Manipur Sangai Festival, 2014

Kh Shamungou *

A 'Dancing' Sangai at the opening of Manipur Sangai Tourism Festival 2013
A 'Dancing' Sangai at the opening of Manipur Sangai Tourism Festival 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

The Manipur Sangai Festival, 2014 at the palace compound popularly called Hapta Kangjeibung! Yes, it's knocking on the door. Hope, it would be a grand weeklong (November 21-30) colourful event. Under overall supervisions of chief minister, preparations have begun long days ago.

People would like to ask, why is such type of grand festival organized by a poor state with a huge expense? What are the main aims and objectives of the festival? Why is the festival listed in the calendar of the state's annual functions? Two important probable answers are, firstly, it is a platform to popularize the world classed vanishing Manipur Sangai and to raise the needs of its conservation as global issues.

Secondly, it paves a way to convert the tourism potentials in Manipur into an industry. But confusions arose as to whether these objectives were achieved equally. To me a big 'No' is the only answer. There were no specific arrangements/items/programmes that will provide benefits to the first. There were no provisions that people would feel sympathy and think seriously about the Sangai's destiny and its habitat, the Keibul Lamjao National Park (KLNP).

The 40 sq km KLNP is also famous as the only floating national park in the world. It is the sea of grass and Sangai is the pride of this unique habitat. It is situated near Moirang (a cultural capital of Manipur) in Bishnupur district, 45 km south of the Imphal, Manipur.

Sangai story : The Sangai (a deer awaiting and looking at you) is popularly known as Manipur Brow-antlered Deer or Dancing Deer of Manipur. Scientifically it is Rucervus eldii eldii. Sangai and its allies is also commonly named Eld's Deer in memory of a British officer, Percy Eld. He saw Manipur Sangai during 1836-38 for the first time at the fringe of Loktak Lake (now, a Ramsar Site, 1990). He was amazed to have a glimpse of this spectacular deer with impressive pair of 'arc' shaped crown of antlers.

According to a legend, prince of Luwang clan of Manipur had transformed himself into a majestic deer to be known as Sangai. The ancient royal boat (Hiyang Hirel) had the decoration of Sangai antlers on its head part. Again, according to Moirang Kangleirol (Folklore of Moirang), a legendary hero called Kadeng Thanjahanba, once brought a gravid female as a loving gift for his beloved Tonu Laijingrembi and with a pang of frustration he released the deer free in the wild of Keibul Lamjao, thence-forth the place became the only abode of the Sangai.

The Eld's group of deer was once distributed throughout much of the Asia but of late due to continued hunting and poaching, habited destruction and fragmentation, they have been extirpated from much of their historical range and now persist only as small and fragmented population in Manipur (India), Myanmar, Thailand and Hainan Island. The sister subspecies in Myanmar is called Thamin (Rucervus eldii thamin) and those in Thailand and Hainan is called Lamang (Rucervus eldii siamensis/ Rucervus eldii hainanus). Today, all Eld's Deer are threatened for survival.

Current Sangai Population : Today, Manipur Sangai is looking for its last refuge in KLNP. The deer has so far thrown into a gloomy population of around 200 heads in the wild (similar examples in the 15 Indian zoos). Their existence is vulnerable ecologically, and in the event of a political expediency or a natural calamity their last abode along with the remnant and isolated population could be destroyed or reduced it to such a miserable size beyond revival.

During 1951, Sangai was considered extinct from Manipur, means from earth. However, under IUCN's supervision E.P.Gee (1993) conducted a survey and found certain heads in the thickets of Keibul Lamjao area. Thus began Sangai conservation actions. Certain memorable conservation actions so far taken in and outside Manipur are :

1836-38 : Percy Eld found Sangai near Loktak Lake
1842 : McClelland described the species
1916/1931 : Manipur State Game Rules protected the species
1950 : Sangai considered extinct.
1953 : About 100 survivors discovered by E.P.Gee in Keibul Lamjao area.
1954 : Keibul Lamjao Wildlife Sanctuary born.
1977 : Keibul Lamjao National Park gazetted.
1989 : Declared as 'Manipur State Animal'.
1989 : Recognized as 'Species of the Year' by Nandankanan Zoo, Orissa.
1990 : Honoured as 'Our Sangai', by Mysore Zoo.
1992 : Launched a year long programme 'Conservation of Your Sangai is Now Our Business Also' by British Airways.
1999 : Named, 'Ningthem' (Mascot), by 5th National Game, Manipur.

The people of Manipur have also shown love and regards towards Sangai in several ways. Several establishments-like Sangai Tours and Travels, Sangai Industry, Sangai Restaurants, Sangai Artists Association, Sangai Express (local daily), Sangai Channel of All India Radio and amongst them Sangai Festival have named after Sangai deer. Besides, many places in Manipur were named after Sangai. Sangaithel, Sangaitabi, Sangaiprou, Sangailou, Sangaikot, etc are certain examples.

Today, Sangai is listed as critically endangered deer by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or World Conservation Union (IUCN), recorded it as highly endangered species in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and a Schedule I species of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (IWPA). However, it is unfortunate that the authority of 'Sangai Festival' fails to realize these importances in the country and abroad.

The 'Sangai Festival' would be the pride of the nation because the deer is found only in Manipur, India. During the festival peoples from the Eld's Deer range e.g from Myanmar and Thailand, are coming and they will be happy in seeing our dancing deer on the floating phumdi. When returned, they will convey the messages of our Sangai to their sisters Thamin or Lamang.

But what kind of message they will carry? They do not have any chance seeing the deer. Being a lover of Sangai, our pride species, I sincerely place this appeal to the authority of the Manipur 'Sangai Festival' to include certain arousing programmnes/activities that may attract the attentions of the people towards the deer so that they can extend their helping hands to the conservation of this vanishing species, which is, I feel very much need of this grand festival.

Certain Sangai popularizing items/episodes like lively diorama of Sangai and Keibul Lamjao; entertainment films, videos, dances, drama, ballets; paintings, quiz, slogans; popular talks, face to face interactions, etc are suggested.

It would be a terrible mistake for the generation to make the species extinct. Let's save Sangai for our future. Let our generations to come be happy to see this dancing deer on the floating habitat in Manipur.

* Kh Shamungou wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at
This article was posted on November 19, 2014.

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