Bird fights, bonfire, feasting on Bhogali Bihu in Assam

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS
Thursday, January 14, 2010

HAJO - For a trophy and cash reward of Rs.2,001, up to 400 birds and their owners are locked in a bitter fight — an event that marks Bhogali Bihu, the harvest festival in Assam beginning Thursday.

Since morning, this dusty roadside village 30 km west of Guwahati in Assam came alive with an estimated 400 Redvented Bulbul, a small bird belonging to the Pycnonotus cafer family, fighting one another amid loud cheers from their owners and thousands of spectators.

Bird fights have been an integral part of the Bihu celebrations in Assam with the locals of Hajo preparing for the annual event with tremendous enthusiasm — a tradition dating back centuries.

The two-day event is held in the precincts of the Hindu temple of Hyagriva Madhava with the birds being coaxed and cajoled to fight by their owners — all for a trophy and a cash reward of Rs.2,001.

“This is a tradition going on for ages with bird fights held on the first day of Magh Bihu,” Pulak Das, a village elder said.

The preparations for the event begin at least two weeks in advance with people catching birds using various ingenious means like bamboo traps and other baits. Once caught, the owner grooms the 20-centimetre-long bird for the big day.

“We make a concoction containing bananas and some locally available intoxicating herbs, some black pepper, clove, and cinnamon, and feed the bird regularly to make them strong and sharp for the fight,” local resident Madhab Bora said.

Tied with a string on its legs, the inebriated birds start fighting one another aggressively, surrounded by clapping crowds who gather in large numbers at the temple ground.

“Once the fight is over, the locals set all the birds free,” an organiser of this unique bird fight said.

Earlier in the day, people held special prayers at community halls and local grounds after lighting the Meji, a conical shaped structure made of bamboo and hay.

Bhogali Bihu, akin to Makar Sankranti that is celebrated in many parts of the country, marks the end of the harvest season. With the granaries full, the festival is marked by a lot of feasting.

“Bhogali Bihu is a festival celebrated by community feasting, fishing, traditional games like bird and buffalo fights,” said Arun Sharma, a writer.

Filed under: Religion

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