At the advent of the month of April, Shillong takes on a festive mood. It is the month of Holy Easter, Shad Suk Mynsiem, Rongali Bihu, Navabarsha, and many other festivals of different communities living in the city. Uma Purkayastha writes about April hues in the city.
In Shillong, the Holy Easter is celebrated since British period with full piety and falls in the month of April. It marks the Holy Week which begins with the celebration of ‘Palm Sunday’, with procession waving palm leaves and singing hymns, just as it was done nearly two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. ‘Palm Sunday’ recalls Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem.
‘Good Friday’ is the day when Jesus was crucified on the cross.
The Holy Week ends with ‘Easter Sunday’, which marks the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a festival of triumph – good over evil, truth over lie, virtue over vice and love over violence.
The celebration of ‘Shad Suk Mynsiem’ in Shillong is also a century old festival which falls in the month of ‘Vaishak’. It was first organised by the Khasi society at the Weiking ground, Mawkhar, on April 14-15, 1911; since then, it is celebrated in the month of April, as a regular annual festival. It is a thanksgiving ceremony to the Almighty for good harvest. When translated, the dance literally means, “The Dance of the Peaceful Hearts”. The traditional dance of ‘Shad Suk Mynsiem’ attracts thousands of people, every year, irrespective of caste or community.
Rongali Bihu of the Assamese is partially a festival of Spring. Though it was celebrated as a socio-religious festival. In recent times, it is more of a social and cultural festival, rather than a religious one. The celebration begins on the last day of the month of ‘Chaitra’ and ends in the month of ‘Vaishakh’ (Bohag). The other name of ‘Rongali Bihu’ is ‘Bohag Bihu’ which falls in mid April every year.
The Bengali ‘Navabarsha’, which bids adieu to the outgoing year and a ceremonial welcome to the new one, also falls in the mid of April of the Gregorian calendar. The Bengali Calendar was originated in the 6th Century A.D., during the reign of king Shasanka of Bengal.
It was calculated by one of his royal astronomers on the basis of movements of the cosmos – sun, the moon, the stars and the planets. It is believed that he pioneered the skill of making solar and lunar calendar, which came into practice in 593 A.D. The era was named as ‘Bangabda’.
The difference of time between English calendar (Gregorian calendar) and Bengali calendar is 593 years. King Shasanka found the Bengali calendar very much convenient for collection of taxes and other dues, from the land owners as it was related to harvesting seasons; and he is said to have circulated the calendar to other states of India for acceptance and practice.
Accordingly, it was accepted by Assam, Bihar, Nepal, Odisha, Karnataka, Punjab, Kerala, Tripura, among other states. Since that time, it is in practice where the first day of the month of ‘Vaishakh’ is celebrated in different names and rituals, in different states of India, Nepal and Bangladesh – ‘Bihu’ in Assam, ‘Bohagu’ by the Bodos, ‘Vaisakhi’ in Punjab, ‘Puthandu’ in Tamil Nadu, ‘Vishu’ in Kerela, ‘Vaishakha’ in Bihar and ‘Navabarsha’ in Bengal, Tripura and Bangladesh.
Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment (Nirvana) on the day of Vaishakhi Purnima; which is celebrated throughout the world by the Buddhists in the name ‘Buddha Purnima’. So ‘Vaishakh’ (April-May) the first month of the Bengali calender plays a very important role in the socio-religious life of the Indians to this very day.
On the first day of the Bengali year, the Bengali community in general, performs some rituals like Nagar Kirtan (procession with mass prayer) for peace and welfare of the universe. It is a traditional ritual through which people pray to the Almighty to shower peace, happiness and prosperity towards all, in the days to come.
People come together and greet each other, good health and peace. People dress in traditional attire as is the custom. People invite and entertain their friends and neighbours with home-made traditional food like Pitha, Puli, Sandesh, Payesh etc., and strengthen the bond of friendship with mutual love and respect.
It was with the poet Rabindranath Tagore that the Navabarsha Utsav took a cultural turn in Bengal. The poet bard used to celebrate the day in Shantiniketan through cultural programmes, to greet the New Year. The festival was named as ‘Varsho Baran Utsav’. Since then, the Bengalis started celebrating the day with cultural programmes, in addition to religious rituals.
It was in 1882 that the Brahmo society of Laban first started the celebration of Navabarsha Utsav through mass prayer, Nagar Kirtan and cultural programmes. The traditional festival of Navabarsha is still in practice in Shillong and cultural programmes are held by the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, Rilbong Sports and Cultural Club, Nikhil Bharat Bangiya Sahitya Sammelan and some other socio-cultural organisations.
The Assamese community in Shillong started celebrating Central Bihu festival in Laban since 1935 and has completed its glorious 86 years.
During Bihu, Assamese women prepare delicious traditional food like Til Pitha, Gola Pitha, Tenga dahi, Chira, Gur etc., and many other items. Presentation of home-made ‘Gamocha’ to the elders with regards, and with love and affection to the younger, is a traditional custom of the people of Assam.
The main attraction of this festival is the Bihu dance, accompanied by the geet, the very tune of which is exceptionally thrilling and intoxicating, and attract the people, young and old, and irrespective of caste and creed. ‘Rongali Bihu’ festival in Shillong continues for three days arranged in two different centres. Though it is organized by the Assamese community, it is enjoyed by all communities of people.
Nowadays in Shillong, the cultural programme of Bihu is not only confined to Bihu dance and geet only, but other communities also join with different traditional dances and etc, turning it to a great secular festival.
It is observed that April is the month of festivals especially in the pluralist society of Shillong.
In this auspicious month, let’s pray to Almighty in mingling tune of concord, ‘Jad Bhadrang Tanna Subho’ i.e., whatever is good and fair for the universe be showered upon all.