Tuesday, April 24, 2012

North East Chronicles 12 : Nagaland - Joie de vivre!

Nagaland - the land of Nagas.  The first time I read about Nagaland was at my school.   There was this 'Tamil' traveller who had seen those yester-year horizons.   This guy, Sadhuvan, was a trader.

Sadhuvan discovered the
hospitality of Nagas, washed ashore
It seems that he was sailing towards the South Eastern Nations, mostly towards, Thailand, and his sail were blown to smithereens by an unkind tempest.  All lost and unconscious, Sadhuvan washed up on the shores - somewhere near today's Bangladesh.  He was recovered and helped to recuperate by people who were seen with a 'Naga' emblem.  Later, he recounts, the way he learnt the language and was able to connect with the 'Nagas'.  Just as I discovered, this is part of  Tamil Legend called 'Manimekalai'.   This Sadhuvan seemed to have wallowed in

This among many legends including the Chinese travelers have talked about the influence of Buddhism and other external religions into the Naga culture.   The culture has survived multiple onslaughts thus and has survived.

History of Nagaland:

The early part of Nagaland is the story of Naga tribes.  Most of these Naga tribes are mountainous and were at constant war with the neighboring clans.  The artifacts show that there was a brief interlude of the Kachari Kingdom here.   The word 'Nagas' mean literally clothless.   

The Burmese occupied Nagaland in the early 1800's.   As British occupied Assam in 1826, Nagaland became part of Assam.  Under the influence of the Christian Missionaries, many tribals got converted to Christianity, which is now the main religion in these parts.   
The battle of the Tennis Court -
present day look!

Imperial Japan, an Axis power during the World War II, had captured Burma from the British-India.   After lot of difficulties in getting approvals from his HQ, the Japanese commander of the region, decided to attack India especially occupy the Brahmaputra valley.   Having a friendly government in the form of Indian National Army, led by Subhash Chandra Bose was an exciting idea. 

The battle of Tennis court - Kohima
the war days!
The battle of Kohima, in which the forces of British India defeated the Japanese Imperial Army in a 3 month stand-off, including the battle of the Tennis court, a 22 day battle fought in close quarters - was the largest defeat of the Japanese army.  This battle is called the 'Stalingrad of the east'.   The results of the battle, defeated the efforts of the Indian National Army ( INA) led by Subhash Chandra Bose to built an independent India by force.   Technically the battle could have forced an early British exit, if history had turned left! 

Post India's freedom, Nagaland was part of the state of Assam.  There was lot of efforts from Nagaland tribes to move out of the Indian Federation.  Post multiple discussions between the tribal representatives and the Indian Government, Nagaland became a state in 1962.   Even after that, there was struggle by indigenous groups to gain independence - especially around by the NSCN.  In the 1990's, a ceasefire brought a much-needed calm.   Still there are still inter-tribe clashes between Nagas and Kukis- that, I understood is the basic issue around Nagaland and Manipur.  

The people, language and culture:

The people of Naga, belong to the Mongoloid race.  The cultural kaleidoscope, that is Nagaland is famous considering that there are 16 tribes.  Some of the prominent tribes are Chakhesang, Angami, Zeliang, Ao, Sangtam, Yimchunger, Chang, Sema, Lotha, Khemungan, Rengma, Konyak, Pochury and Phom.

Essentially from the Tibeto-Burmese sect,  a language called Nagamese unites them which is like a potpourri of Assamese and the basic Naga tribal dialects.  Christianity is the main religion ( about 90% of populace is Christian) and is seen as the major leveling factor among the Nagas.

The Naga used to practice 'head hunting' -a widespread tribal practice that spans across the globe.   A head counter cuts off and preserves the head of the vanquished as a symbol of victory, slavery and manhood.

Marriage practices in Nagaland are strange and vary from tribe to tribe. Some of the tribes are exogamous.  In some tribes, they are polygamous - the man marries up to 6 girls.   In some tribes, there is more liberalization on this subject.  The girl can reject a man if she senses non-feasibility, infidelity or in-auspiciousness.   In another tribe, the girl and the boy embark on a 3 week journey, and the result of the journey determines the marriage.   Such exciting are the different marital practices of these colorful peoples.
Hornbill festival - drums and dance!

The famous 'hornbill' festival is celebrated for a week in December around the concept of Hornbill the common bird that unites and represents all the tribes of Nagaland.  In 2000, the government of Nagaland started sponsoring this event.  Other festivals have very unique rituals.  The Rengma Ngadah, Moatsu festivals for their rice beer ( *slurp*), the musical Nazu festival,  are celebrated in all happiness and harmony, and known for their gaiety and grandeur.


The Hornbill dance!
Nagaland is mountainous in nature. The Naga range starts from the Brahmaputra valley and merges in the Patkai range of Burma.  The intersection is the tallest peak in Nagaland - Saramati.   The rivers Doyang, Diphu flow through the state.

