Northeast India, often described as a kaleidoscopic powerhouse of culture and tradition, stands as an emblem of diversity, where every twist in the road and bend in the river could lead to a distinct tribe, dialect, and indeed, a new festival! This enchanting realm of India, swaddled by the majestic Himalayas and the lush plains of the Brahmaputra, is not just a geographic marvel, but a vibrant carnival of human culture. It hums with the rhythm of drums, the twang of folk strings, and the myriad colors of traditional attires, all coming to life in the vibrant festivals of Northeast India we’ll tell you about in this article.
From the evocative Bihu dances in Assam to the vibrant Hornbill Festival of Nagaland, each celebration is an intricate tapestry of ancient rituals, joyous community bonding, rich folklore, and the symphony of life itself. Welcome to a journey through the uncharted festivals of Northeast India – a journey where every footfall syncs with a festivity, and every echo rings with the jubilant spirit of an undiluted, timeless culture.
Overview of Northeast India
Serving as the easternmost frontier of India, Northeast India is nothing short of an enchanting enigma. It’s a region where the sun greets India good morning and where the mighty Brahmaputra gently unfurls across lush valleys. With seven sister states – Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and their sibling Sikkim, this region is the country’s best-kept secret – a treasure trove of distinct cultures, languages, and cuisines.
Picture this – a landscape so diverse, it’s like nature’s favorite canvas. The soaring peaks of the Himalayas, the emerald green tea gardens of Assam, the crystalline lakes of Meghalaya, and the verdant forests of Arunachal Pradesh. It’s Mother Nature on a creative spree! From the world’s wettest place, Cherrapunji, to the world’s largest river island, Majuli, geographical superlatives are seemingly the norm here.
However, the real charm of Northeast India lies in its cultural quilt, sewn with threads of numerous tribes and communities, each adding their unique patterns. Over 200 ethnic groups converse in about 400 languages! But guess what? They all speak the universal language of warmth and hospitality.
Helpful Resources For Visiting Northeast India
If you’re looking for a cheap flight to any of India’s major airports, you can use this special deal from Qatar Airways to get up to 10% off on all flights to India.
For great deals on accommodation in India, use this link and save up to 15% on all Booking.com properties in the country.
If you do and you want to get an Indian visa before entering the country, you can use IVisa to apply for an e-visa. The price they charge is almost the same as getting a visa in the embassy (maybe slightly higher), but their team will do all of the work for you and notify you via email once everything is done.
If you’re traveling around India as a solo traveler, check out our guide to solo travel in India.
Last but not least, don’t forget about travel insurance. I personally am a frequent user of SafetyWing, a company that caters to digital nomads and offers great travel insurance deals for extended periods of time. There aren’t many travel insurance out there that will compensate you for a delayed flight, lost/delayed luggage, stolen goods, and even critical injuries but SafetyWing is one of them.
Festivals Of Sikkim
We’re starting this list of the best festivals of Northeast India with a few of Sikkim’s most vibrant displays of culture and traditions…
Losoong: The Sikkimese New Year
Every culture has its own way of ringing in the New Year, and for the folks in Sikkim, it comes with a vibrant dash of dance, a sprinkle of divination, and a hefty dose of community merrymaking. Welcome to Losoong, the Sikkimese New Year! It’s not just another date on the calendar, but a jubilant toast to the human spirit, resilience, and a celebration of life itself.
Losoong is observed by the Bhutia tribe, Sikkim’s ethnic community, usually in the frosty yet festive month of December. Unlike most of the world which relies on fireworks to bid adieu to the old year, Sikkimese folks add a traditional twist. They perform the Chaam, a vibrant masked dance, which plays out the epic victory of good over evil. Imagine an outdoor theater set against the majestic backdrop of the Himalayas, with dancers prancing around in colorful masks, embodying different gods and demons. It’s a sight that would make your spirit twirl!
Saga Dawa: The Triple Blessed Festival
With a whisper of the wind in the prayer flags, a soulful chant echoing from the monasteries, and the hearts imbued with profound reverence, arrives Saga Dawa, one of the most spiritual soirees of Sikkim. Often dubbed as the ‘Triple Blessed Festival’, this event doesn’t just tiptoe around a single celebration but twirls around the three seminal events of Buddha’s life – his birth, enlightenment, and attainment of Nirvana. Imagine one festival, three celebrations, and countless blessings, that’s Saga Dawa for you!
