The Dree Festival is an Apatani agricultural rite. It involves the sacrifice of fowls, eggs and animals to the gods – Tamu, Metii and Danyi Pilo(Sun and Moon God). The purpose of the festival is to appease these gods so that famine could be avoided. This rite is observed by the Apatanis in Arunachal Pradesh, India. The Apatanis, who inhabit a tranquil pine clad valley called Ziro at the core of Lower Subansiri District of Arunachal Pradesh, are famous for their unique practice of wet rice cultivation. One would wonder as to how the early Apatanis had brilliantly discovered the magnificent irrigated rice cultivation without help of scientific technologies. Rice is the staple food of the Apatanis, as such for its bumper harvest the nature God and goddesses are prayed during the Dree Festival from 4 to 7 July of each year.
(1) According to one traditional version, at IIpyo Supung one day Abotani was roaming around in the jungle with his dog. After reaching inside deep jungle the dog started barking at a tree called "Hirii Tangu Sanii". Abotani looked at the tree and noticed a Paddy plant along with some rats, squirrels, bees and Larvae of dragon fly (gonchi) were hanging on that tree. But he did not pull it down from the tree as it was not ripened and went away. In the winter season Diihin Hiikhiin Miiri (snows) started falling down. That paddy crops which was hanging on the tree became ripen and fell into a stream called "Harchi Hassang ka hado Siigang". But nobody knew about that paddy crop. Then Abotani went out to search the paddy. At last he found the paddy crops under the possession of Diisi-Aki, Diiro-Arro, Nyalyang Takhii and Gora Tako (all were fishermen). They got the paddy from the river with the help of fishing trap. Abotani after making a long and repeated request obtained a little quantity of paddy crops from them and on the advice of Aba Liibo and Anii Donii he started a rice terrace cultivation at a very fertile land called Jilyu Myogang and Tolyo Siiper. Gradually he increased the quantity of his rice and he became rich and prosperous. Unfortunately at one particular period of time the healthy paddy plant in the field turned pale and started wilting. The crops failed miserably for two consecutive years because of harmful pests and insects that resulted in famine. When Abotani was at his wits end Aba Liibo and Anii Donii advised him to perform the Dree rites in order to ward off the harmful pests and insect which were destroying the paddy. The prominent priests Changu Mitur and Dogu Miser were believed to have been selected by Abotani to perform the ceremony of Dree rite, which in turn propitiated Diiri Paro and Yarii Aki to eat up all harmful pests and insects. Diiri Paro and Yarii Aki however could not kill all as some pests and insects remained underground. For this reason, the priests requested Sky God (Yapung Uhi) for rain so that the pests that remained underground could come out. After performance of Yapung Uhi also some pests still remained underground. Finally, the priest requested Tamu God which rescued Abotani by killing all remaining pests and insects. As a result, the paddy plants become healthy and yielded bumper crops in that year. On that occasion having got relief from the hard situation Abotani felt very happy and gave his commitment before those gods and goddesses that he and his descendents would perform the Dree rituals every year. Hence the Dree is celebrated by people of Apatani every year during the month of July.
(2) Another version says that Abotani married Pyodu Biinyi, daughter of Pyodu Tamang. One day Abotani invited his father in law and his family members at his house in spite of strong objection raised by his wife, Pyodu Biinyi. Accordingly, they came to his house and stayed there for some days. During their short stay in the house of Abotani they gobbled up all the food items even the husk stored under the byarang (rice husking porch in the house). At last Abotani asked his father in–law as to how should they manage food to feed themselves. Then Pyodu Tamang immediately picked up an arrow (Murto) and stroke at a particular tree called Tabe or Tiibe and told him to make food out of it to feed themselves. In that year the people had faced an acute shortage of food items and it brought a serious famine and epidemics in the society. The dogs and fowls became wild due to hunger as they were not given food for many days. The dogs started wondering in the street just like mad and biting the people on their (Liige) hamstring and the hens started biting on their (Lage) on their hands. When the situation becomes unmanageable some intellectual people comprising priest, Bulyang, Gora, Gittu, Giira, Nii, Pabo sat together at IIpyo Pandu Lapang and decided to perform the Dree rite. Abotani on the advice of Aba Liibo and Anii Doni selected Changu Mitu and Dogu Miser as priests to perform the Dree rite, which in turn propitiated Diiri Paro and Yarii Aki to eat up all harmful pests and insects. Diirii Paro and Yarii Aki however could not kill all as some pests and insects remained underground. For this reason, the priests requested Sky God (Yapung Uhi) for rain so that the pests that remained underground could come out. After performance of Yapung Uhi also some pests were still remained underground. Finally, the priest requested Tamu God which rescued Abotani by killing all remaining pests and insects. As result the paddy plants became healthy and yielded bumper crops after two years. On that occasion Abotani gave his commitment to the gods and goddesses that he and his descendent would perform the Dree rituals every year. Hence the Dree is celebrated by people of Apatani every year during the month of July.
