Kohima: Girls in Viswema village, located about 25 km south of Kohima town in Nagaland, are celebrating ‘Te-l Khukhu’ — a famous festival dedicated to and celebrated only by girls — on Thursday. Women from the village have been celebrating the unique festival for decades now.
Speaking with EastMojo, Keneisenu Vitsu, a resident of the village, said: “We celebrate the festival to honour the girl child in the family. This festival is celebrated especially after the (paddy) plantation is over.”
While the state has been facing a drought-like-situation due to shortage of rainfall, she said that the village is blessed to have received heavy rainfall over the past few days which has enabled farmers in the village to complete the paddy (terrace) plantation.
Vitsu, who is also the head teacher of a government middle school in Viswema village, said that during the festival, the best food in the house is prepared and shared with children in the neighbourhood, cousins and dear ones.
She said that the food that is served in a particular leaf called Nakhwu — a type of a peepal leaf. The leaves are rolled into cone shapes and pinned with small bamboo pieces.
The servings may include millet, rice, carpenter worm, pork, snails, chicken, crabs, and so on depending on the availability.
Girls also gather in peer groups at a particular house that they decide to celebrate and decorate in particular the Chokrwu — eaves at the entrance of the house.
However, only particular wild flowers like Khwüso Pü (Ginger Iily, Hedychium auranticum wall), Phakü Pü (Rock butterfly lily, Hedychium ellepticum buch), and tender maize are used for decorating the eaves or balconies of a house. In ancient times, flowers were put on the eaves and roof openings including the Kika, a V-shaped wooden board on the front of the house.
As it is a day of joy for the girls, she said that the Te-l Khukhu festival is also an opportunity for girls to wear new dresses, visit houses in the neighbourhood, share food, and sing songs all throughout the day.
“Back then, buying a new dress was a precious thing. If the families cannot afford to buy a dress, scarves are also gifted to the girl child,” she said.
Ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic which forced schools to close, she recalled that schools in the village were declared a holiday on the day of the festival to encourage the girl child to celebrate the occasion.
How the festival began
According to a narrative written by Neithono Sothu, the Te-l Khukhu is a festival that falls on the 13th of Chünyi (July). It was dedicated to and celebrated only by innocent head shaven damsels during the olden days. Since ancient times, Te-l Khukhu is the only festival dedicated for girls and is a time of sharing and giving food to each other.
Once the festival came to be known, it is believed that one day a woman who has seen a fully ripened millet plant in the middle of a big pond has asked a squirrel to pluck an ear for her. However, the squirrel did not return. Likewise, the woman sent a parrot, but the bird started to eat the millet and did not return as well.
In the end, the woman sent a Te-l (toad) and the toad brought her an ear of millet. As per the narrative, the woman gratefully received the ear and promised the toad that she will serve millet every year. Therefore, the villagers believed that is how the Te-l (Toad), Khukhu (serving) came to be known as a festival.
Due to this belief, even to this day, the millet is an important ingredient in the preparation of the Te-l Khukhu food.
Meanwhile, another resident from the village told EastMojo that at present, women of all ages celebrate the day. “It has become more like women’s day with time,” she said.