Visma Kumar Thapa
The Rabha tribal community’s religious festival Baikho was celebrated on 9th June with gaiety at Goalpara district of Assam. This three day long Baikho festival brought to light the rich cultural heritage of the Rabha tribal people.
Rabhas are indigenous community that dwell mainly on the south bank of the river Brahmaputra, basically Kamrup, Goalpara district and Tikrikilla of West Garo hills of Meghalaya. Baikho festival is an agricultural related festival of the Rabhas. Every year, the community celebrates the festival, to please a deity of wealth and ask for good rains and a good harvest. Baikho festival is the prime pre-harvest festival and also the greatest religious festival in the Maiteri and Rangdani group of Rabhas that is celebrated once a year during the pre-monsoon month annually, since time immemorial. It is the ritualistic as well as religious festival where each and every villagers take part joyfully in the celebration.
During the celebration of Baikho festival, Goddess ‘Baikho’ is worshipped. This worship symbolises hope and desire and is worshipped with great preparation. The main purpose of the worship is for public welfare. It is believed that the Goddess of wealth ‘Baikho’ would be pleased if she is worshipped during this time and would be blessed with abundance of crops, rains and good health. Since agriculture is the main source of their livelihood they need good weather, environment etc. to get more produce. Moreover, the villagers worship the Baikho so as to get relief from different epidemic diseases and bring in peace, unity and prosperity to the society. The Rabhas observe the Baikho worship as they believe that the principal deity only can help them.
On the first day of the festival, before the worship, each of the community cleans their houses and washes their belongings. They clear the forest land of fallen foliage near the village where the deity is believed to live. The Rabhas have fixed worshipping place which is situated far from the village. Just a day earlier, the villagers go and clear the forest where the deity is to be worshipped and place the altar there. Worship begins the next day. A man from each household and village priests go to the designated worship places in the forest. There they decorate the altar, sacrifice animals and offer rice beer to the deity. After completing all the rites and rituals, different items of food are cooked and along with the powder of rice and meat already offered in the worship are collected and then stuffed into a bamboo pipe to be burnt. Women are not allowed to participate in the worship. The men who take part in the worship have to fast until the completion of the worship. When all rituals are over, people are ready to perform traditional game, sing and dance. Villagers from neighbouring communities gather for the all-night celebrations. Feasting and drinking of rice beer is common at such festival. The festival lasts for three to seven days.
During the event at Goalpara, traditional Rabha dance competition and lewa tana (tug of war) competition were held where both and women participated. As part of the rituals priests of the Rabha community smeared their faces and bodies with the rice powder and torched down a traditional ‘Mejhi’, a wall of bamboo filled with festive food and leftover agricultural plants. The beatings of drums created an atmosphere of excitement among the people and energized each and every participant. A very captivating sight of the event was that of dance on fire where the priests ran barefoot over burning charcoal as part of the rituals. As per the beliefs prevalent amongst the Rabha community, if a priest lacks purity, he will fail to do the dance on fire. After the rituals of dance on fire, women washed the priests’ feet and served them refreshments to honour their bravery. There was full of jubilation among the people throughout event.