Also called Woodstock of the Northeast, the Hornbill Festival is an annual, week-long cultural extravaganza held every year in the first week of December in the Kisama Heritage village of Nagaland.
Nagaland? Who goes there? What is there?”, were just some of the questions I was asked when I announced my plans of a trip to the picturesque state to photograph the annual Hornbill Festival.
A trip to Nagaland House on Aurangzeb Road, New Delhi (all Indian nationals need a permit to visit Nagaland) and a couple of hours with the wizened clerk, and I was all set. After arriving in Dimapur, I drove the final couple of kilometres to Kisama (10-12 km from Kohima), where the festival is held. My host for the next few days was a lovely Naga family with an adorable infant, the father in government service and a Wi-fi connection named ʻMehraʼ for some unexplained reason! Everyday, we had to re-start ʻMehraʼ as it behaved with the typical grouchiness of an elderly man from North India. My word of advise: pack warmly as this area is very cold and nights can be especially harsh.
The morning before the festival kicked off, the dress rehearsal was the perfect time to photograph and observe the colours. Vivid red, orange and yellow headgears, glorious costumes and the proud and sharp features of the Naga men and women, the festival is the perfect showcase of the rich heritage of the North-Eastern region, which is now the emerging cultural capital of India.
Internationally recognised, this festival attracts visitors from all over the world. The celebrations are marked with a colourful display of traditional dances, sports and songs of the various Naga tribes. The warrior log drums, the colourful headgear, the soulful war cry, the exquisite costumes are all striking and something that you won’t forget. Delicious local cuisine and delicacies that are typical to each of the Naga tribes are served in their respective Morungs along with the finest and delicious rice beer.
The traditional Naga huts and Morungs (boys’ dormitories) typical to each of the Naga tribes are built and erected in a way that closely resembles their traditional euphoria on a small hillock in Kisama which gives one a perfect idea of life in a typical village.
The Hornbill Festival is also a celebration of its modern and contemporary present. Along with our hosts, we all bundled into the biggest SUV we could hire and drove to the biggest Rock Festival of the country that is hosted at Kohima every year during the Hornbill Festival.
The Nagas believe that singing and dancing is a way of life. The rock event was a fun way to see the musical aspect of the celebrations that are not only in tandem with its cultural roots, but also adapt the western genre of rock music. Adventure car rally and various other food contests are also organised.
The Kohima Night Bazaar is also an interesting aspect of the festival. The stretch of the Kohima Main town comes alive for seven nights during the festival with food, music, and fun. The street spills over with various food and drink stalls serving out some of the finest delicacies and it’s a joy to walk through the hustle-bustle and soak in the atmosphere.
Truly, the Hornbill Festival is a celebration of the tribal way of life, a way to bridge the gap between generations, and revive and strengthen cultural bonds.
Text and photos: Abhishek Hajela