The seven sisters of the North East hold a cornucopia of delights and cultural richness within their boundaries. Because of low availability of proper transport and lack of infrastructure many aspects of North East India had failed to draw in their rightful share of tourists. However, now due to the concerted efforts of the government and the artisans the unique festivals of North East have gained a lot of importance especially in the cultural tourism circuit. Here is a list of handpicked North East festivals which showcase the natural beauty, artistic skills and delectable cuisine of these seven beautiful states. Most of these festivals shed light on the beauty and diversity of tribal life and art forms that abound in the North Eastern states of India.
Hornbill Festival in Nagaland
This festival can be rightfully awarded the tag of the most famous festival in North East. Nagaland has found its place in the international and national cultural tourism circuit in a big way by popularizing the Hornbill festival. The Hornbill is one of the most popular birds of Nagaland as it is exclusively found there. Using the mating season of this bird as a backdrop the festival shows the lives and passions of the tribes. The National rock concert of Hornbill is also organized around this time and it allows all the local artists to show off their talent. Bands from all over India and abroad come here to participate. The festival is organized in Kisama Heritage Village which is situated in Kohima district.
Losar in Arunachal Pradesh
This is really a major extravaganza in Arunachal as it signifies the start of a new year for Tibetans. Many tribes of Arunachal like Sherdukpens, Nah, Memba, Khamba follow the Mahanaya sect of Buddhism and for them this is a wonderful and joyous occasion. The Losar happens every year on the eleventh of February and the first day begins with the junior priests offering the Dharmapala obeisance. The streets are filled with Tibetan tribes wearing colorful 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 honored on the second day. On the third day the Dharmapala is honored and red prayer flags are mounted on every house. This celebratory mood continues for as long as two weeks.
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. This mystical festival is held every year in June
Moatsu Mong Nagaland
Moatsu Mong is a festival that is celebrated by the Ao tribes in Nagaland. This is one festival which is all about celebrating the sensual pleasures of drinking, feasting and dancing. Every year between 1st of May-3rd of May 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. This is a good festival to participate in if you are interested in local food and wine.
Lui Ngai Ni
The quain festival of Lui Ngai Ni is held every year in the month of February on 15th. This festival marks the beginning of the seed sowing season. The tribes of Manipur are very closely knit and Lui Ni being a community festival is celebrated with a lot of warmth. The spirit of this festival is all about community harmony and love. Manipuri delicacies are prepared by the local women and served with a lot of love. A Bonfire is lighted and dance and song programs are set up by the tribes. There is a display of traditional Manipuri art by the local artisans and the craft speaks a lot about the hidden nuances of their lives.
Saga Dawa in Sikkim
Saga Dawa is one of the biggest festivals in Sikkim and it’s held in the lunar Tibetan month. The night of the full moon signifies an auspicious day for the Buddhists and they call the entire month Saga Dawa. This time is known as the month of Merit and it symbolizes the various phases of Buddha’s life like birth, enlightenment attainment and demise. Each phase is well represented and commemorated during this Saga Dawa Month. Saga Dawa requires people to gather at their respective monasteries and pray to their ruling deity Buddha. Water, incense and bhog are offered to the deity and through holy chanting they show their piety and reverence. Prayer wheels are turned while all devotees pray to Buddha for fulfilling their secret wishes.
Anthurium in Mizoram
If you are an enthusiast of Horticulture then the Anthurium festival in Mizoram will blow away your mind. The festival is named after the beautiful flower of Anthurium that blooms during autumn and summer. This red and vibrant crimson floral hue paints the tiny village of Reiek in Mizoram and locals derive their entire livelihood from this flower. Anthuriums are farmed and exported from Reiek which is why celebrating the beauty of this flower is a major emotional event for the tribesmen. For enjoying this festival you have to travel to 70 km to the east from the capital city of Aizwal. Food and dance along with soulful instrumental music truly make the Anthurium festival one of its kind. The dates for this festival get announced in August and it is held in September.
Bihu in Assam
Bihu festival in Assam celebrates the advent of the New Year. The Assamese celebrate this festival thrice every year; Bohag/ Rongali Bihu, Kaati or Kongali Bihu and Maagh or Bhogali Bihu. Every year on 14th April there is a huge celebration on account of Bohag Bihu. The livestock is cleaned and fed well and on the second day the tribes present each other with intricately woven mats and towels. The Assamese men and women divide themselves into small groups and they perform the traditional Bihu dance. Various types of food are prepared which include the Pitha that is a delicious concoction made up of coconut, jiggery, rice powder, sesame and wheat flour. This is a very colorful and interesting festival which you are sure to enjoy.
