festivals-of-ne_

Festivals of Northeast

Assam

Ali-Aye Ligang
Ali-Aye Ligang Festival is the main festival of the ethnic Mishing Community of the Region of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, in which they perform traditional rituals and dances. Ali-Aye Ligang, the Agricultural Festival is celebrated on ‘Ligange lange’, the first Wednesday of ‘Gimur Polo’, or the month of Fagun month (between January and February) every year. The literal meaning of Ali-Aye Ligang stands for first sowing of roots and fruits in which ‘Ali’ stands for seeds, ‘Aye’ for fruits and ‘Ligang’ for sowing.

During this festival, Misings indulge in great feasts with Poro Apong or Nogin Apong ( Rice Beer), pork cooked in various styles. ‘Purang Apin’ is cooked in water with special leaves. This is also special dish prepared by Misings during Ali Ai Ligang only. Throughout this festival certain taboos with respect to cutting bushes, fishing, ploughing, burning jungles are strictly prohibited. The last day of festival called as ‘Lilen’ is observed with a grand community feast.

“Ali Aye Ligang” marks the beginning of agricultural cultivation. Prayer, dance and feast are integral parts of festival. On this day the head of the family marks the sowing of seeds in their respective fields and goes with a handful of seeds, a Yokpa, Apong, Purang, Take, Peero, Si-Pag, Si-Pag Onno preferably carrying in a Vgvn (cone shaped structure made of bamboo etc.). By using the Yokpa he cleans a small patch of the land in the eastern part of the field and is decorated with the Peero and Si-Pag Onno in a square of circular patterns. The Apong, Purang, Take and Si-Pag are placed at appropriate places within the decorated area then the seeds are sown over the area and chant the forefathers ‘Sedi Melo, Karsing-Kartag, Do:Nyi-Po, Lo etc. to bear witness the sowing seeds into the womb of mother earth for abundant crops, good harvest etc. After the chanting and the sowing of the seeds, they promise to share the harvest amongst the benefactors and the beggars. In this way- Ligang starts and the headman returns home. This is completed usually in the forenoon.

In the daytime, the women get busy preparing Apong and Purang. Both are essential items of Ligang. The two varieties of Apong existing in the community are prepared (Nogin and Po:Ro) in sufficient quantities for guest and visitors. Purang is the special inevitable item of Ligang. The elders and visitors irrespective of age, sex and social status are served with Purang, Apong and delicious curry prepared usually with fish. In this way feasting continues throughout the village. In the evening hours the head of the family again pray their forefathers including ‘Koje Yango (Goddess of fertility).

After the feast, merry making starts in the form of Gumrag So:Man. Gumrag So:Man is a combination of dance and beating of drums and cymbals. The Mising people believe that Lakshmi will satisfy and bless for good harvest if Gumrag So:Man is performed on the Ligang day. Hence it is basically an appeasing dance of the Goddess of fertility. People of the village young and old irrespective of sex can take part in the Paksong Moman (Dance Song). Usually the youth take the lead and dance follows the rhythmical tunes of the drums and cymbals.

The most characteristic feature of the Gumrag in Ligang is the wearing of woven dresses of the participating youths reflecting their culture self image and identity. The menfolk wear Gonro Ugon, Mibu Galuk and Dumer and the womenfolk wear Ege, Ribi Gaseng, Gero Segreg etc. then the womenfolk with their fine movements enact paddy transplanting and harvesting in dance of the expressive drum beats by the young men. Gumrag dance is accompanied by appropriate songs also. Gunrag So:Man usually last the whole night. In some village house to house dance is replaced by single Gumrag So:Man collectively by the village people. The villagers observe a period of abstinence from field works ranging from one to three days and breaks it known a ‘Yodlen Kunam’ by instituting a brief function calling upon the Forefathers. This marks the end of Ali Aye Ligang and the people start devoting their time in the field works of cultivation.

Brahmaputra Beach Festival
If you’re in Assam for Maagh/Bhogali Bihu, make sure you time your visit to coincide with the Brahmaputra Beach Festival. This two day event combines culture and adventure sports, including traditional Bihu dances, food, crafts, cultural exhibition, paragliding, boat cruises, canoeing, rafting, and beach volleyball. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors.

