A festival is an event ordinarily celebrated by a community and centering on some characteristic aspect of that community and its religion or traditions, often marked as a local or national holiday. Next to religion and folklore, a significant origin is agricultural. Food is such a vital resource that many festivals are associated with sowing and harvest time.
Festivals often serve to fulfill specific communal purposes, especially in regard to commemoration or thanksgiving. The celebrations offer a sense of belonging for religious, social, or geographical groups, contributing to group cohesiveness. They may also provide entertainment, which was particularly important to local communities before the advent of mass-produced entertainment. Festivals that focus on cultural or ethnic topics also seek to inform community members of their traditions; the involvement of elders sharing stories and experience provides a means for unity among families.
Many festivals have religious origins and entwine cultural and religious significance in traditional activities. There are numerous types of festivals in the world and most countries celebrate important events or traditions with traditional cultural events and activities. Most culminate in the consumption of specially prepared food (showing the connection to “feasting”) and they bring people together. Among many religions, a feast is a set of celebrations in honour of God or gods
New Year is the time at which a new calendar year begins and the calendar’s year count increments by one. Many cultures celebrate the event in some manner. Nevertheless, regional or local use of other calendars persists, along with the cultural and religious practices that accompany them.
Northeast India that comprises of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura is considered as one of most culturally diverse regions of the world. It is a land of diversified culture, which reflects a chain of festivals of different tribes throughout the year. The people of these states are always on a celebration spree. They all have their separate festivals grouped with tribal songs in their own language. The festivals are marked with symbolic rituals, platonic hospitality, and elaborate feasts. Music and dance form a vital part of the celebrations. Most of the festivals here are either related to agriculture or beginning of a New Year. There are many festivals that extend over a number of days and include folk/tribal dance and music. All these festivals highlight the region’s rich indigenous culture combined with folk songs, tribal dances, cuisines and handicrafts. Festival season is the best time to know the culture and traditional costumes of a paradise unexplored called North East India.
Si-Donyi – Tagin Festival
Si-Donyi, the most popular festival of the Tagin community of Arunachal Pradesh and is celebrated with religious fervor and traditional gaiety throughout the state. It is celebrated annually in the month of January. It is celebrated to promote the health, wealth and prosperity of the people of the tribe. The festival involves various rituals that are performed to appease various elements like Si (Earth) and Donyi(Sun) Gods. They believe that, the sun, the moon, the earth and the natural elements around them play a vital part in their day to day functions. It is with these factors in back ground that their important festivals are performed. During the festival ‘Etting’, rice powder mixed with Apeng (rice-beer) is made to a paste and everyone liberally applied with it.
The celebration is inclusive of all, irrespective of the age, sex and gender, and sees wide spread participation. Everybody contributes in kind and cash. Si-Doni festival being conducted on a large scale cannot be performed individually due to huge expenditure involved. Hence it is celebrated collectively. The local youths work day and night for about a month in preparation of the festival. The elderly person who form the members of the Si-Doni committee direct the operations and the selected Nibu (priest) guides and performs the Si-Doni festival like Sune-Rabo, Takar, Gene Koni Bakar and Hoye Penam. It is understood that by celebrating the Si-Doni festival the creators Si and Doni would not only be satisfied but also bless the people with good crops and prevent diseases. In fact Si-Doni festival is the festival for prosperity, plenty and success. During this festival boys and girls in colourful dresses and split bamboo head gears (Donger) sing and dance. The festival ends with folk dances and a large community feast.
Jonbeel Mela is one of the most attractive and unique fest of Assam where Barter system comes alive. It is a three-day community fair that is held every year around mid-January, usually during the weekend of the Assamese harvest festival Magh Bihu at a historic place known as Dayang Belguri at Joonbeel. It is 5 km from Jagiroad in Morigaon district of Assam and 32 km from Guwahati. The exact year of start is probably not known but it is a tradition that has been carried on by generations after generations of people in a tiny region in the Morigaon district of Assam for several centuries. Joon and Beel are Assamese terms for the Moon and a wetland respectively. Literally speaking, Jonbeel Mela means the ‘fair of the moon lake’. Indeed, the fair is held besides a naturally picturesque lake that is crescent-shaped.
