Twenty-five-year-old Mangmo Longkan has always been intrigued by Arunachal’s vibrant performing arts. Longkan’s relationship with dance began when he was a teenager trying to discover his talents. The Tai Khampti boy has been performing popular dances of Arunachal for the last eight years. His talent has taken him to several places across India where he and his fellow dancers have enthralled audiences with their colourful performances.
In January 2020, Longkan was also part of the dance group that performed at a grand event in neighbouring Myanmar. Dance is his life and it is the only thing he knows. He feels an immense sense of pride every year when he gets to perform at the Itanagar Statehood Day function.Arunachal Pradesh is well-known for its rich culture and tradition and performing arts are an integral part of it. The state celebrates its dance forms during the many festivals that are observed here with great pomp and fervour. For the Khamptis, their dance-dramas — known as ka pung, where 'ka' means dance and 'pung' means story — are a reflection of their Buddhist culture. And these are mostly based on mythology, religion and classical folktales. Folk dances in Arunachal marks important festivals like Khamsang, Sangken, Potwah, Poi Lu kyong, Poi Lu Kyong Kammathan, among others.
Some of the dances that Longkan performs include Kaa-Toe or the Golden Deer Dance, Kaa Kingnara Kingnari or the Peacock Dance and Ka Poong Tai, the main dramatic art form of the Khamptis. But it is the Kaa Kong Tou Kai or Cockfight Dance that he enjoys the most. Usually performed by two or four boys, the dance represents the age-old tradition of hosting cockfights to entertain the king.
The dancers get draped in breeches and headgear (huge, and shaped like the head of a cock) and the dance is performed to the beats of kongpat (drum), paiseng (cymbals) and mong seing (gongs). The cockfight dance is mostly done to welcome the chief guests at important events and is only performed by boys.
The performance takes off on a gentle note with the dancers trying to create an atmosphere of initiating a fight and slowly builds up with the tempo. The most striking part are the swirls and jumps that the dancers execute effortlessly.
Longkan says that one can pick up the rudiments of the dance within a year with regular practice. He is currently teaching the cockfight dance to his fellow dancer Chow Bijita Mansai, who is already skilled at performing the other dance forms. Mansai is excited to add a new dance to his list. He is confident that he will get better with time. Right now, he is looking forward to performing at several festivals which include the Poy Panchong, Poy Lufra and Poy Bimal.