As debates erupt over the consumption of meat, the Chakma community of Tripura shows how both are equally important in celebrating the Biju Festival
Tripura witnessed a three-day celebration of food, music, and worship as the Chakma community observed its New Year festival called Biju. This festival is celebrated in April to coincide with Baisakhi in Punjab, Bihu in Assam, and Poila Boishak in Bengal. Other than welcoming the Indian new year, it commemorates the harvest of the winter crops as the country enters Spring season. For three days, the community prepares mouth-watering delicacies. While on the first two days, the community members eat only vegetarian dishes, on the third day, the feast incorporates many varieties of meat.
The Chakmas are one of the 19 tribes of Tripura. Traditionally they are Buddhists by religion. The Biju festival marks their dedication to Indian New Year as well as to Buddhist teachings.
On the first day of Biju, called Phool Biju, people clean their houses and decorate them with flowers. They wear their traditional attire and visit the nearest river to pay floral tributes. The first prayer is offered at dawn before the sun is up. They light incense sticks and candles to offer prayers for a blessed year. They also pray for a variety of blessings such as exams and jobs. This ritual is repeated in the evening too.
A unique aspect of this day is that many households cook Phatchol Thun, a mixed-vegetable dish where many types of vegetables and flowers are added. Traditionally it is said that 108 varieties of vegetables and flowers must be cooked together. However, it entirely depends on the feasibility of the people. The dish marks the completion of the harvest season and the abundance of spring flowers and vegetables. The dish is shared with friends and family as a snack.
The second day is called Mul Biju. On this day people visit the local fair ground and enjoy their evening singing and shopping. On this day too, people eat only veg food. The biggest fair was organized in Kanchanpur where a majority of Chakma people reside. This year the venue was visited by the Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb, State Minister of Social Welfare and Social Education Santana Chakma, and MLA Sambhu Lal Chakma.
On the third and final day, known as Gotche Potche Biju, people visit each other’s homes to seek blessings from elders. Early in the morning, they visit the Buddha temples and seek the blessings of the monks. They cook veg food for them and offer it as part of the prayers.
In the evening the main feast begins. Every household prepares a plethora of veg and non-veg dishes. Many varieties of meat such as chicken, fish, and mutton are cooked and served to family and friends. This feast culminates the Biju festival.
Note: This information about Biju festival was provided to me by Bul Buli Chakma.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.