(3) According to third version Abotani married Diilyang Diibu, the sister of Diilyang Tamang. She brought a lot of wealth along with some seeds of paddy and millet. After marriage they were enjoying peaceful, happy and prosperous family life. In the mean time a devil, Tini Rungya comes in the life of Abotani and she instigate against Diilyang Diibu and ultimately resulting in Diilyang Diibu's divorce from Abotani. She left the house of Abotani taking all her wealth and proceeded down towards Aha Diilyang Happa a fertile and plain region and settled there permanently. Immediately after Diilyang Diibu leaves his house Abotani marries Tini Rungya. In the beginning she pretended and demonstrated herself as an excellent and honest housewife. She always talked about the cultivation of fields, proper management of domestic works and development of family. She demanded Abotani 10 bundles of Palii (a curve agricultural tools made up of bamboo) and 5 bundles of Kele (a bamboo chisel used for removing weeds) to enable her to work in the fields with these tools properly. Accordingly, Abotani made him 10 bundles of Palii and 5 bundles of Kele for Tini Rungya. But practically she did not put these tools into agricultural work. Actually she did not take any interest in the cultivation. Every day early in the morning she went away from the house taking these tools to jungle. But instead of going to the field she directly went to a place called Supung Lanta (a huge and strange rocks standing in the jangle) and passed her time playing on the rock with these tools like a child. Thereby she made all the tools blunt and threw them away into the deep jangles. The condition of agriculture of Abotani deteriorated day by day. At last the agricultural land became barren as no one was there in the family to take up the cultivation works. They gradually became poor and helpless. They were having no food to eat and event all seeds of food grains had disappeared from the house of Abotani. At last Tini Rungya also divorced Abotani after ruining his life completely. After some years, one day Abotani along with his dog visited at Ashang Dilyang hapa, the place where Diilyang Diibu was staying after separation from Abotani and found that Diilyang Diibu was drying paddy under the sun. Having no courage to face her ex-wife Abotani sent his dog to steal some quantity of paddy from Diilyang Diibu. The dog obeyed the order of his master and rushed towards the place of drying paddy and rolled its hairy body on the paddy. Diilyang Diibu caught the dog and mopped up its body and dragged a way from her place. When the dog returned to him, Abotani noticed a little amount of paddy was gathered in the cavity of its ears and it was overlooked by Diilyang Diibu. Abotani was very happy to locate it and took out it gently and cautiously. After receiving it he decided to make it a large quantity to feed himself and his family members. So, at first it was sown in the Ugu Pachang (corners of the hearth). It grew and yielded a little larger quantity in one year. Next it was sown at Si Sita (Urinal) of house from which he got more quantity of paddy in comparison to previous year. Thereafter, it was sown in a nursery nearby his house from which he got some baskets of paddy. Then Abotani started a terrace cultivation at some distant in an area of fertile land from which he got sufficient quantity of paddy which was enough to feed themselves. With this he gradually became rich and prosperous. Unfortunately in a particular period of time the healthy paddy plant in the field turned pale and started wilting. The crops failed miserably for two consecutive years because of harmful pests and insects that resulted in famine. When Abotani was at its wits end Aba Liibo and Anii Donii advised him to perform the Dree rite in order to ward off the harmful pests and insects which were destroying the paddy. The prominent priests Changu Mitu and Dogu Miser were believed to have been chosen by Abotani to perform the ceremony of this rite, which in turn propitiated Diirii Paro and Yarii Aki to eat up all harmful pets and insects. Diiri Aki and Yarii Paro however could not kill all as some pests and insects are still remained underground. For this reason, the priest requested Sky God (Yapung Uhi) for rain so that the pests that remained underground could come out. After performance of Yapung Uhi also some pets were still remained underground. Finally the priest requested Tamu God which rescued Abotani by killing all remaining pests and insects. As a result, the paddy plants became healthy and yielded bumper crops in that year. On that occasion Abotani gave his commitment before the gods and goddesses that he and his descendent would perform the Dree rituals every year. Hence the Dree is celebrated by people of Apatani every year during the month of July.
