India’s North East is home to over 200 tribes. Each tribal community have their own distinct culture and traditions. They speak different languages, have different religious practices, wear clothes with distinct patterns and also have different ways of celebrating. These celebrations form a part of their festivals where these communities performs colorful dances, showcase their traditional cuisines and source of livelihood like their Agrarian practices and their practices of weaving Handlooms and crafting Handicrafts.
In addition to the traditional festivals like the ‘Hornbill Festival’ in Nagaland, the ‘Bihu Festival’ of Assam, the ‘Ambubachi Mela’ in Assam, the ‘Dree Festival’ in Arunachal Pradesh, the ‘Raas Leela’ in Assam, etc. there are other modern festivities that are unique to North East India of the likes of the ‘Ziro Festival of Music’ in Arunachal Pradesh, the ‘Brahmaputra Beach Festival’ in Assam, the ‘Shillong Autumn Festival’ in Meghalaya, etc. And many of these festivals being hosted throughout the year, the festivities in India’s ‘Paradise Unexplored’ cease to end!!
Jungleideas welcomes you to the visit India’s Paradise Unexplored – the North East India and be a part of the festivities that are celebrated to showcase the exotic cultures and rich traditions of the indigenous communities of this region.
Listed below are the important festivals of the region which are visited by tourists from around the world. Though the numbers of tourists frequenting are not many but with our current mission statement ‘to promote North East India to the world through its Tourism, Culture, Tribes, Wildlife & Handicrafts’ we look forward in increasing this number to a sizable amount strictly adhering to our principles of promoting conservation, preservation and creating sustainable Eco-tourism across the region.
1| The Hornbill Festival, Kisama Heritage Village, Kohima, the State of Nagaland, India
Every year during the 1st week of December the North East gathers to celebrate what is called the ‘festival of festivals’. Not very far away from Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, in a small picturesque heritage village of Kisama you find a congregation of Tribes, Tradition and the Modern world. This ‘festival of festivals’ is better known as the Hornbill Festival of Nagaland – A week long festivity that is organised by the Government of Nagaland to encourage intertribal interaction and to promote cultural heritage of Nagaland – the ‘Switzerland of the East’.
The Hornbill festival is named after the bird species of the Indian Hornbill. The Indian Hornbill is the most admired bird species by the Naga people for its qualities of alertness and grandeur – a trait very similar to the ‘Naga Warrior Tribe’ who are known for their fierceness and their majestic attire. The Indian Hornbill is linked closely with the social and cultural life of the people of Nagaland which is displayed in folklore in most of the state’s tribes. The Naga people’s admiration for the bird is symbolically displayed on most of the traditional tribal headgears worn during festivals across Nagaland.
In the week long festivity at the Hornbill Festival one can experience the rich and diverse culture of Nagaland. The festival unites one and all in Nagaland and people from across North east India and around the globe. One can visit the Hornbill festival to enjoy the colourful performances, crafts, sports, food fairs, games and ceremonies of Nagaland. In addition to the festivities you also get to see traditional arts which include paintings, wood carvings, sculptures which are on display. One of the highlights of the crafts put on display are the Naga beaded jewellery. These jewellery are home made by the ladies of Kohima and are sure to impress the female crowd at the festival from a distance.
Main events/highlights of the Hornbill Festival are:
- Cultural events spread throughout the festival highlighting traditional dances, music, indigenous games
- Port Fat Eating Contest
- The Hornbill Rock Festival
- North East Cultural Ensemble
- King Chilly Eating Contest
- Hornbill Adventure Rally
- The Kohima Night Bazaar
- World War Peace Rally
When: The month of December every year.
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2| The Jonbeel Mela – the Festival of Barter Trade, Morigaon, the State of Assam, India
“Thou shall not pay you money for the goods I buy from you.” This statement is sure to scare the living daylights out of any person in the business of trading. But there is congregation of villagers in Assam’s Morigaon district who agree to the above statement.
Confused?! Well, this is the Jonbeel Mela – an annual festivity/occasion where a huge bazaar or ‘Mela’ is held. Tribes like Karbi, Khasi, Tiwa and Jayantia come down from the hills with their products and interchange their merchandise with the local people in a barter system. It is perhaps the only fair in India where barter system still exists at least for these three days.
