10 not-to-miss tribal festivals when in India
India is bestowed with insurmountable uniqueness and uncountable quaint customs. Its tribal heritage, home to more than 600 tribes, has brilliantly merged the influx of touristy eyes with their heartland celebration. So, to facilitate one in exploring the gems of traditions meticulously preserved yet entwined with rising global interactions, here’s a list of ten tribal festivals in India, experiences of which one can take back home.
- Minjar Mela, Chambal, Himachal Pradesh
Minjar is recognized as the state fair of Himachal Pradesh held in July and August. Celebrating the history of the region, the festival involves the distribution of Minjar, a silk cloth that symbolizes paddy and maize crops. Offering prayers at the famous Laxmi Narayan Temple, locals take part in the procession, singing and dancing in their traditional attire. The festival also marks the celebration of sports events and cultural programs. It now receives wide coverage in the media for its vibrant gaiety and warm celebration.
- Kila Raipur Rural Olympics, Ludhiana, Punjab
A major rural festival of Punjab, it is better known as India’s rural Olympics. Held since 1933 in February, the festival celebrates the sports culture of Punjab. Though not a festival embarking a particular tribe of the region, it’s a colossal event worth witnessing while exploring heartland India. What makes the stay more special is the nature of games organized. True to its name, cultural games of Punjab such as Kabbadi, Gulli Danda, tug of war, Akharas, and race between tractors are organized. The evening folk dance and music show are also popular tourist attractions during the festival.
- Madai festival, Chhattisgarh
The Central India Tribal Belt that stretches from Gujarat and includes the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand is home to around 90% of rural tribes offering a diverse and vibrant variety of festivals. Madai, popular in Chattisgarh but little known to people of the country, involves various ritualistic performances like folk dance and music dedicated to a tribal deity, Goddess Kesharpal Kesharpalin Devi. Celebrated in Kanker, Bastar and Dantewada regions from December to March, one can enjoy shopping several tribal handicrafts and relish some unique cuisine.
- Bhagoriya Festival, Madhya Pradesh
Unique in its spirit, the Bhagoria festival is organized in the district of West Nimar and Jhabua before Holi. It marks its unique identity as essentially a harvest festival, it also celebrates a form of tribal marriage where young boys and girls are allowed to elope after choosing their partners. Popular in Bhil and Bhilala tribes, Bhagoria, in English, means eloper. The festival is a must-attend with its riot of colors, performances, and locally produced food that is sold in the festival market.
- Meghnad festival, Madhya Pradesh
Celebrated by the Gond tribe, the festival is held at different dates to facilitate people of one area to go and join other villages in propitiating Meghnad, the deity of Gonds. The celebration where the main structure of Meghnad is built on a platform begins immediately after the Holi festival. Vows and prayers for bumper crops and prosperity are performed while coconuts, eggs, chickens, and goats are ordinarily offered during the ritual. A village fair with songs and dances exhibit the local traditions and customs of the tribe.
- Puttari, Coorg, Karnataka
Puttari is a rice harvest festival celebrated by the Kodava tribes of Karnataka in November and December. Kodava tribe is also popular for its other festivals such as Kailpoldu (Festival of Arms), and Kaveri Sankramana (worship of river Kaveri). Puttari’s specialty includes a festival packed with traditions and rituals that are started with a gunshot in the air. A community dinner is also organized a week after the commencement of the festival where pork and local fish dishes are served.
- Sammakka Saralamma Jatara, Telangana
Believed to be around 1,000 years old, it is recognized to be the largest festival after Kumbh Mela. Popularly known as Medaram Jatara, it is celebrated in February to honor the fight of a mother and daughter against the unjust law. During the festival, tribal people from different parts of India come together to devote themselves to the worship of goddesses and offer them gold. The four-day festival is celebrated in the district of Warangal, which due to its immense popularity, has been declared as a state festival of Telangana.
- Aoleang Festival, Kohima, Nagaland
Once recognized as the deadly headhunters, the Konyak tribe today is known for living a passive lifestyle. The Aoleang festival is celebrated in April and marks the start of the New Year. During the six days of the festival, the members of the tribe dress up in their traditional attires and perform elaborate dances with folk songs. A gigantic feast consisting of ethnic cuisine and the local rice beer is organized. Each day of the festival has its prominence and unique rituals. Chicken sacrifice too is a part of the ritual where it is believed that the future can be predicted by the shape of the intestine.
- Hornbill festival, Kohima, Nagaland
The popular Hornbill Festival is organized in December by the State Tourism and Art & Culture Department. Known as ‘The festival of festivals’, all the tribes of Nagaland participate in full fervor. The festival aims to revive, protect, and display the rich culture of Nagaland. The festival also contributes tremendously in enhancing the state’s tourism brand. A week-long festival, with cultural performances, local food, crafts, sports are its specialty. Traditional arts which include paintings, wood carvings, and sculptures are exhibited and sold during the festival.
- Nongkrem Dance festival – Meghalaya
A five-day celebration of the Khasi tribe, Nongkrem Dance Festival is usually held in November. The festival is organized to appease the local deity for a bumper harvest and prosperity. Dance performances by unwed women and men in traditional attire are one of the major attractions of the festivals. The festival also marks animal sacrifices, mainly cocks and goats, as an offering to the ancestors.