Nyokum Yullo Festival of Arunachal Pradesh – A Detailed Guide!

“It’s raining here, soon flowers will bloom and birds will flock”, Chukhu Mama my host for Yazali Nyokum Yullo Festival said.

Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, India, Fields on way

“Ahh! I am looking forward to seeing them”, I beamed as I mentally ran through lovely orchid gardens of the state famously known to be a Paradise of the Botanists.

“Well, you may see them…provided we don’t eat the birds first” added my host jovially.

“Ah! Interesting!!” I managed to mumble.

Little did I know that this was going to be my one of many “Ah! Interesting!!” moments that I was going to experience during my visit to Nyokum Yullo festival in Arunachal Pradesh.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

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Who are Nyishis?

Arunachal has 26 tribes and 112 sub tribes with their own distinct traditions and values.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
Source: Apatani- Tribal Architecture

Nyishi is one of the groups of tribe collectively known as Tani tribes. They believe that the entire human race had descended from the same ancestor Atu Nyia Tani which means the primal ancestor.

In Nishi, their traditional language, ‘Nyi’ refers to a Man or Human Race that descended from Atu Nyai and the word ishi denotes “Highland”, which combined together means the descendants for Atu Nyia Tani who dwell in the highland.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

The Nyishis pray to a number of spirits, deities, and souls for blessings, but they principally worship the sun (Donyi) and the moon (Polo) as the visible forms of the god.

Profound Philosophical Concept – Donyi Polo

The Nyishis follow the Donyi-Polo religion. Donyi-Polo literally means “Sun-Moon” and is an animist religion. Which means that the Nyishis believe that every natural thing in the universe has a soul.

Donyi Polo religion of Apatani Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, India

Though they worship the sun and the moon, they are not nature worshipers. They believe that sun and moon are physical representations of the supreme god which illuminate the earth. Donyi, the Sun is looked upon as a female god who is the creator of all and Polo, the moon is considered a male god who is the guardian of all.

They believe in the profound philosophical concept that the God is formless, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and so it is within you, within me and within all creations. This is the main reasons why there are no temples of Donyi Polo.

Read about the Tattooed Apatani Tribes of Ziro!

The Legend behind the Nyokum Yullo Festival

So the legend goes that there were two spirits, ‘Kibu’ and ‘Yabu’. These spirits or ‘Uyus’ as they are called here, tortured Atu Nyia Tani (also called Abotani), the powerful and great ancestor of the Nyishis. Due to the torture, Abotani lost his eyes, powers and as a result, his fields were destroyed.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

Abotani was advised by the religious priest (called Nyibus) to worship ‘Nyokum Uyus’. Appeased by Abotani, Nyokum restored the eyesight and lost the power of Abotani which resulted in bumper crops on his field.

Since that day, the descendants of Abotani, worship Nyokum and celebrate the Nyokum Festival.

Nyokum Yullo

The Nyishis believe in malevolent (bad) and benevolent (good) ‘Uyus’ i.e. spirits dwelling in every patch of forest, stone, rivers, streams, waterfalls, mountains.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
Nyishis believe that malevolent & benevolent spirits dwell in nature and need to be propitiated!

The main occupation of the Nyishis is agriculture. While these Uyus (Spirits) protect crops they can also cause diseases and so they have to be propitiated.

The Nyishi community performs many rituals in order to appease the ‘Uyus’.

However, ‘Nyokum’ is the most important festival as appeasing the Uyus in this festival assures happiness, good health, wealth, the vitality of domesticated animals and of course ‘a good harvest’.

Loss of culture is Loss of Identity

Nyokum was celebrated traditionally at clan level, seeking safety and prosperity of the people who had observed Nyokum. While Nyokum used to be a clan ritual, Yulo was more for the well being of all living beings celebrated at the village level.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
Nyishi Girls preparing for the celebration

With the increasing number of conversions to other religions and the need to protect one’s identity, Nyokum Yulo started being organized as a community celebration.

