Arunachal Pradesh, one of the seven North Eastern States of India is a place of scenic beauty, rich flora and fauna. Arunachal Pradesh was formerly known as North East Frontier Agency and was part of the State of Assam. It became an independent state in 1987. The State is bounded by Burma, the Tibet region of China and Myanmar on three sides and Assam and Nagaland in the South. Agriculture, being the main occupation of the people, the festivities is centred on agriculture. Prayers, fun and frolic mark the celebrations of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Some of the important festivals are
Monpa Buddhist Tribe belonging to the Mahayana sect observe this festival. The festival is celebrated in Torgya Monastery for three days during January (28th day of the eleventh month of the Lunar Calendar). The rituals include traditional dances, folk songs by the monastery monks. Every third year, the festival is celebrated with great fervour, known as Dungyur Chenmo. The festival is observed to ward off any natural disasters and evil forces.
Losar: Losar is the New Year of Monpas. Monpas, one of the largest tribes living in the Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh area depend on agriculture and animal husbandry as the primary source of livelihood. Losar festival is celebrated during the last week of February- first week of March in the Buddhist temple named Gompa. The festivities span between eight to fifteen days. As part of the festival, houses are cleaned, old items are discarded, lamps with butter are lit, people read scriptures, and worship the local deity seeking protection and well being of one and all. During the festival, people hoist religious flags atop their houses. This is also the time when families and friends come together to celebrate the festival. Fun and frolic mark the celebrations. On the occasion of Losar, the Monpas dressed in traditional attire dance and sing folksongs, feast on local spirits and indulge in merry making.
Dree: The Apatanis, a tribe of Arunachal Pradesh celebrate the Dree festival from 5- 7 July every year. Dree means the one who borrows or purchases food grains to meet his needs. The Apatanis, known for wet rice cultivation, worship the gods- Tamu(for protecting the plants from harmful pests and insects), Metii (to ward off famine and epidemics) , Danyi (for peace and prosperity of the society at large) and Harniang (for protection of the soil of the paddy field and to prevent the paddy plants from drying). Fowls, pigs, dogs, chickens, eggs, mithuns and other animals are sacrificed to appease the gods and to ward off famine in the State. During the festival, people clean and decorate their homes. A place near the paddy field, usually near the river of Apatani is selected for worship. The place chosen is decorated with bamboos.
The rituals associated with Dree festival are known as Dree or Dri Wuhi (gods). The head priest is known as Nyibu. Each clan will appoint a priest known as Dree Kholi or Dree Gora. Dree Kholi presides over the rituals associated with the festivities. The preparation for the festival starts much before the actual celebration. Small quantities of rice or millets are collected from each household which will be used for making rice beer during the festival. Sacrificial animals are also collected. Once these items are collected, the dates for the festival will be announced in order to enable people to stock sufficient stock of food grain and fire wood. People are prohibited to work in the fields and cut fire wood for seven days from the day of the festival.
All the community members assemble at the chosen place of worship and take part in the festivities. On the day of the festival, the priest dressed as warrior performs the ritual. A sacrificial structure or Yuygyang is made from a plant known as ‘pemupello’. Two Yuygyang is made for Tammu God and Metii God. The structure is then decorated with bamboos. The priest then recites incantations known as Dree Barni. The Yuygyang is cut into two pieces and thrown into the river symbolising the flooding out of pests and insects from the agricultural fields. The animals are sacrificed. The meat is then cooked and offered to the guests along with rice beer and cucumber. A community feast is also arranged. On the occasion of Dree, every woman prepares rice beer and offers it to the elders in the family as a mark of love and respect.
Traditional song and dance, games and fairs marks the celebrations.
Earlier the festival was celebrated on different dates at different places by the tribes. However, the dates and the venue was centralised only in 1967.
Solung: The Adi Tribe of Arunachal Pradesh observe Solung festival for seven days. This is a religious festival celebrated on 1 September every year. The dates for the festival vary depending upon the convenience of the villagers. The dates are decided by the “Kebang” or the village council or the headman. During the festival, Apong, the rice beer is prepared and served to all the villagers.
