Nagaon, Jan 14: With the end of the harvest season, Assam is prepared for fun and feast on the auspicious occasion of Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu. The harvested farmlands withinside the state has become home to traditional conical makeshift huts ‘bhela ghars‘ or ‘mejis’ made of bamboo, leaves, and thatch for Bhogali feasts.
While driving towards the well-known Kaziranga National Park in Upper Assam at the Upper Assam on national highway 37 during this Bihu season, one ‘bhela ghar’ near Raha of Nagaon district, some 90 kilometres from the capital Guwahati has emerged as a huge crowd puller these days. It sports a magnificent structure depicting two mammoth elephants and a man planting banana tree depicting the human-elephant conflict, a prevalent issue in the area.
Raha is one of the key affected regions of the man-elephant conflict. The theme of the bhela ghar has been admired and accepted by all.
Senapati informed that around 150 men and 15 women were involved in cutting the hay for the bhela ghar, and around 200 bamboo sticks were used to build the special structure.
The work on this bhela ghar started on December 5 and finished the structure on January 5.
The theme this year is based on the man-elephant conflict in the state which has gone from bad to worse over the years. A plantain garden on and around the bhela ghar was maid to send the message that it is primarily because of the dearth of food and fodder in the jungles that elephants come out into human habitat.
The bhela ghar in Raha has become a centre of interest for national and international tourists on their way to Kaziranga national park.
Unlike normal bhela ghar, which is burnt on the morning of Magh Bihu after the feast is over, this themed structure would not be destroyed.
This structure will be kept for the entire month of Magh and then dismantle.
Assam, which is home to the country’s second-highest elephant population, is facing a rising trend in human-elephant conflict due to the wide destruction of forest lands. Over the last ten years, around 825 people and 950 elephants have died in incidents where tuskers entered human settlements.
Human casualties mostly occur during the dry season when the animals move out of their habitat in search of food and water.
In 2021, 70 elephants died in the state. According to official data, of these 24 elephants died due to “natural causes”, three were due to electrocution, three were due to poisoning, and four died in train accidents.
Of the remaining, one died due to an old injury, 18 were killed by ‘lightning’ and 17 died of “unknown” causes. During the same period, 61 people were killed by elephants.
According to a 2017 census, Assam (5,719) has the second-highest population of wild elephants after Karnataka (6,049).
The forest Department has over the years undertaken several measures such as the formation of anti-depredation squads and the erection of solar-powered electric fences, to prevent elephants from entering human habitations.
ABOUT MAGH BIHU AND BHELA GHAR
Bhela Ghar is a temporary night shelter used as a community feast hall, made of thatch, bamboo, straws, and dried leaves. It is an object of visual pleasure on uruka — the night before Bihu.
It holds immense cultural significance. Encased in rustic design that is simple but robust, a bhela ghar can accommodate a couple of people who opt to spend the uruka night inside it. It is built mostly in open spaces and a dried paddy field provides a safe option as it is burnt in full spirit on Bihu.
The shape and design of these bhela ghars differ in their structural and social connotation in Upper and Lower Assam. On Uruka night, people gather in these bhela ghars for community feasting.
Structures that include helicopters, multi-storied buildings, the upcoming bridge on the world’s largest river island Majuli and water house are other themes based on which bhela ghars were built throughout the state of this Magh Bihu.