Wangala the festival of music & dances of The Garos Tribe
It has been two years from now I have not been able to visit Asanang during the days of Wangala festivity due to my hectic schedules and to have a taste of the locally brewed rice beer there and enjoy a bit to my heart’s content. Having been to the place for the past many years to watch and explore the beauty of the performing dances and try unearthing the underline meanings and significance of the rituals, ceremonies and various dance forms, I feel greatly ecstatic at the approaching of the month of November, with a hope to get a chance once again to go and visit Asanang and get myself recharged with the beautiful memories of the Wangala celebrations.
Here comes November, the eleventh month of the year, the month that has a speciality and charm for the jhum cultivating Garos. This is the month that marks the end of their agricultural cycle, the time of the revisit of their harvest God Misi Saljong. In this month in which the chilling dew starts dropping in the morning and in the evening signaling the rapid approaching of the winter months, the Garos observe Wangala, their largest traditional festival. Every year in the second week of this month, the Garos assemble in a place together and ceremoniously invoke and ritualistically perform to appease the Rain God amidst them through beating their native musical instruments and observe and celebrate their greatest festival. Asanang, which is about 18 kilometres from Tura, has been an ideal and the permanent location that hosts this giant annual event.
As belief by the Garos, there are certain fiendish beings and malignant spirits in this world who work against their well-planned schemes. There are at the same time some benevolent spirits too that help the human beings to progress in their life and become rich in terms of wealth and health. Their activities are believed to be governed by those spirits which they collective called ‘mitdes’. These ‘mitdes’ must be pleased in the manner that are pleasing to them or else they face their wrath if they were not well propitiated. Therefore, the life of the Garos on this earth is the life being lived under the direction of and association with those powerful spirits.
Wangala is nothing but a thanksgiving ceremony of the Garo people to their harvest God Misi Saljong. It is a grand ceremony of a hearty send off and ceremonial fixing up of time for next reunion with the benign divinities. The word Wangala is a conjunction of two vital Garo words Wanti and Gala. Wanti means ‘leaven’ and ‘gala’ means to ‘throw’. Hence, ‘Wanti Gala’ or in short ‘Wan-Gala’ or ‘Wangala’ – throwing or giving Wanti to appease God of harvest Misi Saljong – is the literal meaning of Wangala. The Garos believe that Misi Saljong either blesses or curses them in their cultivation of crops in the jhum field depending on the manner he is given honour and appeasement. Therefore, the Garo people never fail to appease him at the end of their harvest in the most appropriate way and to do that the best part of their paddy would be reserved for Misi Saljong to give him back on the occasion of Wangala. A rice beer would be specially prepared out of the rice meant for him and during the inaugural session of Wangala, the juice of the first hand rice beer is offered to him by invoking his spirit. This ceremonial observation through pouring of rice beer by the Nokma or the village chief is called Chu Rugala or the ceremony of pouring of rice beer. This ritual is followed by singing Dani, in which the narrator well versed in this typical Garo folk song, narrates the origin of the mother earth, of how Wangala celebrations has originated and of the imitation of the A.chik men and women to dance from the performing Do.sisi Dojepjep, a wagtail bird, who taught them how to move their hips and dance to the rhythmic beatings of the native musical instruments.
Son of Rikwa Salwa (father) and Po.ok An.dok (mother), Misi Saljong was highly revered by the Garos as one of the greatest gods, who had been bestowed with the power of giving good harvest to the people by his superior god, the creator of the Earth, the God Almighty or the Supreme and Sovereign God. This Sovereign deity is called by various names by the twelve different sub tribes of the Garos. He is called Dakgipa Rugipa (Moulder, the one who moulds), Bisikrom (The source of inexhaustible power and energy), Babra (The sovereign one who gives sustenance to all), Ge.songgipa (The sovereign one who plants all things and make them stand), Ja.ragipa (The Sole one who fashions legs), Ja.chitgipa (The Sole one who furcates the legs), Ra.rongipa (The Sovereign one who apportions) so on and so forth.
After chanting out the ritual songs over burning incense at the home alter in the house of the village A.king Nokma, which is usually done on the second day of the Wangala festivity, the performing Nokma grasping milam and spi in his hands dances before the assembled guests and while dancing, he shouts cryptic words of eulogies on himself, on his consanguine brothers and heroic forefathers.
On this great occasion, the Garos perform variety of their skillful indigenous dance forms to the dinful rhythmic sounds of their native musical instruments. The most popular and common dance forms which the participating dance contingents showcase are the Grong Doka (Slow march to the courtyard to dance to the rhythmic drum beats and the trumpeting sound of the bugle), Do.kru Sua, (Dove pecking) Oping rata (Slashing off the Whorled head gear), Ajema Roa (Dance of the Wagtail bird) Ambretong Rurua (Shaking off Hog Plum fruits), Chambil Mesaa (Dance of the Shaddock fruits) etc. But what pains me a little bit is the fact that for the past many years, throughout the courses of my visits, I could not see the most exciting dance forms like Sipai Awit Roa, (parading of the Sepoys) which is a war like dance form, the Onggal Rua (breaking the hearth rake), Me.mang Mis Su.a (Ghost pounding Rice) etc. As many young and fresh A.chik performers (including my students) have been visiting the place during Wangala with great expectations to see with their own eyes to learn it and imitate later. Sadly enough that these inquisitive young and energetic Garo performers and learners are being compelled to return home only with the dance forms which they had already learnt and most preciously garnered in their hearts. Their purpose is not only to watch and admire the beauties of the Wangala dance, but also to learn new dance forms, to act by themselves and to be identified themselves as A.chiks by dancing the most fascinating dances of their own and further to explore even beyond that.
The visit to Asanang makes me belief that the age-old tradition and dances of the Garos had never been faded away; rather it has been gaining its popularity not only amongst the Garo people themselves but even among the general public of the Garo Hills, its neighbouring States of the Northeast India, including the visiting foreign tourists from abroad. Large gathering of the people at the site of the festival during the occasion has been increasing year after year which is indeed a living testimony of the people’s interest and attachment to this greatest traditional festival of the Garos.