Rong Chu Gala festival
The Pirgachha village of Modhupur thana is situated in the Tangail district. The Mandi community, widely known as the Garos, primarily inhabit this locality. Throughout the months of Bhadra and Ashwin (Autumn) the air around the villages of Modhupur is filled with the sounds of the Aduri, a traditional trumpet of the Mandis, made from an ox's horn. The Aduri is usually played during the festivals. Like any other autumn, the sounds of the Aduri vibrated in the air of Modhupur announcing the Rong Chu Gala festival.
Mandis celebrate the Rong Chu Gala festival right after the sowing of the Aman rice. They worship Shaljong (the sun god), asking for his blessings for a good harvest.
During the festival, everyone gathers at the house of the village chief. The festival starts at his house after the sowing is completed. The chief along with his team of dancers go from house to house and perform the War Dance. In every house the head of the family and elderly members of the clan join the dance. The War Dance is a group dance with wooden swords and shields. The women folk usually have a reunion during this festival. In every house they have a rice wine called Chu. It is a custom to share the wine with the members of the family and to offer every visitor a glass.
I was visiting the Pirgachha village with a team of Bawm and Tanchangya artists from Rangamati and Bandarban. They were visiting the area as a part of a cultural interaction programme between the indigenous communities arranged by The Society for Environment and Human Development.
When we arrived at the Pirgachha village on August 31 (16 Bhadra), the group of dancers moved to the Chunia village. So we started our stroll around the precincts in search of the dancers and the Aduri. On our way we stopped at one of the houses to witness the Mee Khaa Aa, another important event of the Rong Chu Gala festival. It is a symbolic offering to the dead. Every family offers a token amount of paddy as yearly ration to the departed members. They believe the dead need food too. A memorial is built in the backyard. Every dead member of the family gets a Khimma, a curved wooden pole fixed on the ground symbolising deceased elderly relatives.
Around the Khimma they hang paddy on bamboo poles. This freshly picked paddy is a token amount of the yearly ration. Rounds of Chu are also a part of this occasion.
From there we continued our stroll to the Chunia village. It was just 2 km away. As we approached Chunia, the sound of the Aduri grew louder. In one of the homesteads, we finally found the chief and his team of dancers. They were sitting in the round shaped yard playing Aduri along with other instruments like the Dama and Natup ,both traditional drums. They say that the Dama is the mother drum and the Natup, a little drum of a similar shape, is the baby. The rice wine Chu was kept in one corner. Every adult member of the homestead was sipping from his or her own glass.
An exchange of ideas was one intention of the trip. The festival was a good opportunity for the Bawm and Tanchangya youngsters to witness a few ingredients of the Mandi lifestyle. It gave them a chance to share their insights with another indigenous community of Bangladesh. Today like every other indigenous community living in Bangladesh, the Mandis too are gradually altering their lifestyles, trying to fit in with the fast changing world. The majority of the Mandis being Christians, festivals like Rong Chu Gala is losing its touch. Many families do not celebrate the occasion anymore.
Yet many still join in the celebration, praying to the sun god, hoping for a good harvest. The singing and dancing continues until the last house of the village is visited. Rong Chu Gala ends at the house of the chief, from where it had all started.
By Shahnaz Parveen
Photo: Philip Gain