Celebrating the Wangala Festival in Meghalaya's Garo Hills

By Sanjay Talukdar.

Wangala festival, Garo Hills, dance of MeghalayaIn October, I put on magic shoes and travelled to Tura, in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya, to celebrate Wangala aka the Hundred Drums Festival. A celebration of the annual crop harvest and the charming way of life in the northeastern Himalayas, Wangala sees the coming together of tribal groups to pay ode to their chief divinity, the Sun god.

People young and old dress in their colorful garments and do'me (feathered headgear) and dance to music played on long, oval-shaped drums; one of the grandest fiestas for the folks of Meghalaya.

Thanking the tribal gods

festivals of Meghalaya,tura garo hills
The Nokhma (village chief, centre) takes part in the thanksgiving rituals.

The Wangala begins with Rugala, a ceremony in which thanks is given to seek communion with the tribal god Misi-Saaljong. The Garo people depend on agro-economy and don’t use any agricultural products before thanking the god of fertility. The Nokhma (chief of the village) takes part in every rite and ritual of the ceremony.

Melodies from buffalo horns

Wangala festival Meghalaya, harvest festivals of India
Buffalo horn turned traditional flute.

Since the time music and dancing found a place on earth, they have become a way of life for the tribal Garo people. At Wangala, they perform the Katta Doka (talking in a sing-song voice), Ajea, Dani Doka (describing Wangala in songs), Chambil Mesaa and the Pomelo Dance. The indigenous songs sung by the ladies are known as Ahaiya, in which they exchange views and ideas, and express love and gratitude towards their neighbours. What stands out among instruments like flutes, drums, gongs and nagatik, is the melody of ancient flutes made from buffalo horns.

Dancing inspired from wagtails!  

Meghalaya people, Wangala festival
Wagtail-inspired dance!

Believe it or not,  the Wangala dance is inspired by the wagtail bird! The musical instruments imitate sounds the wind makes when it blows through bamboo holes and rustles the leaves of aromatic plants, while the Garo women folk gesture and clap.

To the beat of 100 drums

Meghalaya Wangala photos, dance of Meghalaya
Hundred drums and music.

A group of 30 dancers with ten drums form a contingent, and come together as a whopping 300 dancers with hundred drums (hence the name Hundred Drums Festival). The Hundred Drum dance is held on the last day, with women and men dressed in their traditional attires. The dancers and drummers sing, play, sway, make music and celebrate in one grand ritual.

Making merry with home-brewed rice beer

Garo Hills, Wangala festival, Meghalaya photos
Wangala festivities.

Preparations for the Wangala festival take place well in advance, starting with the collection of various local foods. Locally home-brewed rice beer is an integral part of the ceremony, both for locals and as an offering to outsiders attending the festival. What better way to make merry the way the locals do?

AUTHOR BIO: Sanjay likes to follow a life of freedom, excitement, adventure and unexpected happenings. He has a natural inclination to be a pace-setter, attracted to the unusual and the fast paced environment, with a keen interesting in consulting and research, digital marketing, disruptive technology, agribusiness, sports and travel. He blogs at st-chronicles.blogspot.in and tweets @talukdar_s.


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