The Brahmaputra Beach Festival is a major draw for sports lovers all across the world. The festival is scheduled in either January or February that takes place for two days along the banks of the Brahmaputra River that overlooks the Umananda river island and which is one of the mightiest rivers of Asia. This is one of a kind event which carries over some of the joyous spirit of Bihu (that happens a week back) and creates an atmosphere of sportsmanship and revelry. One can take in some cultural celebrations, traditional Assamese cuisine and Tribal dance forms. Craft products and locally spun textiles are displayed at exhibitions. For the adventure lover there is rafting, paragliding and canoeing and long relaxing boat cruises make the Brahmaputra Beach Festival perfect for couples too and also cheer on teams in the more casual beach volleyball events. Sport is an important feature of this festival, including with a beach version of cricket, combining India’s sporting passion with the local beach life. It is a very lively and popular festival which is well worth visiting.

Manipur

Lui-ngai- ni
Lui-Ngai-Ni festival is one of the biggest festivals organized in the state of Manipur. It is the major festival that is celebrated by almost all the ethnic tribes of the Manipuri Nagas. The festival takes place on February 15each year and marks the seed sowing season. The tribes of Manipur are very closely knit and Lui Ni being a community festival is celebrated with much pomp and a lot of warmth. The spirit of this festival is all about community harmony and love.

During the festival, traditional dances are performed; different delicacies are prepared by the local women and served with a lot of love. Rituals of lighting fire and blessing the seeds that will be sown are also performed. A Bonfire is being lighted up that is followed by dance and song with a display of traditional Manipuri art by the local artisans. The crafts speak a lot about the hidden nuance of their lives. Lui-Ngai-Ni festival gives out the message of peace and harmony.

 Yaoshang
The five-day long Holi, locally known as Yaoshang is celebrated on the full moon day of Lamta (February/March), the last month of Meitei lunar calendar. The main highlight of the festival is the Thabal Chongba (a folk dance), a popular Manipuri folk dance associated with the festival of Holi. The literal meaning of thabal is ‘moonlight’ and Chongba means ‘dance’, thus ‘dancing in the moonlight’, where boys and girls form a circle holding hands by singing and dancing. Traditionally conservative Manipuri parents did not allow their daughters to go out and meet any young men without their consent. Thabal Chongba therefore provided the only chance for girls to meet and talk to boys. On this occassio the boys wear pheijom (dhoti) and girls wear phanek (loincloth worn by female Meetei) in the Thabal Chongba. In the past, this dance was performed in the moonlight accompanied by folk songs. The only musical instrument used was a dholakar drum. It is performed in every locality on all the six days of the festival. Instead of a fire, a hut is built and then set ablaze. Yaoshang festival is not just for children, but all young and old alike take delight in this joyous festival. Songs, dance, drinks, and food everything goes in excess when it is time for Yaoshang.

On the first day of the festival, young boys and girls go door to door for Nakatheng (collection of money or donation) after Yaoshang Meithaba. The money collected is spent on merrymaking. The next day, boys go in groups to play gulal with the girls. And in return for playing with them, the girls extract money from the boys. Children take special delight in the festival. Colours are applied to a big bunch of friends in their locality. Pichkaris or syringes are also used by children to drench themselves. Abeer (colour) is of different bright shades of pink, red, yellow and green. Abeer is made of small crystals or paper like chips of mica.

The literal meaning of ‘Holi’ is ‘burning’, however in Manipur, Holi is celebrated as Yaoshang. Instead of a fire, a hut is built and then set ablaze. The most prominent legend to explain the meaning of ‘Holi’ is the legend associated with demon king Hiranyakshyap. He wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. Hiranyakashap commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she was paid a price for her evil desires, while Prahlad was saved by grace of the god for his extreme devotion.

The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion. Lord Krishna also started the tradition of play with colours by applying on his beloved Radha and other Gopis. Gradually, the play gained popularity with the people and became a tradition.

Meghalaya

Annual Boating Competition
Boating is a pass time activity enjoyed by people during leisure hours. The craze for boating has increased so much in recent times that most of the amusement parks are giving boating facilities to let their visitors enjoy a joyful ride in the heart of deep water.

