For last few days, you may have seen photos of some amazing crafts from Assam, known as Bhela Ghar, in various shapes, from Tajmahal to Parliament to Rhinos to many other things. Now what are these?
The Bhela Ghar is an integral part of Magh Bihu celebration, which is one of the three Bihu festivals in Assam. It is a post-harvest festival where focus is on food. Magh Bihu is also known as Bhogali Bihu, the word Bhogali is derived from Bhog, which refers feast or eating. Various delicacies like Pitha (rice flour cake with coconut, sesame etc fillings), Laru (laddu of grated coconut, sesame etc), Sunga Pitha (rice cake baked inside a bamboo) etc are prepared leading to Bihu.
Before Bihu, people start building two structures in fields which are now vacant after rice is harvested, Meji, and Bhelaghar. Meji is a cone shaped structure, usually several feet tall. It is made from bamboo, straw left in paddy fields, dried banana and beetle nut leaves etc.
Ghar in Bhela Ghar means house, so it is basically a hut made of mainly bamboo and straw. On the night before Makar Sankranti, people gather for a community feast near the Bhela Ghar and Meji, where a bonfire is arranged.
2-3 days before this feast, people go for collective fishing in the nearby lake and collect fish for the feast. Earlier, it was also almost a ritual for boys to steal bamboo fences, firewood and such from village households to be used in bonfire. Some also stole chickens, ducks, potatoes and vegetables from households and fields. But with passage of time, these things have now stopped.
After the feast is over, young boys stay in the Bhela Ghar for the night. And in the next morning, the Meji and the Bhela Ghar is offered to the Agni God by burning it down. Snacks prepared for Bihu are offered to this fire, people offer prayers, and enjoy its heat in the cold January morning. After the fire douses, people take tika from the ashes.
Till around 10 years ago, the Bhela Ghars were simple rectangular huts, hurriedly made in a day or two. But then, people got creative, and they started to convert into a piece of art. It first started when some people started making multi storied huts, after that started different monuments and other shapes, some even conveying some message or reflecting some current affair.
As these artistic Bhela Ghars take a lot of time and effort to build, and people keep coming to see them, some of they may not be burnt, instead burning the Meji only. This also happens when the Bhela Ghar is made in shape of a temple or other such architecture associated with sentiment and emotions of people, replica of which being burnt may not be acceptable.
Corporate Dropout, Freelance Translator