Nagaland has always been touted as the 'Land of Festivals'...and now they have a brand new catch phrase - 'Festival of Festivals' as the state machinery referred to the annual Hornbill Festival held from December 1-7.
The Hornbill Festival, held at the Kisama Heritage Village, certainly is a fest for the eyes - a riot of colours and costumes. Nagaland has an amazingly colourful culture and unique tradition and this, coupled with a sense of the exotic and mysterious, draws in the crowd by the hordes especially during the Hornbill Festival.
What had initially started as a five day event 11 years back, has now graduated into a seven day event, and by the look of it this year, it has all the potential to grow into an even bigger event.
Not for nothing is Nagaland called 'The Land of Festivals'. There are 16 major tribes and numerous sub tribes in the state and every month one tribe or the other celebrates its festival.
The Hornbill Festival brings all the tribes of the state under one umbrella to showcase their rich culture and tradition. Of course the rituals are not as elaborate or as spontaneous as those held in the villages, particularly in special times of the year when the whole village participates in rituals. The Hornbill Festival lets you see the festivals and customs of the different tribes through a very wide window indeed.
Don't get me wrong when I say that the rituals are not spontaneous. They are performed with a great deal of zest and pride. As Mr Yitachu, Parliamentary Secretary, Tourism explained, "A particular village that performs at the Festival might get its next chance for about 40 or 50 years and some even longer. Each tribe is represented by a particular village each year and since the bigger tribes, like the 'Ao’ and 'Angami', have many villages, it would take a very long time indeed for a particular village to perform again at Kisama." Many of the present day performers would not live to get the privilege to perform again at the festival and thus the pride.
The primary focus of the Hornbill Festival is to bring all the tribes of Nagaland on one platform and create a sense of unity among the different tribes and also to resurrect some of the culture and tradition that is dying a slow death. Although overwhelming dances and rituals were based on agriculture and fertility, the warrior tribes like the Konyak, Chang, Yimchunger, Sema and a few others displayed some amazing war dances and head hunting rituals that were practiced in the days of yore, complete with log drum beating, mock fighting and torching of other villages. The second day of the festival was meant for performers from the rest of the Northeastern states, which were as vibrant and colorful.
But if you think that the Hornbill Festival is only about dances—you are mistaken. There is also ethnic Naga cuisine, exquisite handicraft and handloom, kids carnival, night bazaars, music—both traditional and contemporary, a superb show of fusion music compromising musicians from all the states of the Northeastern region, literary fest, fashion shows, beauty contest and fun events like climbing a greased bamboo pole and Naga King Chilli eating contests which saw a whole lot of contestants crying "FIRE"!
Stalls with Naga cuisine drew large crowds. The lifting of the Protected Area Permits for foreigners resulted in a huge number of western tourists flocking to the Heritage Village and making a beeline to the ethnic food stall. Never mind the fire chilly, they had the sweet rice beer to wash it down!
Music is an integral part of Naga culture and the Rock Contest held as part of the festival was a huge draw. The contest, held by the Music Task Force set up by the Government to promote music in the state, is one of the biggest of its kind in the country. I’m sure the bands didn't mind the freezing cold temperature as they performed under the open skies for the top prize of Rs. 5 lakh!
The other big draw was the Peace Rally to commemorate the battle of Kohima. The World War II Jeeps and their crew in period costumes drew in a lot of spectators. The Chief Minister, Neiphiu Rio led the rally in one of the jeeps. I guess his security guards must have had the jitters because the participants including the all-women team were carrying period guns and one could hardly make out the difference between the real and a fake one!
Seven days were over in a flash and the finale was a grand affair with each tribe lighting a bonfire. As the sun dipped over the hills at Kisama, the bonfires lit up the arena and the skies were filled with the war cries of the tribes as they all danced around the fire.
"Till next year" they said and by the look of it, it certainly is going to be a tourist magnet.