Lately boating has been considered as a famous outdoor game and thus is played with more serious mood. Annual Boating Competitions are celebrated almost in every state of India and thus has acquired a special status in this country. The urge to get the super power to win over the nature has generalised the men folk to engage themselves into such competitions which being mundane is tough to handle. Following the order, the north eastern state of Meghalaya also celebrates Meghalaya Annual Boating Competition at Dwaki, which is situated 95 kms away from the Meghalaya capital Shillong during the month of February every year. It also includes cave expeditions, trekking, boating competitions, etc. Spectators from different corners of the state come to enjoy this festival every year.

 Tura Winter Festival
Tura Winter Festival is celebrated mainly by the members of the Garo tribe and is a major cultural event both for the local inhabitants as well as for the visitors to the state of Meghalaya. Located in the west Garo Hills of Meghalaya, Tura is an important center of Garo culture.

The best thing about Tura is its breathtaking beauty. The Winter Festival in Tura takes place in the main Tura town, which is girdled by the grand Brahmaputra river. The magnificent Tura peak provides a great backdrop to the proceedings and the events in the Tura Winter Festival. The scenic attraction of Tura is one of the main attractions for the visitors to the festival.

Tura Winter Festival takes place in the February. Farming on the mountainous terrains of the Garo hills can be extremely arduous. The onset of the winter signifies the end of a session of heavy hard work for the farmers and thus provides a great occasion for celebration. Moreover, the mountains take on unprecedented magnificence in the winter.

Tura Winter Festival features lots of folk songs and dance forms. An integral part of the Garo culture, these dance forms include heavy repetitive rhythms beaten out of the traditional drums with accompanying songs. There are also rural sports and plenty of food. Rice-beer feature prominently on all Garo festivals and the Winter Festival of Tura is no exception. The Winter Festival at Tura is a great place to experience the authentic taste of Garo culture as well as to undertake some delightful nature tourism.

Nagaland

Sekrenyi
The Angami tribe of Nagaland celebrate a ten-day festival called Sekrenyi also known as Phousanyi in February. The term Sekrenyi literally means sanctification festival; “Sekre” literally means “sanctification” while “nyi” stands for festival. The festival takes places after the harvest and falls on the twenty-fifth day of the month Kezei (January–February). The festival lasts for ten days and is also called Phousnyi by the Angamis.

It is mainly a ritualistic festival that takes place with a series of different and colourful ceremonies that lasts for 10 long days. Two days prior to the main festival firewood is collected. On the next day animals are hunted in preparation for the meal. Next day the main celebration starts. Then it begins with ‘Kezie’ rite which means ‘sanctification’ and involves cleansing the house after which, men folk from the oldest to the youngest who is able to understand participates in ‘Sekre’ ritual. As part of this ritual, few drops of rice water are taken from the top of the jug called Zumho and are put on leaves. The lady of the household places them at the three main posts of the house.

Prior to the day, youths from the village go to the well and clean it in preparation for the first day, Zukhophe. Only young and pure bachelor boys are allowed to do this work. After the cleaning is performed, youth guard the well into the night to avoid anyone from fetching water Early next morning, both young and old men of the village attend the washing ritual. The whole ritual is performed in a ceremonial manner. They wear two new shawls (the white Mhoushü and the black Lohe) and sprinkle water on their chests, knees, and right arms. This ceremony is called dzüseva(‘touching the sleeping water’) that assures them that all their ills and misfortunes have been washed away by the purified well-water. The ceremony of ‘Sekre’ is performed for the main purpose of obtaining strength during war as well as to solicit good fortune during hunting, to gain wisdom and be victorious in Games and to ensure good health for the oncoming year. They then fetch water from the same well for the women of the household as no one else is allowed to fetch water on that day.

On returning home, begins the ritual of ‘Geizie’ that requires a perfect rooster with well formed legs, wings and comb. Every male in the household are given roosters of different sizes according to their age and consequently, the roosters are strangled with bare hands and sacrificed. It is considered a good omen when the right leg falls over the left leg as it falls down. The bird is then hung outside the home for the elders of the village to inspect it. Young boys are only allowed to join in the Sekrenyi celebrations after they turn 6-7 years of age, and their first slaughter is a cock but not a chicken. It is only after their first offering that they are allowed to slaughter a chicken as according to myth ‘cock must die in hands, and is then dropped on the ground, if the right leg of the cock comes above the left leg, then it is considered to be a good omen’. The bottom part of the chicken is cut away and the intestines pulled out. On the top of the appendix, feathers are inserted and this is hung at the entrance to their house.

