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Where Hospitality is Religion - Mizoram

Tucked well within the north-eastern hills, the culture of Mizoram evolved independent of outside influence. Originating from a hunting-gathering society, the various tribal festivals too centred around the society’s relationship with the passing of seasons

It was just after dawn. Golden sunlight poured over the forested hills, wisps of woodsmoke arose from the kitchen chimneys to merge with the bits of grey mists floating around like balls of cottonwool. The greenbacked hillsides dovetailed with each other forming an endless wavy pattern, marked here and there by barren rockfaces or a gushing stream of silver-white water. Little birds twittered merrily, their joyful chorus heralding the onset of the spring season. Far down below, the plains of northern India were getting ready to observe another colourful Holi while here in Mizoram, it was time to celebrate Chapchar Kut — a spring festival with a difference. In local parlance, kut means festival.

Westernized influence brought in by the Christian missionaries and the politically turbulent period soon after Indian independence pushed traditional Mizo culture to the brink. It was at this juncture that a section of the Mizo society realized the need to revive the traditional culture and the Young Mizo Association (YMA) was born. With a centre in every town and major village, the YMA has been slowly infusing the society with the traditional lifestyle and customs.

Every year, the YMA organises the Chapchar Kut festival in spring, showcasing the pomp and pageantry of yore. Usually held in early March, the seven-day festival is held at the stadium next to the Assam Rifles Ground, located in the heart of Aizawl town. This year, the final day of the festival coincided with Holi.

School children and youth club members prepare for this festival months in advance. Colourfully attired in their tribal regalia, complete with feathered headdresses, jewellery, weapons and other props, participating groups assemble at the stadium early in the morning. The festival begins with Kut Puipate or the inauguration ceremony where the visiting dignitaries give speeches and formally declare the festival open. This is followed by the Then Katna or the time when the dance groups arrange themselves in the stadium, putting final touches to their dress, make-up or formations.

Meanwhile, Mizo singers enthrall the crowd with their special renderings. The whole place soon turns into a riot of colour as the Then Hnihna begins. The elderly members of the society come dressed in their traditional costumes, representing the individual tribes of the region and take part in a fantastic procession called the Kut rore. This is followed by the various tribal dances, the most important being the Cheraw or the bamboo dance. The nimble-footed female dancers jump in perfect unison and rhythm as the men clap the bamboo sticks around their feet and sing loudly. In the Khuangchawi, a little boy is carried in a bamboo sedan chair by a colourfully attired group of people amidst loud cheers — an event reminiscent of the times when the tribal chieftain used to be carried by his men after a successful hunt.

The function ends with the Then Thumna or the event where the local singers once again present the traditional popular numbers and are joined by the cheering crowd.

According to legend, the Chapchar Kut originated when the thoughtfulness of a tribal chieftain saved his tribe from degenerating into a good-for-nothing society. It is said that once the male members of this tribe returned empty-handed from a big hunt. This made everybody embarrassed and depressed. The chief, seeing his people so downcast, invited the young men and women to a lavish party and served them with the traditional rice beer and meat preparations. Soon the party broke into a happy mood, singing and dancing into the night. The rest of the people joined them and the crowd spilled over to the field. The people were once again happy and resumed their work.

Gradually the festival became an annual event, celebrated during spring. Mizoram being a mountainous and forested land, the people followed the jhum or slash-and-burn cultivation. It involved clearing a wide tract of land in the forest, felling trees, de-weeding the area and then preparing it for sowing. It was only at this juncture that the hardworking people got some spare time and they chose to celebrate the Chapchar Kut. An unequivocal celebration of leisure marked by gaiety, feasting and invoking blessings for a successful harvest, the festival has now turned into a grand ceremony.

Interestingly, spring is also the best time to visit Mizoram. Besides attending the festival, the visitor can also take his fill of the beautiful state. Aizawl — a picturesque town located at 4000 feet — is a convenient base to start exploring. Standing on a high ridge, it commands a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside — the green valleys of the rivers Tiurial and Tlawng on the east and west respectively, and the craggy Durtlang Hill on the north. Uncrowded and unspoilt, backpack into the primitive forests or just relax among the comforts of the scenic tourist lodges run by Mizoram Tourism. The town is a walker’s paradise. The Museum at Mcdonald’s Hill highlights the tribal culture and their handicrafts. The zoological garden, the Tlangnuam View Point, the Weaving Centre, Bora Bazar, Lunagmual Handicrafts Centre and the Bung Picnic Spot are some of the other attractions of Aizawl.

There are some interesting excursion points around Aizawl. Eighty-five kilometres away is the Tamdil Lake nestling in the middle of a jewel-green forest. Boating facilities are available here. The Vantawng Waterfalls, 137 kilometres away, is also located within a tropical green forest. With a couple of days extra, you can also visit the beautiful, forest-clad hill station of Lunglei in south Mizoram, 235 kilometres from Aizawl.

Despite their wealth of natural and historical attractions, the north-eastern hill states are usually shunned by tourists. If you are apprehensive of the region, Mizoram is an excellent place to start your familiarization process. Woven into the code of conduct of every Mizo is the tlawmngaihna — that enthuses every person ‘to be hospitable, kind, unselfish and helpful’ — a term that cannot be really translated and has to be experienced to be understood.


Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, is linked to Kolkata by regular Alliance Air flights and is the most convenient option of getting there. Silchar (in Assam), 180 kilometres from Aizawl, is the nearest railhead, the journey by road usually taking five to six hours. Mizoram State Transport is running passenger services in 33 routes including two inter-state services to Silchar (in Assam) and Shillong (in Meghalaya).

There are two state run tourist lodges in Aizawl — at Chaltlang and Luangmual besides a number of private hotels.

Since Mizoram shares its international borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh, inner line permits are necessary for tourists visiting the state. Permits are obtained from the Resident Commissioner’s office at New Delhi (Tel: 011-3016408), the Liaison Office at Kolkata (Tel: 033-4757034), Shillong, Guwahati and Silchar. Applications have to be made on prescribed format along with two passport size photographs.