The lively traditional dance of Assam, India, known as Bihu, has made headlines by achieving two new world records. On April 13th, a staggering 11,304 Bihu dancers and 2,548 drummers, known as Dhulias, gathered together in the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati, the capital of the Indian State of Assam, to perform the Bihu dance and play the dhol, a traditional Assam drum. This impressive feat marks the largest assembly of Bihu performers in history.
The History of Bihu
The term Bihu also refers to three distinct festivals in the Northeastern Indian state of Assam and other parts of Northeastern India, namely Rongali or Bohag Bihu, Kongali or Kati Bihu, and Magh Bihu. Of these, the Rongali Bihu is considered the most important festival where people of all ages celebrate by performing and dancing to Bihu songs. Held in April, It is also considered a sowing festival to mark the start of the growing season. The Kati Bihu is observed in mid-October and is used to mark the fresh harvest season. Finally, the “Magh Bihu,” observed in January, marks the end of the growing season when people gather in villages to celebrate a successful harvest.
The festivals hold a unique significance for various Indigenous groups, contributing to the greater Assamese identity, which is comprised of diverse tribal and ethnic communities.
Making it to the “Guinness Book of World Records”
In February 2023, the cabinet of Assam made a decision to arrange a grand Bihu celebration, aiming to showcase the cultural heritage of Assam. The event was a multi-day affair meant to showcase and celebrate the Assam culture alongside a range of prestigious visitors and stakeholders.
Preparations and practice sessions were organized in the city of Guwahati, Assam, in March, with Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma also participating to boost the morale of the participants.
On [April 14], Assam's Bihu will set a world record and make it to the Guinness Book of World Records. The practice is going on in full swing. Today Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma with Bihu Nasoni. He takes full stock of the preparation. pic.twitter.com/FzGPYWuewS
— Nandan Pratim Sharma Bordoloi (@NANDANPRATIM) March 1, 2023
On April 13th, the record-breaking event was held in Sarusujai, setting two world records simultaneously. The first record established was for the largest Bihu performance, featuring 11,304 participants, consisting of Bihuwas (male dancers) and Bihuwotis (female dancers). The second record set was for the largest assembly of Dhulias (drummers), with 2,548 participants, surpassing the previous record of 1,356 dhols.
The performance gained immense popularity globally and sparked discussions across various social media platforms.
Asian News International (ANI) tweeted a video of the performance:
#WATCH | 11,304 folk dancers presented Bihu Dance in the presence of Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma at Sarusajai Stadium in Guwahati in the State Govt's bid of setting a Guinness World Record for largest Bihu dance in a single venue.
2548 drummers also performed here with them. pic.twitter.com/n9EYimF6Bt
— ANI (@ANI) April 13, 2023
The Guinness world record committee endorsed the performance via their official Twitter account:
Congratulations to all those involved in the largest Bihu dance! https://t.co/HUuZqV8K5e
— Guinness World Records (@GWR) April 17, 2023
An additional performance was held on April 14 when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Assam to celebrate the Mega Bihu on this historic occasion. The prime minister shared a video clip on Twitter and praised the effort to showcase the Assam culture.
I will always remember yesterday’s Assam visit. Got to join various programmes including the grand Bihu celebrations. Here are the highlights… pic.twitter.com/HI9NuJUGga
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 15, 2023
The event gained some international attention as well, as Beijing-based Assamese journalist Shamim Zakaria shared a video where he mentioned that the Bihu event was also widely streamed in China.
The event wasn't entirely without controversy. During the event, an artist named Ranjit Gogoi performed a song that contained racial slurs about the Indigenous Naga community. The use of words such as “Okora” (meaning a stupid person/one who does a foolish act) and “Nagini” (which refers to the wife of a Naga person but is often considered derogatory as it also means snake) offended many Naga people. The Nagas primarily reside in the neighbouring state of Nagaland but also have a significant population in Assam. As a result, several Naga organizations in Assam criticized the artist for his racist remarks and demanded an apology.
Twitter user Satyanewshi (truth seeker) mentioned:
Naga Community Condemned Assam's ‘Guinness World Record’ Bihu Song attended by PM Modi & CM HBS which allegedly used ‘racist’ slurs that calls Nagas ‘okora’, meaning stupid or dumb.https://t.co/5VJtM9zON3
— সত্যান্বেষী (@satyanewshi) April 20, 2023
Later, the artist clarified that the song had been passed down through generations and expressed regret for any offence he had caused.
After the successful completion of the world-record-breaking Bihu dance event, Assam has set a target of performing the Bagurumba Dance of the Bodo Community with over 20,000 artists. The date of the event is yet to be set.