For the first time in 1968, it was celebrated at a community level in the Joram village of Arunachal Pradesh.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
A Nyishi Man carves a bamboo for decorating the altar

Since then it has become a symbol of a united tribal identity.

Nyokum Yulo Festival: From Ritual to Festival

What was once an agricultural ritual performed in isolated settlements, has now become a government recognized holiday (26th February) celebrated annually in two or more locations in the state.

Chief Minister Arunachal Pradesh Pema Khandu Nyokum Yullo Festival
At the center is Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Pema Khandu!

I had the opportunity of participating in the Golden Jubilee celebration of Nyokum Yulo Festival in Yazali from 23rd to 27th February.

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The Sacrificial Mithun

The Nyokum Yulo ceremony is marked by the sacrifice of ‘Mithun’ (Bos frontalis) who is considered to be a symbol of “peace and communal harmony” and its sacrifice is said to usher in the prosperity and well-being of all living beings.

The Mithun, Bos frontalis, often referred to as ‘the cattle of the mountains’ and ‘ship of the highland’, is considered a descendant of the wild Indian gaur or bison.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
The Sacrificial Mithun

Every Nyishi owns at least one or more Mithun as it is not only a symbol of social status and a must dowry gift but also most mandatory for sacrifice in most of the Nyishi ceremonial rituals. Rearing of Mithuns is considered a noble act.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
The sacrificial Mithun which is tied down in the ritual ground is consoled by the priest.

The priest tells the Mithun not to be sorry for his death as his death is for a larger good, being the welfare of mankind, crops, and domestic animals.

The Nyokum Yullo Procession

On the final day of the festival, all the villagers assemble for the procession.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

Women sing and dance to propitiate the Uyus.

They sing about abundant crops and goodwill, health and unity among all the people, happiness, abundance, peace and prosperity.

Dipr Nyibu – Man disguised as an Evil Spirit

A man called ‘Dipr Nyibu’ disguised as the evil spirit ‘Dirr Erri’, carries a bamboo basket on his back for stealing articles from every household of the village. He represents the evil or the bad spirit.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
Chasing the evil spirits away!

Conceptually it means driving away the bad omen from the village. He is chased out of the village by the children where he finally throws away the contents of the basket.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

A fowl or an egg is fixed on the top of a bamboo pole known as ‘Tori’. Young men carry such poles through the procession. At the end of the procession, the Tori is then placed on the altar.

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The Nyishis believe that if the Priest has chanted the right chants and in the correct manner the village will be blessed.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

They also believe that if the priest has done his job well it will definitely rain on the day of the prayer…and it surely did rain that day.

Place of Worship

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
Uyus Ako – Altar for worshipping

The place of worship where the altar of different deities is erected is called ‘Uyus Ako’.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
The Head Priest is called Nyokum Yullo Nyibu

The head priest who conducts the worship is known as ‘Nyokum Yullo Nyibu’. Hymns are chanted by the priest evoking the ‘Uyus’.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

Women come with ‘Opo’ or ‘Apong’ (Local millet beer) filled ‘Harcha’ (vessel made of dried bottle gourd) covered with ‘Khoham Okh’ (leaves).

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

The water and leaves are then offered at different altars.

The ‘Opo’ or ‘Apong’ (Local millet beer) is offered to everyone!

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

The Millet beer is considered as sacred and it occupies a special place in many rituals, festivals, marriages and communal gathering.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

People rejoice by dancing around the altar while the priest chants hymns!

The Celebrations

Tribes from various parts of Arunachal Pradesh performed their traditional dance.

The Nyishi Tribe Women demonstrate the process of making of Millet Beer during the Nyokum Yullo Festival.

The Adi tribes performed an energetic Tapo War Dance!

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

In the Tapo War Dance, the dancers vigorously re-enact the actions of war, its gory details and the triumphant cries of the warriors.

The Tai Khamti are one of the major tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. The word ‘Khamti’ means ‘a land full of gold’

Tai Khamti Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
A Tai Khamti dancer gets ready before her performance
The Peacock Dance also known as ‘Kaa Kingnara Kingnari’ is a prominent dance among the Tai Khamti tribe in Arunachal Pradesh.
 