Joonbeel Mela is a three-day community fair held the weekend of 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 Joonbeel (Joon and Beel are Assamese terms for the Moonand a wetland respectively) is so called because a large natural water body is shaped like a crescent moon.
This festival demonstrates the age old barter system in a very interesting way. The event starts off with Agni Puja where the locals pay homage to the ‘God of Fire’. After the puja, the locals get together to fish in the wetland which is called JonBeel. The visitors to the mela and the participating tribes engage in freewheeling exchange of commodities. Typically you will find families from the hills bringing in herbs, spices and exotic fruits which are found only in those places and then exchanging them with rice, fish preparations and pitha sweets as the latter cannot be found in the hills. The 3 day mela sees participation of over 1000 Tribes. It is a splendid example of communal harmony as all of them eat and laugh together ultimately behaving like a large and happy family.
If you visit Assam during January then don’t miss out on the Jonbeel Mela. If you are lucky you will get to see the cockfights, Asameese traditional dances and Fish exhibitions that are held during this time. This festival is a glorious representation of the age old barter system prevalent among the ancient tribes.
When: The month of January every year
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3| The Brahmaputra Beach Festival, Guwahati, the State of Assam, India
The Festival of Bihu marks the end of the Harvest season in Assam and to celebrate this, people in Assam organize a festival that is marked by feasts and bonfires called Magh Bihu. Every year in the month of January young people erect makeshift huts, known as ‘Meji’ from bamboo, leaves and thatch in which they eat the food prepared for the feast and then burn the huts the next morning. This marks the onset of the festival of Magh Bihu and people indulge in games such as ‘tekeli bhonga (pot breaking) and buffalo fighting. At night family members get together around a bonfire and cook dinner and indulge in merry making. Attractions of this feast are the traditional sweets prepared across all Assamese households that include rice cakes known as ‘Shunga Pitha’, ‘Til Pitha’ and sweets of coconut called as ‘Laru’.
To mark the occasion of the Magh Bihu Festival, the Assam Boat Racing and Rowing association in collaboration with the Department of Assam Tourism organize the ‘Brahmaputra Beach Festival’ along the banks of the mighty River Brahmaputra in at Bharalumukh in Guwahati. This festival is a major draw for all sport enthusiasts across the North Eatst Region. A congregation of people gather to witness this one of a kind event which carries some of the joyous spirit of Magh Bihu and create and atmosphere of sportsmanship. One gets to savour traditional assamese cuisine and enjoy the tribal dance forms. The banks of the Brahmaputra are filled with small shops that showcase the locally made craft products and locally spun textiles. Various sporting events of the likes of like Beach cricket, Beach volleyball, water rafting, canoeing and wind surfing, ice skating, kayaking and Aero sports like ballooning, paragliding and hang gliding. Visitors and tourists can participate in these events and show their skills. Traditional games like elephant races, egg breaking and cock fighting are also held along with these modern and technically advanced games. Competitions like Sit and draw and kite flying are also held where children can take part. Exhibition of traditional craft is also a part of the festival.
When: The Month of January every year
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4| The Losar Festival, Tawang, the State of Arunachal Pradesh, India
The festival of Losar is celebrated in the beautiful and picturesque state of Arunachal Pradesh in India during the month of February. This is really a major extravaganza in the Tawang town of Arunachal as it signifies the start of a new year for Tibetans. The Town of Tawang is home to the second largest Buddhist Monestary in the World and is home to the Monpa Tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. Belonging to the Mongoloid stock, the Monpas are mainly into agriculture and animal husbandry. It must also be mentioned that Losar is the most important festival of the Monpas in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.
The Losar happens every year on the eleventh of February and the first day begins with the junior priests offering the Dharmapala obeisance. Commemorating the advent of the New Year, Losar is the occasion when the Monpas feast, drink and make merry. Relatives and friends get together and celebrate this festival in a very pompous manner. Indeed, the pomp and festivity that characterizes this festival is simply fascinating.
Before the advent of the Losar festival in Tawang people can be seen cleaning their homes and discarding all unused and old items. It is believed that by doing so one can usher in good health, peace and prosperity to the house
The streets are filled with Monpha tribal people wearing colourful clothes and wishing each other ‘Tashi Delek’. Offerings of roast buttered Barley is given to the deities and everybody prays for good harvest. The national leaders and country heroes are also honoured on the second day. On the third day the Dharmapala is honoured and red prayer flags are mounted on every house. This celebratory mood continues for as long as two weeks.
