BY THE MARKS OF A FURCATED HISTORY
In Assam‘s old districts of Kamrup, Darrang and Goalpara several festivals, all of them centering around bamboo poles are held in the Bohag month of the Assamese calendar (April/May). Whole pieces of tall bamboo smoothened of jags and joints, are gorgeously decorated with drapings of colourful textiles and other materials wrapped over it.
In some of these festivities, the tall bamboo is ceremonially erected on a public field either pitched in the ground or rested on a lofty tree. In others the pole is carried around. The adorned bamboo is called pawra or paro. Generally more than one pawra or paro are used. The longer or taller one is called mota (i.e. male) paro (or pawra) or bor or dora (i.e. bridegroom) paro and their shorter counterparts the maiki (i.e. female) paro or koina (i.e. bride) paro.
In the festivals of Bhotheli/Pawra tola, the pawra is raised upon the ground and in it’s vicinity is made a symbolic makeshift hut of straw or plantain called Bhotheli-ghar. The venue of the congregation is known as the Bhotheli khola. The function in many kholas concludes with a ritual demolition of the Bhotheli hut often timed as a fallout of a mock-fight, the contestants parted on the issue of breaking or not breaking the hovel.
Commonly the concourses are daylong, where folks get to socialize freely, sing and dance and indulge in all sorts of merriment. Added to that, in many of them, fairs, wrestling matches, oil-pole climbing, running -jumping, tug of-war, village community hunt and other events provides them with further entertainment. The custom of placing offerings, lighting lamps and incense sticks at the site is there and in one celebration performance of homa fire ritual summoning rainfall is reported by a writer.
The festivals of these kind worth mentioning are :-
Bhotheli, held over a wide area encompassing Nalbari; Pawra-tola or paro tola observed in Bajali locality covering Pathshala, Patacharkuchi and others, and also in Bezera. of Patidarang; Bhaitheli of the Boro tribe, celebrated towards the end of the Baisagu festivities; Paro dance of the Rabha tribe performed by carrying around bamboo poles, in Boko area; Jhaperi goxair biya, Bah biya and Bah puja held at Tangla and it’s surrounding in Darrang district; and lastly Dohor furua utsab held in the northern part of Bojali, involving touring of bamboo poles idolized as Goxain meaning God in Assamese. In the opinion of some scholars the Bash-puja and Madan–Kamdev puja of Goalpara and (so called) north-Bengal are also in apposition with them.
In Europe, on the first of May is celebrated the May-Day festival, also called variously as the May-pole or May-tree festival. With Britain and Germany on either sides, it’s sphere of observance is spread widely from Spain to Sweden and also across the seas in North America.
In this joyous, fun filled pre-Christian folk festival, at the ingress of springtime the chilly winter is bid adieu and the warm summer graciously welcomed wherein the presence of crop and human fertility related connotations are traceable. A straight tree trunk or branch or a tall rotund wooden pole is colourfully decked with flowers, clothes, paper-works, and streamers. That beautifully decorated post, the maypole is erected in an open field or the village greens. Thereafter, centering the may pole, plentiful merriment takes place, people singing and dancing together. Nowadays in the maypole dance performed at various places with coloured ribbons, participation is confined solely to children.
Another portion of May-day festival is observed by selection of a May -Queen and by the enactment of mock battles between two opposing groups. representing the forces of summer and winter seasons.
The May-day celebrations of England featured story-world characters like Robin Hood, Maid Marion, Little John, Fool in cap and bells, Tom the piper and the hobby horse wagging along in jocular attire to provide amusement. An interesting episode concerns the 134 feet long maypole of Strand, London. The famous scientist Sir Issac Newton used it for setting up the largest telescope of that era at Wanstead , Essex.
The May-day festival is overlapped by another event named Beltane. Beltane is an ancient fire festival of the Keltic people, one among the four major Keltic festivals. Although the ceremonial period begins with the moonrise of the April last, the rites are mostly carried out on the May first. Celebrations include, lighting of bonfires with songs and dance, passing domestic livestock through or between two fires and various other procedures of fire worship. It’s origin relates to some primitive religious customs aimed at increasing crop and human fertility and prevention of calamities and pestilence.
