Nyokum Festival

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During my stay at Nirjuli, in Arunachal Pradesh I was lucky enough to attend an amazing festival celebrated by the Nyishi tribes. The Nyokum Yullo is an agricultural festival celebrated by the Nyishi people to mark the beginning of New Year. On the stipulated day, I went to the venue to witness this festival. The excitement of seeing a festival that decapitates a mithun (domesticated form of Indian bison) was immense. The thrill was at its height with mirth and merriment as the audience waited in their traditional attire for the ceremony to start.

A Nishi tribesman wearing the traditional head-dress having a Great Hornbill beak.

The Nyishi is one of the major tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. They are also known as highlanders. The term ‘NYISHI’ is derived from two words nyi’ or ‘nyia’ and ‘shi’ or ‘shing’. Nyi means man or human race that descended from Atu Nyia Tani (son of Abo Tani- a first real man on earth) and Ishi – means hills or highland. Therefore, a compound word ‘Nyishi’ denotes the descendants of Atu Nyia Tani who dwell in the highland. They are known for their prowess and sturdy built up, straightforward attitude and love for nature. The men dressed in sleeveless shirt made from thick cotton yarn and strings made of beads in varying sizes and colours as accessories. They also carry a sword known as “ARYOK” and a knife called “RYUKCHAK” in a bamboo sheath. Men wore cane helmets surmounted with the beak of the Great Indian Hornbill.

Girls Dancing at Nyukom

Nyishi women dressed in striped or plain cloth with a ribbon tied at the waist. Their ornaments included multi-colored precious beads, necklaces, brass chains, huge brass or silver earrings and heavy bracelets of various metals.

Nyokum is a festival celebrated to summon all the Gods and Goddess of the universe to a particular place. They are worshipped for better harvest, prosperity and happiness for all creatures. The altar is made of bamboo known as “YUGANG” where animals are-to-be tethered later. The primary ritual is that of sacrificing a mithun. The sacrificial mithun is tied down in the ritual ground. This mithun sacrifice is similar to the ancient Indian ritual of horse sacrifice where the horse was given the due honour and consolation by the priest, before it was sacrificed for peace, prosperity and victory of the community. The site where the festival is celebrated is called Nyokum Kyagyeng. The core text of this celebration is to maintain brotherhood and for all-round peace and prosperity.

Girls in Their Traditional Attire

The stage was all set, the Yugang was ready, the mithun was there, the place was packed, and dancers ready to perform but the guest of honour was yet to arrive. So I decided to stroll around and get more flavour out of the place. Orienting my way around I tried clicking the chromaticity of the very festival. There were several activities planned for children. The sunny day gave the children an opportunity to enjoy their favourite Ice-cream. There is nothing more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice-cream. And how can I pass by without clicking them?

And some children gave me an adorable look and they were too young to understand what was going on. They were busy in their world of fantasy.

The stalls mainly consist of different folk garments and accessories. They also displayed various handicrafts which attracted lots of tourists.

Finally it was time for the ceremony to begin. It started with the guest of honour giving his node to start the ceremony. Different groups of men performed different rituals around the Yugang followed by decapitating of different birds tied to the Yugang and that of the mithun.The festival was wrapped up by different dances performed by women folk. Though I was unable to grasp the meaning of the songs the smiling faces of the dancers gave me the impression that every step gave an ultimate joy to performers and onlookers.


1. Nyishi Elite Society

2. North-East: The horizon of Anthropology – Khagen Chandra Mahanta (Kalpaz Publications)

3. Echo of Arunachal

4. Glorious India

5. Wikipedia

Camera used: Sony DSC-S930

Note from Author:  

In the above writing, I tried to focus on the festivity, devotion and joy of the people, which I witnessed for the first time in my life. There may be some omissions and commissions which are unintentional and any correction, modification and addition are highly solicited.

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