The chicken is cooked in a separate (temporary) oven made of wood away from the household’s main kitchen. Before eating the meal, they offer the liver of the chicken along with some wine and pray ‘If any enemy comes, give me the strength that I kill the enemy before he kills me’. Women and girls are not allowed to eat from this meal. Afterwards the men put some water in their mouths and spit it out to mark the day’s end. People make local rice beer which they offer it to the spirit of the well and pray that the well never dries up continuing to provide pure water to the village.

The third day after ‘Sekre’ comes ‘Theprunhie’ where spears, shields and shawls worn during the ‘Sekre’ period are taken outside the village gate and shaken off as a sign of doing away with any illness and misfortune. This particular ritual completes the act of purification after which the festival is marked by singing and feasting.

From the fourth day the festival of the singing and feasting begin and it continues for next three days. Young couples go to forest and collect corks, stones, wood pieces etc. to make necklaces and bracelets and various other ornaments. There is exchange of gifts between them as well as between closely related friends. If someone wants a favor or a gift then he or she can ask for it from their friends but they must do something for them in return. By doing so, they are considered to be very close friends. On the fifth day, young people go to their parents home and make things such as ornaments, spears, dao and other items that are kept for future use. On the sixth day people just stay at home and enjoy with friends and family.

The most interesting part of the Sekrenyi Festival is the thekra hie. The thekra hie is when the young men and women of the village sit together and sing traditional songs throughout the day. During the celebration jugs of rice beer and plates of meat are placed before the participants.

On the seventh day, the young men go hunting. The most important ceremony falls on the eighth day when the bridge-pulling, or gate-pulling, is performed and inter-village visits are exchanged. All field work ceases during this season of feasting and song.

The men go for hunting on the seventh day of the Sekrenyi Festival. The most significant part of the festival falls on the eighth day. On this day, bridge-pulling or gate-pulling is performed. Inter-village visits are also exchanged. During the entire process of observing the Festival, no one is allowed to go to the fields and work. These acts of purification are however, not strictly followed in the present day. With the dawn of Christianity, many other tribal festivals have also forgone several rites and rituals that their ancestors rigorously followed in the olden days.

 Nazu festival
One of the most enjoyable and colorful festivals of Nagaland, is the Nazu Festival. It is celebrated by the Pochury tribe of Nagaland with great joy and enthusiasm. The time for celebrating the Nazu Festival is in the month of February. This festival is very significant in the tribal communities as it is observed prior to the sowing of seeds for the year. It is a grand event and is observed for a span of ten days at a stretch with pomp and glitter. The whole outlook of the festival is les of rituals and more of pure entertainment and competition. There are dances and music performed by the tribal folks. While celebrating the Nazu Festival, the tribal folks completely soak themselves in the festive mood

During the Nazu festival various forms of songs and dances are performed by the people of Pochury tribe. There is a specific dress code for the festival. The dancers dress in brightly colored attires and attractive accessories. The dance that they perform is noticeable because of the harmonious movements of hands and legs along with songs of diverse tunes and beats. The major attraction of Nazu is when the women folk of the Pochury tribe perform the Khupielilie dance. The dancers dress themselves in Ascunyi (Ribbon like head dress), Akhi (Armlet), Kiileniinyi (Long mekhala wrapped from the chest to the calf), Achulhre (worn round the waist), Akhusa (Bangle worn on forearm) and Asker (necklaces). The Khupielilie dancers move their hands and legs in harmony with the rhythm of the songs on the different tunes and beats. This dance is popular because of the tuneful and harmonious movements of the hands and legs of all the dancers that present a beautiful and amusing sight.