Lossong in Sikkim
Lossong in Sikkim is celebrated with a lot of pomp in the month of December. This festival marks the beginning of the harvesting season in Sikkim. The Bhutia and Lepcha tribes are the primary proponents of this festival though now it is celebrated by almost all locals of Sikkim. The black hat dance of Sikkim where dancers put on huge black masks and engage in mock fights with each other is very famous. Local wine called Chaang is brewed and drunk freely. Another notable event during the Lassong festival in Sikkim is the archery competitions which are held all over the state. Lasoong is a good cultural representation of the dance and drama forms of the local Sikkimese tribes.
Kharchi Puja in Tripura
This was a festival only meant for the royalty of Tripura and the Kings of the land used to come together for a 10 day long extravaganza. Now the festival has filtered down to the grass root level where common members of the society also plan this festival and punctuate it by offering animal sacrifices aimed at appeasement of the 14 Gods. This festival is dedicated towards the worship of Lord Shiva and has a distinct mystical feel to it. Every year in July the festival is held in a portion of old Agartala or the so called Purani Haveli. This is an ancient grand temple that houses 14 different deities. Tourists and devotees come to Tripura in huge numbers during the Kharchi festival. The Kharchi is organized every year in the month of July.
Wangala in Meghalaya
Wangala is a famous festival in Meghalaya that was originally celebrated exclusively by the Garo tribes living there. This festival is held every year in November roughly during the second week. The purpose is to celebrate the bounty of nature and the post harvest season. This is a village festival which celebrates the richness and sweetness of life. The chief of the village Nokma performs all the rituals. There are delicious meals of home brewn beer, stewed vegetables, pork and rice that are consumed by all during Wangala festival. According to tradition music of one hundred drums should be played during this festival. The sounds of flute and the live orchestra offer a melodious experience which gives a different edge to this rustic festival. All the tribal members who participate in Wangla festival wear fantastic head gear that is adorned all over by feathers.
Chapar Kut in Mizoram
The Chapar Kut in Mizoram is another nature inspired fest. This festival is celebrated over three days with a lot of grandeur and festivity. There are a lot of rare dance forms like Chheihlam, Sarlamkai and Khualla which are exclusively seen in the festival of Chapar Kut. The dance performances take place in accompaniment of many musical performances that consist in cymbals, drum beats and gongs. There are also different aspects of the Chapar Kut festival like Handicraft shows which showcase the craft forms of north east and allow the craftsmen to flaunt their skills. Flower shows representing the diverse flora of North East is also an integral part of the Chapar Kut festival. If you are a connoisseur of art and culture, then a visit to the Chapar Kut is a must for you.
Kang Chingba Festival in Manipur
Interestingly the Kang Chimba festival is a prominent Hindu festival of Manipur though the latter is essentially a Buddhist state. This festival is celebrated every month and the celebrations continue for 8 days. The celebrations are directed towards Lord Jagannath and his siblings Balabhadra and Subhadra. The capital town of Imphal is thronged by hundreds of devotees who assist in pulling the gigantic chariots used during the festival. Many delicious food fests are organized during the day during Kang Chimba while the nights are filled with music and dance extravaganzas. Sree Sree Govindajee temple in Imphal is the starting point for this procession while the car which escorts Jagannath Ji is called Kang.
Nongkrem Dance Festival in Meghalaya
The cutting and gathering of the rich harvest in Meghalaya is celebrated through the Nongkrem festival in a very unique fashion. Every year in November the festival is celebrated by the tribes of Khasi who are mostly engaged in the professions of farming or tending livestock. This is a dance festival that is held in Smit which is just 15 km away from the popular city of Shillong.
Brahmaputra Beach Festival in Assam
The Brahmaputra Beach Festival is a major draw for sports lovers all across the world. 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. You get to sample traditional Asamese cuisine. Tribal dance forms. Craft products and locally spun textiles are displayed at exhibitions. For the adventure lover there is rafting, paragliding and canoeing. Beach Volleyball and long relaxing boat cruises make the Brahmaputra Beach Festival perfect for couples too. The event is held each year in the month of Jan-Feb on the banks of a part of the mighty River Brahmaputra which overlooks the Umananda river island.