Before the mela takes place, an Agni Puja or fire worship is performed for the well-being of the mankind. The mela starts with community fishing in the Jonbeel wetland. The theme of the mela is harmony and brotherhood amongst various tribes and between the people of the hills and plains that is scattered in the Northeast India.
During the three days activities, the main attraction of the fair is that tribes from the hills come down to the plains and trade their agricultural produce and other goods with the non-tribal or people from the plains. This is traditionally the Gobha Haat of barter exchange. As a consequence it is unique not only to India but perhaps, to most other parts of the world, because no currency is involved in the exchange; rather it is done through barter system where one good is simply exchanged with another.
On the Jonbeel Mela, a huge market or bazaar is held where the people of different tribes interchange their merchandise with the local people in barter system. They just exchange the goods like aromatic rice, spices, herbs fruits, fish, cakes (pithas) handicraft items (made of cane and bamboo), traditional apparel, brooms (the grass that is used to make traditional brooms in India grows wildly in these areas) and other stuff which cannot grow in their own areas. They spend these three days in makeshift bamboo huts as a greater family and share their moments with each other. They also dine together as a group.
The fair is done under the aegis of the king of the Gova Kingdom belonging to the Tiwas. Of course the kingdom no longer exists in its original form but the King still remains, who is a descendant of the actual kings. During the mela,the king of the Tiwa tribes popularly known as Govaraja along with his courtiers visits the mela and collects taxes from his subjects. In the preceding day of the Mela, the Govaraja and the officers offer and enjoy a community feast on the bank of Jon Beel. During the fair, people from various tribes perform their traditional dances, and music to make the whole atmosphere joyful.
Among the festivals of the Dimasa, Bushu is the most joyous and important community festival. It is the annual harvest festival of the Dimasa people living in Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong, Nagaon districts and Barak Valley of Assam as well as in Dimapur area of Nagaland in North East India. The festival is usually celebrated in the month of January, when all sort or works of the jhum are completed. Thus the Bushu is an occasion for relaxation from hard toils. It can, therefore be termed as harvesting festival or a festival of rejoicing and merry making.
The word Bushu, gives the meaning such as Brai-Sibrai (supreme God) in Dimasa society. So, in this way, the entire harvesting new paddy is offered first to the Brai sibrai madai for peace of the human kind is called Bushu. Phangsla, an artistically designed gate, is erected at the village entrance for the Bishu festival. Three category of Bushu (Jidap, Surem and Hangsou) are being celebrated among the Dimasas,. Surem Busu is observed for three to five days, Hangseu manaoba Bushu is observed for seven days and Jidab Bushu for one day.
Bushu is followed by singing accompanied by the rhythm of Kharams (drums), Muri, the wooden buggle continues first to third days without stop. Men and women, boys and girls and others with their traditional attire spend whole night by dancing in the festival. Hence the participation in this celebration is not restricted to anyone. They dance to the different tunes called “murithai” and each dance has got its name, the prominent being the “Baidima.” In the afternoon local games like long jump, high jump, stone throw is organised in front of Nodrang on last day. Bushu garba is conducted by the Khunang with elders.
The festival may be celebration at an agreed time according to the convenience of the village people. But since 1994 as per the decision of Dimasa community of Dima Hasao, the Autonomous Council of Dima Hasao had officially declared 27 January as Bushu Bushu Dima Festival in all Dimasa inhabited villages, towns and districts.
The Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu festival of Assam is celebrated with great fervor by its entire populace. Bhogali Bihu is celebrated in mid of January, on the first day of ‘Magh’ month of Assamese Calendar. It is the Assam celebration of Sankranthi, with feasting lasting for a week. It is the third Bihu that calls for a grand celebration in Assamese homes. The festival is also referred to as the festival of food. Bhogali Bihu comes from the word Bhog that is eating and enjoyment. The best thing about this Bihu is the elaborate and sumptuous cuisine that is prepared. Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu is also the Bihu celebrating harvest when food is available in abundance. That is why it is known as Bhogali for eating and enjoyment (Bhog means food). It is the time when winter sets out on its last course, making way for spring. This is the time when the hard working agricultural folk of the state sit down to reap the benefits of their labor. However, it must be pointed out that the Magh Bihu festival is not limited to the agricultural pockets of the state. Right from the smallest of villages to the big towns and cities of Assam, people celebrate this festival with great joy, though it must be mentioned that the mode of celebration differs from the villages to the cities.
The night before Magh Bihu Festival is called Uruka and is characterized by merry making, community feasts and bonfires. On this day, the young men folk go to the nearby field, preferably near a river, build a makeshift cottage called Bhelaghar with the hay of the harvest fields and also a Meji with hay. During the night, they prepare food and there is community feasting everywhere. There is also exchange of sweets and greetings at this time. The entire night (called Uruka) is spent around the Meji with people singing bihu songs, beating Dhol, (a typical kind of drums), merrymaking or or playing games. The boys roam about in the dark stealing firewood and vegetables for fun. Then at the break of dawn, after taking a bath, they proceed to the mejis. The Meji is lit up by one old member of the society or village. All the villagers gather around the Meji and complete many rituals. Various types edibles like coconut, betel nut, etc. are worshiped to the Meji, i.e., to the Hindu God of Fire (Agni Devta). They offer their prayers to the God of Fire and mark the end of the harvesting year. Various types of potatoes, mitha aloo, muwa aloo, etc. are roasted in the large fire of meji and everyone from young to old have it. Youths also enjoy with cracker like that is made of bamboo called ‘Hiloi’. Thereafter they come back home carrying pieces of half burnt firewood for being thrown among fruit trees for favourable results. All the trees in the compound are tied to bamboo strips or paddy stems.
Ladies of the society prepare for this Bihu for many days. They cook various snacks, sweets, for this day. On the Bhogali Bihu day, they carry their food items to the auspicious Meji spot. Various types of Jolpan and pitha are served to everyone. On the first of Magh (the day after Uruka), people visit relatives and friends places to enjoy Bihu delicacies like different types of pithas, sira-doi, jalpan and other delicacies prepared during Bhogali Bihu. Like all other Bihu, Magh Bihu also has the ritual of showing respect the the elder one with Gamosa.
But the celebrations don’t just stop here. There are various types of traditional sports where from children to old people participate. The festival is marked by special events like bull fight, cock fight and egg fight which occurs on the first of Magh. Among them, the most popular one is egg-fight. It is played across Assam in every corner from villages to towns. Another most thrilling is the Buffalo-fight across the villages and smaller towns across Assam. It is held in open spaces where large crowds from villages come and view these fights.
Magh Bihu celebrations start on the last day of the previous month, the month of “Pooh”, usually the 29th of Pooh and usually the 14th of January, and is the only day of Magh Bihu in modern times (earlier, the festival would last for the whole month of Magh, and so the name Magh Bihu). The Magh Bihu Festival of Assam is an occasion when all differences are forgotten and people unite to celebrate in a grandiose manner.
During the months of December and January the festival of Pawl Kut is celebrated in Mizoram. It is one of the main harvest festivals and is a part of thanksgiving ceremony, which is celebrated in Mizoram when the harvesting activities are completed by the local inhabitants.
Followed in the month of December to January, Pawl Kut festival lasts for two days in Mizoram. Feasting with meat and egg is a customary practice followed by each and every household of Mizoram during the festival. In the ancient ages the tribes of Mizoram used to go out on hunting spree to collect as much meat as possible. In fact every single inhabitant of Mizoram was bound to make a feast of meat during the Pawl Kut festival.
