Nagaland, bordered by Myanmar on the East, Arunachal Pradesh on the North, Assam on the West, and Manipur on the South, is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and is home to a variety of flora and fauna. That fascinating bird, the ‘Great Indian Hornbill’ plays a prominent role in Naga culture and in fact, the annual tourism festival of Nagaland is aptly called the ‘Hornbill Festival’, and is held from December 1 to 10 every year.
The Hornbill Festival is a showcase of dances, performances, crafts, parades, games, sports, food fairs and religious ceremonies of the different Naga people, and is a riot of colour and pageantry, and celebration. More importantly, for the Naga people, the Hornbill Festival leads to a revival, preservation and assimilation of their culture, with the different Naga tribes interacting with one another, as well as the rest of the country, not to speak of visitors from abroad. The Hornbill Festival is held at the Naga Heritage Village, Kisama, near Kohima and all the people of Nagaland proudly and enthusiastically participate, in projecting the rich culture of Nagaland and the display of its colourful costumes and traditions.
The Festival is getting hugely popular, as the sharply increasing footfalls over the years, show. The Naga people seem to be blessed with a natural flair for music and dance and the evenings are a lavish celebration of fusion music and dance attracting a large number of tourists and music groups from all over the world.
The Diezephe Craft Village in Dimapur is another initiative, which has been created for the purpose of preservation of ethnic Naga art and craft and is home to many skilled weavers and craftsmen of Nagaland. The splendid shawls, scarves, mats and garments woven in authentic Naga patterns are an ode to the craftsmanship of the weavers.
The language diversity existing in Nagaland is truly unique. Besides the common Nagamese, (which is a creole language comprising words from Assamese, Hindi and English), there are 36 different languages and dialects, which the Naga people speak. Naga languages differ from tribe to tribe, and even from one village to another.
The Naga people mostly belong to one of sixteen tribes, namely, Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Khiamniungan, Kachari, Kuki, Konyak, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchungru and Zeliang. Each tribe is unique in character with its own distinct customs, language and dress. In addition to the Hornbill Festival, each of these tribes also celebrate their own specific distinct festivals at a particular month each year. English is the official language as well as the language of education in Nagaland.
Historically, little is known of any significant interaction of the Naga people with the rest of India. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Nagas seem to have established some contact with the Ahoms of present day Assam, but this does not seem to have had any significant impact on the traditional Naga way of life. Naga tribes seem to have migrated at different times, settling in the northeast of India and establishing their respective sovereign boundaries and village-states. They also seem to have suffered repeated attacks from the Burmese. However, with the arrival of the British, the Burmese aggression ended since the whole of South Asia, including the Naga Hills came under the British Raj.
Post-independence, Nagaland, initially a district of the state of Assam in independent India, attained statehood and became the 16th state of the Indian Union in December 1963.
As regards the architectural legacy of the Nagas, the pride of Nagaland is the historic Dimasa Kachari ruins in Dimapur, maintained by the ASI. These are monolithic mushroom domed columns, each about 8 to 10 feet tall, which date back to the 10th century during the Dimasa Kachari Civilisation. The whole site situated in a park, houses what appear to be several mushroom domed pillars, which, from the air, would look like a massive chess board with rows of gigantic chess pawns, one of which is even 20 feet high!
All the stones are elaborately carved with motifs of birds, animals, flowers, spearheads and other motifs. These columns were created by the Dimasa Kachari kingdom, which ruled here before the Ahom invasion into the territory during 13th Century CE. The origin and true purpose of these monoliths have not been deciphered as yet, and while a few pillars still stand in all their glory, others are slowly crumbling.
While some theories do state that a game similar to chess was played there with these mushroom domed columns, others suggest that they were erected as victory towers, signifying victory of the Dimasa Kachari over other tribes. However, none of these theories has been proved, leaving us to marvel and feel awestruck, but ponder and remain in deep puzzlement about these magnificent monoliths.