Magh Bihu: Effigy burning festival?

Burning effigies to protest is not new in the world and in almost all the countries when something goes wrong and any minister or any person apparently does or says something that is against the mass interests, people take to the streets and burn (their) effigies in protests. Assam in the recent past has witnessed over a 100 effigy burning programmes, thanks to some peasants and peasants leaders who are seen everywhere except the farmlands. Anyhow that is a different issue and let me chuck it…

Effigy, as we all know (even if someone does not know) is a sculpture or a model of a person. It is a dummy. We build/construct an effigy to burn it and shame the person. (Please read this small paragraph very minutely)

So, folks, this is the month of January and on January 14 dawn, we the Assamese people (by Assamese I am pointing to every single person who is residing in Assam, either by birth or due to work) will take bath and put fire to our beloved mejighars or bhelapujis or bhelaghars (an architecture made of bamboo and hay/dry banana tree leaves in various shapes, especially in the shape of a dome. In some places it is also made of woods by stacking it one upon another). We will pray to the lord almighty and feast with the mouth-watering laroos, pithaas, and many more such traditional Assamese sweets and dishes. But…?

I really do not know if at all I should have scribbled these lines as I fear of being laughed at quite madly. Maybe I will sound super illogical when I will say that over the years, we Assamese have become Post Doctorate degree holders in burning effigies and this year too there is no difference!

Now you must be wondering what this is all about. How are Bihu and effigy related at all? Well, if some of you are an avid viewer of our Assamese News Channels, then you must have noticed that nowadays the bhelaghars are constructed by replicating several monuments of historical importance. And on the top of that, some channels are even running competitions to find the most creative bhelaghar in the lot.

So showing their creativity, this year the bhelaghars have been constructed replicating several historical monuments like the ‘Rang Ghar’ and also depicting the ‘Surgical Strike of the Indian Army’. These effigies, I am sure we can call them as effigies, will be set on fire on January 14 and we will rejoice to see them burn brightly. Bhelaghars replicating different monuments and events will burn to warm our bodies and also our hearts and souls. But… I always have this but, don’t I?

If effigies are meant to be burnt to protest against something or someone wrong, then against whom are we protesting by burning these ‘creative’ effigies? Are we protesting against Magh Bihu celebrations?

Moreover, by burning the replicas of some monuments of historical importance, are we not demeaning their importance? Do we have such kind of creative license?

bhelaghar in Ahatguri replicated the Ashok Chakra (A UB Photos photograph collected from internet)

If covering a foot of the Ashoka Pillar’s replica at Nehru Park during the 2017 edition of METROPOLIS ASIA, it was alleged by the authorities and a section of the society that the organisers maligned the image of the Ashoka Pillar, for it represented a monument of historical importance, then aren’t the Assamese elsewhere doing the same by making bhelaghars in the shape of ‘Rangh Ghar’ and other monuments of historical importance? Where are the saviours of ‘culture’ now? Is this not ‘bijotoria Sanskriti’ (unethical culture or obscene culture)? If this is not unethical then what exactly is ethical?

If to stand on top of the Kareng Ghar and click pictures is termed as ‘illegal’ and ‘unethical’ then how does burning the replica of the same in the name of ‘culture’ as bhelaghar makes things ethical? And how is this cultural at all? So is it alright to burn an effigy of anything and everything in the name of culture?

We have already made a ‘mock-tale’ of our rich ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ by mixing the fervour and flavours of Rongali Bihu in each and every Bihu- that Kati and Bhogali and now we are burning effigies in the name of merrymaking and festival celebrations. If this is culture then I am ready to remain uncultured. I am happy to be a part of that group which supports ‘bijotoria Sanskriti’ in the name of METROPOLIS- a festival or art, music, dance, songs, and above all liveliness.

I still love my old dome-shaped bhelaghars and hate these modern-day effigies.

Bhelaghars of different shapes and sizes (Photo by Manash Das)

One thought on “Magh Bihu: Effigy burning festival?

  1. Most of the media acts as custodians of the Assamese tradition and try to poke their disgusting noses in every matter as they see fit. Whether organising “Saraswati Konwari” on the auspicious occasion of Saraswati Puja, and then doing a U-turn and “reporting” on the “bijotoriya xonskriti” of urban women, the “creative bhelaghar” contests organised by them as against the “vandalising of Ashok Statue during Metropolis Asia”, or labelling any and all boy and girl roaming about together as “characterless”, the symptoms are clear that these specific media houses suffer from a condition of self-importance and narcissism. If the situation is not handled soon and in a definite way, this may severly grow out of control.

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