The origin of Pawl Kut tells of an interesting event which took place many centuries back in Mizoram. When the people of Mizoram used to inhabit the land on the eastern corner of river Tiau, famine occurred continuously for three years. However, there was an exemplary crop yield in the fourth year and people took it as blessing of the God. In order to offer their gratitude to the Almighty, people of Mizoram initiated the tradition of Pawl Kut festival in the place.
An integral part of the traditional festivals in Mizoram, Pawl Kut involves dancing, singing and merriment by the villagers of Mizoram. The rice beer, which is locally known by the name of Zu, is consumed by all the people of Mizoram to celebrate Pawl Kut festival. Chawnghnawt is a distinct trait of Pawl Kut festival in Mizoram. As an old custom Chawnghnawt requires the mother and her children to sit on a memorial platform constructed specially for the Pawl Kut festival. While the mother feed her kids with various palates of meat and egg preparations, the child does the same. This way both of the mother and child feed each other while the other villagers stand around the platform. Today, Pawl Kut is counted as one of the main harvest festivals of Mizoram.
Ka Bam Khana Shnong
Nobody knows when this “Village Community Feasting Festival’, began, but it is an event that everyone, both men and women, young and old look forward to.
It is a social get-together, but behind of it all, it is a time to thank the Lord for the old year past and seek his blessings for the New Year, which is to come. Originally, the entire village participate with each home contributing cash or kind (rice, pumpkins etc.). It was expected that the rich would contribute more. And no one, no matter how poor and unable to contribute, was left out of the festivities. Khasi feasts are rich with succulent “pork” preparations. And the lovely colorful ceremony of bringing wholesome pigs by pony cart decorated with colorful paper streamers and escorted by a group of musicians playing drums and pipes and brought up in the rear by a group of dancers who perform the “Ka-Shad-Lymmuh” is a sight to please all eyes.
The location of the actual feasting is usually a playground or hill-slope, a short distance away from the village. A group of elders, skilled in the culinary arts, are selected for cooking. The main group of people arrives in a procession at mid-day. Drummers and pipe-players accompany them. Usually one or two people would get ready as “jester” or clown and lead the procession and all the people dressed in their holiday best, dance, sing and laugh to make the hills ring. When the feast begins, women, children and the elderly are served first. Meanwhile, the men enjoy a draught of rice-beer.
The Gang-Ngai Festival in Manipur is a significant festival of the Kabui Nagas. The month of Wakching, which usually falls in the month of December or January of the English calendar, is when the Gang- Ngai festival is celebrated.
All through the year, they wait for this opportunity to rejoice their lifestyle, their culture and to express their religion.
The festival opens with the Omen taking ceremony on the first day by honouring their ancestors through sacred rituals. This ritual is considered to be very sacred by the Kabui Nagas. The first day is followed by four days of relentless celebrations.
The last four days of the Gang- Ngai festival is completely dedicated to fun and celebration. of the festival are marked by community feasts, various programs of music and cultural performances and celebration that keep the audience mesmerized extensively. The streets full of men and women dancing in their colorful traditional attires, to the tunes of melodious ethic instruments, surrounded by enthusiastic audiences, presents a pretty sight in Manipur. There is also an exchange of gifts between friends and family during the Gang-Ngai Festival in Manipur. The Gang–Ngai festival is a part of the identity of the Kabui Nagas as it is through this religion that the Kabui Naga tribe of Manipur gets a chance of asserting their religion.
Sukrunye is a festival that celebrates the culmination of all leisure activities, and a festival for welcoming a new fruitful life and year. It is a colorful festival of the Chakhesang Nagas. It is a festival that marks the onset of the hectic sowing season ahead and is celebrated with great pomp in the Phek district of Nagaland.
The Chakhesang Tribe celebrates seven festivals in a year; all the festivals are based on the agricutural cycle. The Sukrunye is the most important festival, which is celebrated in the first month of the year. Traditionally the Sukrunye festival covers 19 long days, starting from Nyede to Vuta Zhongu. However, it has been restricted to a 6 day event.
