Sangken Festival is one of the many unique festivals of northeast India, which is celebrated primarily in Arunachal Pradesh, apart from in some parts of Assam.
Even though the Sangkhen Festival is primarily a Buddhist festival, but people from every religious background take part in it.
In the festival, Lord Buddha is worshipped for the welfare of mankind.
The celebration takes place for three consecutive days and in this festival, the images and idols of Lord Buddha are given a ceremonious bath.
This festival is mostly celebrated by the Khamti, Singpho, Khamyang, Tangsa and Tai Phake communities.
According to the Tai calendar, Sangken Festival is celebrated in the month of Naun Ha, the fifth month of the Khamti Lunar calendar which falls generally from April 13 to April 15.
Through the celebration, people welcome the traditional New Year.
The prime attraction of the festival is splashing clean water, which is the symbol of peace and purity. This act represents the cleansing of souls.
The devotees seek blessings and love from Lord Buddha to ward off evil spirits. The involvement and participation of the people show the depth and importance of the occasion.
Due to this culture of showering water on each other, the Sangkhen Festival is also known as the 'water festival'.
Before the beginning of the festival, residences are cleaned and sweet aromas fill the air as sweets like khau-tek, khaomun sen (fried biscuit), khaomun tong tep (biscuit wrapped in leaf) etc are prepared in large numbers.
Things like the plucking of flowers and procuring of candles and incense sticks for prayer are done in advance and everyone eagerly waits for the sound of the drum beats and gongs from the temples, which herald the beginning of the festival.
A temporary shrine called Kyongfra is constructed for keeping the idols of Buddha during the Sangken Festival.
In this shrine, clean water is sprinkled through a specially designed water fountain called the Lungkong. Clean and scented water poured through the fountain is sprinkled over the idols of Buddha kept inside the shrine.
This water, which was also used to bathe the images of Buddha, is collected as holy water by the devotees.
Apart from donning traditional colourful attires on the festival days, the people also light candles and incense sticks in the shrines.
Moreover, they also distribute homemade and local delicacies to friends and families these days.
On the first day and at an auspicious time, a huge procession is taken out throughout the area with the images or statues of Lord Buddha. The procession is accompanied by the beating of drums.
Later, the unmarried youths splash water on the people present. It is believed that this will help in washing away their sins. Water is also splashed over all the holy objects, including the Boddhi tree, monks to invoke their blessings for good luck, good health, peace and harmony. This is followed by the distribution of sweets.
Villagers and communities offer the first prayers during the Sangkhen Festival at their respective village temples.
On the final day of the Sangken Festival, images of Lord Buddha are taken back to the monasteries and kept at their original places. This marks the end of the old year and the beginning of the New Year. People offer prayers by lighting candles in the monastery premises and serving food to the monks.
With the change in time, changes in the way of celebrating the Sangkhen Festival while adhering to the true spirit of the festival can also be seen.
Moreover, there has also been a change in the perception of celebrating the festival.
Earlier, the Sangkhen Festival was primarily a religious festival during which people visited the temples and offered prayers together. Now, each and every preparation has a different significance for different people.
Buddhism, for the people, is not just a religion but a way of life. Although it is difficult to follow every teaching of Lord Buddha to the letter in day to day lives, it is, however, followed during the festival time.
The Sangken Festival is not just a festival to mark the end of the old and the beginning of the New Year, but it is a celebration of the end of old wounds, hurt and bad feelings and the beginning of friendships, relationships and life anew with a pure mind, heart and soul.