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Role of feasts & festivals in Bishnupriya Manipuri culture-II



This article by Lakshmindra Sinha is continuation of his first article Role of feasts & festivals in Bishnupriya Manipuri culture-I.

Dipandi or Dipanvita or the festival of lights is another festival celebrated in Kartik by the community. On the 14th night of Krishnapaksha when darkness envelops all around, the fellow beings of the community get the evening lit with flames of oil or candle lights. Flames or lit candles are left in pond or streams on small boats made of the epicalyx of banana flowers.

Chanou is yet another popular festival for the community in Kartik. Members of the community have a traditional belief that holding chanou in Kartik brings fortune for them. Taking newly ripe paddy, husking them, offering cooked rice with them in the temples and taking that rice as prasad is what chanou is all about in the community. Chanou in Bishnupriya Manipuri has some sort of similarities with the Kangali Bihu of the Asomiyas.

Agrayan is the harvesting month when the Bishnupriya Manipuris celebrate Hariuththan. In accordance with the puranas and traditional beliefs, Lord Bishnu killed demon Murari by giving birth to a beautiful girl, Ekasdashi. The devout Bishnupriya Manipuris celebrate that victory by hoisting flags (firals) and fasting. These victory flags are downed on Holi, the festival of colours.

Poush and Magha are the months for Sankranti that is no different from the Bhogali Bihu of the Asomiyas. Sankranti continues for five days. Various pithas of rice, coconut, teel etc. are made and distributed among the fellow beings.

Falgun is the month of Basantaraas and Holi, the festival of colours. With the advent of Basanta, the youths of the community are moved. Throughout the Shuklapaksha of the month, the community members observe Basantaraas of Radha-Krishna in all villages. Youths of the community consider this month as the time for love-making.

As is the case in other community, Holi is the festival of colours, but the observance of Holi by the Bishnupriya Manipuris has a distinct deviation from the rest. They char Holika to death. In accordance with puranas, Holika was the sister of demon king Hiranjyakashipu. Having been blessed with immortality, at the command of the king Holika sat of a furnace by taking Prahlad, a devout worshipper of Lord Bishnu, in order to kill the tender lad, but she was charred to death while the fire failed to burn Prahlad. All the flags that are hoisted by the community on the day of Hariuththan are used to burn Holika in Holi festival by the Bishnupriya Manipuris. Colours are smeared by the community only after the symbolic charring of Holika to death. However, with the community embracing neo-Vashnavism, some pundits are out to give a different story altogether. They are of the opinion that the meji-like structure that is burnt by the community members is the Sutikagriha (labour room) where Chatanyadev was born.

Maharaasaleela is observed in the Shuklapaksha of Basanta. The speciality of this Rasaleela is that Radha-Krishna and Brajagopis enjoy Holi, and this Holi in the Rasalaleea leaves no devout vaishnavite Bishnupriya Manipuris untouched.

Chaitra is the month of Durga Puja in the form of Devi Basanti. Unlike other Hindus, the Bishnupriya Manipuris treat Basanti Puja as the main Durga Puja that was started on the earth by Satyayog King Surathe as believed by the community members and mentioned in puranas. Karatali Nritya (clapping dance), in which age and sex are no bar, is associated with Basanti Puja. The dance has been derived from a particular form of folk dance. Apart from the festivals mentioned, some other festivals like Yangkhei-Ningthou, Apokpa puja ete are observed by the community. Yangkhei Ningthou means a festival of as many as 50 kings. It may also mean Pawan, God of air (unapanchash bayu). Since this festival is generally observed between Baishakh and Bhadra when there is drought or scanty rainfall, there is all likelihood of the very purpose of the festival being appeasing rain God. In many a case, the Bishnupriya Manipuris draw no difference between Saralel (Indra) and Pawan and Barun who are considered the gods of air and rainfall.

Apokpa Puja, to be precise, can be called a form of paying of tribute to forefathers by the community members. Members of every lokei or gosthi of the community, who have blood relations among them, offer pujas to their piba (from whom the lokei descended) and feast together. Priests have no role in this puja that is performed by the oldest, including females, in the lokei. While some pundits are of the opinion that Apokpa Puja has come to the Manipuris either from the Mongoloids or the Austric, others project it as a form of pujas to Rigvedic gods like Agni (fire) or Surya (Sun god) since the house of Apokpa is directed to the east, while other gods face towards the south. Apokpa puja is performed from Agrayan to early Baishakh.