Sukrunye is a time for feasting and the best of the male livestock are slaughtered to be cooked and served during this festival. During this festival all young men and women dance and sing together drinking Hezo. Traditional games and sports like wrestling, music competition, Top fights, Thuluva(played with a wild ball fruit) Tsuphre-stone throwing competition (long stones weighing 50 to 100 kgs) are organised by different age groups. People come together to participate in various indigenous games and activities during this festival. Grand feasts are organized and traditional delicacies are served as part of the Tsukhenyie celebrations.
The most significant part of the Sukrunye is the purification that takes place on the first day of the festival. The word “SUKRU” implies sanctification of father by performing the following ritualistic ceremony-During the ritualistic ceremony everything new is used including utensils and hearth with three logs of one and half feet grid and 2 ft in length. The men are forbidden to use water fetched by women. The men folk go to the village well early in the morning before any animal or bird touches the water and takes a fresh water bath. It starts with the village priest’s sacrificial offering of the rooster that crowed the first that particular morning and then all the men folk gather up and take bath as a ritual of purification. New clothes are then worn and prayers are offered to the Gods to bring strength, longevity, and bountiful harvest.
After sanctifying themselves, the unpolluted water is brought home, a fire is lit by the traditional fire making method and an unblemished cock is killed, cooked with the holy water and eaten to sanctify the boys for the rest of their lives. Sukru rituals are also performed when a new house is constructed .The word “NYE” means festival. The entire men folk go for the community bird-catching and snaring, which are later hung on the decorated tip of a tall bamboo. The different kinds of birds and snares caught foretell the fortune of a person’s future.
The fifth day of the Sukrunye is called Chedi. On this day animals are killed and every household smears the blood of the animals on the post of the house. The first fetched out cooked meat and hezo(rice-beer) are offered to the high Priest and elders of the village. In return the givers are ceremoniously blessed by an act of libation.
The ‘Thuno Nuso’ ritual is only meant for the women folk. The mother performs this ceremonial ritual to sanctify her young virgin daughter. They kill an unblemished young hen and it is partaken to sanctify themselves for their entire lives. Highly restricted genna is observed on the last day of Sukrunye with thanks giving to the deities for seeking good fortune and blessings.
Mimkut festival is a post harvest festival of the Kukis, recognised by the Government of Nagaland. It is the harvest festival of the Kukis. Kukis of Nagaland celebrate this festival on the 17th Kuki month of Tolbol (January) every year. The celebration lasts one week.
It is believed that Mimkuut and other festivals came into being from the fact that, in order to pacify Thilha (Demon), the people offered sacrifices to the Supreme God whom they called “Chung Pathen” (Heavenly God). To get the blessing of such gods, the village medicine man (Thempu) would sacrifice fowls to propitiate the spirit of the Demon god by performing a series of rituals and prayer.
‘Mim’ is a kind of food grain known as ‘jobs tears’ and the predominance of ‘Mim’ could be traced back in the true story of Lendou and his brother which is known within the Kuki society. Lendou and his younger brother shared a piece of Mim to show their brotherhood love in times of hunger and distress, when they were abandoned by their mother. Mim is the last harvest crop of all seasons. The sowing of Mim normally starts in the beginning of May and harvested in the later part of December and therefore, Mimkut is best regarded as a post-harvest festival of the Kukis.
Tradition handed down orally from generation to generation says that the Kukis originated from subterranean underworld call “Khul”. They came out from this “khul” in search of better land. They brought with them a number of cereals such as millet, tapioca, beans, yam etc. After they came over ground they found paddy and jobs tears together, which were brought across a river called ‘Jwinanhem’ by a pair of wild rats on a bamboo sheath tucked in the mouths. Gradually they found Mithun from a place called ‘Sisep’, Pig from ‘Bonnol’ and fowl from ‘Molkon’, which they domesticated. They would lavishly use these animals during such festivals. Thus the cultivation of ‘jobs tears started’ and they found that it was more productive and yielded better harvest.
First day of the festival would focus on indigenous games, traditional traps, cultural items with the first ever Kuki Icon grand finale in the evening session. The highlights of the second day would be display of cultural dances, indigenous music and Mimkut Lanu (Miss Mimkut) contest besides fashion both traditional and modern attires.
