I woke up at the night due to thunder. I was staying at Aane Hotel in Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh. I was really tired, not so much because of the journey but I had disturbed sleep for a few nights at home! I was probably still operating in Israeli time zone. It kept raining heavily throughout the night. When I woke up in the morning it was still raining. I was wondering what would happen to the Solung Festival at Pasighat.
My fears were unfounded though. The main venue had a huge marquee both for the audience and over the stage. I still bought an umbrella. Looking at the weather I realized it would be useful. In 2016 Solung was celebrated from 9th to 13th September. I attended the festival from 9th to 11th September.
Solung is celebrated by the Adi tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Like many other festivals in India, it is a festival related to agriculture. Like many other places in the world, it is women who work both in the fields and at home. In September the crops are growing well in the fields the work is less. So it is time for celebrations. The festival is predominantly for women. It has socio-religious hues.
When I reach the venue, I was greeted by girls dressed in their traditional attire, on this day all of them were wearing blue! I clicked a picture with them and posted it on Facebook. Immediately others also notice how beautiful their jewelry is! All of them were using fancy phones, busy on social media, but they look so pretty in their traditional attire.
There were a lot of speeches on the first day! But there were dances too. And then there was apong, the rice beer brewed locally. It is served to the public officially. The girls store it in the drum and serve it out to the audience. I got to taste it right at the beginning. I am told the black one is called yakana apong. I am sure by another name it would be just as delicious.
What amazes me is that the whole festival is a community effort. A committee of the locals get together and organizes it! Women and men volunteer to organize different aspects of the festival. Folks tell me the festival is probably a thousand years old but the written records go back up to only a hundred years or so.
Dances are performed at the level of villages or school/college. I saw only a few men taking part. But then it is primarily a celebration for the women. I also noticed that age is no bar, women of all ages form groups and take part in the dances.
So each village would have a dance group and they would perform it on the stage, the same is true for schools and colleges. There were couple dances and solo singing too. The days that I am not attending, I told there are celebrity shows, fashion shows and beauty pageants.
Most of the dances refer to cultivation. The village level dance is more traditional. However when the young girls take the stage, I can see Bollywood immediately. The songs still remain local and related to the harvest but the tune and some of the moves are unmistakably Bollywood. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who speak Hindi in Pasighat!
However, the main dance, the community dance happens after cultural show is over. People dance in a circle and it goes on till the early hours in the morning. Hence you will find that the show picks up from the afternoon the next day. Everyone takes it easy in the mornings after the late night dancing.
There are stalls in the mela ground. I think apong was the most sold commodity! Food was in plenty. But what attracted me the most was the local jewelry, that when I hardly wear any jewelry myself. I bought the belt the local girls were wearing, I hope I will have the courage to wear it with a dress.
On the last day (of my stay) I was invited on the stage to say a few words! I told the crowd it was my privilege to be with them. I met so many people, I had so many questions and everyone responded to my queries! The young ones are really well behaved.
I was having a conversation with Prof Narmi Darang who teaches Economics in the government college. He said, the college students were so shy that it was mostly a monologue in his class and that frustrates him to no end! And in the cities it is the exact opposite, people speak without even knowing what they are saying! I would often tell my students they were not on a TV show!
As they were hosting a blogger for the first time, Binam Messar, with whom I had a chance encounter on Instagram played a critical role in setting expectations. He understood his elders in the committee but he understood my world too! He was my Man Friday at Pasighat! I can’t thank him enough for the time he spent in explaining things to me and for clarifying things, where required.
In many ways Pasighat is like any other part of India, young ones have the same dreams, they can tell you about the best data plans, they are active on social media, they dress well. But at another level, it is a world apart where traditions are cherished, youngsters seem shy (yes I know it sounds impossible) and the community comes together to have a good time.
PS. I was invited on this Trip by Nuyee Talong of Arunachal Pradesh Tourism.