This sacred festival unfurls itself under the gentle warmth of the fourth lunar month as per the Tibetan calendar, typically landing in May or June. Sikkimese folks don’t believe in half-hearted celebrations, and rightly so. Saga Dawa is not merely observed; it’s lived. The air thickens with spirituality as locals immerse themselves in prayers, pilgrimages, and acts of generosity.
Phang Lhabsol- A Celebration Of The Guardian Deity
This unique festival is Sikkim’s way of paying homage to the mighty Mount Khangchendzonga, considered the guardian deity of the region, and other territorial deities. The festival highlights the close-knit relationship between the people and their natural environment, a bond so strong it transcends into the realm of the divine.
Phang Lhabsol is traditionally celebrated between July and August, orchestrated against the backdrop of the monsoon-swept canvas of Sikkim. A distinctive aspect of this festival is the masked dance, known as ‘Chaam’. The dance is a grand spectacle that culminates with the appearance of the ‘Pazom’, a masked figure representing the deity’s general, on a horse.
Festivals Of Assam
This list of the best festivals of Northeast India wouldn’t be complete without at least mentioning a few vibrant Assamese religious festivals.
Bihu: The Assamese New Year
Marking the Assamese New Year, Bihu is the embodiment of joy, unity, and tradition, manifesting itself not once, not twice, but thrice a year, each variant harmoniously synced with the agricultural cycle.
Arguably the most famous of the three is Rongali Bihu or Bohag Bihu, which heralds the arrival of spring and the onset of the sowing season. Falling typically in mid-April, it’s a carnival of colors, music, dance, and food. Picture festive processions of locals, clad in traditional attire, swaying to the beats of dhol and pepa. Visualize energetic dances like the Bihu dance, where young men and women engage in playful banter through their dance moves and songs. It’s a sight that’s bound to make your feet tap and heart flutter!
Ambubachi Mela: The Fertility Festival
Deep within the verdant heart of Assam, at the historic Kamakhya Temple, there arises a unique celebration of life, nature, and femininity, known as the Ambubachi Mela. It isn’t your typical fair; it’s a spiritual congregation that pays homage to the Earth’s fertility and the divine feminine, symbolized by the Goddess Kamakhya. Referred to as the ‘Fertility Festival’, this event echoes ancient rituals, spiritual discourse, and faith that entwines millions.
Ambubachi Mela usually takes place during the monsoon season, typically in June, marking what is believed to be the menstruation period of Goddess Kamakhya. During this time, the temple remains closed for three days, symbolizing the natural cycle of the Earth’s fertility. The festival merges the spiritual and the natural in a way that is rarely seen elsewhere.
Jonbeel Mela- The Moon Wetlands Festival
Tucked away in the lush green folds of Assam is a festival that’s as unique as its name – the Jonbeel Mela. Now, this isn’t your typical fair filled with merry-go-rounds and popcorn stalls. Oh no! The Jonbeel Mela is a time-travel portal that takes you back to the barter system era, wrapped in an atmosphere of communal harmony, folk traditions, and mutual respect.
Jonbeel Mela, typically held in January, gets its name from the moon-shaped (‘Jon’ means moon and ‘Beel’ means wetland) water body near which the festival takes place. But what’s so unique about it? Well, it’s perhaps the only fair in India where people still exchange goods, just as they did centuries ago. Imagine this: heaps of rice, ginger, turmeric, and other agricultural produce being traded for fish, poultry, or handmade goods, all without a single currency note in sight!
Festivals of Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh is the easternmost state of India, one of its most isolated regions, and the least densely populated areas in the country. It’s also home to many tribes, each with their own customs and traditions and of course, some of the most interesting festivals of Northeast India.
Losar: The New Year Festival
In the crisp winter air, amidst the mesmerizing landscapes of the northeastern Himalayan region, resonates with the vibrant celebrations of Losar – the Tibetan New Year. This isn’t your usual New Year celebration; it’s a festive medley of culture, spirituality, and community bonding that ushers in the New Year with warmth, joy, and of course, a whole lot of traditional fanfare.
Derived from the Tibetan words ‘Lo’ meaning ‘Year’ and ‘Sar’ meaning ‘New’, Losar is usually celebrated in December or January, according to the lunar calendar. But don’t be fooled by the chill in the air; the festival is anything but cold. The vibrant colors, the lively music, and the heartwarming community spirit are sure to warm the cockles of your heart.
Solung: The Agricultural Festival
Draped in the rich cultural tapestry of Arunachal Pradesh, Solung is a vibrant festival that is more than just a celebration; it’s an eloquent ode to the agricultural heritage, community unity, and the time-honored traditions of the Adi tribe. Primarily an agricultural festival, Solung is typically celebrated in the first week of September, heralding the onset of the agricultural season and the monsoon’s bounty through an intricate weave of folklore, spirituality, and community kinship, spanning over five days.
