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Date of Publish: 2016-06-07

Khelchawa festival of the Hill Tiwas – a Photo Essay by Prabir Kumar Talukdar


Tharakhunji is small hamlet situated in the West Karbi Anglong district of Assam. Situated around 70km from the city of Guwahati, Tharakunji is one of many homes to the Hill Tiwas.

The Tiwas are a colulour tribe of Assam. They are divided into two sub-groups namely, Hill Tiwas and Plain Tiwas. Though, their demography is not limited to the districts of Assam but also Meghalaya where a large section of Hill Tiwa population thrives. Although separated by a huge margin and plagued with social issues, both of the subgroups showcase very sharp contrast of their respective culture.

Tharakhunji is the host to the quinquennial festival of Khelchawa. A festival, which celebrates the efforts of young boys becoming an adult.

Interestingly, the festival of Khelchawa is a completely male dominated affair in a matrilineal society.

The Hill Tiwa villages are a cluster of around seven villages which combine to form and run under one name. Tharakunji is one of seven villages under Ronkhwali.

'Wali' in Tiwa language is villages. 'Loro' is the head of 'Wali' who supervise the religious and judicial duties required. In every cluster, there will be a 'Samadi' or 'DekaChang' which in simple term means bachelor's dormitory. The idea of Khelchawa revolves around this 'Dekachang' only.

In a given year, young boys of aged between 10-14 years will enroll themselves for the festival. For the next five years, they will be given the task to earn money from a range of activities. They will be the main leads in religious or cultural events in the villages. After the elapse of five years, committees and villagers will sit down for a meeting.

The Khelchawa festival is headed by four different committees. They are namely:
1. Bisai Committee,2. Tulia Committee,3. Khundar Committee,4. Bandhai Committee.


The Bisai Committee which consist of seven members is the collective head of the festival. They are ranked as1. Changdoloi,2. Changmaji, 3. Tongoria,4.Uruma, 5.Khurimaji,6. Khurimaji Majua,7. Khurimaji Chotia.

These seven members will be assigned a specific set of duties and responsibilities needed to carry out the festival in the most pleasing manner. They are the lead organizers of the festival.

Once the festival month is fixed, the committees will sit down for an auspicious date. Preferably, Khelchawa is celebrated after the harvesting season. Held over a period of four days, Monday is chosen as the inauguration day.

Pigs are sacrificed in front of the 'Dekachang' as a mark of respect for their local deities collectively known as 'Lampha Raja'. 

The next successive days are then celebrated with full vigor and charm where young boys now adults dressed in traditional Tiwa costume come out from their home to stay in the 'Samadi' and perform to one of the most popular folk songs of the Tiwas.

With a rampant aggression of globalization and plagued with ill governance, Hill Tiwas are already losing a major chunk of their population to the urbanization. In the coming days, it's the responsibility of every one of us to preserve and hail the cultural beauty of this tribe who once believed to have crossed the mighty Himalayas into the Brahmaputra valley and helped to form the greater Assamese ethnicity.

Photo and text - Prabir Kumar Talukdar

( Prabir Kumar Talukdar is a freelance journalist. He travels around the country to capture stories. He is a recipient of  2015 Trust Women Photo Award by Thomson Reuters Foundation and Microsoft.  He can be reached at prabir008@gmail.com. His mobile no is  73995-02650 )



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