Fertility, Creativity, and Feminine Power: Bihu Festival Music and Dance in Assam, India
This paper investigates how fertility and creativity emerge discursively and are embodied through music and dance performance associated with Bihu, the Assamese New Year’s festival that marks the beginning of a new harvest season. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with female performers who have passed through the coming-of-age puberty ritual tuloni biya, I explore how Bihu facilitates the transition through adolescence as performers move between village ritual contexts and stage competitions. I analyze feminine power in relation to Bihu’s blending of mother goddess worship at Assam’s Tantric center Kamakhya while attending to how colonial exoticization of the figure of the Assamese woman laid the foundation for respectability politics during nation building. Erotic desires link my discussion of consumer sensibilities in liberalizing India with the narrative themes, sonic power, and embodied performance of Bihu music and dance.
Rehanna Kheshgi is a Postdoctoral Associate at Yale University’s Institute of Sacred Music. She received her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago in 2016 and is presently working on a manuscript entitled Sounding Rural Modernities: Gender, Performance, and the Body in Assam, India. Her postdoctoral research examines how sacred indigenous performance practices of the Bodo community are being mobilized in support of tribal sovereignty in Assam, India.