The festival begins with the Solung Gidi Dogin, a day of thorough house cleaning and preparation of Apong, a local rice beer. On the main day, known as Doreph-Long (the day of animal sacrifice), offerings are made to the goddess of crops, Kine Nane, and Doying Bote, the god of wisdom and welfare. These rituals, though steeped in ancient beliefs, are a reflection of the community’s deep respect for nature and its gifts.
Reh Festival (Idu Mishmi Tribe)
Reh Festival, typically celebrated in February, is the Idu Mishmi’s way of paying homage to their supreme deity, ‘Nanyi Inyitaya’. It’s a six-day celebration, brimming with rituals, prayers, community feasting, music, dance, and an unshakeable spirit of unity. But the festival isn’t just about fun and frolic, it’s a profound expression of the tribe’s spiritual beliefs, a beautiful blend of the earthly and the divine.
The preparations begin much in advance, with the construction of a special ‘Reh Kutcha’ hut made from bamboo and wood. This hut serves as the venue for the rituals, a sacred space where the divine and human realms converge. The festival begins with the priest, the ‘Igu’, performing intricate rituals to invoke the divine.
Festivals of Nagaland
Similar to neighboring Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland is known for being home to more than 60 different tribes who all speak different languages, have different cultures, and organize some of the most vibrant festivals in Northeast India.
Hornbill Festival: The Festival of Festivals
Named after the Indian Hornbill, a bird revered in Naga folklore for its significance in social and religious customs, the festival is usually celebrated in the first week of December. The Hornbill Festival is held at the Naga Heritage Village in Kisama, which, during the festival, pulsates with life, culture, and the spirit of unity.
Imagine this: Naga warriors in their traditional attire, their faces painted, performing the vigorous war dance. The air echoing with the sound of traditional drums, bamboo flutes, and folk songs. Tribal huts, known as Morungs, exhibit tribal artifacts, and women weaving intricate Naga shawls. Beyond the cultural showcase, the Hornbill Festival also hosts a myriad of contests and events, from the Naga chilli eating competition, traditional archery, and wrestling to literary events, art installations, and a motor rally.
Moatsu: The Harvest Festival
Typically celebrated in the first week of May, Moatsu Festival marks the completion of the sowing season. After a rigorous period of clearing fields, burning jungles, sowing seeds, and constructing wells, the Ao tribe takes a pause to rejoice and replenish their spirits.
The Sangpangtu ceremony is the highlight of the festival where men and women, adorned in their finest traditional garments, gather around a grand bonfire. Traditional wine flows, succulent pork is shared, and there’s a joyous symphony of song and dance.
Sekrenyi Festival (Angami Tribe)
Celebrated typically in February, Sekrenyi is a 10-day festival that marks the advent of the agricultural season. But don’t let its agricultural association fool you; this festival isn’t just about farming. It’s a profound journey of purification, renewal, and celebration that has echoed through the Naga hills for generations.
The festival begins with a series of purification rituals known as ‘Kizie’. An intricately decorated well is prepared, and the village’s youth ceremoniously fetch water from this well to cleanse their bodies and weapons. It’s a ritual as significant as it is symbolic, believed to wash away impurities and protect against misfortunes. Following this is the ‘Dzuseva’ – a day of introspection and rest, where the villagers refrain from venturing outside or engaging in laborious activities.
Festivals of Manipur
Manipur is known across the northeast for its vibrant folklore and music dances, so it should come as a surprise to no one that there are a few festivals from Manipur that we decided to include in this list of the best festivals of Northeast India.
Yaoshang: The Holi of Manipur
Yaoshang in its essence is the Manipuri version of Holi and is typically celebrated in March over a span of five days. But make no mistake, this isn’t just about splashing colors; it’s a lively medley of cultural traditions, music, dance, and sports. Picture this: The festival begins with the burning of a thatched hut, symbolizing the victory of good over evil. As the flames lick the night sky, people pay homage to the local deity, setting the stage for the merriment that’s to come.
The next day, the town bursts into a riot of colors, singing, dancing, and lots of ‘pichkaris’ squirting colored water but one of the most unique aspects of Yaoshang is the ‘Thabal Chongba’ – a traditional moonlight dance where young boys and girls, holding hands, dance in circles to the rhythm of folk music.
Kut: The Harvest Festival
Kut Festival, also known as Chavang Kut, is celebrated after the harvest in November, marking the end of a cycle of toil and the beginning of a season of plenty. But don’t be fooled by its harvest-festival label. This isn’t just about agricultural bounty; it’s a profound celebration of life, community spirit, and the cultural heritage of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo people.