Bushu of Buhsu Jiba is considered as one of the most important festival and is widely celebrated by the Dimasa Kacharis. The Bushu is basically a post harvest festival and usually falls in the month of January every year after all the hard earned grains of paddy are harvested, thrashed and stored in the granaries. Although the exact date and place of the festival is not generally fixed, people see to it that it is celebrated when there is moonlight in the nights because it is believed to be auspicious. These days, the people have decided to celebrate the festival in the last week of January. The essence of this festival is feasting and merrymaking with socio-cultural activities.
The origin of this festival dates back to the days of yore. From time immemorial each Dimasa village had a youth dormitory called Nohdrung. All the male adults, particularly the youth lived in the dormitory and guarded the village from theft, enemy raids etc. Also the dormitory served as the learning centre of handicraft, music, dance and other forms art. It was from this rural institution that gave rise to the idea of holding an annual feast after the paddy grains were harvested and stored. In the later years all the villages began to give religious importance to the feast and thus became an important festival of the people
Today the festival is celebrated with pomp and grandeur by the Dimasa Kacharis. Bushu is celebrated either village-wise or sometimes a number of villages in bordering area together organise the festival. This promotes better unity and understanding among the people of all ages and social status. The food items of the festival include rice, mutton, chicken, pork, buffalo meat and rice beer. The killing of these animals is known as Meesthaiba, which involves ritualistic performance before the animals are actually killed. Thereafter the village Priest prays on behalf of the people and places an offering of cooked rice and meat in the name of Sibarai, the Creator. This offering is known as Meedo-Karba. This is followed by feasting and merrymaking through songs and dances in which people of all ages and sex participate. Traditional sports called Rimin-nehlaiba (consists of two opponents trying to push each other holding a wooden bar by hands below the armpit and Longthai-suguba (lifting of heavy stones ) etc. are played. Also competitions on cultural dances, folk songs, folktales etc. are held during the festival. The dancing group also performs in honour of the village chief or any invited quest which is known as Bai-sengna.
Bum means “pot or vase” and chu means “water”. The literal meaning of Bumchu is a “sacred pot”. Bumchu is a Buddhist festival that is celebrated at Tashiding Monastery in Sikkim. Initiated in 1700 AD, Bumchu falls on the 15th day of first Tibetan calendar year (January-February). This sacred water festival is the monastery’s main event and this ancient ritual is one of the holiest Buddhist festivals in Sikkim.
The highlight of this festival is marked by a sacred pot that contains holy water. It is believed that the the water level in the pot is said to hold the fortunes of Sikkim for the year ahead, a belief since ancient times. In case, water is found over the brim, it signifies a year with natural disaster and flood, bloodshed and turbulence. If the pot is approximately dehydrated, it is an indication of severe famine in Sikkim. A half-filled pot is considered as the sign of peace and prosperity.
During the festival, the pot containing the Holy water is opened by the lamas of the monastery. After long hours of prayer the sacred pot containing holy water is opened by the monks of the monastery. After the vessel is opened, the monks take seven cups of water from it and after mixing it with water from Rathong Chu distribute it among the devotees. A part of the holy water is distributed amongst the devotees. Thousands of devotees visit the sacred celebration and an endless train of people can be seen from midnight until the next day waiting for their turn to receive the holy water. Devotees camp around the monastery with families and friends. In the midst of chants and prayers, the sacred pot is again refilled with seven cups of water that are taken from Rathong Chu into the vase and is sealed to conclude the festival. This sacred pot is opened after one year, in the next Bumchu festival. It is seen over ages that the holy water has not dried up or has got spoiled in more than 300 years and it still smells fresh.
The Bumchu is an important festival that is linked with traditions and sentiments of the Sikkimese’. The celebration of the festival attracts devotees from all parts of Sikkim. It attracts thousand of devotees from Nepal, Bhutan, Darjeeling and other neighboring places.