Nagaland became a full-fledged state on 1 December, 1963. On this occasion, the Hornbill Festival is organised every year. This celebration goes on for 10 days and one gets to see a myriad of shades of different sets of cultural heritage, lifestyle and the lush green Naga Bhumi.
The festival is organised in Kisma village in Shillong, the capital of Nagaland. Thousands of tourists from all over the world come to visit here. It’s full-on entertainment for 10 continuous days. Enthusiastic dances of Naga youth, rhythmic songs, colourful traditional attires, beads and necklaces, earrings and other ornaments perfectly suit their robust build and body language.
The beautifully decorated sharp spears in their hands are a centre of attraction and make one dance to its swinging tunes. Nagaland has little flat surface, so a separate temporary stadium is constructed for the festival.
The state government has creatively utilised the space and made a heritage village to showcase their traditional Naga culture and practices. The sides of this village are studded with traditional Bamboo shops selling local delicacies and handicrafts.
One gets to see numerous styles of Naga architecture. Every tribe’s household has its emblem marked at the top of the house, and daily use articles are beautifully decorated. The raw materials used for construction are locally available — bamboo, grass, soil, wood and stones. Humans, Tigers, Elephants, Hornbill Birds, Python, Mithun bird, etc., are imprinted as images on doors and windows.
One gets to see different styles of buildings from almost 16 different Naga tribes. Every hut also has separate spaces for living, utensils, grains storage, meat drying, etc. The traditional rice beer made from rice is the local favourite. During the festival, it’s widely consumed.
Daily, people from various tribes present their arts from the main gate and welcome visitors happily standing on both sides of the road. The Hornbill festival sees participation from all 16 naga tribes, from locals to highly educated people who have settled outside the state. Their vigour and energy are highly visible through their performances.
A special attraction is a cap made from hornbill feathers worn by both men and women. The Nagas are a good host and warmly welcome their guests. They are culturally artistic, reflected in every aspect of their life, from costumes to house building. The ladies sew their dresses, caps, shawls and jackets.
The Nagas have successfully preserved their ancient cultures and skills. Over 21% of the total area of Nagaland is under forest cover. The weather is mostly cool due to evergreen forests. October to June is the best period for tourism.
The pleasant climate of the place earned it the title of “Switzerland of the East” from the British. The sun sets at 5 in the evening and rises at around 4 in the morning. Early to bed early to rise is something the Nagas have naturally followed for ages.
The Hornbill bird is now endangered in the state. This bird, a.k.a. Dhanesh in Maharashtra, is also found in Konkan and other areas of the state. The beak of the hornbill and its long black feathers have a huge importance in Naga culture.
The cap made from these is considered to be a symbol of prosperity and high status. This cap is also given as a marriage gift to the bridegroom.
In ancient times, it was given as a prize to the winners of headhunting battles. But that then led to large scale hunting of the Hornbill bird and their population declined. Now its hunting has been banned by law and as a symbolic gesture, the popular festival has been named after the bird.