The festival begins with a grand feast. The air fills with the aroma of delectable dishes as people gather around their festive spreads, their faces glowing with the warmth of shared joy and gratitude. The feast, though a merry affair, is a poignant reminder of nature’s generosity and the fruits of the community’s hard work. What follows is a vibrant carnival of traditional dances and music. The Cheraw (bamboo dance), performed by groups of young women, and the warrior dance, performed by men in their traditional attire, are sights to behold.
Lai Haraoba- Celebration Of Local Deities
Lai Haraoba, literally translating to ‘merriment of the gods’, is typically celebrated in May. The core of the festival lies in the reenactment of the creation myth, a captivating saga weaved into dance and music performances. Imagine this: The Maibi dancers, clad in traditional attire, gracefully narrating the cosmic dance of creation, their movements synchronizing with the soulful rhythm of the Pena (a traditional string instrument). But Lai Haraoba isn’t confined to dance performances. There are boat races, traditional games, and Khongjom Parba (a form of ballad singing) performances.
Festivals Of Mizoram
Known primarily for its lush greenery, vibrant hill stations, and scenic national parks, Mizoram also has a rich culture and hosts some of the most interesting festivals of Northeast India, including…
Mim Kut: The Maize Festival
As the golden hues of autumn cast a warm glow over Mizoram, a festival bubbles with life, color, and a unique blend of celebration and remembrance – the Mim Kut. More than just an annual event, the Mim Kut festival is a joyous thanksgiving for the maize harvest, a vibrant homage to departed loved ones, and a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the Mizo people.
The festival begins with an offering of the first maize harvest to the spirits of the deceased, a practice both poignant and beautiful. As the sun dips below the horizon, the night is aglow with countless lamps illuminating the graves of the departed, casting an ethereal glow over the festivities. But don’t let the somber undertone fool you; Mim Kut is anything but mournful. Once the offerings are made, the air vibrates with the rhythms of traditional music and dance, mainly the Cheraw (bamboo dance) and Solakia (war dance) with dynamic movements and rhythmic beats that weave a mesmerizing tapestry of tradition and celebration.
Chapchar Kut: The Bamboo Harvest Festival
Chapchar Kut is celebrated in March, following the difficult task of Jhum (shifting cultivation) where trees and bushes in the hilly terrains are cleared and burnt for new plantations. But don’t be mistaken by its agricultural underpinning; this festival is a vibrant celebration of life, cultural heritage, and community resilience.
Imagine this: The grand festival commences with the beats of traditional drums and gongs resonating in the air, lending an infectious rhythm to the atmosphere. Clad in vibrant traditional attire, participants engage in an array of folk dances, with the Cheraw or bamboo dance being a mesmerizing highlight. The synchronized clapping of bamboo sticks and the agile movements of the dancers create an entrancing spectacle that embodies the spirit of the festival.
Pawl Kut- Straw Harvest Festival
In the colorful panorama of Mizoram’s cultural tapestry, a festival blooms with joy, gratitude, and a unique celebration of survival – the Pawl Kut. More than just a harvest event, Pawl Kut is an exuberant expression of thanksgiving for the bounty of nature, a commemoration of past hardships, and a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Mizo people.
Pawl Kut, or the ‘Straw Harvest Festival’, is celebrated in December or January, marking the end of the harvest season. But it isn’t just about the agricultural yield; it’s a poignant celebration of life, communal spirit, and the resilience etched into the Mizo history. This vibrant festival traces its origins back to a time of famine when the Mizos were blessed with an unexpected, late crop that saved them from starvation. Today, Pawl Kut is a joyous celebration that pays homage to that miraculous harvest, turning a memory of hardship into a symbol of hope and gratitude.
Festivals of Tripura
Tripura is a state famous for its tea plantations, bamboo products, handicrafts, and impressive traditional wood carvings. As a state with a rich history of agriculture and commerce, every year, Tripura is home to some of the most fascinating festivals of Northeast India.
Kharchi Puja: The Worship Of the Dynasty Deities
Celebrated in July, Kharchi Puja involves the worship of the ‘Chaturdash Devta’ or ‘Fourteen Gods’. But it isn’t just about spiritual devotion; this festival brings together tribal and non-tribal communities, showcasing a rare and harmonious blend of cultural practices and beliefs.
