The state of Mizoram is popularly known as the ‘songbird of India’ and is one of the smallest states in the country. The name Mizoram signifies the land of the Lushai highlanders. The great majority of Mizoram’s population consists of several ethnic tribes who are either culturally or linguistically linked. These ethnic groups are collectively known as Mizos (Mi means People, Zo means Hill; Mizo thus is hillmen . It is a diverse land with mountains and valleys as well tribal villages and urban centers with modern culture and lifestyle unlike elsewhere in India. The culture of Mizoram is well known for the colorful attire of the womenfolk, their musical festivals and the popular Cheraw bamboo dance during the festivals. Mizoram is largely populated with the tribal population of India. People of Mizoram primarily include several tribal communities that have inhabited the hilly terrains for several decades. Popularly known by the name of ‘Mizos’, the people of Mizoram are deft in various handicrafts work. According to the historic records, Tibetan, Burmese and Chinese people had a great influence on the lifestyle and behavior of core groups of Mizoram. Mizos are mainly divided into tribes and sub-tribes. The major tribes that are found in the land of Mizoram are Chakma, Dulien, Ralte, Poi, Jahao, Pankhup, Lakher, Paite, Falam, Tangur, Khuangli, Dalang, Sukte, Fanai, Leillul and Mar. All of these tribes are known to exist in Mizoram ever since this hilly landscape came into existence. Apart from main tribal groups Mizoram people are divided into different sub-tribes namely; Lakhers, Pawis and Lushais. However with a sense of unity they prefer to call themselves as Mizo as most of the tribes speak Mizo Tawng, the common language.
The culture of Mizoram reflects the quintessential lifestyle and traditional heritage of the inhabitants of the Mizoram. Thus the very nomenclature of the tribal community illustrates the fact that the oral traditions of most tribes of the state are believed to have originated from Khul, a mythical cave in southern China which was believed to be a hole in the earth. The tribes then migrated westwards to Manipur, then southwards to Assam and finally settled in the hills of Mizoram and Chin region of Myanmar. Mizoram is a peaceful and highly literate Christian state where the air carries folk, music and scents of flowers. Though the indigenous people may have been influenced by western missionaries, they still believe in the old tribal practices of welcoming visitors whole heartedly and a sense of old folk life prevails the atmosphere. It is rather interesting to note the indelible impact of Christianity on the state’s culture. However, the music of Mizoram mainly comprises of both songs and musical instruments. The folk music occupies an eminent place among the traditional music of Mizoram. The folk songs of Mizoram can be broadly divided into ten types such as: Songs named after Tribes, Thiam hla & dawi hla (Invocation & Incantation), Dar Hla, Bawh Hla, Hlado, Puipun Hla, Lengzem Zai, Songs named after Tribes, Songs named after individuals, Songs named after modulation of the voice. The traditional music of Mizoram is usually accompanied with dance and drama.
The people of Mizoram are experts in cane and bamboo work as they prepare numerous items of bamboo, right from the cane walls of their houses to furnitures and cane hats. Due to the presence of abundant bamboo forests in the state, the hill folk utilize this gift of nature for their daily domestic use and has now become a part of Mizo culture. Basketry is a popular craft, baskets such as Paikawng, Thulte and Tlamen of various shapes and sizes are crafted for different purposes. Bamboo furnitures such as Herhsawp stool, Thuttleng chair and Tuium water containers can be seen in most households. The Mizos also smoke the cane to make it durable and long lasting. The ceremonial Khumbeu hats are made out of the waterproof Hnahthial leaves. Mizo women excel in weaving. Puanchei and Kawrchei textiles are the beautiful costumes of Mizoram worn during the Kut festivals and Cheraw bamboo dance. This art form of making products from cane and bamboo is so rampant in this region of the country that the Mizo people even make their houses with bamboo. The floors and walls of the houses are made up of bamboo as well.
Mizos boast of a number of folk and community dances that have been handed down over the generations. It is in these dances that the visitor can get a glimpse of the tribal heritage of the Mizos. The dance forms are namely__
Khuallam, which means ‘Dance of the Guests’. It is a dance usually performed in the ceremony called ‘Khuangchawi’. In order to claim a distinguished place in the society and to have a place in paradise or Pialral one has to attain the coveted title of ‘Thangchhuah’.
Cheraw is a very old traditional dance of the Mizos. It is believed that the dance had already existed way back in the 1st Century A.D. Men sitting face to face on the ground tap long pairs of horizontal and cross bamboo staves open and close in rhythmic beats. Girls in colorful Mizo costumes of ‘Puanchei’, ‘Kawrchei’. Vakiria’ and ‘Thihna’ dance in and out between the beats of bamboo. This dance is now performed in almost all festive occasions. The unique style of the ‘Cheraw’ is a great fascination everywhere it is performed.
Sarlamkai/Solakia is an impressive dance originating from the Pawi and Mara communities in the southern part of Mizoram. This dance is known as ‘Sarlamkai’ whereas the Lushais referred to it as ‘Rallu Lam. It is a warrior dance performed to celebrate a victory in war. Songs are not sung; only gongs or cymbals or drums are used for making beats. In the dance, boys and girls standing in alternate position, dance in circles. They generally wear colorful dresses while the leader is dressed as a warrior.
Chailam is a popular dance performed on the occasion of ‘Chapchar Kut’ one of the most important festivals of the Mizos. In this dance, men and women stand alternatively in circles, with the women holding on to the waist of the man, and the man on the women’s shoulder. In this dance form, musical instruments like drum and horns of mithun are used for making beats. In olden days, the ‘Chai’ dancers used to drink rice beer continuously during singing and dancing.
Chawnglaizawn This is a popular fold dance of one of the Mizo communities known as Pawi. This dance is performed in two different occasions.
(i) It is performed by a husband to mourn the death of his wife. The husband would be continuously performing this dance till he gets tired. Friends and relatives would relieve him and dance on his behalf. This signifies that they mourn with the bereaved.
(ii) Chawnglaizawn’ is performed on festivals and also to celebrate trophies brought home by successful hunters.