Arunachal Festival

Arunachal Festival

Chalo Loku Festival in Arunachal Pradesh by Franck Charton
Chalo Loku Festival, Arunachal Pradesh – © Franck Charton

There are many distinct tribes that inhabit the state of Arunachal Pradesh, giving it a great mix of diverse culture and traditions. These various tribes celebrate agricultural, religious and socio-cultural festivals where they dance, sing, pray, pay gratitude and feast as a community. The ritual aspect of the festivals is performed by the priest and other arrangements are done by the people as a community. Animal sacrifice is a common ritual in most of the festivals in Arunachal Pradesh.

Most festivals are connected to agriculture and are celebrated in a big scale to either appease the gods and to thank for a bumper harvest. Festivals are celebrated throughout the year by one tribe or the other, making it the land of festivals.

Kshyat-Sowai Festival of Khowas (December-January)

This is a community festival of the Khowa tribe and lasts for ten days. The festival is initiated by a local priest (Phati). In each village, there is a particular place known as ‘Suaiba’ for the celebration of the festival. The Khowas celebrate their festival with great enthusiasm with the whole village participating in feast, dance and merriment.

Si-Donyi Festival of Tagins (January)

This is the most important festival of the Tagins and is celebrated in January all over Arunachal (Itanagar, Daporijo, Roing…). ‘Si’ signifies the earth and ‘Donyi’ the sun. The Tagins believe that all natural elements especially the sun, the moon and the earth play a vital role in their day to day lives. During the festival ‘Etting’, rice powder mixed with Apeng (rice-beer) is made to a paste and everyone is liberally smeared with it. Si-Donyi festival is conducted on a large scale and everybody contributes in kind and cash. Hence it is collective celebration. The elders who form the members of the Si-Donyi committee direct the operations and the selected Nibu (priest) guides and performs the Si-Donyi festival. It is believed that by celebrating the Si-Donyi festival, the creators Si and Doni would not only be satisfied but also bless the people with a good crop and safeguard them from diseases. It is a festival celebrated for prosperity, success and abundance. During this festival boys and girls in colourful attire with split bamboo head gears (Donger) are seen in song and dance performances.

Orange Festival (January)

The Orange festival takes place in the beautiful region of Dambuk, which remains inaccessible in the summer due to swollen rivers. The festival features a number of artists and performers from across the country in a musical event that lasts for 2 days. The festival also aims at displaying the diversity of the arunachal tribes and to promote cultural exchange with the rest of the country through music, arts and the great outdoors. This two day long festival packed with entertainment, art and adventure attracts not just people of the state but also from various parts of the country.

Pangsau Pass Winter Festival (January)

This winter festival celebrated in Nampong in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh was started in the year 2007, and since then been gaining a lot of popularity. It is a three-day fest that takes place every January when the people of Arunchal Pradesh celebrate their extravagant ethnicity with performances of folk dances and songs. On this occasion, handicraft and handloom articles from different parts of the state are also put up for exhibition and sale. Along with displaying the variety of culture and tradition of Arunachal, PPWF offers a platform for the neighbouring country of Myanmar to exhibit its culture as well. The festival conjoins the tribes of both North East and Myanmar and gives them the opportunity to share their culture and traditions with each other.

Torgya Festival of Monpas/Sherdukpen (January-February)

Also known as “Tawang Torgya”, this festival is celebrated between January/February at the Tawang Monastery. The celebrations are spread over three days with performances of monastic dances in the courtyard of the monastery. A propitiation rite of ‘Yamactaka Chak Khar Zur Gurpa’ is conducted giving the festival its name – “Torgya”, meaning propitiation. Thousands of people throng the monastery in their most colorful and best attire making the festival a carnival of colours. The highlight of the festival is ‘Chham’, a highly choreographed sacred dance lasting for three days. A group of selected monks dressed in magnificent robes and wearing masks representing various divinities and earthly characters perform Chham in the courtyard of the monastery to the accompaniment of beating drums and cymbals, and the blowing of telescopic horns and clarinets. Every third year, this festival is celebrated on a grander scale and is called “Dung-gyur”. During Dung-gyur the monks conduct “Mani Dum Drub” ritual (10 Millions of Mani Mantra recitation).

