Like any other part of India, the Northeast too has a medley of festivals and
Like any other part of India, the Northeast too has a medley of festivals andfairs and the yearly calendar is packed with celebrations. Besides Diwali, Eid and Christmas, the region’s many unique and fascinating festivals provide visitors with an insight into each state’s rich social and cultural history. These celebrations also give the tribal and non-tribal communities living in the Northeast an opportunity to break the monotony of daily life with colourful dances and music. The celebrations also act as a platform for various tribes to showcase their cultural heritage. Some of these festivals are mentioned below:
One of the most important Buddhist festivals in Sikkim, Saga Dawa, which means ‘full moon’, commemorates the birth and enlightenment of Lord Buddha. It is celebrated on the day of the full moon between the months of April and May. On this day, devotees gather at monasteries and make offerings of water, incense sticks and dhog to various deities and Lord Buddha. They also join processions that go around gompas thereby giving them a chance to turn several prayer wheels and chant Buddhist mantras as they go along.
The Sikkimese New Year, known as Losoong, is usually the time when farmers celebrate and give thanks for their harvest. Although the festivities are usually restricted to private celebrations at homes and amongst family members and friends, there is a general air of merriment across the state. Black Hat dances are performed by monks to commemorate the victory of good over evil, with chaams held in many monasteries on the days leading upto Losoong. This festival occurs in the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar, equivalent to December in the Gregorian calendar. Competitions to test participants’ prowess in traditional activities, such as archery, are also organised.
Celebrated over three days, Losar is a festival that marks the Tibetan New Year. Tribes such as the Monpa, Sherdukpens, Memba, Khamba and Nah celebrate this festival. Beginning on 11 February each year, the first day of the festival is marked by priests making offerings to the high priest known as the Dharmapala or Palden Lhamo, while people visit their friends and family. Traditionally, sprouted barley seeds and buckets of tsampa (roasted barley flour with butter) and other grains are offered on home altars to ensure a good harvest. On the second day of the festival, which is called Gyalpo Losar, national leaders and kings are honoured. On the third and final day known as Choe-Kyong Losar, people make offerings to their local Dharmapala and tie prayer flags on rooftops.
Originally an agricultural ritual observed by the Apatani tribe in order to ensure a good harvest, Dree is now celebrated across the state. It takes place on 5 July each year. However, celebrations associated with it commence from 4 July. During the festival, people pray to four gods – Tamu, Harniang, Metii and Danyi – collectively known as ‘Dree’ and sacrifice fowls, goats and cows in order to appease them. On the main day the meat of the sacrificed animals are cooked and given to guests along with rice beer and cucumber. The latter is symbolic of the sacredness of all vegetables and is an important fruit associa-ted with Dree. In recent times, traditional folk song and dance competitions have been added to the festivities.
One of the most unusual fairs of the country, the Ambubachi festival is held in the Kamakhya Temple in the month of June. It is believed that during this time Goddess Kamakhya goes through her annual menstrual cycle. The temple remains closed for three days and is considered unclean. After three days the temple re-opens and devotees are allowed to offer prayers to her.
The primary festivals of the Assamese community are the three Bihus. The Assamese New Year in April or Bohag, sees the state in its most colourful avatar. This festival is known as Rongali Bihu. Groups of boys dressed in traditional Assamese garments perform Bihu from door to door in return for a token of appreciation. After the performance, families kneel in front of the dance troop for their blessings. This celebration is called Husori. Kati Bihu in mid-October is a sombre affair with no celebration whatsoever. It coin-cides with the lean agricultural phase. People light earthen lamps after sundown under holy basil or tulsi plants, as a prayer offering. Mid-January or Magh season sees the celebration of Bhogali Bihu. This marks the end of the harvesting cycle and celebrates the bounty.
Held in the first week of December every year, the Hornbill Festival’s aim is to revive and protect Nagaland’s rich cultural heritage and unite all the Naga tribes under stone umbrella. The week-long festival showcases colourful song and dance performances, crafts, food fairs, traditional sports such as wrestling and archery, and ceremonies. It also pays tribute to the hornbill, a bird that is revered by the Nagas for its grand appearance and alert nature.
This is the Manipuri New Year, which is celebrated in April. In preparation of the festival, people clean and decorate their houses and cook special dishes, which are first offered to various deities. A part of the ritual sees people climbing nearby hilltops in the belief that it will enable them to achieve greater heights during their earthly lives. The Pangals (Manipuri Muslims) also observe this festival.
Beginning from the full moon day of Phalguna (February/ March), Yaoshang is celebrated over a course of five days and is Manipur’s premier festival. The Thabal Chongba – a Manipuri folk dance – is particularly associated with this festival. Yaoshang to Manipur is what Durga Puja is to Bengal and Diwali to north India.
One of the most important and famous festivals of Mizoram, Anthurium is celebrated in the last week of September, when the flowering is at its peak. Celebrated in Reiek village – around 30km away from Aizawl city – this festival of flowers reflects the rich heritage of the Mizos. Highlights of the festival include archery, rifle shooting and angling competitions, and the various tribes of Mizoram dressed in traditional garments.
This is an agriculture festival celebrated in March every year. Chapar Kut marks the time for planting in the state. The highlight of this festival is the bamboo dance known as Cheraw. Handicraft, art and flower shows along with food festivals and music competitions are organised during the festival.
A popular festival in Tripura, Kharchi Puja is a 10-day long affair marked by animal sacrifices and the worship of 14 gods as instructed by Lord Shiva. The festival takes place in July each year in Old Agartala or Puran Haveli, in a temple that houses 14 deities. Thousands of people gather in Tripura during the festival and enjoy cultural prog-rammes and fairs. Kharchi is said to be a corrupt form of khya, which means earth. Kharchi Puja is, therefore, the worship of the earth – the earth that sustains mankind with all her resources.
Unakoti hill, which is adorned with huge rock reliefs of deities, hosts this important festival every year in March/ April. Thousands of pilgrims from different parts of the state assemble here to offer puja to the numerous rock-cut images of deities here. A popular fair known as Ashokastami Fair, is also organised for this occasion.
Nongkrem Dance Festival
The Khasi tribe celebrates this festival in November. Goats are sacrificed in order to give thanks to Goddess Ka Blei Synshar. This five-day festival sees young men and women dressed in traditional costumes perform a tribal dance. Nongkrem Dance Festival is held in Smit, which is about 15km from the famed city of Shillong.
Held in the second week of November, Wangala is mainly observed by the Garo tribe. It is celebrated in honour of Misi Saljong, who is thanked for blessing the people with a generous harvest. The village chief performs rituals a day before the festival begins during which freshly brewed rice beer, cooked rice and vegetables are offered to Misi Saljong. Members of the tribe wear traditional garments and feathered headgear and dance to the rhythm of long, oval-shaped drums known as dama.