. From Jorhat large boats regularly ferry people across the river from Nimatighat to three different ghats in the Island. You can also hire a taxi, either from Jorhat or in Majuli. The ferry boats also transport cars across the river. One can drive to Jorhat from Guwahati, a 300 km distance or catch the Janshatabdi Express.
5| Kaziranga Elephant Festival – 11th to 17th February
View of rows after rows immaculately decorated elephants moving gracefully, playing games or taking part in races. Awesome, isn’t it?! Organized by Assam Tourism, Kaziranga Elephant Festival is one of the largest elephant festivals in India, which attracts a huge number of tourists from all over the World. Hundreds of domestic Asiatic Elephants, decorated from head to toe, participate in the program. They take part in the parade, races, football and dance leaving the visitors in awe.
The reason for celebrating this festival makes it more interesting. The purpose of the festival is to create awareness about the conservation and safeguarding of the Asiatic Elephants. Thousands of nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers flock to Kaziranga National Park to be a part of this amazing festival and contribute to the purpose of conservation. Witness the festive spirit of these mighty creatures and you will come again and again!
How to reach Kaziranga: Tell us 🙂 And we will arrange your planned tour to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park.
6| Assam Tea Festival
The tea capital of the World must celebrate its pride and what could be better way than dedicating a whole festival to it. Assam Tea Festival – a festival to refresh to soul!
Organized by Assam Tourism in Jorhat, this unique celebration encapsulates tea-tasting, music and merriment. What’s more you can also enjoy some golfing at Jorhat Gymkhana Club – said to be the World’s third oldest golf course. It also gives you an opportunity of mixing business with pleasure.
Conferences are also held addressing the Tea industry issues and people from all over the World join the celebration. The celebration features tea-tours, tea-garden visits and savoring different flavors and aromas of Tea. Come, visit the land during this festival and enjoy a cup full of joy!
7| Karbi Festival
The Karbi tribe who inhabit the Karbi Anglong district, observe several festivals, among which Rangker and Hacha are the most important. While Rangker is a socio-religious festival, Hacha is a purely social festival.
Rangker is celebrated in the beginning of the New Year by invoking different Gods and Goddesses for the well being of the entire village. The rituals performed by elderly male members who chant prayers and seek blessings for keeping the people free from diseases and natural calamities and for a good harvest. Women however are not allowed to enter the worship area. Hacha on the other hand is a traditional festival which comprises of music, dance, singing, feasting and making merry.
8| Doul Utsav – the Festival of Colors
Barpeta Satra – March
Holi is a festival which is celebrated and loved by almost everyone. In Assam, celebrating Holi has been a major activity for the people of the Vaishnavite faith. The Satras – Vaishnavite Monasteries – have their own individual traditions of celebrating Hoil, but none of them can come close to the massive celebrations that take place at the Barpeta Satra.
The Barpeta Satra, located in the heart of Barpeta town is over 500 years old and was established by Madhavadeva, the principal disciple of Srimanta Shankardeva. Holi here is a three day festival and is called as the Doul Utsav, which is marked with music, dance and theatrical performances apart from the people greeting each other with faku or colored powder of various hues. Held in March, the Doul Utsav of Barpeta Satra attracts thousands of people from all over.
The most important aspect of Doul Utsav in Barpeta Satra is the singing of Holi songs. Sung to the rhythm of Khol, cymbals and other traditional musical instruments, these orally composed songs sing the glory of Lord Krishna in relation to the festival of colors.
On the eve of the festival, Holi Gandha is celebrated by thousands of devotees coming from various different places of Assam and outside. In the courtyard in front of the math, the idol of Lord Krishna is worshipped by the permanent priests of the Barpeta Satra. After worshipping is over, priests bring the idol to a specified Doul. The idol stays there for three days. Though most other Satras across Assam organize Doul Utsav – also called as the Doul Jatra – the festival at the Barpeta Satra is the most important and worth seeing.
Barpeta also has a traditional fireworks manufacturing cottage industry and display of indigenous fireworks in the evenings during the Doul Utsav is yet another attraction.
