The Tai-Khampti is one of the major tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. The Tai-Khampti inhabits the district of Namsai. The word ‘Khampti’ means ‘a land full of gold’ (Khamp: gold; ti: place).
The Tai-Khampti has a distinct, rich and unparalleled culture heritage which has till now remained unexplored in its totality. The community, as a matter of fact, is greatly orthodox and all its socio-cultural activities are religious. The Khampti offer prayers to Lord Buddha, meaning thereby that they believe in the existence of God, worshipping Lord Buddha whom the Hindus recognize as the 10th incarnation of God. The form of Buddhism practiced by the Khampti may be termed a progressive form of Buddhism.
Lifestyle and customs:
The Tai-khampti people are very strong believers of Theravada(Hinayana) Buddhism. Every house has a prayer room and the families pray every morning and evening with offerings of flower (nam taw yongli) and food (khao tang som). They are peace loving people.
The Tai-Khampti is the only tribe in the state to be known to have their own script which the people call it Tai script (Lik-Tai). They also have varied dwelling systems. Houses of the Tai-Khampti are built on raised floors with thatched roofs. The roofs are constructed so low that the walls remain concealed. Wooden planks are used for flooring and the walls are made of bamboo splices. But with time everything has changes, and in this modern era the style of construction of houses with raised floors and thatched roofs has been replaced by cement and bricks buildings.
The Khampti have a very rich culture, equipped with magnificent arts and craft. Armoury is a part of the life, representing the aura of their skill as warriors. Their weapons include poisoned bamboo spikes (panjis), bow and arrows, spear, sword and shields. The Khampti also have firearms, resembling ancient flint muskets and horse pistols.
The tribe has a preference for conventional attires, enriched by brilliant craft works, which command a huge market in the entire Indian market. The beautifully crafted sword, known as Pha-nap, is very popular around the state. The sword is carried on the frontal part of the body, so that its hilt can be grasped in the right hand if needed. The Khampti crafts in bamboo, wood, bone and ivory are also spectacular. They are experts in making traditional weapons. The priests are also known to be amateur craftsmen who use wood, bone or ivory to carve out religious statues.
The Tai Khampti people are settled agriculturists. They use the plough (Thai) drawn by a single animal, either an oxen or a buffalo (or even an elephant in the olden days). They practice both jhum and settled agriculture and produce food grains, vegetables and cash crops. Among food grains, coarse varieties of rice, maize, millet and cotton are important products of jhum cultivation. Potatoes have been introduced recently. Among vegetables potatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers and yams are mainly cultivated. Besides this, tobacco, chilli, ginger and indigo is occasionally grown.
Traditional yet contemporary:
By and large, the Tai khampti culture is deeply rooted in the historical and religious traditions of Tai people, and has a profound influence on the way of the royalist society. The society is divided into classes, each signifying a distinct status in the social hierarchy. The chiefs occupy the highest positions, followed by the priests, who wield considerable influence over all ranks.
The costumes of the Khampti men comprise a blue, tight-fitting jacket of cotton cloth. Khampti men wear full sleeved cotton shirt (siu pachai) and the deep multi-coloured lungi (pha noi). The beauty of women is reflected in the clothes they wear. Very traditional and ethnic yet contemporary Khampti women’s dresses consist of half-sleeved blouse (sui pashao), a deep coloured skirt (sui) made from cotton or silk, and a coloured silk scarf. Jewellery consists of pieces of bright amber earrings and coral and bear necklaces. The all Khampti men traditionally, tie their hair into a large knot, which is supported by a white turban. The Khampti chief wears a Chinese coat made of silk. The Khampti women traditionally tie their hair in the ‘skyscraper’ style. The hair is drawn up from the back and the sides in one massive roll, measuring four to five inches in length. This encircled by an embroidered band, the fringed and tasselled end of which hang down behind.
Dance, drama, theatre or music, every art is unique in itself. In Arunachal Pradesh, dance has come a long way over the centuries. Dance in Arunachal Pradesh has evolved into an art form, and the khampti dance is an example of one such evolution. Religions, mythology and classical literature form the basis of most of the performing arts of the Tai Khampti.
