Wangala: The Festival of 100 Drums
The North East of India, with its varied ethnic groups, customs, languages and dresses, has many unique festivals. Agriculture being the main source of livelihood of the region, most of the festivals are linked to agricultural activities, particularly the harvesting time, and these feasts are celebrated with great joy and pride. The Wangala Festival of Meghalaya is the biggest and most popular festival of the Garo tribe and is celebrated as the last, but not in any measure the least, of the agricultural ceremonies of the year. It is a post-harvest festival of thanksgiving held in honour of the deities Misi Saljong and Minima Kiri Rokime who the people believe have blessed them with an opulent harvest during the year. The festival takes place in October or November. It is observed as a “send-off ceremony” to bid farewell to the deities who after the harvest would return to their respective homeland somewhere beyond the universe.
After harvest, the annual dance of joy and thanksgiving commences with a ritual called the Rugala, performed by the Nokma, the village headman or the Chief. He displays a variety of his valuable gongs in rows in a rectangular shape and lines them up one after the other and covers them all with long banana leaves from one end to the other. All agricultural implements are placed beside the central post of the house known as maljuri. Then, the first-hand rice beer is offered to Misi Saljong and Minima Kiri Rokime and poured over the gongs, the agricultural implements and the new crops, as arranged for the function. This is accompanied by the chanting of a series of incantations. After the function is over, everyone eats food, followed by dancing and singing all night long by the young and old to the rhythmic beating of drums.
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Sr Euginia Laloo, FMA, is a member of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco) of Shillong Province. She is currently writing the history of her province and serving as coordinator of social communication. Her interests span photography, graphic designing, reading and writing.