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North East Diaries-Music in our blood!

Munmi Barthakur

People from North Eastern India, I must say have music running through their blood! Deeply embedded in our very souls, music creates the fabric of the DNA of this land. To take you briefly through the history, music defines the culture of this corner of our country and sets it apart from the rest. As a visitor from the US rightly said − the North East is "culturally breathtaking" and its soul-stirring music contributes a substantial part of it!

However, questions have been raised as to why the music of the North East is so different from the rest of the country. One can only wonder if it is because of the influence of the Church? Or perhaps a sudden rebellious streak surfacing; perhaps its defiance against the set, rigid, norms? It is also a fact that in the past, music bands and singers remained confined to shows in the North East. However, the trend seems to be changing and they have more exposure now. In the metropolitan cities, these bands can be seen now entertaining people in the pubs, restaurants, shopping centers and so on. One such band is the Purple Fusion from Nagaland, which has played in big cities and done extremely well for themselves. They have also performed with the likes of Rahul Ram of Indian Ocean fame.

An unfortunate fact is that despite the inherent talent in the musical arena, the region has somewhat lagged behind when it comes to attracting attention at the national level. For instance, the Hornbill Rock Festival of Nagaland, which is surely the biggest domestic music festival has not attracted big sponsors yet. The festival has a huge turnout and people from all over the country attend it with great enthusiasm and pleasure. However, funding by corporates is paltry in comparison to those hosted in cities like Bangalore and Mumbai for instance. Another popular show is the White Lion in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, often coined the Mecca of rock music. The crowd turnout in this show is much larger than other cities. However, to quote a promoter from Nagaland: "The attitudes of certain multinational corporates are staggering." He further states, "Shows which would give them a bigger mileage aren't a priority, but spending lakhs in sponsoring a ghazal evening for big companies needs to be questioned."

To give you a quick overview of the famous Hornbill Festival of Nagaland − it is usually held between 1-10 December every year. The State Tourism and the Art and Culture Departments organize this festival at the Naga Heritage village, Kisama, about 12 kilometers from the capital, Kohima. The various tribes of Nagaland participate here amidst great enthusiasm and fervor.

The festival focuses on showcasing the myriad cultural and traditional avenues of the state in full glory. In other words, it provides a window to tourists of the rich cultural heritage of Nagaland. Besides, the various bands, both domestic and international, performing scintillating musical shows with aplomb, the festival also gives the opportunity to sample the sumptuous Naga food with their distinct flavors put up by various tribes; watch the famous Bamboo dance, colorful display of unusual artefacts grafted out of wood carvings, artfully arranged sculptures and so on!

There are also herbal medicine stalls much like the Chinese, flower arrangement shows, fashion shows, the Miss Nagaland beauty contest, traditional archery, wrestling, indigenous games, religious ceremonies and the much-awaited music concert!

This festival left a lasting impression on me. The ambience is awesome and reflects the vibrant colors which define the Naga people. Named after the Indian Hornbill, the forest bird with the radiant feathers, deeply rooted in the folklore of the various tribes, the festival has earned its hallowed stature. Most Nagas are dependent on agriculture as the main source of livelihood and hence, participation is a must for them!

In fact, the Hornbill Rock festival is reminiscent of country music festivals in the United States. It reminded me of one such festival I had attended in Milwaukee, Wisconsin a few years ago. The infectious, throbbing energy of the people and the mesmerizing country music as well as heavy metal rock music provides the perfect juxtaposition of the myriad forms of music. There is a Night Market much like the one in Bangkok and not to miss is the Naga Chili eating competition and the fun filled pork eating competition which draw huge crowds and add to the excitement!

Tourists are ushered into the festival with the genuine warmth and friendliness so customary to people in the North East. Sixteen gates representing the major tribes are set up and motifs of the respective tribes are engraved on them. There are also tribal morungs (male dormitories), resplendent specimens of different architecture. Lodged inside these are the gigantic log drums, the sound of which reverberates through the town in perfect synchronization.

The festival is an important tourist attraction in Nagaland. Be sure to have your bookings done well in advance to avoid any last minute problem. Nowadays foreigners are not required to acquire the Entry Permit to visit Nagaland. However, they must register themselves with the Foreigner’s Registration Office (District Superintendent of Police) within twenty four hours of their entry into Nagaland. There is a very helpful Information Center located near the festival site from where one can get a brochure listing the various events of the festival. 

Kohima is also well connected by road to the rest of the country. Several private buses operate back and forth from the capital and the fares are nominal. Private taxis are also available. The closest railway link is however from Dimapur, which is connected to the important towns like Guwahati or Kolkata.

The nearest airport is in Dimapur and there are direct flights from Kolkata and Guwahati. From Dimapur, it’s a two hour cab ride to Kohima. Taxis are readily available. However, in case one is in a hurry, there are helicopters which can whisk you across picturesque terrain in just thirty minutes.

Last, but not the least, the Hornbill festival has enhanced and brought into the limelight, the state's rich culture and tradition, as well as the sheer, inherent talent and artistic bend of mind of these simple folk of Nagaland! 

As to the other music festivals and events celebrated in various parts of North-eastern India, I am saving for another day!

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