How to reach Barpeta: Barpeta is about 140 km from Guwahati by road. One can fly to Guwahati and then hire a taxi or catch a bus. Alternately, those coming by train can alight at the Barpeta Road Railway station or New Bongaigaon.
9| Brahmaputra Festival – a Tribute to the Mighty Brahmaputra
Guwahati – January
The onset of spring season in January sends a note of excitement and thrills throughout Assam. Everyone is in the mood for adventure. The reason behind this is a unique festival, the Brahmaputra Festival, which is held every year at this time. Coinciding with the harvest festival of Assam (Magh Bihu), the Brahmaputra festival is held on the sandy beaches of the vast Brahmaputra river. The colorful scenes and sights of the festival leave the onlookers in a state of elation. This is indeed the best time to explore the mesmerizing scenery of this tropical paradise.
Every year, the Assam Boat Racing and Rowing Association (ABRRA) and the Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC) organize this fest with the aim of promoting the tourism department of the State as well as exhibiting its traditional sports and culture. Cultural programs are held as a part of the celebrations and various stalls are organized here and there, displaying the craftsmanship of the local artists and artisans. The local arts and crafts displayed at these stalls are usually purchased as souvenirs by tourists to take back home.
The major attraction of the Brahmaputra festival is the adventure sports that are undertaken here. A large number of contests are held as a part of the festival and people take part in activities like brach cricket, beach volleyball, rafting , canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing and kite flying. Besides this, there are other fun filled activities like Elephant races, cock fighting and egg breaking as well. A range of aero-sports like ballooning, paragliding and hang gliding are also held leaving the onlookers spell bound and craving for more.
10| Ali-Ai-Ligang – A Spring Dance Festival
Majuli Island – February
The Ali-Ai-Ligang Festival is the most vibrant festival of the Mishing tribal community who are spread across Majuli Island, Jorhat, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh and Sibsagar districts of Assam. Observed on the first Wednesday of the Ginmur Polo – month of Phagun; End of February – Early March – Ali-Ai-Ligang is a spring dance festival that marks the sowing of seeds. In Mishing language, Ali means root, Ai or Yai means fruit and Ligang means to sow.
While dancing and singing is the characteristic feature of this festival, the whole atmosphere is surcharged with the music of the dum-dum (drum), pempa, siphung (both flutes) and gunggang. Girls wear the best traditional ribi-gaseng and ribi-yege attires and poro apong – traditional rice beer and driesh fish add to the culinary satisfaction. The five day long festival ends with a community feast.
The most notable aspect of this festival is that certain activities are forbidden during these five days including tree felling, catching fish, burning of jungles, eating vegetables cooked in oil to name a few.
11| Dehing Patkai Festival – January
The Dehing Patkai Festival is named after the majestic Patkai Mountain range and the mischievous Dehing River. It is an invigorating blend of tribal affairs, tea heritage tours, golfing, adventure sports and wildlife pleasure trip held near Lekhapani and Jagun, the last two townships of eastern Assam. Another interesting fact about the Dehing Patkai Festival is that it offers a trip to two 2nd World War Cemeteries nearby – one in Digboi and the other in Jairampur which speak of the history of the past. One can also drive up 45 km on the 2nd World War heritage Stilwell Road up to Pangsau Pass on the Indo-Myanmar border in Arunachal Pradesh and then walk a couple of kilometers into Myanmar territory by just making an entry at the International Gate.
Visitors to the Dehing Patkai festival not only enjoy the food festival,crafts fair and cultural functions but also take part in some adventure sports which include angling, kayaking and parasailing. Trips to tea gardens, the world’s oldest oil well and refinery at Digboi and he rainforest nearby are added attractions.
How to reach to be a part of Dehing Patkai Festival: While Dibrugarh is the nearest Airport to the Dehing Patkai Festival, one can hire a taxi or a catch a bus to Lekhapani from the Airport. Those travelling by train can go up to Tinsukia by Rajdhani express and other major trains from Delhi or eve up to Ledo from Guwahati by the overnight Inter-City Express.