When: The month of February every year
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5| Rongali Bihu – the Assamese New Year, Guwahati, the State of Assam, India
The State of Assam is the central state in the North-East Region of India and serves as the gateway to North East India and is a jewel in the crown of the Seven Sister States. The land of red river, blue hills & lush green tea gardens, Assam comprises of three main geographical areas: the Brahmaputra Valley, the Barak Valley and the intervening Karbi Plateau and North Cachar Hills. Dispur is the capital of Assam and the largest city of the state is Guwahati, which is also one of the fastest growing cities of the world. Famous for its freshening world class tea, the Muga (Golden) and Eri (Ahimsa) silk, Natural resources like Coal, Petroleum products and minerals, Assam can truly be described as a state bestowed with breath-taking natural beauty, vast reserves of natural resources and a rich bio diversity. Assam is also home to the endangered one horned rhino species and Kaziranga National Park is home to two-third of this species in the world. The river Brahmaputra (the only male river in India) flow across the heart of the state and is a lifeline to the people of Assam just as Nile is to Egypt. The Brahmaputra River in Assam is also host to the World’s largest inhabited river island ‘Majuli’ and the World’s smallest inhabited river island ‘Umananda’. The second hottest pepper in the world, the ‘Bhut Jolokia’ is also native to Assam and is grown extensively by the village folks across the State.
The Rongali Bihu marks the agricultural New Year at the advent of seeding time and is celebrated as the Festival of merriment. Rongali Bihu is celebrated with greatest excitement as it marks the arrival of spring – the agricultural season. People of all faiths and creed celebrate Bohag Bihu by singing traditional Bihugeets and performing group folk dances. At the time of Rongali Bihu people welcome the spring season and pray for a bountiful and rich harvest. Bohag Bihu falls in the first month of the Assamese calendar called Bohag. This corresponds to mid-April according to English calendar year. Rongali Bihu normally starts from the 13th day of April. To celebrate the joyous Rongali Bihu festuival, people of Assam wear new and colourful clothes. People visit their neighbours, friends and relatives and distribute sweet as they greet each other a Happy Bihu. Many people also organize grand feasts in the house to celebrate the occasion. Traditional festive food of Bohag Bihu is the special cake known as the pitha.
Colourful rituals mark the first day of Rongali Bihu celebrated as ‘Goru Bihu’. This day is dedicated to the cattle and livestock. The rest of the weeklong celebrations of Bohag Bihu are known as ‘Manuh Bihu’. A mood of festivity and gaiety is seen throughout Assam during the seven days of Rongali Bihu.
When: The month of April every year
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6| The Festival of Moatsu Mong, Mokokchung, the State of Nagaland, India
Moatsu Mong is a festival that is celebrated by the Ao tribes in Nagaland. The Ao tribes are one of the oldest tribes inhabiting the State of Nagaland and their culture and tradition is very much different from the other tribes across the North East India.
The festival of Moatsu Mong is celebrated every year from 1st to 3rd May wherein the The Ao Tribe invoke the Almighty God’s blessings after finishing their diverse village activities such as construction and repair of houses, roads, marriage, sowing of seeds in the fields and cleaning of the village water ponds. Only after completion of all these manifold activities the celebration of Moatsu Mong takes place. This is one festival which is all about celebrating the sensual pleasures of drinking, feasting and dancing. Every year the festivities begin in Mokokochung district and all the wells are cleaned while locals prepare themselves to brew beer. Roast pig and spicy barley bread is made and all the tribal people join in cultural programs. While men present spectacular warrior style dances, the women sing of the bravery of their men. This festival demonstrates the richness and fierceness of the Naga tribes.
The State Government of Nagaland has identified Chuchuyimlang village as the Moatsu festival destination. From the year 2000, Moatsu celebration at Chuchuyimlang will feature as a National Event.Chuchuyimlang is situated 40 km away from Mokokchung on the NH-61 towards Amguri in Assam. An ethnic tourist village has been set up by the village community for tourists which is functional throughout the year. The festival at Chuchuyimlang is spectacular, as one can witness the participation of other tribes, the “Anchas”, in this event. This is a good festival to participate in if you are interested in local food and wine.
