Me-Dam-Me-Phi Festival in Assam Date in the current year: January 31, 2024

Me-Dam-Me-Phi Festival in Assam Me-Dam-Me-Phi is the most important ancestor veneration festival in the traditional religion of the Ahom people, an ethnic group from the Indian states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. It is celebrated annually on January 31 and has the status of a public holiday in Assam.

The Ahom, also known as Tai-Ahom, is an ethnic group of the Thai people which are scattered through South China, Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam) and Northeast India. It is believed that the ancestors of the Ahom people came from what is now China to the Brahmaputra valley in 1228. Their leader was Sukaphaa, the founder and first ruler of the Ahom kingdom.

The Ahom religion is based on animism, the belief in soul and spirits. It was the dominant religion in the Ahom kingdom during the first few centuries of its existence. However, most Ahoms converted to Hinduism by the early 19th century. Nevertheless, some of the older traditions and practices have been resurrected since the 1960s thanks to the Ahom revivalism movement.

Ancestor worship occupies an important place in the culture and religion of the Ahoms. They believe that after a person’s death their soul becomes a Dam (ancestor spirit) that is venerated by their family. After the fourteenth generation a Dam becomes a Phi (god) that is worshiped by the entire community. The name of the Me-Dam-Me-Phi festival includes these two words. The word “Me” means offerings, so Me-Dam-Me-Phi is a festival of offerings to ancestor spirits and gods.

It is believed that the tradition of venerating ancestor spirits was established by the legendary forefathers of the Ahom people. The rites date back at least to the early 13th century, i.e. to the founding of the Ahom kingdom by Prince Sukaphaa.

According to Ahom Buranji, a historical chronicle recounting the history of the Ahom kingdom and its neighboring states, king Suhungmung performed ancestor worship rites in 1563 after defeating the Kacharis and occupying the Dhansiri valley. To celebrate the victory and thank the ancestors for their protection and blessings, he held the Me-Dam-Me-Phi festival.

Ancestor veneration rites were also performed by other Ahom kings such as Sukhaamphaa and Pratap Singha (Susenghphaa). They were performed for different purposes: to seek blessings from the ancestors, to thank them for their help and patronage, to prevent military defeats, to ask the ancestors for longevity, etc.

Today, most Ahom families have a special pillar called Damkhuta in their kitchen. They use it to worship the spirits of their dead ancestors by offering them homemade wine and various food, for example, beans and chickpeas or rice with meat or fish. During the Me-Dam-Me-Phi festival, ancestor veneration rituals are performed by Ahoms throughout Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Moreover, non-Ahom residents of Assam also participate in the festival, although for them it has a cultural significance rather than religious importance. To highlight the importance of Me-Dam-Me-Phi for the population, the government of Assam even declared the festival a public holiday.

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