Wangala – The Festival of 100 Drums

It would feel really clichéd if I started writing this post describing how diverse the culture of this country is. But it is true. In my time spent as a backpacker, I have enjoyed a lot of beautiful festivals with their own unique customs and traditions and Wangala is no different.

Celebrated by the Garo Tribe of Meghalaya and Bangladesh, Wangala is one of the many harvest festivals of North East India. Each tribe residing in this region has their own way to thank their gods for the surplus growth and they sing and dance to celebrate the end of harvest season.

I wanted to attend Wangala for a couple of years but was never able to make it. I was able to kick it off my travel bucket list last year in November and like many of my misadventures, this started on the wrong foot. In this process, I made two mistakes –

  1. Tura, the region where Wangala festival is famous, only has two homestays. I spoke to one of the owners and decided to book it once some of my payments are cleared. It kept getting delayed and when I was on my way to Guwahati, I realized that I didn’t have any place to live. So I called Alva Sangama and her place was completely booked. She helped me connect with another homestay but I had to pay more than what Alva was charging. This made a huge dent in my travel budget.
  2. Instead of leaving a day earlier (to save money), I decided to leave for Tura on the day festival was starting. It was a smart thing to do but it also backfired. Drivers began to protest because of some unfair taxes that were implied upon them and none of the jeeps left from Guwahati. After waiting for 3 hours, a bus arrived and it took us to Tura. By this time, my mind was filled with fear that this journey is not going to turned out to be good. But thankfully, the only issue I faced was paying for more than I had planned for but since food was so good, I didn’t really regret much.

Now that my regret rant is over, here is everything you need to know about Wangala Festival of Garo Tribe.

What is Wangala Festival

Wangala is the post harvest festival of Garo Tribe celebrated in the month of November. North East India has many tribes and all of them are agrarian. Their harvest festivals are celebrated with grand fervour and enthusiasm. These festivals are celebrated in April and then in November. Wangala is one of the many festivals.

While Garo Tribe celebrate Wangala, the Khasi Tribe celebrate Nongkrem on the same date so you can only attend one unless you are ready to travel from one place to another within a short time period.

Wangala Customs and Rituals

Wangala is the thanksgiving of Garo Tribe. The folks pay their respect to Misi Saljong or PattiGipa Ra’Rongipa (The Great River). A day before Wangala, the village chief ‘Nokma’ performs a ritual known as ‘Rugala’. During Rugala, an offering consisting of Rice Beer, vegetables, rice is offered to the gods.

On day 2 Nokma performs Sasat Sowa where he burns incense and predicts the quality of harvest in the coming season.

The Revival and Creation of a Cultural Icon

The first 100 drums Wangala Festival was organized in 1976. The intention behind this was to revive the Garo Culture that was getting lost due to migration and cultural mix-up. With time, Wangala has evolved and has started to showcase local talent and handicraft to woo the tourists.

Attending the 42nd Wangala Festival

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When I reached the festival ground at Assanang, the festival had already started. But it was the day one of the event and they participants were showing their skills in a competition. The atmosphere of the festival ground was already abuzz with slow thumps of drums in unique sounds coming from the troops sitting in their cabins.

But for me the most amazing aspect of the festival was the fact that there were NO INSTAGRAM TOURISTS. I was along with only 15 other spectators who were from different countries. WOW!

We were asked to sit outside the performance venue. I was kind of difficult to capture everything from that distance but I managed. I left for my homestay in the evening and after a scrumptious dinner, I called off the night.

Next morning, Alva came to pick me up. We ventured to the performance venue and took our places. Today, the environment was more flexible and I was able to move from a point to another. The morning saw rituals being performed where everyone was drinking and making others drink Rice Beer. The drink was offered to the guests and after sipping it on polite request (which is also one of the best photo of mine from the festival), I almost lost my senses.

The rest of the festival was spent hopping around the festival ground and wondering how I will manage my budget for next few days as I was supposed to Arunachal and Nagaland. But in the end everything was sorted out perfectly. Wangala is set to gain popularity in the coming years as the organizers have got hold of a land and are constructing a stadium for a better festival experience.

How to Reach Tura

Tura is 4 hours away from Guwahati so if your luck is not like mine, you’ll get a shared jeep or sumo from Paltan Baazar at 6 in the morning which will drop you near the festival venue by 10 or 11. Make sure that you get a ticket for your seat a day in advance. There are buses from Shillong but that too passes via Guwahati.

Wangala Festival Venue Assanang is 18 km away from Tura and arrives first when you travel form Guwahati.

Places to Stay in Tura

Tura doesn’t have many homestays, although a few more would have come up since the last festival. I had planned to stay at Bliss Homestay that is run by Alva Sangama but I delayed my booking and it got filled up. So I had to move to another homestay which was pretty good but the price was higher. The food was really good and I had multiple choices for breakfast and dinner. The homestay also had a waterfall in the backyard (which I apparently missed). On the day I was leaving, they dropped me at the taxi stand and I made my way back to Guwahati without any hassle.

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