Sangken Festival of Singphos (February)

This is one of the most important religious festivals of Arunachal Pradesh and was originally celebrated only by the Khampti tribe of Lohit district, but over time the whole of Arunachal Pradesh celebrates it. On this three-day festival which begins on 14th february, the people bathe the idol of Lord Buddha and the holy shrines. They also sprinkle clean water on each other and exchange greetings. On the first day of the festival, prayers are offered for the well-being of all accompanied by the beating of drums and gongs. During the entire festival, people abstain from killing animals, intoxication and worldly pleasures. People also refrain from all forms of manual work, gambling and even cutting trees. On the final day, the idol of Lord Buddha is installed back in the main temple and a community feast is organized. This festival marks the beginning of the New Year.

Chalo Loku of Noctes (February)

Loku is the main festival of the Nocte Tribe of Tirap district and is celebrated to bid farwell to the winter. The term Loku came from two local words – ‘Lofe’, which means to drive out and ‘Rangku’, which means the season. Loku or Chalo Loku is an agriculture festival and is celebrated in the month of February each year. The date of festival is decided by the elders according to the days of the waxing moon. It is a 3 days festival which starts with a day called ‘Phamlamja’. On this first day, pigs and buffaloes are slaughtered for meat and the villagers engage in preparations for the next day. The second day of the festival is known as Chamkatja and on this day the Noctes observe it as the day when the male members of the family who have attained adolescence become full-fledged members of the Paang (decision-making committee). The third and final day is called Thanlangja, and on this day villagers participate in folk dances in the house of the Chief. The families who have observed Chamkat invite the dancers to perform at their houses and in return reward them with food and drinks.

Boori-Boot Festival of Hill-Miris (February)

This is a festival of the Hill-Miris tribe and is celebrated, in the last week of February for 3 days or more. The main event of the festival is a procession of men, women and children dressed in their traditional apparels led by the local priest. Mithuns and other animals are sacrificed and distributed among the villagers. People also make sacrificial offerings to appease to the gods.

Reh Festival of Idu Mishmis (February)

The Idus believe that they are the sons and daughters of the divine mother ‘Nanyi Inyitaya’, but none can get her blessings unless one performs the puja or celebrate the Reh festival. But it is so expensive that only a few people can afford to celebrate the festival for propitiation of the supreme creator, the great mother ‘Nanyi Inyitaya’.

The festival is celebrated during February in Roing, Lohit district. The people who inhabit snowfall areas like Talo, Amru and Dri villages of the Dibang valley celebrate it during summer and monsoon (June-August) when the climate is moderate. The Idus in the other parts celebrate the same during February to May. The festival requires a number of sacrificial buffaloes for offering to the great mother ‘Nanyi Inyitaya’ and the one who performs the puja also distributes gifts to relatives. This all makes it an expensive festival that is done only after four or five years of planning. The Reh festival is celebrated for 6 days with prayers, rituals, animal sacrifices and feasts.

Nyukom Yullow of Nyishis (February)

Nyokum is the festival of the Nyishi tribe and is celebrated for the harmony and prosperity of the people. It is celebrated on the 28th of February every year in East Kemang district, Lower Subansiri district, Kurung Kummey district and Papumpar district. The term Nyokum came from two words from the native dialect and can be broken as Nyok meaning Land and Kum meaning People. It is a 2-day festival of feast and merriment. The major rituals are performed by the high priest and prayers are offered to the spirits to bring tranquility and prosperity to its people.

Oriah of Wanchos (February)

Oriah is an agricultural festival of the Wanchos, celebrated on 16th February. It is celebrated for a period of six to twelve days interspersed with prayer, songs, dances, sowing of the jhum paddy and ritual sacrifices of pigs, buffaloes and mithuns. A ceremonial pole is erected around which dance and song performances are held. As a mark of greeting and goodwill, villagers exchange bamboo tubes filled with rice beer.

Losar (February-March)

Losar is the New Year festival of the Monpa Tribe of Tawang District in Arunachal Pradesh. This festival usually falls in the last part of February or early part of March. The festival lasts for eight to fifteen days and is celebrated with joy and festivity. Prayers are offered for prosperity and good health and people hoist religious flags atop their homes and make visits to relatives and friends. The holy scriptures are read in every home as part of festival prayer. Lamps with butter are lit in all the houses. The tribes perform rites to protect their land from evil eye and any kind of supernatural attack. The local deity is worshipped for the welfare of the society and the people. This festival witnesses the local tribal traditions and customs. This festival depicts the social-cultural and native living of the Monpas.

