The Dree Festival is an Apatani agricultural rite. It involves the sacrifice of fowls, eggs and animals to the gods – Tamu, Metii and Danyi Pilo(Sun and Moon God). The purpose of the festival is to appease these gods so that famine could be avoided. This rite is observed by the Apatanis in Arunachal Pradesh, India. The Apatanis, who inhabit a tranquil pine clad valley called Ziro at the core of Lower Subansiri District of Arunachal Pradesh, are famous for their unique practice of wet rice cultivation. One would wonder as to how the early Apatanis had brilliantly discovered the magnificent irrigated rice cultivation without help of scientific technologies. Rice is the staple food of the Apatanis, as such for its bumper harvest the nature God and goddesses are prayed during the Dree Festival from 4 to 7 July of each year.
It was in the later part of April 1967. After attending the Mopin festival at Pasighat town that the then students, Shri Lod Kojee and his friends studying in Jawaharlal Nehru College Pasighat, in course of an informal chat felt the need for having a festival centrally organised for the Apatanis. The Apatani society has half a dozen of pujas and festivals performed individually and collectively throughout the year but not a single puja or festival was performed at a central location on a fixed date participated by the entire community like those of Bihu of Assamese community, the Diwali of Hindus, the Solung and Mopin of Adi and Galo community, and so on. Accordingly, the possibilities of modification of few pujas and festivals of the Apatani at a centralised place on a uniformly fixed date was discussed. Due to the mythological rigidities, the modification of the pujas and festivals were not possible, but after long and hard persuasions the Dree was selected for modified celebration at a centralised location without affecting its traditional identity. Earlier, each village had its own choice of dates for commencement of the Dree. As per the modified programme, the date of centralised celebration was fixed on 5 to 7 July every year. Therefore, the village level traditional ritual performance takes place on the eve of the general celebration, i.e., on 4 July so that on the following day all the priest representatives from each village of the valley can participate in the centrally installed festival altar at general Dree ground.
It was the middle part of May 1967. The summer vacation of J N College Pasighat had already started. Before leaving for home the students of ziro divided amongst themselves into two groups. One group would go to Ziro and collect contributions or donations in kinds like mithun, goat, fowl, eggs, rice and other necessary materials for the celebration. The second group led by shri Lod Kojee was to proceed to Shillong for approaching the then NEFA Administration for financial assistance. At Shillong they apprised their proposal to Shri Jikom Riba the then special Social and Cultural Officer of North East Frontier Agency Administration. He led them to Shri P.N. Luthra the then Adviser to the Governor of Assam who granted them a sum of Rs 1000/= (Rupees one thousand) being the financial help towards the proposed Dree festival celebration and also he had consented to grace the occasion as chief guest.
In olden days the Dree was observed on different days according to the convenience of the concerned ‘Dree Goras’ or ‘Pontangs’ (an organising committee at village level). It could not be called as festival in true sense, rather it was a ritual performance of the Apatanis. However, Dree Biisi (traditional folk song) amongst the girls, and games and sports like wrestling, high jumps etc. amongst the boys took place in the village level though they were not in a large scale as it is today. Now it is the biggest festival in Apatani valley, which is celebrated at other places as well where ever the Apatanis live. Festivals are the focal point of the people’s social and cultural life. These finds expression of people’s zest for delightful living and love of pageantry. The Indian calendar is one long procession of festivals. These are as varied in origins as they are large in number. Now, the Dree is also one of them. However, earlier the Dree did not occupy such status in the society as compared to ‘Murung puja’ and ‘Myoko puja’. Now, with the help of administration and educated society the Dree festival is being organised in a large scale at a centralised place which brings together not only Apatanis but other communities as well cementing the bonds of unity, integrity and friendship. Apart from this, the festival provides an opportunity to members of other societies to be acquainted with the rich traditional cultural. heritage of the Apatani community.