Hega ( Meileinyi)
The Hega festival is one of the most important and the largest festivals among the Zeliang community of Nagaland. It falls in the month of February from 10th to 15th every year. It is a festival that inculcates in the invoking of the Almighty God to cascade his blessing upon his populace with richness, luck and courage. As all festivals are and should be even this is a festival of joy, rest and get-together that is quintessential to the spirit of festivity. On this day, people venerate to Almighty God and lay bare their heart and soul for protection and guidance about their mortal life in this fleeting illusory world. Their prayers are at once a request for bestowing the keys of the afterlife and road to eternal quest of salvation.
On this festival even young couples are united for their future during this ceremonial gesture as the nuptial knot is the symbolic gesture of perennial pleasure and ecstatic security. The festival is announced earlier and all the preparations are done before-hand. The festival begins with a variety of programmes and merrymaking that mark the festival aura of the season’s gleeful overtones. From the first day of the festival a new fire is lit by the eldest from each Khel and these elders have to take only pork throughout the festival. Also, during the festival, no male are supposed to sleep with his wife for fear of losing good luck and courage especially in hunting.
On the First day or Hega Teu Dap, all the killing of animal for festival are done in every household and those who have no such animal either buy or share with other member. Again it is on this day itself that the eldest of the family call upon all his grandsons and daughters for a common meal to his house and the duration of the meal are marked by the array of special songs which are composed especially for their grandsons and daughters. The Grandsons and daughters generally wear new shawls for the special occasion. In the evening, the engaged couple, especially the bride, presents traditional dress like shawl and other garments. Together with the boys and the elders there will be a common gathering at the bridegroom’s Morung (the bride and the bridegroom are included).
On the second day of the festival known as Herie Kap, the gatekeeper of the main gate will have a special and separate prayer invoking the protection of the almighty to the villagers and to shower his blessings in all walks of life for the year to come. After the prayer, he would go to a jungle and there also he would offer special prayer asking god to show him the right tree for the sacrifice. When it is shown the youth will cut it and shape it into a hornbill and put it up in the main gate with decoration and other necessary things. In the evening, the elders and the boys will make noise (Nro) and go up and down the whole village for two or three times and at the end they will try to pierce the heart of the wooden hornbill. As and when they manage it is good luck. Richness and blessing will be bestowed on his children. After this all men and boys will gather in their own Morung to offer special prayer for good luck in hunting.
The third day is called Tsing Rak. It is the occasion when the brides gather all the girls early in the morning from her Khel and go to the forest to collect firewood for the evening. The firewood is then split into small pieces by extracting the bark. In the meantime, the elders and youth from the Khel will go to forest and cut a big tree that is being shaped after which colour is put on the two wooden pieces showing the purity and virginity of the bride. In the evening, the bride will carry the two wooden pieces which signify her life. The firewood and the wooden pieces are kept in the main gate or the last gate of the village. With these two heavy wooden pieces (ten to twelve feet in height), the bride will start from the gate and the rest of the girls and boys will carry the firewood and follow the bride to the girls Morung. At night, the bridegroom will provide food and drinks to the girls in the Girl’s Morung
The Fourth Day or Rodi, the boy will prepare a place for long jump and wrestling (a place which is set apart by their forefathers). On this day traditional dresses like shawls and other garments are worn. In the evening, the entire villager will gather at that particular place where long jump and wresting takes place. The men and boys will make noise (Nro) and go up and down the village for 3 times. After this they will come to the jumping place and make noised two times again (invoking god to bless the villagers for their work). Then (Nro) the long jump will take place and after that the wrestling. The winner of long jump will have to give in kind or in cash to the village high priest. Then there will be singing together with the bride up and down the village. The songs are of love praise and farewell to the bride and the bridegroom, especially to the bride, because she can never take part again in dance or in such practice. At night the bride visit each household encouraging them, boys and girls to take part in the dance. For the elders (men), she will prepare special soup from meat and give them for their health and strength to participate in the dance.
The last day known as Koksui is the last and most important and exciting day of the festival. Here one will see people putting on their traditional dress getting ready for the dance early in the morning. The bride together with some of her friends will go round the village and will give bath to those who are unwilling to join the dance. For the bride it is the last day in her life (a girl married cannot join the dance again). This dance is includes the participation only by virgin girls. For boys and men, whether married or not can dance all through their life if their health permits. The dance is performed in the evening with different steps and meaning. After the dance, the entire dancer goes round the whole village singing and dancing, at some place they would play games and sing songs together with the bride and bridegroom.
On the sixth day, elders put off the new fire and celebrate. But the rest of the villager can start their work from that day onwards with all the blessing and luck from Almighty God who always care for his children.

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