The Blyths Tragopan - the state bird
The state, with 20% of rich tropical forest land, is a host to a wide variety of flora and fauna.  The  Great Indian Hornbill is a famous bird here.   The Blyths Tragopan, a vulnerable pheasant is the State Bird of Nagaland.   The wide-horned bull, called Mithun is the State Animal of Nagaland. 

Tourism Nagaland:

Nagaland is a place of adventures - trekking, climbing, camping and exploration are some of the key tourist interests.   

The Kachari Ruins - Dimapur
Dimapur - means the large city by the river was the capital of the Kachari Kingdom.   The most significant tourist spot in Dimapur is the medieval ruins of this famous kingdom - a combination of embankments, temples ( mostly Hindu, but non-Aryan) and baths.

Kohima - was the battleground of the Indo-British and Japanese forces.  Around 45000 Japanese soldiers died and 17500 Indo-British soldiers died.   The battle of Kohima was one of the most bitter and longest battles in the history of World War II - Asia Pacific Theater.   Some battles lasted as long as three months.  The Cemetery here is one of the largest in these parts - in memorium, the British quoted '“When you go home, tell them of us, and say: ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today.’
The Kohima Cathedral 


The Kohima Cathedral is the largest in Asia.  It served as the political bedrock of political agreements and the state's destiny.  The Cathedral has a capacity to seat 3,000 seats in the main citadel and can accommodate 20,000 in all.  The Japanese contributed towards the completion of this church's construction. A marvelous piece of architectural specimen, it is a place to visit.
Mt. Saramati, the largest non-
Himalayan peak
The Saramati peak, which is more than 3841 m, is the tallest non-Himalayan peak of India.   It is covered with snow between December and January.   This is ideal for trekking and scaling during the non-winter seasons.  The second and third tallest peaks are the Vedh and Mt. Pauna. 

Mt. Pfutsero or Glory peak
Another interesting peak is the Pfutsero or the Glory peak.   This houses the coldest town in Nagaland - Pfutsero.  From the echelons of this peak, one can see Mt. Everest in the west and Mt. Saramati in the East.

There is a salt river, a hot air blowing tunnel, wild-life sanctuary etc., in the Kiphire district. 

The Dzokhu valley is a trekker's paradise. Such is the intoxicating cocktail of flora and fauna is a place where nature itself seeks refuge.  This valley, with its adaptive name as Bingle valley has been immortalized by Vikram Seth in the poem entitled “The Elephant and the Tragopan”

There are various interesting tribal villages across the state.  Such is the diversity among the customs, legends and myths, it will take a life time to visit and assimilate what we see, hear and taste.

  1. Diezephe Craft Village houses expert weavers and craftsmen, deft in the arts of woodcarving, bamboo and cane works.  A place to watch. 
  2. The Khonoma village is the place for eco-tourism - a model village, because of its eco-friendly garbage disposal practices and rich flora and fauna.  This also is the place of Naga's last stand against British in 1879.
  3. Kohima village was established by a man called Whinuo hence Kewhira, the original name. Legend has it that he heard the sound of life - children and death - morning in this place.  He believed the sound of life to be a good omen and settled down.  This is also called the 'Bara Basti'  ( large settlement), and is indeed one of the largest villages in Asia.  It is said that the village has seven gateways adorn by bull horns.
  4. The Ungma village is a living artifect of the Ao tribe and the second largest village of Nagaland.  
  5. The Longwa village, in the Mon district, falls on either side of the Myanmar-India border.  The Anghs - chiefs and the villagers enjoy dual citizenship!
  6. The Shangnyu village, part of the Mon district, has artifects that reflect the connection of the Ahom and the Shangnyu tribes.    
  7. Mt Pauna - tourist village has been specially designed for eco-tourism - with natural monoliths, warm water springs etc., 
  8. The Changsangmongko village is considered to the origin of earth by the Chang tribe.  There was a hole on the earth in which all earthlings came out.  They did not have bones in their body, were innocent and could not separate good and evil.  After few eons, this place became the decision making place for all disputes.   
  9. In August 1978, Chilise was the last place in India where head-hunting was discovered.  In 1962, some thirty heads of this village were hunted down by others out of suspicion that there of their heads been hunted by this village. 

Display of hunted skulls!

A head hunting tribe of Nagaland



Life in Nagaland is one long festival. The tribes, the villages, the flora and fauna are part of it - times of  Nature has blessed these people with little needs and loads of happiness.   Viva la joie, joie de vivre a la Nagaland!  


( This is a very basic attempt to kindle the reader's interest in Nagaland - it is worth a travel, again and again.    It is a little unnerving to find out such rich peoples have been discarded - historically, and otherwise).  


- The One 


 ( Pics Courtesy Internet)






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