The celebrations are marked by a week-long fair, which is a vibrant medley of cultural performances, traditional games, and local cuisine. The music, ranging from the soulful tunes of ‘Hojagiri’ to the lively beats of ‘Bizu’, fills the air with a captivating charm. The festival is an extravaganza of cultural and religious exchange, with tribes like the Tripuris, Jamatia, Noatia, and others, participating with equal fervor.
Goria Puja: The Chariot Festival
More than just a tribal event, Goria Puja is a celebration of agriculture, a tribute to the deity Goria, and a testament to the strong cultural heritage of the Jhumias, the traditional shifting cultivators of the region. Goria Puja, or the ‘Swing Festival’, is celebrated in April, marking the beginning of the agricultural year. But don’t be misled by its farming roots; Goria Puja is a lively social affair with a deep cultural significance and community spirit.
Picture this: The festival kicks off with the construction of a ‘Chowmohani’, or central structure, around which the festivities revolve. As the initial days’ progress, there’s a palpable excitement in the air…
Poush Sankranti- Celebration Of The Transition Of The Sun
Bringing a wave of warmth in the chilly heart of winter, Poush Sankranti is a radiant celebration in the Bengali calendar. More than just an end-of-harvest festival, it’s a blend of tradition, culinary creativity, and a joyous farewell to the month of Poush (the ninth month of the Bengali calendar, usually falling in January). Poush Sankranti, also known as Makar Sankranti, marks the transition of the sun into the zodiac sign of Capricorn (Makara) and heralds the arrival of longer days.
Food, particularly sweets, plays a central role in this festival. The air is scented with the aroma of ‘Pithe’ and ‘Puli’, traditional sweets made from date palm jaggery, rice flour, and coconut. The making of these delicacies is a family affair, with everyone from the elders to the young ones contributing, turning the act of cooking into a bond-strengthening exercise.
Festivals of Meghalaya
Last but not least, we round up this list of the best festivals of Northeast India with a few additions to our list from the state of Meghalaya, famous for its beautiful mountains and for being one of the richest biodiversity areas in the world.
Wangala: The Harvest Festival
Wangala, also known as the ‘Hundred Drums Festival’, is celebrated in November and is supposed to mark the end of the annual agricultural cycle. The festival is a lively communal affair, deeply rooted in the Garo tribe’s tradition, music, and dance. The festival delivers on its name with more than a hundred drums beating, accompanied by the enchanting melody of flutes and duitaras (Meghalayan guitar-like instruments with four wires), and hundreds of people dressed in colorful attire participating in their traditional dances…
Behdienkhlam: The Monsoon Festival
Behdienkhlam is a spiritual carnival that celebrates the monsoon season and is supposed to bring a fertile season and chase evil spirits away. The festival is celebrated in July and is quite a spectacle. Its name translates to ‘chasing away the plague’ and the purpose of this religious tribal festival is to invoke divine protection against diseases. I know this might sound like a solemn affair but it’s anything but that; the festival is a colorful melee of dance, sports competitions, and good old communal revelry.
Nongkrem Dance Festival
Last but not least, we finish this list of the best festivals of Northeast India with the Nongkrem Dance Festival. The Nongkrem Dance Festival, also known as Ka Pomblang Nongkrem, is celebrated annually in November and represents so much more than just a date on the calendar; the festival is a five-day-long jubilation, deeply rooted in the Khasi tribe’s tradition, spirituality, and the rhythm of nature.
The highlight of the festival is definitely the famous ‘Nongkrem Dance’ after which the festival is named; a vibrant performance where young girls, adorned in gold and silver jewelry with vibrant silk skirts, and men, clad in traditional attire with ornamental feathers, dance in concentric circles to traditional music.
Modern-Day Celebrations Of The Festivals Of Northeast India
Despite globalization and advances in modern technologies, the vibrant festivals of Northeast India remain deeply rooted in local traditions, almost untouched by the winds of modernity. The ancient customs are still celebrated almost the same way they were hundreds of years ago but some contemporary influences have brought about a unique fusion, further adding another intriguing layer to these traditional celebrations.
Hence, these festivals of Northeast India today are not just local events, but have gained national and in some cases, even international recognition. Today, these festivals are a significant platform for cultural exchange, drawing in curious spectators from across the country or even the world. These festivals have also begun to assume a critical role in promoting tourism in Northeast India and significantly contributing to local economies. The festivals also provide a platform for the younger generation to connect with their roots, understand their rich cultural heritage, and carry forward the legacy of their ancestors.
Did you ever hear about any of these festivals of Northeast India? Did you have the chance to attend one of them? Do you know of more such festivals we forgot to include on our list? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Like it? Pin it.