Apatani, Apatani sacred hairpin, Apong, Arunachal Pradesh, Daminda, Danyi, Dree, Dree Agiyang, Dree Nyibus, Gaon Buras, Lecha, Meder, Mepin, Metii, Mithun, Nenchalya, Ranii Akhii, Tamu, Tapyo, Traditional Apatani wrestling, Ziro
Ziro, the beautiful valley in Arunachal Pradesh, is home to the Apatani tribe. I got an opportunity to visit this picturesque valley and meet lovely people on one of their important festival ‘Dree’. The beauty of the Ziro valley can’t be described in words. It is the perfect landscape that I used to picture in my childhood when someone instructed me to do some painting. But with no love for painting I was never able to bring it on my drawing book. I was awestruck by this scenic view in front of my eyes all the time – The blue and green mountains surrounding the verdant green of the paddy field, the blue sky with white clouds, bamboo huts, the lush green dense forest – amazing display of colours. It looked as if someone has edited and saturated the colours in photoshop – Nature would have done it 😉
The Apatanis (the main tribe living in this valley) perform a series of rituals and festivals from sowing to the harvesting phase of agriculture for a bumper yield of crop. Chandii Tamu rite is performed during the sowing period, Dree during every growing periods of crops and Yapung just before the harvest. Dree has become one of the major festival for Apatanis. And I was in right time for the festival.Dree in olden days used to be celebrated on a small scale in every village by the Gaon Buras(leaders) of that village. But since 1967 it has been celebrated at a centralized place in order to bring together not only Apatanis but other communities as well. Dree is officially celebrated at Nenchalya ground in Ziro from 4th to 6th July. Celebration and festivities start on 4th July with dance performance by children, young and old, traditional wrestling performance and food stalls at the ground. During Dree people are allowed to gamble. Special stalls are put up where you can see crowd of young and old men thronging the whole day. On 4th evening priests of each village inaugurates Dree festival at their villages. If you walk through different villages in Ziro, groups of elderly men can be seen doing preparations for the main rituals next day. The Dree committee takes the opportunity to get people experience the traditional wrestling of Apatanis. The food stalls are set up at the Dree ground. People from different villages put up their stall with Apatani specialties. But you could also see some influence of Chinese food.The evening of 4th July is a dance performance by small kids, students and young. The special performance was the folk dances by Apatani young and old ladies. It was a lovely night with such good music and dance. 5th July is the main day of Dree Festival. Morning started with a good rain as if god was showering blessings on the Apatanis. The main ritual starts with getting the Mithun at the ritual place. Mithun is a semi-domesticated animal which is the main sacrifice for the Dree ritual.The Gaon Buras( leaders of each village) of the villages and the Dree Nyibus (the priests who would perform the Dree rituals) arrive in their traditional Apatani dresses. The Gaon Buras assembled at the ritual place waiting for the Dree Nyibus to arrive and start the main function.The Dree Nyibus arrive to start the rituals.One of the Dree Nyibus in traditional Lecha which is made from a particular tree and is worn during rituals and was also used as a rain shield during their visit to jungles.The Dree Nyibu is setting up all the gods and sacrifices for the rituals performance.The Head Priest is ready in his traditional priest costume. The Dree Agiyang, the main altar where all the rituals of Dree happens, was installed in 1967 once Nenchalya was chosen as central place for Dree festival. Sacrificing fowls and eggs are a part of the ritual.That is rice beer in the plastic bottle which is served to the gods while the rituals is happening. Nowadays they have started using plastic bottles but traditionally they had been using bamboo made vessel. This was little disappointing to see how plastic bottles have started becoming a part of everyone’s daily life even at this remote town.
During the Dree festival five main altars were installed and worshipped – Danyi, Metii, Tamu, Mepin and Meder. The deities are made by the priests using bamboos.
As few priests are performing rituals, other priests and Gaon Buras were onlookers. Ranii Akhii, the sacred hairpin (the white one) is said to be brought by the Apatanis from the war expedition. Dree festival is the only occasion when it is brought to the open. I was told the common people are not allowed to touch this as it can bring curses on people who touch it.
The priest starts with chanting and offering Apong (rice beer) to the deities. The head priest also starts chanting and preparing for the sacrificing of fowl. The fowl is smeared with Apong(rice beer) before it is sacrificed.
The priest chants, sacrifices the fowl and again continued the chanting. Other priests also perform the rituals at the other deities that are installed. Fowls and chicks are sacrificed as an offer to the deity. Eggs, rice beer and Tapyo (their indigenous salt) are also offered.After the fowl is sacrificed, the priest takes a look at the liver of the chicken and predicts the future of the Apatani agriculture for the year. For this year the priest predicted a good crop. People are offered Tapyo. Tapyo is an indigenous salt prepared by the Apatanis. It is made from the ashes of certain plant. They have been using this before they were introduced to the iodized salt. Once the fowls and chicks are sacrificed, its the time for the sacrifice of the Mithun. The axe which has to be used for the sacrifice is also worshiped. It is smeared with a paste of Yatang(rice powder) mixed with rice beer and then kept at the main altar.Mithun has to be sacrificed by someone who can do it in one shot. It has to be struck by the ax such that it dies at once without being in much pain. If the Mithun cries in pain, it is considered to be a omen. Before 1967, Mithun was not the part of the sacrifice. The custom of sacrificing Mithun has only been followed by the Apatani since 1967. Next day the meat of the sacrificed Mithun would be cooked and a community feast happens at the Dree ground where all members of the Apatani community eat together. Once the Mithun is sacrificed, the Dree flag is hoisted by the Chief Guest. And then follows the Apatani’s most popular folk dance ‘Daminda’. It is the welcome dance which marks the beginning and end of Dree festival. The dance is performed to the tune of Daminda Biisi (traditional ballad) recounting the origin of the festival, welcoming the guests to participate, entreating the God of Agriculture for a bumper harvest and prosperity for the whole mankind.Beautiful Apatani ladies and kids were all dressed in their traditional costumes and jewellery and enjoying the dance performance.
There were other wonderful dance performance by the Apatani boys and girls. One of the special features of Dree this time was revival of traditional sports of the Apatanis. One of them was how Apatani males used to go to forest, cut tree woods and bring it back to the village which is now not practiced. Cucumber, Yatang and Apong(rice beer) is offered to everyone at the ground as ‘prasad’. Yatang is rice pudding cooked in bamboo. It was yum. The celebration ended with the Daminda with others too joining in and tapping to such a synchronized dance.
But the festival did not come to an end. The evening was more colourful and bright with the Miss Apatani Beauty Contest. Beautiful ladies showcasing their culture and how it has blended beautifully with the modern world. For next five days after the festival Apatanis are not allowed to work in the fields and even they are not allowed to enter the forest. It is believed that if the observance of these taboos are violated, it will bring curse for the tribe.
To me, the Dree festival was a lot more than just an annual affair of community get together. To me it was a window to experience a beautiful part of the world, rich in tradition with its unique identity and culture. It is a beautiful way to bring awareness about the cultural heritage of the Apatani tribe. The experience just increased multi-fold when one lives and stays with the warmth of such hospitable group of people.
Have you been to Dree festival or any other festival observed by the tribes of North East or any part of India?Share your experience with us.
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