May 24, 2017 4 min read
A trip to the interiors of the Himalayan ranges.
A journey that would have taken 6 days by animal carriers 40 years ago but today takes 7 hours.
A journey planned for years and finally realised in 2016.
The long tedious journey was specifically planned to experience the Bonona festival of the Aryan people in the Eastern Himalayas of India.
The population of this group is now 2500! ONLY 2500!
And yet they have a surviving culture that is unique and filled with ancient heritage elements! This group of people is an absolute delight for me as I enjoy (enjoy is mild word) diversity and get thrilled by the differentness of lifestyles.
Over the last few years of traveling within India I have found that at a festival the essence of the culture is on display – dances, music, costumes, hairstyles, jewelry, food and drink are all presented wrapped up in sentiments of gaiety and joyful indulgence.
Can there be a better time to schedule a visit?
This festival doesn’t entirely depend on the lunar calendar so the date is not set in advance. It could be any date in the period of October – November. All those who attend come in from nearby villages and others who work in the city are only 6 hours away. So a short notice of 5-6 days is not a problem for anyone.
Except for me – a wannabe attendee – sitting 4500 km away.
Given that I would have to make bookings for one international flight, two domestic flights (one stop to pick up my Himalayan clothing) and a Himalayan road journey of 160 kilometers, I was nervous about missing it if I did not have sufficient notice. So for two months preceding the approximate festival period I called up my patient Aryan friends every 3-4 days to check if the date had been announced. [It is now over 5 years since we’ve been friends so I think by now they have learnt to bear the burden of my friendship.] On one call they announced that the much awaited festival date and that it was going to be held the following week.
Well – I was grateful that I at least got to know in advance!
Arrangements were made and we reached the village that was hosting the festival this year.
And I finally got to experience the Bonona festival – something that I had longed to do for years ….
The visuals and sounds and complete flooding of all my senses was absolutely amazing and filled with nothing but thrill, delight, awe, stimulation and joy.
Though I cannot transmit through words on the screen everything I experienced …. here is a glimpse of the sensory feast.
The women in the family get ready – braiding each other’s hair and putting on the extravagant gorgeous ornaments and headdresses.
And then we proceed to the elevated site where the men pray and invoke the dieties with a beautiful ceremony that involves singing and fire and incense.
The women then hurry up to gather at the entrance to welcome the priest in his undyed wool robes who leads the group from the prayer site to the dance site.
RECEPTION & WELCOME
The men and women gather around in a circle and begin their dances to the sound of their own singing and the drums and horns of the musicians.
THE DANCES BEGIN
The Dard Aryan group have their traditions documented orally in their songs that have been passed down from generation to generation. These oral traditions are transmitted to the next generation through their singing during festivals. The organic transmission depends heavily on the attendance of these festivals. But with the net gen moving to big cities for education and work, this is an endangered practice.
SONGS OF WOMEN:
SONGS OF MEN:
I have heard that the government is doing its bit to capture these songs into audio and video recordings that will be available for young people to learn from. Will find out the details of this soon.
And by the second night of the festival people have arrived home from all over and I get to see the strength of the community in full force!
Everyone knows everyone. Everyone has one relative – even if distant – in the host village.
And there is a sense of grandness in the night as they all dance under the Himalayan moon.
DANCING THROUGH THE NIGHT
What a feast this experience has been!
There’s more to the tale …. each element of their culture arouses intrigue and awe …
Over the years of knowing these people I’ve recorded over a dozen interviews with the elders on the subjects of
– their cultural practices
– their elements and the significance of their costumes
– their history
and sooner or later I’ll make notes from the recordings and put them down in this blog.
Until then I’m sharing a little festive Angoori Chaang or Grape wine offered just before the festivities began:
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