As kids our understanding of festivals was relatively smaller, our textbooks spoke about the festivals celebrated for religious reasons. Then in college we were rushing to the fests with loud thumping music. But somewhere around that time, we also started discovering festivals that celebrated much more. From the maddest festivals of the world to some of the stranger ones in India, to the likes of Ziro Music Festival and Magnetic Fields which celebrate music, etc. etc. there’s a lot more to festivals than we ever knew. Today, festivals celebrate adventures, customs, food and a whole lot more. One such incredible festival occurs in India’s Nagaland.
While the state of Nagaland is replete with natural beauty, its foremost claim to fame has to be its cultural heritage. Home to multiple tribes, 16 of them survive to this day and it is the celebration of their culture, their customs and practices that led the state government to harness this into the Hornbill Festival back in 2000.
How to reach: If you are planning on flying down then catch a flight to Dimapur. If you wish to travel by train, first reach Guwahati and then take a train from Guwahati to Dimapur. From Dimapur travel by road to reach Kohima which is close to Kisama heritage village that hosts the festival.
When: For now, the festival is held from 1st to 10th December annually.
Entry formalities: The event’s passes cost just Rs.30 daily per person and Rs.50 daily per camera. However, in order to travel to Nagaland you need state permits which have to planned well in advance before your trip.
The Nagaland Statehood Day is observed on the 1st of December every year which is now celebrated along with the Hornbill Festival called the “Festival of Festivals”. This tagline has been coined rather appropriately because it speaks to how different tribes showcase their different dance and music forms, their attires and their lifestyles all under the roof of one festival. You can learn more about the different tribes here and at the Hornbill Festival you can actually witness it for yourself.
Traditionally speaking almost each of the tribes have some form of an agricultural festival. The state is heavily dependant on its agricultural activities. So, each of its tribe generally celebrates the commencement of the season and the harvest period. These acts are meant to bring them goodwill during the season, to reap a healthy harvest and grow good crops. The most interesting fact here has to be how distinct each of the tribes are. Our general understanding is to club Naga tribes as one but there we are horribly wrong. While they may overlap at times, there are so many practices that set them apart. One tribe believes they originated from a cloud, another believes they originated from a tree and yet another credits a rock for their lives. Some were head-hunters while others were not. Even the instruments they play can at times vary. And it is the cultural mosaic of Nagaland that is on a vibrant display during the Hornbill Festival.
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In the ancient times, before phones and the digital age, the folks of Nagaland used to communicate by beating hollowed wooden logs with wooden beaters. The massive structures are beaten like drums, with different sounds, intensities and frequencies conveying different messages. At the festival also you will get to witness this. Do you think you can convince them to let you give it a shot too? ?
The choice of location only adds to your true Naga experience. Kisama Heritage Village has been maintained in the most traditional manner. From the hut like housing to the horns and tusks adorning them, all give it an authentic aura. The village also has a number of morungs. Morungs are structures where young boys would learn about the tribal history and teachings from ancestors. They would live in morungs during their younger years to imbibe a sense of discipline, healthy competition and above all, a tribal loyalty and belonging. Kisama has morungs for each of the tribes to continue this practice even with the evolution of time.
The hornbill is a colourful forest bird who plays a key character in many Naga folklores. Around the time of the festival the locals even pray to the bird. The bird is so significant that the male hornbill’s feather is used to adorn the traditional headgear of Naga warriors. Not only that the bird is spoken of highly even in songs, represented on crafts and costumes, thus, the festival was named after the bird itself. The bird is highly respected in the state and holds a status of nearabout reverence due to its importance that too across tribes.
The North East has a very strong music scene. So, while in the daytime you will see the traditional folk dances and music, the evenings pump up the speakers to blast rock music sending it echoing across the hilly region. Beyond the local artists, an array of other artists are also called to perform here. So, get set to let lose your hair and get into the groove as the artists take stage. Further, this part of our country likes to keep up with the trends as well, so, they even put up a fashion show at the festival. And for the thrill-seekers there’s a chance to see cycling and other motor-sporting events.
Now if you visit Nagaland, you are sure to see its beauty too. The Hornbill Festival caters to this by putting up a full-fledged floral galleria with different species of flowers and plants blooming away, adding prettiness to the festival. As you see the folk performances in the day reflecting the state’s ancient past, the film festival allows you to observe the pop culture which speaks of both ancient and modern times. There are a number of competitions and a kids carnival too.
While the festival commenced and continued in order to “revive, sustain, protect and preserve the richness of Naga heritage and traditions”, I also consider it to be a chance for us to learn more about the state and its tribes. To see their celebration and more importantly become a part of their celebration is to truly converse and begin to understand more about them. From the folklores to the customs, all of Nagaland comes out in a full tribal fiesta and gives you a chance to learn, observe and celebrate with them.
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