Pahangpa puja is based on the beliefs of the common folk of the community. This puja can be performed on any day of the year, but generally this puja is performed before gadhuli lagna (the time of sunset) on Saturday. The appearance of Pahangpa is imagined as that of a serpent and some people want to describe him as Ananta Bishnu. The word 'Pahangpa' is believed to have been derived from the word 'Pakhanba'. Some people believe Pahangpa as an avatar of Lord Shiva, yet some other believe Pahangpa as Atiaguru. Pahangpa, according to traditional belief, lives in rivulets with dirty water flowing in low current. There is a belief in the community that when a person goes to the dwelling place of Pahangpa, he or she contracts skin diseases or other forms of secret diseases. When a person contracts such diseases, the family members arrange Pahangpa puja to dispel the evil effect on the patient. A serpent-like body is formed with rice dust by an ojha (quack) and offer flowers, teel, milk, fruits etc and the puja is performed. The entire performance is called offering chapal. After the chapal, the ojha draws three lines on the ground with a machete (dao) and warns or requests Pahangpa not to prevail his evil influence on the patient anymore. Some quacks eat the offered fruits and milk themselves.

Some researchers are of the view that Pahangpa is none other than Vedic god Indra. Pahangpa-Saralel, Indra-Saralel are opt repeated cliche in the community. The Bishnupriya Manipuris call Indradev as Saralel –– Sara means river and Saralel means river god who is the god of air and rains. He can rule the earth with bajra (lightning). According to puranas, the influence of Indra has been on the wane from the Mahabharata era. The folk literature of the Bishnupriya Manupris has been undoubtedly enriched by baran daahaanir elaa (songs appeasing rain god) and Madoi-Saralel elaa, and in both the songs Soralel (Indra) is the god addressed to. As folk tales go, there was a drought in Khumel Mati of Manipur and that compelled the aged women folk of the community to appease Saralel (Indra) by performing a nude song and dance at night when all male members of the community were fast asleep. Having been satisfied with the song and dance, Indra had to cause heavy shower in Khumel Mati. The lyrics of the song goes as Baran de douraja Khumel Mati hukeilo/Kumlo Mati hukeilo, leipak kumou koilo (cause shower god Indra as Khumel land has totally dried up/ Khumel land has been dried up and so also the fate of farmers).

With the advent neo-vaishnavism in the community, the dependence of the community shifted to Lord Bishnu and or Srikrishna and the place of Indra has been slowly pushed to the riverside where he has to stay with the status of a semi-god. But even now, when their is drought, some of the community members turn to Lord Indra seeking shower.

This discussion is illustrative enough to prove that feasts and festivals have a major role in the cultural and social life of the Bishnupriya Manipuri community. In these feasts and festivals folk elements glare, besides Vedic gods, goddesses and shastras. In fact, these folk elements have essentially made the perimeter of the Bishnupriya Manipuri culture wider and distinct.

Reference books

(1) Purbanchal Bhasha-Xahitya aru Sanskriti, Guwahati, 2006: Edited by Dr Jagadish Patgiri and Ganesh Chandra Kakati.
(2) Utsaver Utse, Kolkata, 2002 by Samar Chakravarty.
(3) Bishnupriya Manipuri Xahityat Ebhumuki, Samanvay (Nawarun Xakha Xahitya Xabhar Smritigantha) by DILS Lakshmindra Sinha.
(4) R Thapar, JN Kenopar, MM Despande & S Bhatnagar (Ed): India: Historical beginnings and the concept of the Aryan, New Delhi, 2007.
(5) RM Nath: The Background of Assamese Culture, Guwahati, 1975.
(6) M Kirti Singh, Dr: Religious Development in Manipur in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Imphal, 1980.
(7) GA Drierson, Dr: Linguistic Survey of India, Vol V, Part 1, Calcutta, 1991 (Except for their language the Mayangs are indintinguishable from the general Manipuri population.)

Courtesy: The Sentinel (October 4, 2009)

Today is Leipakpa (Tuesday)


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