Where Hospitality Is Religion
Tucked well within the northeastern hills, the culture of Mizoram evolved independent of outside influence. Originating from a hunting-gathering society, the various tribal festival too centred around the society, the various tribal festivals too centred around the society's relationship with the passing of season.
Chapchar Kut - The spring Festival
It was just after dawn. Golden sunlight poured over the forested hills, wisps of woodsmoke arose from the kitchen chimneys to merge with the bits of grey mists floating around like balls of cottonwool. The green backed hillsides dovetailed with each other forming an endless wavy pattern, marked here and thereby barren rock faces or a gushing stream of silver white water. Little birds twittered merrily, their joyful chorus heralding the onset of the spring season. Far down below, the plains of northern India were getting ready to observe another colourful Holi while here in Mizoram, it was time to celebrate Chapchar Kut - a spring festival with a difference. In local parlance, 'Kut ' means festival.
Westernized influence brought in by the Christian missionaries and the politically turbulent period soon after Indian independence pushed traditional Mizo culture to the brink. It was at this juncture that a section of the Mizo society realized the need to revive the traditional culture and the young Mizo association was born. With a centre in every town and major village, the YMA has been slowly infusing the society with the traditional lifestyle and customs.
A Blend Of Traditional Music And Costumes
Every year, the YMA organises the Chapchar Kut festival in spring, showcasing the pomp and pageantry of yore. Usually held in early march, the seven-day festival is held at the stadium next to the Assam rifles ground, located in the heart of Aizawl town.
School children and youth club members prepare for these festival months in advance. Colourfully attired in their tribal regalia, complete with feathered headdresses, jewellery, weapons and other props, participating groups assemble at the stadium early in the morning. The festival begins with "Kut Puipate" or the inauguration ceremony where the visiting dignitaries give speeches and formally declare the festival open. This is followed by the then 'Katna' or the time when the dance groups arrange themselves in the stadium, putting final touches to their dress, make up or formations.
Meanwhile, Mizo singers enthrall the crowd with their special renderings. The whole place soon turns into a riot of colour as the then 'Hnihna' begins. The elderly members of the society come dressed in their traditional costumes, representing the individual tribes of the region and take part in a fantastic procession called the "Kut Rore". This is followed by the various tribal dances, the most important being the 'Cheraw' or the bamboo dance. The nimble-footed female dancers jump in perfect unison and rhythm as the men clap the bamboo sticks around their feet and sing loudly. In the "Khuangchawi", a little boy is carried in a bamboo sedan chair by a colourful-attired group of people amidst loud cheers-an event reminiscent of the times when the tribal chieftain used to be carried by his men after a successful hunt.
The function ends with the then "Thumna" or the event where the local singers once again present the traditional popular numbers and are joined by the cheering crowd.
According to legend, the Chapchar Kut originated when the thoughtfulness of a tribal chieftain saved his tribe from degenerating into a good for nothing society. It is said that once the male members of this tribe returned empty handed from a big hunt. This made everybody embarrassed and depressed. The chief, seeing his people so downcast, invited the young men and women to a lavish party and served them with the traditional rice beer and meat preparations. Soon the party and served them with the traditional rice beer and meat preparations. Soon the party broke into a happy mood, singing and dancing into the night. The rest of the people joined them and the crowd spilled over to the field. The people were once again happy and resumed their work.
Gradually the festival became an annual event, celebrated during spring. Mizoram being a mountainous and forested land, the people followed the "Jhum" or slash and burn cultivation. It involved clearing a wide tract of land, in the forest, felling trees, deweeding the area and then preparing it for sowing. It was only at this juncture that the hardworking people got some spare time and they chose to celebrate the Chapchar Kut. An unequivocal celebration of leisure marked by gaiety, feasting and invoking blessings for a successful harvest, the festival has now turned into a grand ceremony.
Springtime In Mizoram
Interestingly, spring is also the best time to visit Mizoram. Besides attending the festival, the visitor can also take his fill of the beautiful state.
A picturesque town located at 4,000 feet - is a convenient base to start exploring. Standing on a high ridge, it commands a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside - the green valleys of the rivers Tiurial and Tlawng on the east and west respectively, and the craggy Durtlang Hill on the north.
Uncrowded and unspoilt, backpacks into the primitive forests or just relax among the comforts of the scenic tourist lodges run by Mizoram tourism. The town is a walker's paradise. The museum at McDonald's hill highlights the tribal culture and their handicrafts.
Despite their wealth of natural and historical attractions, tourists usually shun the northeastern hill states. If one is apprehensive of the region, Mizoram is an excellent place to start your familiarization process. Woven into the code of conduct of every Mizo is the "Tlawmngaihna" - that enthuses every person to be hospitable, kind unselfish and helpful'- a term that cannot be really translated and has to be experienced to be understood.