Farmers from Assam's Gorkha community planting saplings as part of Ashar Pandrah festival

Chandanpur (Golaghat): The 15th day of the month of Ashar or Asadh, popularly called Ashar Pandrah, has been celebrated by the Gorkha community as an agricultural festival for centuries.

Also known as ‘Dahi Chiura Khaaney Din’, Ashar Pandrah falls in the holy ‘Ashad’ month when it is celebrated by the Gorkha community comprising Khas Kirat tribes the world over. The farming Gorkha community of Assam, too, celebrate the festival across Assam and other parts of the north-eastern region.

This year, Ambubachi timings began from 8.18.18 pm (Pabriti) on June 22 to 8.41.58 pm (Nibriti) on June 26. After Nibriti, worship is offered and followed by puja, celebrations and cultivation. And on the 15th day of ‘Asadh’ falls ‘Ashar Pandhrah’.

Significance of Ashar Pandrah

The Gorkhas celebrate the monsoon season as a festival after the Ambubachi (which is also called Bhoomi Raaj/Haat) in the most beautiful way called Ropain (paddy plantation) on Ashad 15, which usually falls on 29th or 30th June annually.

Along the Assam-Nagaland border, under the Merapani subdivision at Chandanpur, Golaghat, farmer and renowned agro businessman Ganesh Kumar Dewan shares, “Ashar 15 is a day that symbolizes either peak or beginning of the rice planting period; a day when all farmers celebrate plantation and wish for a good production.”

“Traditionally, women are involved in planting the rice plant and men plough the field. Farmers celebrate this day with joy as they invite their neighbours to play in the mud, throw mud at each other, and sing and dance to traditional folk songs,” adds the founder of Dewan & Daughters AgroVet Farms.

On Ashad 15, the farmers pray thrice in the paddy field – first at the time of using the plough, then at the time of sowing of seedlings and lastly at the time of plantation. This is then followed by the Ashar 15 celebrations where bull race, seedling plantation, seedling distance swinging, soil splashing, fast walk competitions, etc., are organized.

“There is a practice of eating yogurt and beaten rice, and drink a special kind of local fermented drink called Chyang’ (rice beer) or the ‘Tongba’ (fermented millet beer sipped from a bamboo vessel with a bamboo straw). This festival is all about playing and planting the rice in the soil and not to forget the part of dancing to ‘Ashare Geet’, a traditional folk song that delineates the joy and pain of the farmer,” Dewan says.

Popular among the ‘Ashare Geet’ among youths is one sung by Indian Idol Prashant Tamang ‘Asaharai Mahinama…’ (In the month of Ashar).

A celebratory party is thrown at the end of the completion of the plantation and like any normal event, it is incomplete without guests, food, drinks and music. This event is called ‘Maijaro’.  

Prof. (Dr.) Bhupen Nath Choudhury, HoD, Department of Nematology, Assam Agricultural University (AAU)-Jorhat and Team Leader of ‘Amar Gau- Amar Gaurav’ initiative of AAU at Chandanpur, and Prof. Ranjan Das, Department of Crop Physiology, AAU, said, “AAU Jorhat has adopted Chandanpur village under ‘Amar Gau-Aamar Gaurav’ initiative. Listening to the folktales about food and farming from the elderly, I feel the Gorkha community is an intelligent consumer and knowledgeable farmer as such their farm festivals are also linked with their tradition and food habits – from grundruk (fermented spinach leaves), sinki (fermented carrot), sikooti (sundried meat), til achar (til pickle), kinema (fermented beans)  to name a few besides the Dahi Chiura. Even the beverages ‘Chyang’, ‘Tongba’, and ‘Kodoko Raksi’ are natural with medicinal values.”

Also read: Six lesser-known facts about Ambubachi Mela

‘In Assam, doi (curd) and gurh (jaggery) are used on auspicious occasions. This typical Gorkha traditional dish during the cultivation period is low on calories; it consists of 75% carbohydrate and contains about 23% fat. So, it provides farmers with healthy carbohydrates, energy and helps them carry out the daily bodily functions. After eating this, as farmers work on the field, it doesn’t make him feel bloated and keeps them filled for a long time,” added Prof. Das, who was recently a visiting fellow at the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand.

The festival also helps unify the local community because every household sends a member to support other families during the festival. Over the years, many organizations have been holding song competitions and other programmes on this day with a motive to promote agro tourism.

One such event is organized by EnCamp Adventures. Called Slow Travel to Kalimpong, it gives a chance to celebrate Ashar Pandhra and experience Himalayan village living.

Its CEO from Haflong in Dima Hasao, Kabita Joshi, shares, “We have planned a homestay with three homely meals daily with sight-seeing and celebrate the Ashar Pandhra Festival. Activities will include paddy farming, Himalayan folk cultural programmes, traditional games, ethnic cuisines with storytelling and listening and experiencing a mountain village life.”

Joshi is excited to host such an adventure next year in Haflong, the lone hill station of Assam which was devastated by the recent floods. She aims to contribute a part of the budget in the Haflong rebuilding initiative.

On the tradition of eating dahi and chiura on the occasion, Kumar Limboo, managing director of Padumpathar Agro Organic Producers Company Limited, shares, “Sira Doi has largely been eaten as breakfast in Assam since time immemorial. Chiura (Sira) or beaten rice is a common staple food among the Gorkha community of Assam also, as it is light and easily digested. On the other hand, this part of the country is a rice eating community and plenty of paddy is cultivated and harvested though Assam is not self-sufficient.”

“The dish looks relatively like a worship plate but it ensures farmers good luck for their plantation and good health for themselves. Even when we are about to start something new, we eat dahi chiura for good luck,” adds Limbu.

Also read: Guwahati: Devotees throng Kamakhya temple for Ambubachi Mela

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