Tai Khamti Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
Colorful wings of the Mythic Half Human & Half Peacock
This dance is a Buddhistic belief in nature which depicts the slow and gracious dance of mythical half human and a half peacock that existed in the Himalayas (Source)
 
Tai Khamti Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
The Roosters rest before their fight!

Cock Fight Dance also known as ‘Kaa Kong Tou Kai’ is performed by two or four people who wear a headgear shaped like the head of the cock. (Source).

This dance usually shows a fight between two cocks and is inspired by the ancient tradition of entertaining the king with a cockfight.  

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The famous Erap Dance was presented by the Galo Tribe.

Galo Tribe Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

In early days, Erap used to be a retreat dance after a war expedition.

The Lion & Peacock Dance by the Monpa Tribe

Monpa Tribe Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh IndiaThe legend goes that two snow lions fed their milk to a holy saint who was doing a tough meditation. After his meditation was over the saint danced with the lion making merry and this form of dance was named as the lion and peacock dance. 

Cleansing Process – Riya Gama

Next day morning, a meal is cooked specially for the ladies who performed the Nyokum.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

Next day the women of the village carry water filled ‘Harcha’ (vessel made of dried bottle gourd) and some leaves for the offering.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

They clean themselves with water and offer the leaves at the altar.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

‘Amyemch Hikanam’ is then done.

Amyemch Hikanam means predicting the future prosperity and finance of the ladies who performed Nyokum.

The priest holds a small measuring cup and asks the women to fill it up one by one.

Even though the same amount of grain is put inside the cup, the heap of grain takes various shapes which help the priest in predicting whether the lady will have a good or bad or an average future.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India
Predicting Future!

The retreat of the Priests

It is time for the priests to retreat.Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh IndiaNo ceremony is complete without the ‘Opo’ or ‘Apong’ (Local millet beer)!Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

Worshiping the nature

Spreading the message of peace, harmony, and brotherhood this festival embodies the rich culture and traditions of the Nyishi people.

It’s wonderful to observe that the Nyishis believe that every living creature has a role to play in his or her life be it the tiniest of an organism or the mightiest of animals.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

Worship the nature for it is she who nourishes the mankind is the message I am taking back from this unique festival.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

Food

The Nyishis mostly eat boiled rice, boiled Mithun, Boiled chicken, Boiled vegetables..well basically everything boiled.

For a vegetarian the eating options are very limited. If you are not experimentative, I would suggest carry some Ready-to-eat food from home.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

I am a vegetarian and I did indulge in their food. I carried and consumed Whey Protein to fulfil my body’s protein requirement.

I had millet cake (made of ground and boiled millet), has Tash (made from sago palm) and boiled rice with ginger chutney. I had lots LOTS of boiled eggs.

There are small eating joints in Yazali that offer fried rice and Parathas.

Pineapples and Millet beer are my Recommendations!

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ILP (Inner Line Permit) for Indians

All citizens of India not from Arunachal Pradesh, need to apply for Inner Line Permit (ILP) to enter into Arunachal Pradesh.

  • The ILPs are issued by the Issuing authorities of Government of Arunachal Pradesh with offices at Delhi, Kolkata, Tezpur, Guwahati, Shillong, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, and Jorhat.

  • You can get ILP right at the Guwahati airport as well. Look for Arunachal Tourism office at the airport. ILP is issued if you can show the original of any govt. issued photo identity card which has your address on it (Voter Id card, Driving License, passport etc). You will also need a passport photo with white background.

  • PAN Card is NOT accepted if you are applying offline. Government-issued documents on which your address is mentioned, are accepted.

  • ILP can be applied online. Click here for details.

  • Online applications take a day while offline can take from 30 minutes to few hours depending upon the queue at the place where you apply.

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PAP (Protected Area Permit) for Non-Indians

Frequently Asked Questions on Protected Area Permit(PAP)/Restricted Area Permit (RAP) can be read here.

