4.5 Festivals of North East India

Read about how different festivals are celebrated in the North-eastern States of India.

The North east region of India, consisting of seven States, is a place of diverse cultures. The different communities and tribes celebrate their unique festivals with great enthusiasm and joy. Many of their festivals are based on agriculture and no celebration is complete without the traditional music and dance.

 Blessed with lush greenery and the mighty river Brahmaputra, the people of Assam have a lot to celebrate. So Bihu is the chief festival of this State. It is celebrated by people of all religions, castes or tribes. The three different sets of Bihu mark the beginning of the harvesting season, the completion of sowing and the end of the harvest season.

 The Bihu dance is a joyous one performed by both young men and women and is noted for its brisk steps and hand movement. Unusual instruments provide traditional music for the dance – the dhol which is similar to a drum, the pepa, a wind instrument made from a buffalo horn, cymbals and a bamboo clapper. The songs have been handed down through many generations. Bihu competitions held all over Assam attract visitors and locals alike in large numbers.

 Living further north in the mountainous region of the Himalayas, Arunachal Pradesh finds a mention in the ancient literature of the Puranas and the Mahabharata. Nature has provided the people of this region with a deep feeling for beauty which can be seen in their festivities, songs and dances.

 The new year festival, called Losar is perhaps the most important festival in certain areas of Arunachal. On this occasion, people clean out their homes to bring in the new year and to discard the old.

 A charming festival of Manipur-Ningol Chakouba[1]binds and revives the relationship between married girls and their parents. The women and their children are given a sumptuous feast and gifts. During Cheiraoba, the Manipur new year festival in April, people clean and decorate their houses and prepare special festive dishes. As part of the ritual, the villagers climb the nearest hilltops for they believe that this will help them rise to a higher plane in this life.

The Spring Festival or Chapchar Kut is an important occasion, mostly celebrated in Mizoram. Men and women of all ages, wearing traditional dresses and headgear, perform folk dances and sing traditional songs on this occasion. Drums, gongs and cymbals add to the festive air!

 Wangala or the hundred-drum festival is the most important festival celebrated by the Garos in the villages of Meghalaya. This harvest festival is celebrated to mark the end of a period of hard work, which naturally brings a good harvest. The dance performed during the festival has two parallel lines – one of men and the other of women, clad in their festive costumes. While the men beat the drums, the lines of dancers move forward together in a rhythmic manner.

The main feature of festivals in Tripura is that all the people join in the celebrations. Many of the dances performed during some of the festivities represent hunting, fishing, food-gathering and various other activities. Some of the festivals attract people from all over India.

 Nagaland consists of different groups of people who are unique in their customs and traditions and the festivities they celebrate. Songs and dances form the soul of these festivals through which their oral history is passed down. A major festival is Moastu celebrated mainly in the villages after the sowing season. Dressed in colourful clothes and headgear decorated with feathers and wild boar tusks, the villagers dance to traditional music.

Hardly a month passes in any of the seven States without a festival or two. Most of them have a religious importance or significance, as the people offer thanks to the gods for a good harvest to prosperity, or ask for protection against calamities. But these celebrations also help to encourage cultural and artistic activities and bring out the natural talent of the people.