Beltane is called Bealtaine by the Irish and in the Isle-of-Man it is called Boaldyn. Bel, Bellenus are names of the Sun-God of the Keltic mythology. Tein means fire, egin means initial or early, Tein-egin is the early fire. All household lighting and kitchen fires in a locality were ritually put out, to be rekindled from a sacred fire brought out by rubbing sticks at the ceremony. Keltic wizard/priests called the Druids used to preside over the formalities in the past. It is from the conjunction of Bel and Tein that the word Beltane is derived, so opine most of the scholars.
With variations Beltane is observed in the Keltic people inhabited Ireland, Scottish highlands, Isle-of-Man, Wales and in the Brittany province of France, to this day. A creation of the Goscinny and Underzo duo, the humourous comic series Asterix/Obelix is based on snippets of the ancient Keltic life.
In Assamese fire is called jui, the equivalent word in languages of Keltic origin is tein. Bel / Bellenus are appellations of the Keltic Sun-God and in Assamese sun is called beli. Also relevant is the word bhela drawn from bhelaghar or bhela house of the Uruka night on the eve of the Magh-Bihu ,the Assamese harvest festival.
The name Wales is English, the Welsh name for their land is Cymru. Kamrup currently a district of Assam is one of the ancient names for Assam. In most of the Keltic languages, the word signifying beauty is teg, while in the Assamese of Kamrupi dialect the corresponding term is thoug, thouga. the buffalo-horn pipe played in the Bihu dances finds it’s identical counterpart in the Welsh pib- gorn, built with cow’s horn. Pib is the pipe and gorn means horn. Now the once popular instrument has become obsolete, it’s existence restricted in the refuge of the museums.
The ‘san’ in the Boro language means the same as the ‘sun’ in English. Same way ‘fa’ in Boro has the meaning of ‘father’ in English. In French it is ‘fils’ (FEES), in Boro it is ‘fisa’, both denoting son. A vowel of the Boro language has to be represented by ‘w‘ in the Roman script, the same applies to all the languages of the Keltic group. Example are Boro: ‘Rwnia’ meaning Rangia, a town in Assam, ‘fwthar’ meaning a field or a ground, Keltic: ‘cwn’ meaning dog, hound, ‘pwca’- a malevolent spirit and ‘lwyd’- horse.
The Keltic wizard/priests the druids are called in Welsh– derwydd, in Gaelicdraoi, drawdh, in Breton– drouiz, in Cornish– druw and in Manx dialect- drui. In Assamese and it’s surrounding tribal languages the priest is called deuri or deu, in Ahom language- deodhai and in several of the Indonesian islands – deorai. The Sanskrit word dwiz and the Persian word dervish can also be mentioned here.
In Latin, pole is called pertica, likewise the Portuguese is parja, Spanish–percha, old French (15th century )- perche and a similar English word is perch. All of them fit in unhitched, in similarity to the Assamese terms pawra or paro used in context of the pole raising festivities.
In English, pole means a long, straight segment of wood or metal. In Assamese, the expression ‘polong’ signifies a long straight part of a tall tree or straight and a twigless straight growing tree is called as being ‘polonga’.
These things seem tallying just like that out of sheer co-incidence or may be endowed with substance? An affirmative answer explains these semblance as remnants carrying the marks of a common heritage in antiquity. Temporal pressures are however slowly forcing the May-Day festivals of Europe much alike the pole-raising festivals of Assam into obscurity.
Hence, it becomes quite imperative to seek out concealed facts of that furcated section of history and look into it comprehensibly. A simultaneous motion pictured record of the springtime pole raising festivities round the world may be an worthwhile endeavour. Little bit of an eager response from the skilled personnel and enthusiastic public is required for such a job.
Dr Satyakam Phukan
Guwahati, Assam (INDIA)
P.I.N : 781001
Phone : +91 99540 46357
E-mail : email@example.com