Nyokum – the festival of Mother earth

-Prasenjit Dev

If tradition and culture is India’s soul, then festivals are its ornaments glittering like gems in its crown. India is revered all around the globe for its vivid landscapes, magnificent monuments and temples, wide plethora of cuisines and of course for its colorful festivals. Think of festivals in India, grand celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Id, Durga Puja, etc. comes to your mind, isn’t it? Rarely does anyone consider other grand festivals that are celebrated all across this majestic land. With every state and every changing community, you would come across vibrant festivals that reflect the exquisiteness of seasons.

Being an agriculture centric country, we Indians have a wide range of festivities throughout the year. Especially in the Northeastern region of India, the seven sisters have abundance of unique festivals. Every Northeastern state, ornamented with its unique culture and tradition, is an abode of indigenous faith and religion. Despite the fact that Bihu of Assam has always taken the centre stage, there are other festivals like Hornbill Festival of Nagaland, Lui Ngai Ni of Manipur, Nyokum Festival of Arunachal Pradesh that has gained immense popularity over the last decade or so. And believe me one can find the same vigour and thrill, if witnessed for the first time.

Working as a teacher in Arunachal Pradesh, I have been fortunate enough to witness the lifestyle of different tribes and their unique aboriginal beliefs, traditions and rituals. Placed in East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, it was time to witness the lifestyle of one of its major tribes, i.e. the Nyishi tribe. Renowned for its skillfully woven bamboo artifacts, Nyishi tribe is a prominent tribe of Abo Tani clan and dominates seven out of 25 districts of Arunachal Pradesh. In the month of February, Nyishi community celebrates Nyokum Festival which has grandeur of its own. On 26th February, 2021 we too got the invitation to attend the final day of celebration along with the other school staffs. Dressed in traditional attire we boarded the school van and reached the festival venue in Seppa (headquarter of East Kameng district).

It was the feeling of oneness that left me awestruck the moment I stepped into the festival ground. It seemed like all societal discriminations have been washed away by the festive wave of Nyokum. People from all walks of life gathered to celebrate their much awaited festival ‘Nyokum’, which once their forefathers had started. The vibrancy of the festival could be felt in the air and it looked like everyone was there to have their own share of happiness.
Spanning over three days from 24th to 26th February, Nyukum is a harvest festival that has been celebrated since ages for bumper harvest, prosperity and well-being of all living creatures. The word Nyokum has been derived from two words where Nyo means land ( earth ) and Kum means Puja. Celebrated by all sections of community, Nyokum festival was earlier confined to only respective villages. In the year 1969, it was first celebrated in a large gathering in Joram, and today it is magnificently celebrated in circle and district headquarters where Nyishi community people are in majority.

This three day-long celebration which ends with sacrifice of animals like cow, mithun (wild cow), goat and hen starts with chanting of prayers by the Nyubu (priest). The Nyubu continues the chanting of prayers to invoke Ane Donyi (Mother of Abo Tani Clan) and appease all the deities to keep the human race away from natural calamities and unprecedented hardships.

Cultural programmes, indigenous sports competition are the major highlights which attract a large mass to the festival ground. The last day of celebration in which we were fortunate to take part was no different. In the presence of honorable guest and other government dignitaries, different cultural events were presented. Thousands of men and women dressed up in their traditional attire gathered together and took part in their traditional dance to express their gratitude towards the deities.

Being a part of this celebration made me feel that no matter what people had to say about Northeast, it is the innocence of its people that sparkles through their eyes and the broad smile on their face makes them who they are – the legitimate children of mother Earth. Far away from the hustle and bustle of metro cities, there are places in this country which can offer you best in class entertainment by the means of festival. This blissful experience affirms my belief that the best way of knowing India is to have a glimpse of its colorful festivals.

A teacher by profession, Prasenjit Dev is currently based at Kimi, Arunachal Pradesh, working for Vivekananda Kendra Vidyalaya. He is a blogger and a freelance content-writer.

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