Wangala: The biggest festival of the Garos

Garos performing the Wangala dance

The Garos are the second biggest indigenous tribe of Meghalaya, the ‘Abode of Clouds’ and one of the ‘Seven Sister’ states in the North East India. Believed by most historians to be the descendants of Tibeto-Burmar race and a Mongoloid stock, the Garos originated from Tibet. Garos, who call themselves ‘Achiks’, are mainly settled in the western part of Meghalaya known as Garo Hills, administratively comprising of five districts. They are also found in Khasi Hills, Nagaland, Assam, West Bengal and Bangladesh.

Mi Goa offering fresh cooked rice to gods
Photo: © Dipu Marak

The Garos have a vibrant culture. One of their cultural identities is their festivals. And Wangala is by far the most popular festival of the Garo tribe. Also known as Drua Wanbola or Wanma Rongchua, Wangala is a post-harvest thanksgiving celebration to the Sun-God of fertility known as Misi Saljong or the Great Giver, also called Pattigipa Ra·rongipa. Since time immemorial, the agrarian tribe has been celebrating the festival to acknowledge God’s blessing for a good harvest.

Celebrated between September and December, the festival lasting for 2-3 days or even up to a week, commences with a ceremonial ritual called the Rugala performed by the Nokma or village chief. Fresh rice beer, cooked rice and vegetables are offered to the god Misi Saljong. On the second day, the Nokma performs the Cha·chat So·a ceremony or the burning of incense at the central pillar of his house to mark the beginning of the Wangala Festival.

Cha·chat So·a ceremony

Then the young and the old dressed in colourful attire (Dakmanda, Daksari or Gando) with feathered headgear (dome) dance to the beats of the indigenous musical instruments of long oval-shaped drums (Damas), gongs (rangs) and the sound of flute made of buffalo horns (a·dil). The dancers, in two parallel lines — one of men and the other of women — rhythmically dance demonstrating the actions of the jhum (shifting) cultivation from the time seeds are sown to the time of harvest.

Katta Doka (talking in a singing style), Ajea, Dani Doka (describing Wangala by singing), the Pomelo (Chambil Mesaa) dance are performed during the festival days. On the final day the Cha·chat So·a (the incense burning ritual) and Dani Doka are performed.

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Albert Thyrniang
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Albert Thyrniang

Albert Thyrniang is the Principal of Don Bosco Higher Secondary School, Tura. He writes regularly for the English daily The Shillong Times and the monthly magazine Youth Today published from Shillong.