You can read more on Travel Permits to North East India!

Reaching Yazali

traffic jam, ziro, arunachal pradesh

  • Reaching Yazali can be quite an adventure and an arduous process.

  • Reach Guwahati, Assam which is connected via air and rail with major cities of India.

  • You can directly drive from Guwahati to Yazali. Till Itanagar, the newly built highway is in a good condition.

  • The other option is to catch the Naharlagun Express that leaves Guwahati Railway Station at around 9.20 PM every day and reaches Naharlahun railway station (Also known as Itanagar) early in the morning.

  • shared taxis, ziro valley, arunachal pradesh

      Just for Fun!!
  • You can either take an auto or a state transport bus to either Itanagar or Naharlagun (twin cities). It is easy to find shared taxis (sumos) which go to Yazali (and beyond). It’s a potholed, scenic two and a half hour drive from Itanagar.

  • You can contact Raju +91 8415034250 who runs a couple of taxis on this route.

When to Visit

  • Nyokum Yulo Festival is celebrated in Yazali from 23rd to 27th February 2018.

Places to visit nearby

Travel Tips

  • Don’t forget to carry a Government issued identity card which also has your address on it.
  • Although rain is possible in any month it is heaviest from March through September. Remember to carry rain sheets/umbrella.

Good Books

  • Cultural Fiesta in the “Island of peace” Arunachal Pradesh – by Guptajit Pathak, Raju Gogoi which can be purchased here.

  • Dictionary of the Apatani Language – Read Here

  • Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains: Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent (Shortlisted for the 2018 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award) – Read Here

  • Click here to read about how the Tribes of Chhattisgarh celebrate Dussera festival for 75 days.

Credits:

I would like to thank Mr. Chukhu Mama for the invaluable inputs that he kept giving to my innumerable and seemingly unending questions! His parents who were there when Nyokum Yullo was celebrated for the first time were a great help too.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

Mr. Chukhu Mama teaches tourism in Rajiv Gandhi Government College, Itanagar and can be contacted at +91 98628 30513 for queries regarding Yazali Nyokum Yulo Festival.

Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

My thanks to Taba Anju for giving me an insight into their culture and beliefs. Taba Anju is doing Ph.D. on Etymology in Itanagar and is a priest’s daughter.

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Nyokum Yullo Festival, Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh India

27 thoughts on “Nyokum Yullo Festival of Arunachal Pradesh – A Detailed Guide!”

  1. Very nice description and amazing pictures, will help the tourist to reach right place at right time.I am waiting for your next visit to another interesting place followed by it’s travel blog.All the best
    Neela Ingle

  2. Wow,for the last half an hour l felt like myself was there attending that festival . Very well written Richa 👍👌

  3. Thank you Ms Richa for promoting our culture. I did spot you on the festive day 😀 Come and explore the wilderness, and experience the rustic life.

    • Heyy Taggu, what a lovely surprise and I am so glad that you as a local are appreciative of the post! I am doing a small happy dance here 😉

    • Thanks for the awesome AND encouraging words and we should totally plan something to taste the Millet Beer or at least the wine you made!!

  4. Wow, I had no idea about such a unique festival. Wish I can attend it some day. Honestly, I don’t really believe in sacrificing of innocent animals who literally can not speak for themselves and are rather sacrificed. But apart from this, it’s a nice ritual to attend. I didn’t know they need an ILP for Indians too, do you have any idea why is that? Arunachal is a part of India, then why a permit is required, strange!

    • Heyy Shivani, the inner line permit (ILP) is required by Indian citizens to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Mizoram. This is an offshoot of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873, which protected Crown’s interest in the tea, oil and elephant trade by prohibiting “British subjects” from entering into these “Protected Areas” (to prevent them from establishing any commercial venture that could rival the Crown’s agents). The word “British subjects” was replaced by Citizen of India in 1950. Despite the fact that the ILP was originally created by the British to safeguard their commercial interests, it continues to be used in India, officially to protect tribal cultures in northeastern India.

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