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Written by Harnaaz kaur
01 Nov, 2022
Meghalaya, one of the seven sisters is a popular tourist destination due to the diverse beauty it envelopes. Festivals of Meghalaya give the perfect glimpse into this diversity and the local life.
This beautiful hill station provides the most enriching experience for all kinds of people. Be it someone who is a nature lover, adventurer, peace seeker, or simply the tag-along one! With scenic beauty, stunning waterfalls, pitch-dark caves, and aesthetic valleys, it is a full package.
To experience the best of this abode of clouds, plan your backpacking trip around the festivals of Meghalaya. You will get to witness a completely different side of the state with vibrant colors and happiness all around you.
The celebration commences: Autumn
Duration of the Festival: Five Days
This infamous dance festival of Meghalaya is a five-day-long celebration at the Smit, the cultural center of the Khasi Hills. The celebration is in the month of November, every year and all the locals collectively prepare for it with zest.
The major events of this festival involve the sacrifice of a goat by the priest. Additionally, it is offered to ancestors of the ruling clan to the Shillong peak deity. Hence, the name ‘Nongrkrem’, which translates to a goat killing ceremony, comes into place.
Men and Women dolled up in traditional clothing dance to the beats of the drums. The performance involves men being in the outer circle with their swords, and women in the inner circle. Hence, the dance is called Ka Shad Mastieh and Ka Shad Kynthei respectively for men and women.
To add, this festival brings all the locals and tourists together in harmony to make this grand celebration a huge success. Coming together to celebrate this festival of harvest is one of the highlights of the year, and worth experiencing at least once in your lifetime.
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The celebration commences: September to December
Place: Tura in Garo Hill
Duration of the Festival: Two days
This harvest festival of the Garo community is a popular local celebration in Tula town, in the months of September to December. It is a two-day long festival, which stretches up to a week of extravaganza.
Additionally known as the 100 drums festivals of Meghalaya owing to the ritual of 100 drums beat together to celebrate. Garo community remembrance by making offerings to the main deity Saljong – the Sun God. It also marks the end of a long toil period in the field.
The first day of celebration is known as ‘Ragula’ which is conducted within the chief’s abode. Afterward, the next day which is ‘Kakkat’ involves the main performances of dance, music, drums on the sounds of folk songs, and flutes primarily made from buffalo horns.
Dance performed by women is referred to as ‘Dama Dagota’ and is done while wearing traditional clothes. Markedly this festival is a manner for them to protect and enhance their identity and culture, and they display their heritage in their commemorations.
The celebration commences: Mid-November
Duration of the Festival: Two to four days
Getting to experience Meghalaya in pink can be done only during this beautiful Cherry Blossom festival. Starting around mid of November annually in the capital of Meghalaya, Shillong. It is a two to four days long celebration.
This festival of Meghalaya is similar to what is organized in China and Japan. Nevertheless, people all over the world join in to witness this aesthetically pleasing and soothing event. It makes Shillong look straight from a rom-com movie scene.
The cherry blossom festival of shillong represents the fleeting life’s nature in Buddhism. Additionally, it is locally known as wild Himalayan cherry and sour cherry. Interestingly, the Cherry blossom has great significance in Hinduism as it is linked with Vishnu and Shiva.
It is the most vibrant and picturesque festival which can be best witnessed at Ward’s Lake, Polo Ground, and Shillong Golf Course. Undeniably indulging in a road trip in and around Shillong to catch a glimpse of these blooming trees will make up for a great trip.
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The celebration commences: In April
Place: Weiking Grounds
Duration of the Festival: Three Days
This three-day-long celebration of thanksgiving is a special way to extend gratitude. It can be observed in the month of April at Weiking grounds. Significantly the festival means ‘The Dance of Peaceful Hearts’.
According to the Khasi community, god exists in every creature of the world and they don’t leave any stone unturned when it comes to the celebration of it. In addition, The Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem dance, which is performed to the rhythms of drums, cymbals, and the piping sound of Tangmuri, is an essential part of Khasi heritage.
The extravaganza begins with ‘Shad Nahkjat’ which is like an introductory dance followed by prayers held at Seng Hall Wankhar. Shortly after it, the evening event commences with ‘Shad Wait’ wherein one can witness the equal contribution of men and women in the dance celebration. Lastly, there is ‘Shad Mastich’ referring to the warrior dance.