During the Dree festival, four main altars (agyangs) are installed and deities are appeased thereby; these are Danyi, Tamu, Metii and Harniang.
- Danyi – Danyi is prayed for protecting of mankind and for prosperous life. Earlier, the Danyi was not performed during the Dree rituals, it was for first time introduced in 1967 after sacrificing a Mithun.
- Tamu- It is prayed for eating up harmful pests and insects.
- Metii- It is prayed for control of out break of famine and epidemics.
- Harniang- It is prayed for keeping the soil stable and to prevent the paddy plants from drying up.
It was in the later part of April 1967. After attending the Mopin festival at Pasighat town that the then students, Shri Lod Kojee and his friends studying in Jawaharlal Nehru College Pasighat, in course of an informal chat felt the need for having a festival centrally organised for the Apatanis. The Apatani society has half a dozen of pujas and festivals performed individually and collectively throughout the year but not a single puja or festival was performed at a central location on a fixed date participated by the entire community like those of Bihu of Assamese community, the Diwali of Hindus, the Solung and Mopin of Adi and Galo community, and so on. Accordingly, the possibilities of modification of few pujas and festivals of the Apatani at a centralised place on a uniformly fixed date was discussed. Due to the mythological rigidities, the modification of the pujas and festivals were not possible, but after long and hard persuasions the Dree was selected for modified celebration at a centralised location without affecting its traditional identity. Earlier, each village had its own choice of dates for commencement of the Dree. As per the modified programme, the date of centralised celebration was fixed on 5 to 7 July every year. Therefore, the village level traditional ritual performance takes place on the eve of the general celebration, i.e., on 4 July so that on the following day all the priest representatives from each village of the valley can participate in the centrally installed festival altar at general Dree ground.
It was the middle part of May 1967. The summer vacation of J N College Pasighat had already started. Before leaving for home the students of ziro divided amongst themselves into two groups. One group would go to Ziro and collect contributions or donations in kinds like mithun, goat, fowl, eggs, rice and other necessary materials for the celebration. The second group led by shri Lod Kojee was to proceed to Shillong for approaching the then NEFA Administration for financial assistance. At Shillong they apprised their proposal to Shri Jikom Riba the then special Social and Cultural Officer of North East Frontier Agency Administration. He led them to Shri P.N. Luthra the then Adviser to the Governor of Assam who granted them a sum of Rs 1000/= (Rupees one thousand) being the financial help towards the proposed Dree festival celebration and also he had consented to grace the occasion as chief guest.
Selection of Dree venue
One sunny day in the early part of June 1967, a public meeting was convened at Old Ziro which was chaired by late R.S. Nag the then Deputy Commissioner of Subansiri District. All Gaon Buras, public leaders and senior students of the valley attended the meeting. The meeting was a crucial one as it was regarding the selection of Dree venue, no decision could arrive at easily until afternoon.
The people of Reru, Tajang and Kalug Villages proposed that the Dree venue should be at Lajbogya(Place), near Bulla School. The people ofHari Village suggested that the Dree venue be at Byara(Place), near Hari school. The people of Hong Village demanded that the Dree venue should be at Hanoko(Place) near Hong school. The people of Mudang Tage and Michi- Bamin Village suggested that let the venue be at Biirii (Place), between Hong school and Mudang-Tage villages, while the people from Dutta and Hija VIllage suggested that the venue be at Nenchanglya, near Hija School. Finally, a decision was taken that the Dree venue should be selected at such a place that fulfills the following conditions;
- The Venue must be a centrally located in the valley.
- It must have easy access of conveyance.