The origin of the festival is as follows:
God of heaven (Doying Bote) was once attracted to the Goddess of wealth and prosperity (Kine Nane) and wanted to copulate with her. When He was about to copulate, two monsters –Totel- Mone and Dubeng Mone snatched his testicles and thus the divine sperm got scattered over different fields from which sprouted the paddy plants. Kine Nene knew this and when She saw human beings starving, She sent the paddy seeds through a dog to people. Since then, men have been cultivating paddy in this region. Kine Nane also asked the men to worship Her in the name of Solung. During the festival, Doying Bote and Kine Nane are appeased. People believe that if Doying Bote is appeased, then there will be more rains and if Kine Nane is appeased then the soil will be fertile and there will be good yield. It is believed that their (Doying Bote and Kine Nane) union takes place on Mother Earth in the form of good yield.
On the first day of the festival, known as Solung Gidi Dogin, elaborate preparations for the festival are made. On the second day known as “Doreph Long”, several bison along with pigs are slaughtered and offered to the family deity. The meat is preserved for the remaining days of the festival. The third day is known as Binnayat Binam when people worship the deity for peace and prosperity. Community feasts are organised during which neighbours dine together. On the fourth day of the festival, known as “Oinnyad” bows and arrows and other weapons of war are prepared. On this day, one of the family members’ sacrifices a fowl in the field. A woman or a girl accompanies the family member and offers Apong and Etting along with the sacrifice.
The festival is celebrated in three parts: The first part, known as Sopi-Yekpi or Ardo Bado is when mithuns and pigs are sacrificed and offered to Dadi Bote, the god of domestic animals. The animals are sacrificed to appease the god and seek protection and well being of domestic animals. The second part of the festival is known as Binyat during which the women worship Kine Nane, the goddess of crops and food in their paddy fields.
The third part of the festival is called as Ekop or Taktor when a bow and arrow is erected in the entrances of the houses to ward off evil spirits. People pray their family deity- Gumin Soyin for the general well being of one and all. The concluding part of the ritual is when the Miri, the community head gives a send off to the deity with young girls dancing to traditional songs. In the evenings, the community head, Miri sings songs known as “Solung Abung” through which he narrates the stories about the origin of human, animals and plants, lives of Adi Heros, etc.
Reh: Reh is a festival of Idus, a tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. The festival is celebrated during February- August for six days. Idus consider “Nanyi Inyitaya” as their mother and believe that She can be appeased only through worship during Reh Festival.
This is an expensive festival, the preparations for which start nearly four- five years before the actual festival is celebrated. The festival requires slaughtering several bison to appease the deity- Nanyi Inyitaya. Cash and pigs are also given to relatives. In order enable people to observe the festival, a system known as “Ada”, a form of loan from others has been in practice. Thus people who cannot afford to meet the huge expenses resort to “Ada”, wherein the sacrificial animals and cash are collected over a period of time. Once the “Ada” is completed, one year ahead of the festivities will be the time frame when the money borrowed must be returned.
Once the arrangements for the festival are made, a “Tayi”, (calendar) a string with several knots is sent as an invite for the kith and kin to be part of the festival. Each knot on the Tyai is cut off as the day passes by and the kith and the kin arrive to the festival when there are two knots. In other words, the relatives arrive two days prior to the actual celebrations.
The first day of the festival known as Andropu starts with worshipping Nanyi Intyitaya for the successful completion of the festival (without any obstacles). “Naya” dance is performed in the night. Mithuns are tied near the house. The second day, “Eyanli” is when buffaloes and other animals are sacrificed. Rice beer and meat are served to guests who attend the festival. The third day of the festival is known as “Iyili”. On this day, a grand feast is arranged for the villagers. This is also the time when pigs and money are gifted to relatives. The fourth day of the festival, known as Ilyiromunyi is the day when the head priest performs certain rituals in favour of the worshipper for peace and prosperity. A ritual known as Omen is observed when “Yu” rice beer is poured into the ears of a pig bound and laid on the ground. If the pig shakes its body, then it is considered as a good omen, else it is considered inauspicious and believed that there may be an epidemic and the yield may not be good.