Lastly, this festival of Meghalaya comes to an end on the third day. All of the performers and attendees say their farewells to the celebration by orbiting the ground three times and afterward dancing their way back.
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The celebration commences: In July
Place: Jaintia Hills villages and Jowai town
Duration of the Festival: Four days
The Festival of Behdienkhlam is celebrated annually in the month of July after the sowing period. It is celebrated by the Jaintia tribes and can be witnessed in Jowai town and the Jaintia Hills villages. Correspondingly the ceremony lasts for about four days.
The word Behdienkhlam signifies ‘to drive away the evil spirits/demons of plagues/cholera.’ Interestingly, it is also an expression of God, asking for his graces on a bountiful harvest and protection from evil spirits. Each village in Jaintia crafts tall structures out of bamboo which is known as ‘raths’ or ‘rots’. These are decorated before the procession into the sacred pool that is known as ‘Aitnar’ by men.
The celebration begins with sacrificing a pig to the thunder god, known as ‘Knia Pyrthat’. Shortly after this, Wasan heads towards the sacred forest while ringing the bell. There are many rituals involved in the celebration such as the hanging of ‘Khnong’ (a piece of the fallen tree trunks in the sacred forests) in front of houses which is pulled down on the last day.
To add, Dad-Lawakor which is a game with a wooden ball is also played and the winner is said to obtain special godly blessings. In a ritual known as ‘Cher iung blai,’ demons are killed symbolically in a grass and bamboo thatched hut. Male tribe members enter the thatched hut with weapons in hand, symbolically killing the demons within.
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The celebration commences: February
Place: Umsning and Sohliya village in Ri-Bhoi district
Duration of the Festival: A couple of days
Modern festivals of Meghalaya include the Strawberry Festival which is held at Umsning and Sohliya village in Ri-Bhoi district in the month of love which is February. The glamorous celebration lasts for about a couple of days.
While the world celebrates valentine’s with red roses, the people of Meghalaya celebrate it with red juicy strawberries. It is a beautiful celebration to bring people together and enjoy themselves to the fullest.
The major significance of this festival is to promote the growth of strawberries as Meghalaya provides the best climate conditions for it. To add, it also helps to appreciate the farmers growing this fruit and support the economy.
It provides the perfect opportunity to interact with locals and get to know about the culture of it while enjoying tasteful strawberries. Indeed it is one-kind-of-experience that only can be witnessed in Meghalaya.
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Q1. When is the best time to visit Meghalaya for festivals?
Meghalaya hosts several festivals throughout the year, but the best time to visit for festivals is during the months of October to December. This period includes popular festivals like the Wangala Festival and the Nongkrem Dance Festival.
Q2. How can I witness the Nongkrem Dance Festival?
The Nongkrem Dance Festival is a significant festival of the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya. It usually takes place in November at the Smit village near Shillong. To witness this festival, you can visit the village during the festival dates and enjoy the mesmerizing traditional dance performances and rituals.
Q3. Are there any music festivals in Meghalaya?
Yes, Meghalaya is known for its vibrant music scene and hosts various music festivals. The most famous one is the NH7 Weekender, a multi-genre music festival held annually in Shillong. It attracts renowned national and international artists, making it a must-visit for music enthusiasts.
Q4. Is there anything specific that I should be aware of whilst attending the festivals in Meghalaya?
Yes, it is important to be respectful and follow the local customs such as dressing appropriately, not touching the head of a local, removing your shoes when entering a local’s home, and avoiding taking pictures of people without their consent.
Q5. Are there any traditional games or activities during the festivals in Meghalaya?
Yes, there are traditional games and activities such as traditional games like Archery, Wrestling, and Wood Chop. It is also a good opportunity to see the traditional dances and music of Meghalaya.
Q6. What is the best package for Meghalaya to see these festivals?
The best package for Meghalaya is Meghalaya backpacking. The 6-day long journey starts and ends at Guwahati Airport.
That’s a wrap for the festivals of Meghalaya that are a must for your next backpacking trip to Meghalaya. The vibrant and cheerful culture is best witnessed at festivals. Join us!
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