Most of the traditional festivals of North East India have close connection with agriculture as the people are mainly agriculturists. Farmers here practice two forms of agriculture: ‘Jhum’ cultivation (shifting cultivation) and Wet cultivation. As these agrarian practices are mostly dependent on sun and rain, a good shower and subsequent sunshine are very much necessary for a good harvest. And as per the religious traditions, the farming community believe in appeasing God to seek blessings for an excellent harvest. That’s the reason that these farmers either at their individual capacity or at a community level perform certain festivals twice a year – one at the beginning of the cultivation and the other at the time of harvest. These festivals call for time of merry making where arrangements range from food, music, traditional liquor, dances, community festivals and much more. For many years these celebrations were within a closed community but since the recent time visitors are warmly welcomed into these celebrations where they get to experience the rich and varied culture and traditions of the people of North East India.
All the North Eastern States of India have mainly two type of population: Tribal and non-Tribal. Similarly, in the early days, the people followed two different religions: Hinduism and Naturalism. The population of the people practicing Naturalism were converted to Islam and Christianity during the rule of the Mughals and British in India. The celebrations now have two aspects: one where people perform the traditional rites and rituals as per their religion and the other that forms the part of merry making where they eat, sing and dance without ignoring the religious aspect of each of these festivals.
In the State of Arunachal Pradesh, the Monpas and Sherdukpens of Tawang and West Kameng are the followers of Buddhism. The festival of religious importance to these tribal communities is the Losar, the festival of the Tibetian New Year, that is celebrated on a grand scale in the Second Largest Buddhist Monastery in the World at Tawang. The tribes of Adis, Aptanis, Bangnis, Nishis, Mishimis, Tangsas, etc. worship the Sun (Donyi-Polo) and the Moon (Abo-Tani). Similiarly the Noctes and Wanchos of the Tirap district and adjoining areas of Nagaland practice Vaishnavism. These religious festivals are celebrated on a Grand scale for thanking the Gods for their providence and Bumper crops. The festivities continue throughout the year with each tribal community celebrating at different months. Animal sacrifices, dancing and singing in accordance with their traditional form accompany each of these festivals.
The State of Meghalaya is predominated by tribal people with a majority of the population practicing Christianity as their religion. The major tribes i.e. the Khasis, the Jaintiyas and the Garos were originally matriarchal but now matrilineal. Their festivals still have many aspects of their traditional life. The Garos have their traditional harvest festival Wangala. The Khasis celebrate Shad Suk Mynsiem and Ka Pamblang Nongkrem. The Jaintiyas have their traditional festival of Ka Chad Chiphiah and Ka Behdeikhlam.
In the State of Nagaland, the various Naga Tribes, who now practice Christianity as their religion, still have most of their old festivals observed in accordance to the traditions of each tribe. They are very rich in their traditional dance, music and dress which are still maintained in their festivals. Of course, the religious rites and rituals have been presently changed due to their adoption of Christianity. The Nagas are generally known to have strong national feelings for which they have not given up their traditional behaviors and customs. The festivals like Sekernyi of the Angamis, Moatsu of the Aos, Aoing of the Kanyaks, Tulini of the Semas, Manyu of the Phoms, Amongmong of the Sangtam are principal traditional festivals have close connection with the traditional customs and folk beliefs. Here in Nagaland too, animal sacrifice, drinking and dancing form an integral part of their festivities.
The State of Assam (the Gateway to North East India) also celebrates many festivals in accordance to their traditional practices and beliefs. The most important festival of Assam is the Bihu, which is observed during harvesting once at the beginning of cultivation in the spring season and another during the growth of crops. The festivities at the Bihu are well connected with the festivals reflecting the link with agriculture. The Tribal People perform rites as per their system of nature Gods and Goddesses like the Sun, Moon, Rain, Water, etc. The Non-Tribals perform such religious rites and rituals relating to the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The social part of each of these festivals is related with merry-making like singing, dancing and eating. The festivals of Assam have an impact from the practices of Vaishnavism, Saktism and Tantraism.
Reference: Souvenior Kamrupa Anusandhana Samiti (2012)