GUWAHATI, Jan 12 � Celebration of the harvesting-time festival Magh Bihu, popularly called the Bhogali Bihu, has undergone tremendous changes in old Guwahati areas, compared to what it was around 70 years back. Its community character has become almost obscure in many parts of the city. The Bihu revelry has also become highly urbanised. The changes in the celebration are, however, consistent with the development of Guwahati into a metropolis, said noted writer Kumudeswar Hazarika.
Hazarika, who was talking to this correspondent, said the Mejis and Bhelaghars are missing in the old Guwahati areas today, along with the dhekis (the wooden grinding device with a pedal) and urals (the grinding device with a hand held pestle). The process to build the Mejis and Bhelaghars, using bamboo poles, straws (Nora) and dry leaves of banana plants, started about 15 days ahead of the Bhogali Bihu, while the sounds of the Dhekis used to reverberate in the atmosphere since the middle part of December. The reverberating sounds of the Dhekis in the winter signalled the advent of the Bhogali and the festive spirit thus started gripping the people.
But today, apart from other things, a large number of the Guwahati women are working in offices as employees, contrary to their counterparts about 70 years back. Moreover, most of the families were joint families and almost every family had a domestic help then.
Guwahati was a semi-urban place then and its every household had its own stock of everything, except salt, fish and some other ingredients, for the celebration of the Bhogali, Hazarika said.
There were lots of open spaces in Guwahati during the 1940s and 1950s. Such open spaces existed in several Guwahati areas even in the 1960s.
These open spaces were the venues for the community feast of the Bhogali. In Jorpukhuripar area, there was an open plot of land, which was used by the people of the locality to hold the Bhogali feast. Some of the residents of the Dighalipukhuripar area also took part in this feast. One of them was Md Safiur Rahman (popularly known as Safi). He was a leader in organizing the feast, Hazarika said.
He said that he had heard from his elders that the biggest of the Bhogali feasts in Guwahati was held at the Uzanbazar Rajghat Balichapori (sand bar). Shishupran Nabin Sarma, Lokabandhu Dr Bhubaneswar Barooah, Sarat Sarma (Thapa Da) and playwright Prabin Phukan were the main organizers of that feast. That feast met with its end in the last part of the 1930s.
Deshabhakta Tarun Ram Phookun used to reach the venue of that feast early in the Bihu morning riding his bicycle from Bharalumukh to take part in the worship of the Fire God, which was done by burning the Mejis by the revellers. There was a group photo taken on one of those occasions and it was preserved by Late Bipin Pal Das, a former Union Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
Another big community Bhogali feast was held at the present site of the Goswami Service petrol pump. It was organized by Sarat Das, a famous footballer of yesteryears, who once led the Mohan Bagan football club of Bengal. During the Second World War, Bhogali Bihu celebration was a low-key affair in Guwahati and there was virtually no community celebration of the festival here during those days.