Khan Festival of Mijis (February-March)

The Khan festival of the Mijis is celebrated by the community as a whole as a mark of unity. During the festival, people perform sacrificial rites and offer prayers to gods and goddesses for a good harvest.  The Khan festival is also called Khan-Gailam. The most significant event of the festival is a ceremony where the priest ties a piece of wool around everybody’s neck with a belief that the enchanted thread will bring good luck to each one of them.

Myoko Festival of Apatanis (March)

Myoko is the biggest festival of the Apatani. It begins in March and lasts an entire month. It is an elaborate and expensive festival for which the associated villages take turns in hosting it every three years. To celebrate it all the villages in the Apatani plateau are divided into three major groups. Unlike the other festivals of Apatanis, ‘Myoko’ is performed by each village only once in three years. One of these three groups celebrates the festival in a particular year whereas the other two groups join the celebration of the host group. The festival is marked by offerings and prayers to appease the spirits and request for the well-being of the people. It also plays a strong social role by strengthening family ties and community bonding and at large even villages. Myoko coincides with the flowering of a plum-tree (Takung). The festival cannot begin before the flowering of this tree which grows on the ritual ground (Yugyang) of Myoko. It usually flowers in mid-March. Therefore Myoko ceremonies start between 17th to 20th March.

Gorsam Chorten Kora (March)

The Gorsam Kora festival is celebrated every year in the month of March at the Gorsam Chorten in Zemithang which is about 95 kms from Tawang. Performances of mask dance by the different communities is a highlight of the festival and every evening of the festival people gather to join the candle light procession lead by the 13th Tsona Gontse Rinpoche. This Chorten is opened for public viewing once in every twelve years. The Gorsam Chorten is a replica of great stupa of Bodhnath in Nepal and is believed to be constructed in the early part of 12th century. Encircling the stupa is a well paved path on which pilgrims walk clockwise for prayers.

Arunachal Spring Festival (March)

This spring festival is organised by the government of Arunachal Pradesh in Pasighat, one of its oldest towns. The festival aims to promote Pasighat and showcase arts, culture, eco-adventure, local cuisine, handicraft etc. The three days festival is inaugurated with traditional cultural show, white water rafting expedition, angling competition, para gliding, ethnic food stalls, fashion shows and performances by renowned artists. 

Ojiyele Festival of Wanchos (March-April)

Wanchos celebrate this festival during March-April, for a period of six to twelve days with a melange of prayer, song, dance and sowing of the jhum paddy. Villagers exchange bamboo tubes of rice beer as a mark of greeting and goodwill. Pigs, buffaloes and mithuns are sacrificed and feasts are arranged in every morung (dormitory). The youth are seen singing and dancing in their ceremonial colourful costumes around a long ceremonial pole – ‘Jangban’  planted for this occasion.

Mlokom Yulo Festival of Nyishis (March-Apr)

This is one of the major festivals of Nyishis. It is the only festival which is celebrated annually in every village on a community basis in the nyishi months of Lakhang & Leehar corresponding to the English month of March & April. The festival is celebrated for five days, but occasionally the period may extend to seven days depending on the result of divination performed prior to the fixation of the date of celebration. The divination is done by a local priest ‘nibu’ by examining the liver of a fowl and the yolk of an egg respectively. The site where the festival is celebrated is called ‘MLKOM-YULO-NYENGENG’. It is a community festival where all villagers contribute in cash and kind for feasts and rituals. Sacrificial animals are also purchased from the village fund or by collecting money or paddy from each household.

Mopin of Gallongs (April)

Mopin is the most important festival of Gallong community of the Adi tribes of Arunachal Pradesh and every year it is celebrated throughout the state with great enthusiasm. It is celebrated for five days during the month of April prior to sowing the paddy which showcase the rich traditional culture and preservation of rich heritage of Gallongs. People worship the deity of welfare and wisdom in order to get rid of natural calamities, evil spirits and for good harvest, health and prosperity. During the festival women in their traditional costumes, elaborate headgears and multi-coloured beaded ornaments perform the enchanting “popir dance”.

Tawang Festival (May)

The three-day extravagant Tawang Festival was introduced in 2012 as a tourism festival to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the state and also promote adventure tourism. Tawang festival is not just a community or regional festival but has grown into a full fledged global event which draws a big flow of tourists, keen to mingle and savour its rich tradition and culture. The event highlights are; Buddhist Religious Functions, Traditional Monastic Dances, Indigenous Games and Sports, Handloom and Handicraft exhibition, Film and Documentaries, Traditional Fashion Show, Food Festival, Flower Show, Photography & Painting Exhibition, Interactive Workshops, Cultural Evening & Live Shows and much more.

