Lankhon Phuza is another ritualistic dance performed by the Lalung tribe of the Nowgong district in Assam. ‘Lankhon’ means bamboo and Phuza means worship. The Lalung tribe worships bamboos for a bumper crop. In the flora of Assam, bamboo occupies a significant place. No wonder that for the Lalung tribe this tall and stout grass rising high into the sky is a symbol of divinity. This dance is performed well before the harvest around the month of November. In this dance twenty-one bamboo poles are beautifully decorated with a kind of straw. The dancers wearing their traditional dresses dance to the percussion music provided by cylindrical two face drums. The dancers rhythmically thrust the decorated bamboo poles up towards the sky. It appears as if they are transmitting their prayer for a bumper crop heavenward through the tall bamboo poles.
One of the most representative harvest dances is Bihu of Assam which is mainly observed in rice growing areas. On three most important stages of agricultural operations Bihu festival (utsava) is held just before the sowing of the seeds, at the time of transplanting the paddy seedlings and while harvesting. The word Bihu is a derivative of the Sanskrit word Visuva that means equinox. The Assamese pronounce ‘S’ as ‘H’, therefore, they pronounce Visuva as Bihuba. In Assam, Bengal, and Orissa, ‘V is pronounced as ‘B’. The shorter form of Bihuba is Bihu.
Of the three Bihu festivals, the most colorful and lively is the Bahag Bihu which is held from the first day of the lunar month of Vaishakh, the Assamese derivative of which is Bahag. This is the day of the vernal equinox and the Indian New Year’s Day. In fact, the festival begins from the New Year Eve and continues from four days to one month. The Bahag Bihu is celebrated in four stages of development. The first is known as Goru (cattle) Bihu. It may last for one or more days. In Goru Bihu the cattle, especially the cows, are specially treated with oil-bath and food like salted rice cakes. In the evening there is music and dance. The next is Manuh (human beings) Bihu in which after a ceremonial bath people wear new clothes. Boys and girls perform Bihu dance to the accompaniment of Bihu songs which are basically love songs. The songs are quite tuneful. The musical accompaniment is provided by Dhol, the drum, Pepa, a buffalo-horn pipe, Toka, the bamboo clapper and cymbals. The next is Gosain Bihu in which people gather in the shrine called Namghar. There, all pray to God first and then the musicians’ and dancers perform. The Bihu festival is concluded with Bihu Urva which means sending away the Bihu. This is done at a lonely paddy field or forest where the villagers go with all the ritual materials used during the three phases. A ritual is performed to bid farewell to Bihu.
The Kankali Bihu is held in the lunar month of Kartik corresponding to September/October. This month in colloquial Assamese is called Kati. Therefore, the festival is also called Kati Bihu, At this time of the year paddy seedlings are transplanted. The festival is held for proper growth of the transplanted seedlings. It is observed with solemnity. Rituals are performed and prayers are sung. Usually dance is not performed during this Bihu.
The Bhogali Bihu, also called Magh Bihu since it is held in the lunar month of Magha, corrresponding to December/January, is again a festival of gaiety and jubilation. By the time the festival is held, the harvesting is almost over or at the last phase. Houses are full of harvested grains. This is the time for the villagers to celebrate. Therefore, the dances performed during the Bhogali Bihu are more vigorous and faster in tempo than the dances performed during the Bahag Bihu.
The Dhemali of Assam is not really a drum dance, but a preliminary (poorvaranga) of the traditional theatre known as Ankianat or Bhawana. Before the play begins the Dhemali is performed. There are various kinds of Dhemali. The Chabini Dhemali is a kind of drum dance, somewhat like Pung Cholam of Manipur, but having much subdued dancing. The drum played is called Khol and almost similar to the Pung of Manipur. When a large number of drummer-dancers, with all white dress, perform a Dhemali, especially in a moonlit night, it presents a sight that is as impressive as aesthetically satisfying.
On the picturesque hills of Assam lives the comely and sturdy Jaintia tribal community. They perform a ceremonial dance called Lahaw. It is associated with the worship of goddess Rangkit and is performed as an invocation to grant prosperity to the tribe. First the instrumental music is played. The orchestra consists of drums, flute, and cymbal. After a while the women dancers enter the dancing arena. They come tiptoeing. They are followed by the male dancers. The group then forms several units. Each unit has three dancers; one female dancer is flanked on both sides by two male dancers. These units make a pattern that is somewhat diagonal. The men wear dhoti, kurta, and waist-coats. Each of them wears a colorful turban. The girls wear, richly embroidered silk skirts shawls and sashes. They also wear necklaces of various kinds of beads. The dance is accompanied by singing and instrumental music. Two singers lead, the lines are then sung in chorus. The dance is distinctive for its graceful swaying movements and slow tempo.
In 16th century, Shankaradeva, a devout Vaishnava and a creative genius of Assam shaped a stylized theatre to give vent to his spiritual feelings. He wrote several Ankianats i.e. one act plays, the performance of which is called Bhawana, literally meaning contemplation or meditation. The Ankianats were performed in the Vaishnava monasteries called Sattra. In Bhawana performance, female roles are played by boys. The performance includes several solo dance passages which are performed by the boys. When these solo passages are performed not as a part of the drama but independent presentation, they are called Sattriya dance. The dance is accompanied by singing and percussion music of Khol, the drum with two faces much like the Pung of Manipur, and Manjira, small cymbals.
The counterpart in Andhra Pradesh is the Kuchipudi dance. Kuchipudi is actually a tradition of dance drama which has solo dance passages lie the Bhawana. When the solo passages are presented independently it is also called Kuchipudi. Since it has been accepted as a classical style of dance, it is not discussed here. In fact, both the Gotipua dance and the Sattriya dance are more sophisticated than most of the folk dances and have classical elements like the dance of Maibis of Manipur.