The Northeast India, fondly called the land of seven sisters, is a fascinating place with enchanted frontiers. Bounded by China on the North, Bangladesh on the West and Myanmar on the South and East, the region encompasses 2.55 lakhs sq.kms about 8% of the country’s land and is home to 38.5 million people, which is 4% of the India’s population. It is only the 22 km Siliguri corridor, a narrow strip of land, in West Bengal, popularly known “chicken’s neck” which connects this region to the rest of mainland India. The region comprises the states of:
The ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity of the region is as much breathtaking and awesome as its verdant hills, meandering rivers and lush valleys. Two third of the region consists of hilly terrain and the rest is flat land and valleys including the Brahmaputra, Barak and Imphal valleys. Ethnically, this diverse and heterogeneous region boasts of 272 tribes and 192 languages and dialects. Many races and cultures fuse and melt into the composite culture of the melting pot that is India.
Nature has been its benign best in the region; the picturesque landscape and colourful sunrise and sunset and the verdant flora. It is also a gene pool of rich biodiversity. Northeast is known for its scenic beauty and unspoiled environment. People live in harmony with nature. This harmony of men and nature comes out very well in their art works and paintings. Come to the world of aesthetics and fine arts like painting, the North easterners are very highly gifted.
Geographical conditions, that is, location in latitudes & longitudes, physical features, particularly altitude, soil and climatic conditions determine the flora and fauna of a place. All these factors taken together with ethnicity, major occupations, stages of productive systems including tools and implements used and the action and interaction with the outside world form the social fabrics which in turn, in a combined manner, determine the culture and the way of life of its people.
The Northeast Zone is no exception to this general rule. The above factors are rather more conspicuous in this region, especially because of the mosaic of multi-lingual ethnicity, multifarious customs and traditions and very little actions and interactions with the outside, even amongst the tribes in the region, owing primarily to geographic barriers and lack of communication system.
The people of the Northeast Zone are more or less mixtures of different ethnicity, though some special characteristics are especially conspicuous on each tribe, which gave them their special identity. Owing to geographical barrier, the tribes have lived for centuries in isolation - from among the other tribes as well as from the people of the plains.
This seclusion together with the instinctive passion for survival by keeping their heritage intact, have cast many rigidities – in their, marriages, funeral ceremonies, at child birth, festivals, religious rites, even in dresses, crafts, songs, music and poetry. They are usually very rigid on use of colours. Vegetable dyes were mostly used and original shades, namely, sun-set red, deep sky blue or the blue of the hills, jungle greens, dark black, etc. – all the strong and vivid hues of nature, without any mixture are very common. Each tribe has its own colour emblem. Among the hill tribes, the height of the hills seems to dictate the colour-contour. As one descends down, the hues are diluted and on the plains those are fade and mixed.
Their traditional poetry and folk songs mostly veer round prayers to Gods, war cries, joys of victory and love-songs. The musical sounds resemble those of raw nature and the wild life. The motifs on their cloths do sometimes relate to their ancestral past, tribe’s gods or simply imitations of the sun, the moon, mountains, rivers, flowers, leaves and branches of trees. Sometimes they symbolise their tools and weapons and utensils. All over the Northeast Region the above specialties are found.
The rich tapestry of cultures of Northeast ranges from the highly developed classical dance forms and visual arts of Assam and Manipur to the vibrant and rhythmic folk dances and songs of the hill people of the entire region. Manipur is famous the world over for its award winning playwright and dramatist Ratan Thiyam and award winning filmmaker Shyam Sharma. Manipuri classical dance has evolved to a very high form and has earned a name for itself among the country’s performing arts. The famed Assamese playback singer late Bhupen Hazarika needs no introduction to music scene in India. The Burman singers from Tripura have made their own mark in Bollywood.