The Hornbill Festival is a celebration held every year from 1 to 10 December, in Nagaland, Northeast India. It is also called the ‘Festival of Festivals.
The state of Nagaland is home to several tribes, which have their own distinct festivals. More than 60% of the population of Nagaland depends on agriculture and therefore most of their festivals revolve around agriculture. The Nagas consider their festivals sacred, so participation in these festivals is essential.
To encourage inter-tribal interaction and to promote cultural heritage of Nagaland, the Government of Nagaland organizes the Hornbill Festival every year in the first week of December. The first festival was held in 2000.
The festival is named after the Indian hornbill, the large and colourful forest bird which is displayed in the folklore of most of the state’s tribes.
Organized by the State Tourism and Art & Culture Departments, the Hornbill Festival showcases a mélange of cultural displays under one roof. This festival usually takes place between 1 and 10 December every year in Kohima.
The Hornbill Festival is held at Naga Heritage Village, Kisama which is about 12 km from Kohima. All the tribes of Nagaland take part in this festival. The aim of the festival is to revive and protect the rich culture of Nagaland and display its extravaganza and traditions.
For visitors it means a closer understanding of the people and culture of Nagaland, and an opportunity to experience the food, songs, dances and customs of Nagaland.
On 1 December 2017 at the Naga Heritage Village of Kisama, President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated the 18th Hornbill Festival and State Formation Day celebrations of Nagaland.
In the twelve years since its inception, the Nagaland Hornbill Festival has emerged from a local event to transform into an international festival in the aptly tagged monicker – “FESTIVAL OF FESTIVALS”, a must visit and a notable attraction in the travel itinerary of both domestic and international travelers. The objective of the Heritage village is to protect and preserve the Naga cultural heritage by establishing a common management approach to support cultural tourism. It aims to uphold and sustain the distinct identities, dialects, customs and traditions of the ethnic tribes of Nagaland and foster inter-tribal goodwill through the coming together of the tribes under the aegis of the Nagaland Hornbill Festival. The Festival, through the collective spirit and celebrations and the colour and vibrancy of several tribal festivities, offers the discerning traveler, a glimpse into the Naga way of life to titillate a visitor’s cultural sensibilities.
In the first three years of the Festival, the event was conducted at the local grounds within the State capital, Kohima. It later shifted to its present location at Kisama, ten kilometers away from Kohima in 2003. The name Kisama is derived from the names of two villages, the AngamiNaga villages of Kigwema (KI) and Phesama (SA) and MA refers to Village. On this land of the Naga Heritage Village is the present venue of the Nagaland Hornbill Festival established and commissioned by the State Government of Nagaland. The Naga Heritage Village provides the common platform for the multi-ethnic tribes of Nagaland to showcase their rich cultural heritages and traditions. Apart from hosting the Festival the Naga Heritage Village hosts several events and functions around the year.
The annual Hornbill Festival is held in the first week of December and brings all the tribes and sub-tribes of Nagaland to the foot hills below the craggy lofty spurs of the towering Mount Jafu to the scenic Naga Heritage Village, Kisama. A cultural panorama unfolds in the weeklong extravaganza that encompasses cultural performances, indigenous games, craft marts, music events, art & photo exhibitions, film screenings, fashion shows, beauty pageants, motor sports and cycling events, floral and horticulture galleria, kids carnival and ethnic food courts. A series of competitions in various categories such as the Naga King Chilly Eating contest draws the brave or the foolish who attempt to eat the hottest chilly in the world.
As one climbs the last few steps to reach the open air theatre, an imposing sight that greets the visitors are the tribal Morungs, the learning institutes and male dormitories, which are examples of resplendent vernacular architecture accommodating the respective tribes. Some Morungs house the giant log drums where men intermittently beat the gigantic hollowed out log with wooden beaters in rhythmic synchronization to various arrangements of tempos. In the past, the log drum was an integral feature
of Naga social life. Other than its role as village deity, long before the age of modern communications, the Nagas devised indigenous methodologies of relaying messages by beating different tempos to send out messages, decipherable only to the village members in times of natural calamity, enemy attack, war, fire, death and so on. As the sound of the log drums reverberate throughout Kisama, it hypnotically draws you in search of the source.