When: The Month of May every year
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7. The Ambubachi Mela – ‘The Eastern Mahakumbh’, Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, the State of Assam, India
The Kamakhya is a Hindu temple dedicated to the mother goddess Kamakhya. It is one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Pithas. Situated on the Nilachal Hill in western part of Guwahati city in the State of Assam, India, it is the main temple in a complex of individual temples dedicated to the ten Mahavidyas: Kali, Tara, Sodashi, Bhuvaneshwari,Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala. Among these, Tripurasundari, Matangi and Kamala reside inside the main temple whereas the other seven reside in individual temples. It is an important pilgrimage destination for people practicing Hinduism and especially for Tantric worshipers. (Wikipedia, 2015)
Kamakhya devi is famous as the bleeding goddess. The mythical womb and vagina of Shakti are supposedly installed in the ‘Garvagriha’ or sanctum of the temple. In the month of Ashaad (June), the goddess bleeds or menstruates. At this time, the Brahmaputra River near Kamakhya turns red. The temple then remains closed for 3 days and holy water is distributed among the devotees of Kamakhya devi. There is no scientific proof that the blood actually turns the river red. Some people say that the priests pour vermilion into the waters. But symbolically, menstruation is the symbol of a woman’s creativity and power to give birth. So, the deity and temple of Kamakhya celebrates this ‘shakti’ or power within every woman.
It is during these three days that the festival of Ambubachi Mela is celebrated with great pomp and show. The Ambubachi Mela is one of the prominent festivals of Assam and it is held in Guwahati. Kamakhya temple of Guwahati acts as the host of this event and this festival has also been fondly called the Eastern Mahakumbh. Legend holds it that Kamakhya Devi goes through her yearly menstrual cycle on the three days of this festival. Gates of the temple remain closed though devotees populate the temple in high numbers to seek the blessings of the Goddess. The Ambubachi Mela will hold special interest for you if you are interested in the occult or the tantric sciences.
When: The Month of June every year
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8| The Dree Festival, Ziro Valley, the State of Arunachal Pradesh, India
Situated at around 115 kms from the capital of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar is the small town of Ziro. Even though this town is far atop the hills but people from across the world know Ziro as the place the hosts India’s largest outdoor Music Festival – ‘the Ziro Festival of Music’. Although this may suggest Ziro as a modern place where the parties and festivities cease to come to an end but it’s completely the other way around. Ziro is a quaint and silent place that is home to the Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. It is only during September when the festival is held you see people from across the world coming to dance to the tunes of the renowned artists both local and global to an atmosphere very similar to ‘Sunburn Festival’ across the various Tier I cities of India!
The Dree Festival is an Apatani agricultural rite. It involves the sacrifice of fowls, eggs and animals to the gods – Tamu, Metii and Danyi Pilo (Sun and Moon God). The purpose of the festival is to appease these gods so that famine could be avoided. This rite is observed by the Apatanis in Arunachal Pradesh, The Apatanis, who inhabit a tranquil pine clad valley called Ziro at the core of Lower Subansiri District of Arunachal Pradesh, are famous for their unique practice of wet rice cultivation. One would wonder as to how the early Apatanis had brilliantly discovered the magnificent irrigated rice cultivation without help of scientific technologies. Rice is the staple food of the Apatanis, as such for its bumper harvest the nature God and goddesses are prayed during the Dree Festival from 4 to 7 July of each year. (Wikipedia,2015)
Although Dree is the festival of the Apatani Tribe, it has gained in popularity amongst other tribes in Arunachal Pradesh as well. The festival takes place on July 5 each year; however celebrations associated with the festival begin from July 4 itself. Dree is the biggest festival of the Ziro Valley and is celebrated to ensure a good harvest. During the festival, people offer prayers to four Gods namely, Tamu, Harniang, Metii, and Danyi. The blessings of the four mighty Gods are thought to bring in peace, prosperity and fruitful harvest to the Ziro Valley. Traditional dance is performed and as a symbol of good harvest cucumber is distributed to all. Women brew wine and people also savor various delicacies and rice/millet beer
When: The Month of July every year
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9| The Ziro Festival of Music, Ziro Valley, the State of Arunachal Pradesh, India
To what is described as India’s Greatest outdoor Music Festival, the Zero festival of Music is held every year in the month of September at the tinsel town of Ziro in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Situated at around 115 kms from the capital of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar is the small town of Ziro. Even though this town is far atop the hills but people from across the world know Ziro as the place the hosts India’s largest outdoor Music Festival – ‘the Ziro Festival of Music’. Although this may suggest Ziro as a modern place where the parties and festivities cease to come to an end but it’s completely the other way around. Ziro is a quaint and silent place that is home to the Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. It is only during September when the festival is held you see people from across the world coming to dance to the tunes of the renowned artists both local and global to an atmosphere very similar to ‘Sunburn Festival’ across the various Tier I cities of India!
