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The Experiential Festival Beckons


Sentinel Digital Desk

Aiyushman Dutta

With the advent of winter, it is time once again for the festive season to start in Northeast India. The advent of the season brings to life the various vibrant colours of the different tribes and communities residing here. And what festival signifies the vibrant yet united colours of the region in a better way than the Hornbill festival of Nagaland? Over the years, this deliberate cultural creation of the Government of Nagaland has evolved into a global calendar event which is a brilliant amalgamation of traditional heritage, rustic brilliance and contemporary global trends.

In short, the Hornbill festival of Nagaland is a cultural extravaganza to revive, protect and preserve the richness and uniqueness of the Naga heritage, while for the visitors to this event, it is a means for a comprehensive understanding of Naga people, their land and culture.

Over the years, this event has gained in stature and scale. It has now become a unique platform for the tourists to witness the cultural diversity not only for the Nagas but the seven other sister States of Northeast India in all its wonder and glory. As compared to the last few years, where more than 2 lakh tourists visited the fair annually – foreign, domestic and local - the government and particularly the Tourism department, expresses high hope that the festival will witness many more tourists even this year.

One of the biggest attractions of Hornbill festival this year is the music segment of the famed festival which has gone a total makeover. The reason for this change is the appointment of popular Naga musician-turned-entrepreneur Theja Meru as the new Advisor of Nagaland's famed music promotion cell, which has now been renamed as 'Task Force for Music and Arts (TaFMA)'. Meru, who founded 'Rattle N Hum' under which the famed Handshake concerts are organized, is well known for his active role in promoting Naga music and musicians through the society. His appointment has paved the way for the Nagaland government to initiate a total revamp in the format of the music segment of the festival.

Transition to an Experiential Festival

The new Advisor of TaFMA Theja Meru says that one of the chief priorities of the department is to change the format of the festival to suit the changing needs of present times. "Since the time we first started Hornbill, there have been a lot of changes in the way people perceive music and festivals. We have to adapt to the changing times and I personally want it to be a more experiential festival which actually appeals to the senses of the visitors," says Meru.

As part of the new format, the famed Hornbill International Rock Competition has been discarded and in its place, a new feature 'Tickets to Hornbill' were held in three metros of the country to find the artists/band who/which will get the opportunity to play at Hornbill. Similarly, in a bid to develop the music industry of all nooks and crannies of Nagaland, the festival will now be simultaneously held in all districts of Nagaland instead of just the capital Kohima.

Music-wise there have been a lot of changes as the festival has now been extended to various locations of Kohima and Dimapur. In the main festival venue at Kisama, the highlights during the festival are performances by Trans Effect, Incipit, Divine Connection, Mengu and Band, Swarathma, Choral festival and performance by Lords of Rock. The RCEMPA (Regional Centre for Excellence in Music and Performance Arts) Hall will feature Box Office shows of Tetseo Sisters, a Country Music Festival and a Naga Musical called 'Our Story' on alternate days. Grammy Award winner Padma Bhushan Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt will also perform on December 3.

Moving towards Dimapur, the venue for the music festival there is the Agri Expo field in 4th Mile. While the first two days are located for local Naga artists and electronic music, the third day focus on Indie talents with performances of groups like When Chai Meet Toast. A mini K-Pop fest will be held on December 4 with performances by YubinLive and MustB. Other attractive line-ups include Swarathma, Indus Creed, Dualist Enquiry, Girish and the Chronicles, Alobo Naga and the Band and DJ Elektra from Ukraine.

Another interesting feature that can be noticed in this year's festival is the expansion of music performances and food festivals in restaurants and cafes of Kohima. This is indeed a welcome development as it paves the way for a healthy eating out culture in this historic town which has for long been ravaged by all negative factors. Helping local entrepreneurs showcase their culinary skills and their start-ups to an outside audience during the festive season of Hornbill will definitely be a huge source of encouragement for them.

Since it was first started, the Hornbill festival has been held in the historic town of Kohima – a scenic town known for its pristine beauty which had changed the course of the Second World War. The famous 'Battle of the tennis court' was held in this town and it was in this very place that the Britishers managed to stop the Japanese invasion during the second world war.

Besides the traditional display of tribal folk dances and art form, various events are held as part of the Hornbill festival. Besides these events, a night carnival is also held in the streets of Kohima and Dimapur during the duration of the festival. The people of Kohima set up stalls of food items and various festive items on their main thoroughfare and the same is a much anticipated segment of the festival. Besides providing an opportunity for celebration, the carnival also provides a lot of economic opportunities for the people to showcase and sell their products through their stalls.

