Chapchar Kut: Rhyming with nature

At the end of February, when winter starts receding, Mizos, the residents of northeastern state Mizoram, prepare the land for fresh planting. There are few days of relaxation before the serious business of sowing starts and that is when the Chapchar Kut festival is celebrated with gaiety and fervour across the state. The Chapchar Kut is one of the oldest festivals of Mizoram and has a great cultural significance. This year the festival will be celebrated on 7 March.

Chapchar Kut marks the preparation before the onset of the sowing season and is celebrated during the time when jungles are cleared, bamboos and trees are cut down, and the land is prepared for jhum cultivation. Folk music and traditional dance performances are the major festivities of Chapchar Kut. And people from various tribal communities, from all ages and walks of life come together and participate in this festival. Dressed in traditional attire, different tribal communities compete with each other in dance and music.

The celebration, categorized under the spring festival umbrella, is the most important festival and the only one regularly observed during the first week of March in Mizoram. On this day people of all ages, young and old, men and women dressed in their colorful costumes and distinctive head gears and jewelries, assemble and perform various folk dances, singing traditional songs accompanied by beating of drums, gongs and cymbals. They dance in joyous celebration of life, each team displaying the best of its region. These are generally group dances with a lot of bonhomie and courting woven into them. Some dances are strictly martial danced by strong virile warriors with their weapons and trophies. One dance perennially popular is the Cheraw or the 'bamboo dance' so called as long bamboo staves are used for this dance. This is the most colourful and distinctive dance of the Mizos requiring skill and an alert mind to perform. The other main dances performed during Chapchar Kut are Khuallam, Chheihlam, Chai and Sarlamkai. 'Khual lam' is an auspicious dance performed by a group of dancers celebrating new beginnings. It is also a welcome dance for guests during community festivities.

The bamboo dance is one of the major attractions of Chapchar Kut where only women folk take part in it. It is a very interesting dance form where the men folks tap the bamboos and open and close in rhythmic beats as the dancer steps in and out gracefully to the beats of the bamboos. The festival is an amazing sight with people dressed in outfits vibrant in color and hats made from beads and feathers. Chapchar Kut is, indeed, a vibrant festival of Mizoram.

Chapchar Kut literally means - a festival held during the period when the bamboos and trees that have been cut down are being awaited to dry to be burnt for jhumming. During this brief layoff period of jhumming, the Mizo ancestors could have all the time for themselves. They spend their leisure hunting games, fishing, etc. The Chapchar Kut festival evolved sometime between 1450 -1600 A.D. when the Mizo forefathers inhabit Lentlang. In the olden days, the festival could last for days and in the run up to the grand finale, there are well laid down steps to be followed. Everyone in the village have a role to play; of course, the youths were most involved in every stage of the preparation and in the festival itself. Designed to be a festival of joy, all disputes and differences that may be there in the community should be settled, even altercation between married couples was a taboo during the celebration of the festival. Abundant supply of meat must be there and home brewed liqour must be over-flowing to keep their spirit high. They danced away all their cares and made merry all night long. That sums up how the Mizos celebrate Chapchar Kut in the olden days when they were heathens.

To attain a position of distinction, a Mizo had to go through a series of ceremonies and perform many feats of heroic deeds. These ceremonies are always accompanied by a feast and to this feast, friends from nearby villages are invited - hence, Khuallam is the dance for the visitors or guests. The 'Chheih lam' is another community dance performed by both men and women. The war dance 'Solakia', a prerogative of the male population of the community, is accompanied by rhythmic beating of the drums Exhibition and sale of indigenous Handloom and Handicraft products and other tourist attractions like flower show, food festival, musical competition and different traditional games are also organized during the Chapchar Kut festival.
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