India is home to a wide many number of tribes, all of whom have their own culture and identity. Naturally then, the distinctive way of life of these tribes translate also in their myriad observances and festivals. While the tribal identity of India rests in some hugely popular celebrations, there also exist parallely some lesser known festivals that celebrate equally unique manifestations. Here are some such lesser known tribal festivals of India you need to discover for reveling in the true spirit of India-
Sume-Gelirak Festival, Odisha
Celebrated by the Bondas of Koraput in Odisha is one of the many tribal festivals of India, the Sume- Gelirak festival. A ten day annual rendezvous in January, this is a festival with a really interesting premise. Starting on a Sunday, the festival begins with rituals, prayers and sacrifices before proceeding to some really unusual customs. The Bonda men and women make dancing expeditions to neighbouring villages, during the course of which they even get to choose their life partners! Appeasing the deities with liquor and the castigation custom are some other rituals unique to this tribal festival.
Sekrenyi Festival, Nagaland
A festival of the Angami tribe in the northeastern state of Nagaland in India is a celebration known as Sekrenyi. Again a ten day affair commencing every year in February, this is a purification festival held to wash off all past sins. Elaborate traditional rituals mark the festival that which is also significant in being an identity marker of the Angami Nagas. Singing and feasting also play part of the festival which also holds in its folds the occasion of the Angami New Year.
Madai Festival, Chhattisgarh
One of the most encompassing of tribal festivals of India is the Madai Festival of Chhattisgarh. Celebrated with fanfare by the Gond tribe, the festival sees widespread participation by tribals across different areas of the state. From worshiping the presiding deity to engaging in cultural revelry, this is a festival that holds both religious and social significance for one of the largest tribal presences in India, known also for its exquisite tribal art. Celebrations begin from the month of December and continue unto March, characterising a festival so rooted in traditions and customs that has become popular all over India.
Bhagoria Festival, Madhya Pradesh
Native to Madhya Pradesh but also celebrated in some adjoining areas in Maharashtra is the Bhagoria Festival, another of the tribal festivals of India. A harvest festival, Bhagori remains essentially rooted in traditions and is celebrated some days prior to Holi. A weeklong festival that also marks the advent of spring, Bhangoria Hatt festival is celebrated by tribes like Bhil, Bhilala, Barela et al. In fact the festival sees its culmination with Holika Dahan, asserting its identity as a festival that has deep roots and origins in numerous legends. Like the Sume- Gerilak festival, this also is a festival that sees young men and women choose their life partners and even elope as an accepted form of ritual.
Another of the harvest festivals to dominate the myriad of tribal celebrations in India is Puttari of the Kodavas. Literally meaning new rice, this year end celebration is the rice harvest festival that is celebrated in customary tradition. Special celebratory foods mark the occasion that which sees the people proceed to the field in a procession to reap the new harvest. The first rice is offered to the Gods even as youngsters engage in revelry and feasts to mark this highly significant observance in Karnataka.
Sarhul festival, Jharkhand
One of the states in India that is known for its tribal population, Jharkhand plays host to quite some unique festivals. One such occasion is the spring festival of Sarhul, also called Baa Porob or Flower Festival in the Kolhan region. As trees start bearing flowers, villagers take to singing and dancing to celebrate the exuberance of a nature in full bloom. The presiding deity Sarna is worshiped by worshiping the saal tree, which is considered to be the abode of the Goddess. Prayers are chanted and drums are beaten even as flowers are distributed by the priest to every villager in a mark of brotherhood and friendship. The rice beer Handia is the customary prasad of the Saal puja, that which is also looked upon as the festival of great happiness.
The festival of the warrior tribe Kodava, Kail Poldu is a rather prominent celebratory affair in Coorg in Karnataka. In its essence, this is a festival that sees the Kodavas congregate annually in honour of their weapons, that which serve as the lifeline of their tribe. Held in the first week of September, Kali Poldu is significant in being a festival that marks the season during which the Kodavas prepare their weapons for guarding their crop from wild animals. Sumptuous feasts and shooting competitions traditionally follow the weapon worshiping and cleaning ritual in this among the many tribal festivals India celebrates every year.
Thisam Phanit, Manipur
One among the really diversive tribal festivals that India witnesses takes place in the state of Manipur. Observed by the Tangkhuls and the Naga Tribes, this is the Thisam Phanit Festival or the festival of the dead. Over a period of twelve days in the month of January, Thisam festival entertains the belief that the souls of the dead gets entry into the afterlife only after a ritualistic farewell ceremony. From prepping the plate for the dead ‘Thikong’ to seeing them off as ‘kazei rata’, the Thisam Phanit festival sees a number of sober rituals and customs sending off the dead souls religiously and traditionally.
Among the tribal festivals of India that celebrate the bounty of a good harvest is Sohrai. An annual occasion that coincides with Diwali, Sohrai is celebrated by a number of tribes like the Santhals, Mundas, Kurmis in various states of the country. Particularly in Jharkhand and West Bengal, Sohrai celebrations are most popular. A feast is held in the honour of the cattle after they are bathed, as a mark of gratitude and affection for the livestock. The festival is also notable for being the heralder of the sohrai khovar form of tribal arts, that finds artistic expression during the festival.
Nyokum, Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pardesh takes centerstage this time as yet another of the north east Indian states playing host to one of the tribal festivals in India. Nyokum is a festival of the Nyishis, celebrated for better productivity, prosperity and happiness of all human beings on earth. In its close connect to cultivation, Nyokum is as much a culturally and socially significant festival as it is a religious observance. Invoking the Nyokum Goddess for her blessings, even as the festival itself may very well be interpreted as inviting all the Gods and Goddesses of the universe, Nyokum sees animal sacrifice, singing and dancing as the customary observances. Traditional clothes and jewelry dominate the festivities that which make for one grand celebration in Arunachal Pradesh.
Barash, Daman and Diu
In the union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli in India, the Kokna and Varli tribes celebrate a festival called Barash. An annual celebration in September that is almost akin to the Diwali festivities elsewhere in the country, Barash however is somewhat different. Observed with great pomp and gaiety, the festival is somewhat peculiar in that it sees the tribal people abstaining from the consumption of home cooked beans till after the festival is celebrated.
Hornbill Festival, Nagaland
Nagaland’s famed year ending celebrations might not be exactly one of the tribal festivals of India but in its broad encompassment, the Hornbill Festival is a rather amalgamated wonder. Organized by the Government of Nagaland every year in the first week of December, the festival is a means to promote inter- tribal interaction as well as the cultural heritage of the state that is inhabited by a wide many tribes. From exploration of cultures to showcasing of the traditional arts, the festival has gained immense popularity to emerge as one of the most popular festivals of north east India. As a festival that harbours the collective compendium of many tribes however, this iconic festival remains a lesser explored celebration in essence.