Dehing Patkai Festival in Assam
Assam which has perfected the art of marketing its rich cultural roots to draw in the tourism circuit comes up with yet another stunning offering; Dehing Patkai festival. The festival is named after the river Dehing and the mountain range Patkai both of which are very important to the geographical richness of Assam. This east Assam festival offers something for every type of tourist. The range extends from tea tasting trails in the fragrant tea gardens of Assam to wildlife observation camps to golfing opportunities. You will also get the chance to explore heritage and culture exhibitions, hiking and visits to Stilwell Road cemetery. This festival is held every year in the Lekhapani area of Tinsukia, East Assam.
Shillong Autumn Festival in Meghalaya
Meghalaya Tourism Department is chiefly credited for promoting and creating one of the most elite extravaganzas of North East; the Shillong Autumn Festival. This is a premier festival that delves into the realms of fashion, beauty and lifestyle. If you are not too interested in wildlife and tribal life then this is the festival to target. The Shillong Autumn festival starts off with a huge band and the inimitable street fest. Next on the libne is the North East Fashion show followed by the Meghalaya Food and Wine festival. You will also get to experience Art Shows, rock music competitions, kite flying fests and horticulture shows in the Shillong Autumn Festival. This beautiful festival happens in the peak season time of Meghalaya; i.e. October to November.
Dree Festival in Arunachal Pradesh
Dree is a typical festival of the Apatani group of tribes. This festival has rapidly gained a lot of fame amongst the umpteen festivals of North East. On July 5th every year all the tribes of Ziro Valley gather together to pay homage to the four principal deities of Assam; Danyi, Tamu, Harniang and Metii. The blessings of the four mighty Gods are thought to bring in peace, prosperity and fruitful harvest to the Ziro Valley. Traditional forms of dances are performed by the men and women and there is a lot of gaiety around. The women of Apatani tribe brew delicious liquor which is served with pickled cucumbers (one of the principal crops of Ziro Valley).
Torgya Monastery Festival in Arunachal Pradesh
A three day long festival called Torgya Monastery fest celebrates the spiritual power of Buddha and the other deities of Buddhism. This is basically an event which celebrates the victory of good over evil and the demolition of demons. The famous sacred dance of Torgya is performed where monks adorn themselves in brightly colored robes and utter sacred chants while engaging in mock fights with each other through warrior dance. This festival is organized every year in January in the Torggya and Tawang Monastery in Arunachal.
Monolith Festival in Meghalaya
This is yet another soulful and mesmerizing festival offering of Meghalaya or the Land of Clouds. If you are interested in music but are more inclined towards soulful strains than rock beats, then the Monolith festival is the one for you. This began as primarily an initiative of the Khasi tribes of Meghalaya but now other tribes too participate whole heartedly in the festival. The debut of the festival was a huge success and happened 4 years back. Since then tourists from all across India have been targeting the Monolith Festival in Meghalaya for its rich experience of cuisine, music and tribal expressions of life. The Monolith Fest happens every year in October in Mawphlang in Meghalaya.
Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal
The Ziro Festival of music attracts a lot of tourists from the international tourism circuit. The notable bands who gave a rocking performance last year at the Ziro Music festival are Sky Rabbit, Steve Shelley and Men who pause along with Func & Shair. Each year the list of band participants in the Ziro festival only gets better. Go to this exceptional music world to experience some truly amazing music amid the soul touching beauty of Arunachal Pradesh. You will get to meet a lot of music lovers from different corners of the world at this festival. If there is only one music festival of North East that you have to choose for attending, then make Ziro Music festival your choice.
Jonbeel Mela in Assam
Every year in the month of January an amazing and historically significant festival is organized in Assam and very few places in the world can actually boast of such a pompous festival. The venue for this festival is a beautiful place called Dayang Belguri in Jonbeel. This festival demonstrates the age old concept of barter in a very interesting way. The event starts off with Agni Puja which pays homage to the God of Fire. All the locals get together to fish in the wetland which is called JonBeel (literal meaning is crescent shaped wasteland). 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.
So these are some of major festivals of North-East.