- It must have a good play ground with sufficient areas for construction of sheds for huge gathering.
These conditions were agreed by all and decided that all representatives should visit the spots physically in the next day to ascertain as to which place fulfils the above-mentioned conditions. In the next day, it was reported that Nenchanglya, near Hija schools fulfills all the conditions and was finally selected as central Dree ground. On 5 July 1967, the Dree Agyang (altar) was installed at Nenchanglya. Since then the Apatanis have been celebrating the Dree festival centrally at Nenchanglya, the present Dree ground near Hija School.
Ritual performance turns to a festival
In olden days the Dree was observed on different days according to the convenience of the concerned 'Dree Goras' or 'Pantangs' (an organising committee at village level). It could not be called as festival in true sense, rather it was a ritual performance of the Apatanis. However, Dree Biisi (traditional folk song) amongst the girls, and games and sports like wrestling, high jumps etc. amongst the boys took place in the village level though they were not in a large scale as it is today. Now it is the biggest festival in Apatani valley, which is celebrated at other places as well where ever the Apatanis live. Festivals are the local point of the people's social and cultural life. These finds expression of people's zest for delightful living and love of pageantry. The Indian calendar is one long procession of festivals. These are as varied in origins as they are large in number. Now, the Dree is also one of them. However, earlier the Dree did not occupy such status in the society as compared to 'Murung puja' and 'Myoko puja'. Now, with the help of administration and educated society the Dree festival is being organised in a large scale at a centralised place which brings together not only Apatanis but other communities as well cementing the bonds of unity, integrity and friendship. Apart from this, the festival provides an opportunity to members of other societies to be acquainted with the rich traditional cultural. heritage of the Apatani community
The Dree as it is celebrated today
On 4 July in the evening the Dree priest traditionally inaugurates the Dree festival in their respected villages. Next day on the 5th July, Dree is officially solemnized and celebrated at common ground with traditional gaiety after it is inaugurated by a Chief Guest unfurling the Dree flag followed by Dree Anthem sung by group of artistes. As a part of festival the priest performs Dree rite ceremony appeasing all the benevolent gods and goddesses of agriculture and crops. One mithun, some animals, fowls and eggs are sacrificed for ritual and community feast. The participants are served with Dree Taku (cucumber), Dree 'O' (rice or millet beer) and community feast. To add colour to the celebration the Pri-Dances, Daminda and other folk dances are displayed. The modern dance/song, literary competition, games and sports competitions are other high light of the days. Along with Chief guest some other important dignitaries are also invited to grace the occasion. Events in Dree celebrations are as follows; (1) Dree Mihn Myaniin, (2) Miiju Miimyo Nii, (3) Dree Agyang Miinii, (4) Dree Benii, (5) Patang O’ Tanii, (6) Nyibo Akhoh Anii, (7) Dree Janda Tornii, (8) Dree Subu Panii, (9) Dree Taku Khenii, (10) Biisi Ratung Miinii, (11) Dree O’ Shiinii, (12) Ami-Abang Ka Luka Bengka Nii, (13) Sogo Potun, (14) Dree Aping Binii, (15) Amin-Ahi Khenii. During this period women visits the home of their elderly relatives and present them with wine as a token of love and respect, and to strengthen their relationship.
- "Dree-Apatani Festival". Retrieved 2009-07-13.
- Bhattacharyya, Rajeev (17 June 2005). "Unique Apatani impresses Unesco". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India.
- "Press release – Dree festival". Directorate of Information, Govt of Arunachal Pradesh. 5 July 2004. Retrieved 2009-07-13.
- "Dree: an agricultural community festival of Apatanis and its importance". Retrieved 2009-07-13.
- http://jncpasighat.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61:history-of-academic-activities&catid=36:academic&Itemid=55[permanent dead link]
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 February 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-13.
- "Maps of India". Retrieved 2009-07-13.
- http://www.arunachalepitome.com/june/Dree-festival-Specialities.html[permanent dead link]
2. The Dree, an agricultural community festival of Apatanis and its importance, By Shri Tage Dibo. Article published in The Arunachal Times on 4 July 2009.
3. The rising faith of the Apatanis, By Shri Mihin Kaning. Article published in The Echo of Arunachal on 31 December 2005.