Saka Dawa (May-June)

Celebrated in the 4th month of the lunar calendar, the Saka Dawa festival marks Gautam Buddha’s achievement of Nirvana. The full moon day that falls in the middle of the lunar month is known as ‘Saga Dawa’ and it is considered as an auspicious day by the Buddhists. Saga Dawa is called the ‘month of merits’ and is celebrated between May and June. The festival commemorates the birth, enlightment and death of Buddha. On the occasion of Saga Dawa, people gather at the monasteries for prayers and offerings. Many participate in the circumambulation of the Gompas, where they chant mantras, carry the religious text and turn the prayer wheels.

Dree Festival of Apatanis (July)

The Dree Festival involves the sacrifice of fowls, eggs and animals to the Gods. The gods worshipped during this festival are Tamu, Metii, Danyi and Harniang. The festival is celebrated to appease these gods. During the Dree festival every household prepares the local beer “Apong” and performs cleaning of houses and its surroundings. The head priest (Nyibu) acts as a leader of these celebrations and rituals. The spot for the festival is decided by the priest and the elderly people of the village. The god Danyi is prayed for protection and prosperity, Tamu is prayed to protect the plants from harmful pests and insects and Metii is prayed for controlling of famine and epidemics. Harniang is prayed for keeping the soil stable, and preventing the paddy plants from getting dried.

Solung of Adis (September)

Solung is a socio-religious festival of the Adis and is generally celebrated in the month of September. However the date changes every year.  It is an agricultural festival celebrated after the sowing of seeds to seek the blessing of the gods for a good harvest. The festival has three main parts and is celebrated to appease various gods for protection, well-being and a good harvest. Solung is the most religious festival of the Adis. It is an occasion where the people re-establish their timeless beliefs and traditions and renew their ties with spiritualism through rituals.

Ziro Music Festival 2019 (September)

The Ziro Festival of Music is said to be the most fun outdoor music festival of India. The festival features some of the best talent of the country and abroad, and also showcases local talent from all the 7 states of the northeast. Visitors to the festival come from all over the world, mainstream India has only recently taken to the festival. The location of the festival makes it all the more special, set against the backdrop of paddy fields in Ziro Valley.

Adventure @ Mechukha (November)

The Mechukha Adventure Festival, is a three-day adventure gala organized from November 7-9 by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, and the Department of Tourism, Government of Arunachal Pradesh. The festival showcases cultural events, food stalls and local handicraft for sale. Activities included trap shooting, rappelling, river crossing, paragliding, mountain biking and aero-modelling. An entry ticket buys access to all adventure sports activities.

Siang River Festival (December)

The Siang River Festival is held to celebrate communal harmony in Arunachal Pradesh. Earlier this festival was celebrated as Brahmaputra Darshan Festival in Tezu and Pasighat but since the year 2005, the festival is celebrated as Siang River Festival in places like Tuting, Yingkiong and Pasighat in the month of December each year. It is one of the most popular festivals in Arunachal Pradesh and is an attempt to promote eco-tourism and offer adventure and fun activities like traditional boat race, ‘Didi’ – the mock war game of Mishmis, river rafting, food stalls, folk dances, cultural shows, hot air balloon & para gliding etc. Apart from this an exhibition of handloom and handicrafts by the different districts is also held.

Siron Molo Sochum of Nyishis (December)

Siron Molo Sochum Festival is one of the biggest festivals of the Nyishi tribe. It is celebrated during the month of december which is called the Nishi month of ‘Ram Po-Lo’. Before the festival all the houses and granaries are repaired, and all the dry crops such as millet, paddy, and maize are harvested and stored in these granaries. The women cook delicious local cuisine and food and drink is offered to all guests. The main food during Siron Molo Sochum festival includes apeng, meat and rice. Siron Molo Sochum festival is an event to worship the goddess of crops and the tribal’s prayer to fill up the granaries with more grains in the coming year. On the day of the festival, songs narrating the history of the Nishi people and their culture are sung by folk singers of the village.

Podi Barbi of Adis (December)

Podi Barbi is another tribal festival that is celebrated with great fanfare in the first week of December by the Adi tribe of Itanagar. ‘Podi Barbi’ in the local Adi dialect refers to a small cricket like insect that migrates to their fields at the time of harvesting. Since the primitive people of Adi tribe did not have a calendar, they relied on these insects as an indicator of the right time to harvest their crops. Animals are sacrificed and the Adis enjoy with song, dance and community feasting.