Thousands participate in Song Kristan celebrations in Garo Hills

TURA: The annual Song Kristan celebration of song and dance to bring the curtains down on the Christmas and New Year celebrations culminated at the traditional venue of Bangsi Apal village near Dainadubi in North Garo Hills on Tuesday with thousands of people, both young and old, gathering from different villages to take part in the open field on a bright and sunny day.

Song Kristan is an open dance form in which the drummers lead the villagers in a traditional dance around the field to express gratitude to the Almighty for the peaceful and successful Christmas celebrations. It is a practice that has been going on for generations in the Garo Hills, particularly in the Northern region bordering Assam.

This year’s celebrations witnessed mammoth crowds of nothing less than ten thousand people who joined the group dances as musicians beating drums, cymbals and playing the flute led them.

 “Before we embraced Christianity we were Songsareks (pagans). We celebrated the harvest festival of Wangala and  sang devotional songs known as ‘Kirtan’ for our Gods. Gradually as Christianity spread the celebration form evolved into Song Kristan to praise the Almighty after conversion to Christianity. Song is Garo word for village and Kristan is Christianity,” clarified some of the participants who took part in this year’s celebrations.

‘Song Kristan’ borrows itself from the word Kirtan which is a form of religious performance, connoting a musical form of narration or shared recitation, particularly of spiritual or religious ideas. Early Songsareks were inspired by neighbouring Assam based Hindus performing ‘Kirtan’ and caught on with the tradition, more than a century ago. This later evolved into the form that is seen today.

“Traditionally, we welcome the Christmas season about a month before it is due with children and grown-ups doing rounds of Song Krittan near their villages. While there have been competitions now set up to see the best groups, the one in Bangsi Apal is completely open – meaning any group can come and be a part of the tradition,” said CR Marak, a resident of Dainadubi.

The Dilma Apal open event on Tuesday was organised by the 2nd Jan Dance Management Committee which consists of Nokmas and Sordars of neighbouring villages.

“People have come from places that are more than 10 kms away, including Wageasi, Nishangram, Damra, to be a part of this celebration. They dance and sing throughout their journey to the destination and the energy continues when they get here,” said one of the organizers.

“The energy around is electric and anyone that comes here wants to put on their dancing shoes. Nobody is judging you for your level of skill. You just have to be there and just let go,” added BD Sangma, a resident of Tura in WGH, who came to the venue to be a part of the program.

The event yesterday started at 11 am and continued till about 6 pm with not one moment going by without singing and dancing by cheerful revelers.

“This is a unique tradition and needs to have been promoted into the tourism calendar. Unfortunately that has not been done and something as unique as this is being sidelined. Hope the government gives the event its due,” said another local resident, Anthony Marak.