Hyderabad: The tradition of celebrating cherry blossom festivals or Hanami started in Japan centuries ago, dating back over a thousand years to the Nara Period (710-794) when cherry blossoms became an important symbol in Japanese culture. Initially, Hanami was practised by the imperial court and the aristocracy, who would gather to appreciate the cherry blossoms’ beauty. This practice eventually spread to the samurai class and the general populace. The Edo Period (1603-1868) saw the development of more public Hanami celebrations. This period laid the foundation for the more inclusive and community-oriented nature of modern Hanami festivals. Many of the modern-day Cherry Blossom Festivals trace their origins to this period.
The significance of the Cherry Blossom Festivals varies, but they universally celebrate the beauty of cherry blossoms that are known to symbolize life, renewal, rebirth, and new beginnings. Cherry Blossom Festivals often bring people together. It’s a time for social bonding and a sense of community, attracting tourists, promoting cultural exchange and diplomacy between nations. The exchange of cherry trees between countries is a symbol of friendship and goodwill.
These festivals can have a significant economic impact on the local communities, as they attract visitors, boost tourism, and contribute to the local economy. Cherry blossoms have inspired artists, poets, and writers for centuries. The festivals often showcase various artistic performances, such as music, dance, and poetry readings. Cherry Blossom Festivals emphasize the harmony between humanity and nature. The Cherry Blossom Festival is celebrated in countries across the world such as Japan, India, China, South Korea, the United States of America, Hamburg and Istanbul attracting millions of visitors each year. The festival often includes events and performances, exhibitions and food stalls amongst others.
In India, the Cherry Blossom Festival is celebrated in the state of Meghalaya. The festival’s history is tied to the introduction of cherry blossom trees in Shillong roughly between the years 1955 to 1975, under the leadership of Meghalaya’s first Chief Secretary, Mr. Nari K. Rustomji, who had brought the cherry blossom seeds from Japan and planted them in a forested area around his residence. The saplings were then ordered to be transplanted to Ward’s Lake and Lady Hydari Park. The Forest Department later took the initiative of planting the trees around the city. The Shillong Cherry Blossom Festival began in 2016, marking India’s first such festival and is now annually organized by the Government of Meghalaya. This was perfectly aligned with the visionary “Destination Meghalaya” campaign of the Government, with an aim to promote Shillong as a tourist destination, capitalizing on its unique feature of autumn bloom.
The Shillong Cherry Blossom Festival is a celebration of not only nature but also culture and music. It includes a variety of attractions ranging from musical concerts and dance performances by local and international artists, fashion shows, pageants, literary competitions, cosplay competitions, food and wine stalls. Meghalaya also became the first in the world to have a Cherry Blossom Festival during autumn based on the flowering of the cherry blossom trees during the month of November. It has become a prominent cultural and tourism event, attracting visitors from various parts of India and beyond. The ‘Road To Cherry Blossom” is a vibrant celebration spread across different cities and countries with a series of pre-event festivities culminating in the grand Shillong Cherry Blossom Festival. These feature a diverse array of performances by artists from across the globe, with talented local artists from Meghalaya also gracing the stage. The pre-event celebrations offer its own unique flavour and charm, filling the air with the anticipation and excitement building up to the main event.
The Shillong Cherry Blossom Festival, ever since its inception, has not only bloomed but also stretched its branches far beyond the capital city of Shillong. This annual celebration has taken root in places like Nongpoh and Nongstoin, where it has flourished and gained a significant presence. This expansion to these areas has not only enriched the cultural tapestry of Meghalaya but also created more opportunities for people to revel in the event.
The festival celebrates the culture and traditions of Meghalaya, offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the unique customs and practices of the region. This cultural aspect distinguishes the Shillong Cherry Blossom Festival from other Cherry Blossom Festivals around the world. The synergy between the festival and the efforts of the Government has become a catalyst transforming Shillong into a sought-after tourist destination. Its diverse range of activities from local and international music and performances, a variety of cuisines and more provides a well-rounded experience to keep tourists coming back for more. The Shillong Cherry Blossom Festival, over the years, has drawn an influx of tourists not just from various parts of the country, but also from across the globe, adding to the economy and development of Meghalaya.