The Zero Festival of Music showcases the independent music scene in India. The festival was founded in 2012 by Bobby Hano and Menwhopause guitarist Anup Kutty, and has featured artists like Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley, Louw Majaw, Sha’air n Func, Indus Creed, Peter Cat Recording Co, Menwhopause, Guru Rewben Mashangva, and Barmer Boys among others. The festival is spread over four days and is hosted by members of the Apatani people in Ziro. (Wikipedia, 2015)
Ziro is primarily home to the Apatani Tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh –friendly, simple and hospitable people with an interesting culture and legacy. They are a non-nomadic, agrarian tribe who share a responsible relationship with nature. Apatani people cultivate permanent wet land cultivations instead of dry land cultivations which involves burning forests. Ziro valley is lush with paddy farms and is known for its unique paddy cum fi sh cultivation where using traditional irrigation methods, farmers rear fish in the knee-deep water. Keeping them company are the adorable, shy, and harmless Indian Bisons.
Around here, they are called Mithun and considered auspicious and are very tasty too! Back in the olden days, there was a strange custom of facial tattoos for Apatani women and you can still see a few old women with tattoos. A highlight of this place and people and shy to pose for a picture and hence do ask for their permission before you take pictures.
When: The Month of September every year
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10| The Raas Leela Festival at Majuli, the State of Assam, India
The State of Assam, in addition to being bestowed with wonders of Nature is also rich in culture and heritage. From being the home to the fierce ‘Ahom Dynasty of Kings’ who were the only ones to beat the Mughals at the fierce ‘Battle of Saraighat’, it is also the land of the famous ‘Muga’ (Golden) and the ‘Eri’ (Ahimsa) silk. These silk are indigenous to Assam and the originals cannot be found anywhere in the world as the silk wormed survive only in the conditions of Assam. In addition, the world’s largest inhabited river island ‘Majuli’ and the world smallest inhabited river island ‘Umananda’ have made Assam their home.
The island of Majuli, has a very rich heritage and has been the abode of Assamese Vaishnavite culture with tremendous option for spiritual and eco-tourism. This island has been the cultural capital and cradle of Assamese civilization for the past five hundred years. The ‘Satras’ of Majuli preserve antiques like weapons, utensils, jewellery and other items of cultural significance. Pottery made in Majuli is from beaten clay and burnt in driftwood fired kilns in the same mode carried out by the people of the ancient Harappan cilvilization. The handloom work of the tribal people of Majuli mostly the Mishings are renowned internationally. Although handloom is a major occupation of the people of Majuli it is mostly a non-commercial occupation. Weaving is exquisite and intricate with the use of a variety of colours and textures of cotton and silk, especially the Muga Silk. Fishing, dairying, pottery, boat making and mask making are the other important economic activities of this island.
The Raas Lila is an annual festival being performed on the full moon day (Purnima) in the month of November (Kati- Aghun) during the autumn season. It is not known for certain in which ‘Satra’ Rasa Lila was first introduced in Majuli as a performing festival. During this festival the ‘Satras’ draw a large number of people. The Raas Lila is the story of the life of Lord Krishna presented in the performing art form. Virtually everyone from this tinsel town participates in this festival like children acting in plays, teachers lending voice to the characters, business men and government employees reciting hymns and songs. The Raas Leela at Majuli is like an all night long extravaganza with no ad breaks where everybody’s eyes are glued to the performances of the talented artists in the World’s largest inhabited river island.
When: The month of November every year
For your visit to the Raas Leela Festival tell us: Jungleideas