On each day of the festival, a series of cultural programmes take place at the amphitheatre. Besides the visitors and tourists, the events are also an eye-opening experience for the Naga communities themselves as it is an opportunity to see the social practices of their fellow Nagas, this is in keeping with the objective of the Festival to foster respect and goodwill among the tribes.
At the craft pavilion, a vast repository of Naga crafts displaying exemplary skills in bamboo, cane, wood, textiles, metal and other crafts are on display. This is the opportunity to source and hunt for souvenirs and meet the craft artisans who come from all over the State to their hand crafted wares.
The festival provides the perfect opportunity to embark on the Naga food trail. Several food courts dish out a culinary treat but for the very ethnic platter, the Morungs are the places to visit where each tribal cuisine and delicacies are served. Not for the faint hearted if spicy food and exotic menus are not palatable. For the discerning foodie the adventure begins with the ample choice of high protein grubs and insects. Highly recommended is the Naga rice wine served in tall bamboo mugs accompanied with assorted spicy chutneys with a cautionary advice to the uninitiated tippler.
A visit to the Hornbill Festival is incomplete without a trip to the Second World War Museum at Kisama. The Battle of Kohima (1944) fought between the Allied Forces and the Japanese Imperial Army culminated in the defeat of the Japanese advance into colonial India. The battle was halted at Kohima and is brought alive in a dramatized sound and light show. The museum also houses a collection of war memorabilia.
On the side lines of the Festival, a series of events are simultaneously played out at different venues. The Second World War Motor Rally sees a good participation of authentic Willys Jeeps, trucks of the 2nd World War era with participation from across the Northeast region. A recent addition is the N-E Royal Enfield Bikers meet, on the last count, over 250 bikers converged from all over the Northeast and elsewhere. Cycling rallies have also become a popular event as well as motor car rallies together with the indigenous cart races. Several photo, film and art exhibitions by Naga artists, filmmakers and photographers dot the festivalscape in and around Kohima.
The annual Miss Nagaland Beauty Pageant is hosted during the Hornbill Festival where the district winners vie for the prestigious title. Fashion shows at the Festival are regular events. It provides the platform to showcase Naga designer wear as models sashay down the ramp to highlight Naga designer collections of ethnic textiles contemporized to fashion statements. Literary Festivals on the works of Naga poets and writers together with book launches accentuate the Hornbill Festival experience.
Not to be missed is the Night Bazaar where numerous food stalls jostle for space on the pedestrian only thoroughfare on Kohima’s main road. Throughout the jam packed street are stores bedecked with colourfully decorated Christmas trees and stars, under strings of twinkling coloured lights criss-crossing the street, the precursor to the biggest preChristmas party, lends a testimony to the popularity of the food stalls conducting brisk roaring business feeding hordes of hungry foodies. All this accompanied to live music belted out by talented local artistes from a make shift stage in the center of the street makes this a truly festive experience.
If culture is the essence and soul of the Hornbill Festival, music is surely its leitmotif. The love for music is an overriding passion consuming every sphere of social life with the Nagas. At the Hornbill Festival there is the daily dose of musical performances from western classical to pop to rock to Naga indigenous music, the list is endless. Each day of the festival, several music acts take to the stage in the evenings. One of the most famous and popular rock contests is the Hornbill Rock Contest, offering a cash award at rupees five lakhs for the winning band and it is billed as one of the country’s best-rewarded western music contests. The rock contest draws bands from all over the country and is a highlighted event in the Hornbill calendar of events.
To conclude, to experience the Nagaland Hornbill Festival is to experience both the sides of the Naga milieu firsthand – the rich and vibrant Naga heritage and the Naga disposition in cultural pride juxtaposed in the contemporary space.
The Hornbill Festival, a yearly feature taking place on the first week of December is a modern day cultural extravaganza of all Naga tribes. The Festival was conceptualized to showcase Naga culture, traditional and contemporary, in the spirit of unity in diversity. This Festival is held at the heritage village of Kisama, about 12 km from Kohima. The goal of creating this heritage village is the protection and preservation of the ethnic cultural heritage through a common management approach and comprehensive data base for the perpetuation of tourism promotion – since its inception in the year 2000, it has brought about radical changes in the tourism scenario of the state. A visitor gets the opportunity to catch a ring side view of all the Naga tribes, their culture and distinctiveness at one place. The Heritage complex consists of a cluster of seventeen indigenously designed houses (also called Morung meaning Youth Dormitory), each representative of a different tribe.