Nagaland: The Land of Festivals

While the Hornbill festival is a deliberate cultural creation, the energetic and vivacious hill people of Nagaland love to celebrate life through annual people. They are people who have always lived in close association with nature. Their festivals likewise correspond to the agricultural practices of sowing and harvesting. Not only that, they have rites of purification, of seeking supernatural blessings, of thanksgiving and of ushering in a full moon or new year, of war time revelry during a victory and celebrating the feast of merit. All throughout the year, there is one festival or the other being celebrated throughout the land. Each of the 16 major tribal communities celebrate at least one or more festivals in a year. As such, festivals mark the calendar throughout the year and Nagaland is aptly called 'the land of festivals'.

In the month of January, there are three festivals namely 'Sukrunye' of the Chakesang tribe on the 15th, 'Mimkut' of the Kuki tribe on the 17th, and 'Bishu' of the Kachari community on the 27th. The festival 'Sekrenyi' of the Angami tribe is celebrated on the 25th of February. "Mileinyi' is celebrated by the Zeliang tribe on 11th March. From 1st-6th April, 'Monyu' is celebrated by the Phom tribe, and from 1st to 7th April, 'Aoling' is celebrated by the Konyak tribe. 'Moatsu' is celebrated by the Ao tribe on the 2nd of May and and 'Miu' is celebrated by the Khiamniungan tribe on the 5th of May. 'Tuluni' is celebrated by the Sumi tribe on 8th July and 'Naknyulem' is celebrated by the Chang tribe from the 29th to 30th July. 'Tsungremong' is celebrated by the Ao tribe from 1st to 2nd August and 'Metemneo' is celebrated by the Yimchunger tribe on 8th August. 'Mongong' is celebrated by the Sangtam tribe on 3rd September. On 5th October, two festivals are celebrated namely 'Yemshe' of the Pochury tribe and 'Tsokum of the Khiamniungan tribe. In the month of November, there are three festivals namely 'Tokhu Emong' of the Lotha tribe, 'Ahuna' of the Sumi tribe from 14th to 15th, and 'Ngada' of the Rengma tribe on the 27th. In December, two festivals are celebrated namely 'Terhunyi' of the Angamis on the 9th and 'Terhnunye' of the Chakhesangs on the 15th.

The Hornbill festival as the 'festival of festivals' came into existence only in the year 2000. It is a deliberate cultural creation of the Government of Nagaland and it came to be celebrated every year from 1st to 7th December for seven days. Later on, the festival duration was extended till December 10. The festival seeks to express the 'unity in culture' among all the 16 major tribes of Nagaland. The purpose of ushering in a new cultural festival of this magnitude is manifold. The crucial one is that it is an earnest endeavour to promote tourism in the State. Situated in a geographically remote corner of the country, Nagaland seeks to purposefully open its doors to visitors and friends from all over the world. Nagaland has much to offer in terms of its distinctive culture, natural landscape and genuine friendship of warm and hospitable people. They are ever ready to enlighten others about the cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, which they so every honourably uphold. Being a land affected by political instability starting from the 1950s, Nagaland is happy to open its hearth to people from all over the world in mutual goodwill

In the home front, this 'festival of festival' binds all the people of Nagaland together in a spirit of collective fraternity and mutual respect. They come together once a year to celebrate life on a common platform. The venue of the festival, Kisama Heritage Village, celebrates the existence of an unified Naga village. Besides promoting an idyllic eco-tourism destination for those willing to get away from the mechanised world or the concrete jungle of fast-paced living, the Hornbill festival holds much more than what one may possible bargain for. On one hand there is an unmatched display of rustic brilliance in the form of tribal folk dances, and on the other hand there is a confluence of international talent in terms of state-of-the-art stage shows. The Hornbill festival has something of artistic and cultural value to offer to anyone who comes to experience it personally.

The Hornbill Bird:

The Hornbill, the majestic bird of the skies, has always captivated the Nagas right from the ancient days. Having a hornbill bird come and grace a festival or community gathering with its presence was considered auspicious. The forefathers noticed very early on that there was something regal and dignified about this bird. It soon came to be regarded as the king of the skies and people began to regard it above other birds. Its feathers became a very embellishment in traditional attire. Wearing a Hornbill feather on the head signified a receipt of divine blessing. The bird began to be featured in countless Naga folk tales.

Over the years, the population of this majestic bird diminished and the bird became an endangered species altogether. However, the bird still continues to hold its legendary status of regality and auspiciousness. As a tribute to this great bird which holds a lot of sentimental value for the Nagas, this biggest festival is named after it.

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