The fifth day known as Aru- Go is when the remaining food and drinks are prepared for the community feast. The last day of the festival known as Etoanu is when blood smeared seeds are sown in the fields and rice beer is poured at the trunk of the stumps to appease the Mother Earth.
Nyokum – Nyokum festival is the premier festival of the Nyishi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. The festival is celebrated in the month of August. The festival is dedicated to the worship of Goddess Lakshmi and other deities. The festival is celebrated for two days at a particular venue and at a particular time.
On the first day, the priest offers puja to the main prayer structure, made of bamboo known as Yugang. As part of the festivities, young girls dressed in traditional attire sing folk songs and dance. Prayers are offered to the deities seeking the blessings for a bountiful harvest and protection of the crop against famine. The Nyishi tribe believe that human beings can lead a peaceful life only when there is a balance between nature, humans and God. Natural calamities occur only when Gods and goddesses and nature are unhappy with human beings. Thus the tribes believe in appeasing God to ward off any epidemics and for the welfare of the society. On the second day, villagers come in a procession and perform puja to the Yugang. Animals such as pigs, chickens and dogs are sacrificed. Guests are offered miller beer and rice paste powder.
A priest, offering puja to Yugang- sacrificial post
Myoko: The Apatani community celebrate this festival in March. Apatanis living in the villages in the Apatani plateau are divided into three groups. The first group consists of villages like Hija Duta, Mudangtage, Bamin and Michi. The second group consists of Hong village alone and the third group consists of Hari, Kalong, Tajang and Regu. Each group celebrates the festival alternately and the other groups take part in the festivities.
Sacrificing a pig forms the main ritual of the festival. On the first day, the priest performs puja to the pigs brought to the sacrificial post. On the next day early in the morning, newly married couple dressed in their finery sprinkle rice flour and rice beer over the pigs. The assistant priest simultaneously sacrifices chickens. Then some pigs are chosen for sacrifice and the priest performs some rituals and then cuts open the heart and stomach of the pigs, while they are still alive.
Buddha Mahotsava: is a festival organised by the State Government to preserve and showcase Buddhist culture and heritage. There are two types of Buddhists living in Arunachal Pradesh. The first group comprising of Monpas, Sherdukpens, Khowas, Membas and Khambas follow the Mahayana sect of Buddhism. The tradition and culture followed by the Mahayana sect is largely influenced by the Buddhists of Tibet. The second group comprising of Khamptis and Singphos of Lohit district follow the Hinayana school of Buddhism. Their culture is largely influenced by the Thais of Thailand. During the festival, the Monpas showcase their rich culture and tradition. A dance competition comprising of the dances of various tribes during the festival is one of the main attractions of the festival. The festival is observed for three days.
Choekhor: This is celebrated during the seventh month of the Lunar Calendar after the seeds are sown. A ritual known as Choekhor is observed when a village fair is organised and the entire village community come together and pray for the protection of crops and seek good yield.
Tamladu: The Digaru Mishis tribe observe the festival on 15th February every year. As part of the rituals, Mother Earth is worshipped along with the God of Water. Local deity Lord Jebmalu is worshipped for protection of crops and seeking the welfare of the society at large.
Mopin: Gallong community of the Adi tribe celebrate the Mopin festival. The festival is celebrated during 1- 5 April for five days prior to sowing paddy. Priests perform rituals for good harvest, welfare of the society and to ward off any evil spirits. Women perform the “Popir dance” in a circular motion with one group chanting Ja Jin Ja and other folk songs. Community feast will be arranged and people smear rice flour on one another’s face, as part of the festival.
Loku: Loku is celebrated thrice a year. This festival is centred on the different phases in cultivation. Traditional song and dance with the drum beats marks the festival. Animal sacrifice forms a major part of the festival.
Other festivals celebrated are:
Nechi Dau, Khan, Kshyatsowai, Loku, Longte Yullo, Moi, Ojiale, Sanken and Si-Donyi. Animal sacrifices are also common in some of the festivals.