Unlike the other dance forms of Arunachal Pradesh, the Khampti dance is a dance-drama that reflects the rich culture of the Buddhists in the territory and unfolds the myths and stories of moral values. It marks the celebration of Buddhist festivals such as Khamsang, Sangken, Potwah, Poi Lu kyong, Poi Lu Kyong kammathan etc.
In Arunachal Pradesh, Khampti dance is also known as ka pung (‘ka’ implies ‘dance’and ‘pung’ means ‘story’). It is remarkable that the preparation for the dance begins a month prior to the festival.
The Khamptis are famous for their ‘cockfight dance’. It is called Ka-Fi fai is also popular worldwide. The dances are accompanied by musical instruments like drums (gongs), cymbals (pi seng), flutes (pee) etc. sometimes songs associated with the dances are sung by both males and females.
Call for celebration:
The ‘Land of Golden Pagoda’ never needs a particular reason to celebrate. Celebration is a fundamental part of every Khampti’s life. There are festivals other than Sangken celebrated throughout the calendar year. From January to December, every month comes with a particular fair or festival. Mai-Ka-Sung-Phai, Khao-Wa, Poat-Wa, Buddha Purnima, Poy Kathing, etc., have their own significance and are celebrated in a religious and boisterous way. ‘POI PEE MAU’, the New Year festival of the Tai people, is of paramount importance to uniting all Tai’s. Its importance as a powerful heritage to preserve age old culture, tradition, literature and games & sports cannot be undermined. This Poi is a celebration of oneness and a symbol to disseminate the rich cultural heritage and exotic cuisine of the Tai’s to the world.
There are several festivals of the Khamptis going round the year. Sangken – the water festival – is the main and the most important and eagerly awaited festival of the Khamptis. It is celebrated on 14th April, when the natives welcome the New Year with splendour and magnificence. You can check out the true colours of secular India at Sangken festival where people, irrespective of their tribe, caste, culture, race, sex, etc., participate in the rituals of the celebrations.
The main attraction of the festival is splashing clean water, which is the symbol of peace and purity. The images of Buddha are taken out and given the ceremonial bath. The procession is accompanied by drums, dances and enjoyment.
This holy bath of Lord Buddha is an auspicious event in the festival. It comes at the juncture of the months of chaitra and vaisakha, generally during the month of April every year. The village youths make preparations for the festival and sets up a temporary temple (kyangphra) for the images of Lord Buddha with an indigenous mechanism for spraying water around from a boat (hanglin). The images of Lord Buddha of the Vihara (chong) are taken out by priests and kept for bathing in the kyangphra.
The priests are given a wash and the pouring of the water on the image of Lord Buddha in the kyangphra goes on as the boys and girls throw water, colour and mud at each other. In the evening, the villagers come to the chong and light innumerable lamps. On the following day, the washing of images of Lord Buddha (Sanphra) goes on.
At the end of all this, the priests give the last wash to images and puts them back in the vihara. The celebration takes place for three consecutive days. During the celebration the locals make home made sweets and distribute them. Exchange of gifts is also a common trait of the festival.
It doesn’t have just one:
One of the delights of Khampti food is the tremendous variety offered and the enormous variations of the same dishes, giving patrons a great number of choices to satisfy differing taste preferences and varying moods.
Needless to mention that fragrant rice is the basic ingredient in Tai-style dining. It is prepared as Tai classic steamed rice called khao hai, and served either on a plate or wrapped in a tong (leaf) which is then put on the plate. The Khampti’s rich food recipes include Tongtep (cakes made of grounded rice), Khawlam (boiled rice and sesame seeds), Paasa (fresh river fish soup with special herbs), Paa-som, Nam-Som, etc.
The variations in the way the same dishes are made reflect not only the creative talents of the people behind the food, but also regional as well as individual taste preferences and the Tai love and tolerance for variety.
A plate is served in a very traditional form and in this you can enjoy the complete variety available in a particular cuisine. To further elaborate on Tai habits, Tai people like to add spice not only into the food they eat; they equally enjoy adding spice and excitement to everything they do, even in simple daily routine activities.
Whether you are a first-time visitor or have been living in the Land of Golden Pagoda for longer than you can recall, there is always something new, exciting and exotic to experience- especially the multitude and the availability of local dishes and cuisines (both traditional and fusion style) that truly express the Tai Khampti culture, flavour and attitude towards life.