TODAY -

Manipuris Gathering On Korea's Seollal

Aribam Joy Sharma *



This year's Seollal is significant for the Manipuris who are staying in South Korea (hereafter, Korea) even though we didn't directly participate in the celebration. Why I call this special is that within these four days holiday, we, Manipuris organized a get-together in Suwon which is rarely happened among us in Korea. Before I delve into the details of the gathering, let me take the opportunity to explain something about Korea's Seollal.

Korean New Year, commonly known as Seollal (Hangul), is the first day of the lunar Korean calendar and one of the two most important traditional Korean holidays (the other is Chuseok). Korean New Year is generally the same day as Mongolian New Year, Tibetan New Year, Chinese New Year and Vietnamese New Year. China and Korea share similar traditional celebrations, such as, paying tribute to their ancestors and elders, wearing in traditional costumes and feast on traditional food, etc. In some sense, it is somewhat similar to Meiteis' 'Sajibu Cheiraoba'. Koreans usually celebrate two New Years - one is on 1st January according to solar calendar, and another according to the lunar calendar, which falls on 26th January this year. This year because of the weekend just before Seollal, the holiday ran from January 24 to 27 for four days.

The word Seollal originates from Natseolda which means 'unfamiliar' to the New Year. So, Seol suggests we should be extra careful on this day (nal means day). It is not exactly known when Seollal was first celebrated. But, according to the National Folk Museum of Korea, the Lunar New Year rituals are estimated to date back to the 6th century when people adopted the lunar calendar.

On the morning of Seollal, Koreans wear Hanboks (Traditional Korean Costume). Family members then gather to perform ancestral rites to pay their respects as well as to pray for a prosperous year ahead. After the rituals, they eat Tteokguk (rice cake soup). According to their tradition, eating Tteokguk on Seollal adds one year to their age. After the meal, the younger members pay respect to the elders in their family by bowing to them (Which is on the way of extinction in Meitei Society), and the elders offer their blessings in return. It is accompanied by the words 'Sehae Bok Manhi Badeuseyo' which literally means 'receive a lot of new year's luck'. Traditional folk games are played during this festival. Many Koreans also consult fortune-tellers about their fortunes in the coming years. After performing the traditional Seollalactivities at husband's parents' home, families go to the wife's parents' home afterwards. It has become a general practice to visit both in-laws during Seollal, and to pay their respects, in equal measure, at both homes.

On January 25, 2009, Sunday, during the Seollal, every Manipuri reached in time at Suwon, the provincial capital of Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, though there was a heavy snowfall on that day. Frankly speaking, due to tight work schedule, very fast lifestyle of Korea and living in far-flung places of Korea, it was difficult for us to gather on that fine morning. Most of the Manipuris in Korea are also research scholars who are mostly in the field of science and technology. Because of all these reasons, the organizers planned for that gathering two weeks ahead. Some friends and elders came a day earlier to Suwon from Pohang, Daegu and other parts of Korea only to attend the gathering. Everyone joined in the preparation of our Manipuri dishes which we students have been missing for about a year. A few friends came with prepared ingredients of some of the dishes from their homes itself. I also went with one of my friend carrying Rhou fish for Nga Thongba. Our menu of the day was Nganu Thongba, Nga Ataoba, Soibum Iromba, Hawaijar Chagem Pomba, Sougri Thongba, Singju, Chamfut, Nakuppi Bora, Manipuri Papar, etc. So, in the morning everyone was busy in preparing food.

According to Korea Manipuri group, there are around 30 people from Manipur in Korea. Out of this, six have settled with families and working here in Korea. Others are mostly research students. These students came here with the Korean Government Scholarship for further studies, mostly PhDs in the field of Science. It is a surprise not only for me but for others also how we Manipuris came here to study. Language is a big barrier in studying here and education is also very expensive in Korea. Without getting government scholarship, it would be almost impossible for us to study in Korea. So, ninety-nine percent (99%) of the students came here with Government Scholarships through keen competition with other Indian students. Although the number of people staying here is very small, it is purely a learned group mostly doing their PhDs and having reputed jobs.



To name a few, Tamo Jiten is an Asst. Professor in Pohang University of Science and Techology, Eche Pravabati is doing her Post Doctoral at Korea Institute for Advanced Study, Nahakpan Bidhan is an Asst. Professor in Suwon University, Waikhom Bimolchand is an Engineer in Samsung Company and Marup Bhaban is working as a Research Fellow in an IT firm. There are also a few other Manipuris who are working here for whom I can't get enough information. So, I really feel proud of being a Manipuri when I met with them, because I feel that in spite of having a lot of problems at home, our people can excel in various fields and can participate in the global trend.

Morning time already passed with talking and sharing each other's experiences and in the preparation of food. The most interesting part was the post lunch session. Once our lunch was over at around 2.30 pm., some of the friends started talking about the recent meeting of the Korean Ambassador and the Education Minister of Manipur and Korean fever in Manipur. This session was indeed a brainstorming session because everyone participated in the discussion on different issues of Manipur ranging from politics, economy to society. We discussed each and every topic one by one. It's really interesting to know that everyone has the awareness about the present problems faced by today's Manipur.

Even though we are far from our home, everyone has the same feeling to contribute something for our motherland. After discussing a lot of topics, the crux of the discussion came to “What can we contribute to the development of Manipur?'' Everyone admitted that we may not be able to solve all the ills of Manipur. But still we can contribute something for the betterment of our people. It is also true that we may not be able to come up with proper conclusions. But some of the important statements and arguments, I think will be very helpful in establishing Manipur-Korea relations. These are: I) Determining the areas of co-operation between Manipur and Korea. II) Endeavour to establish people-to-people exchange programme between Manipur and Korea through culture and sports. III) Giving information about studies in Korea and Korean Govt. Scholarships to our local students. IV) Giving awareness on Korean mode of development and other lessons which we can learn from Korea. V) Making efforts to contribute towards the establishment Manipur-Korea relations.

With the end of our informal discussion, we concluded our get-together. Everyone was very happy with this congregation of almost all the Manipuris staying in Korea. In my opinion, this gathering can be the foundation for Manipur-Korea relations. Last but not the least, it can be mentioned that there is a small learned Manipuri group in Korea who can play a significant role in the establishment of Manipur-Korea relations.


*Aribam Joy Sharma is pursuing Ph.D in Korean Studies at JNU, New Delhi and he contributes to e-pao.net regularly. The writer can be contacted at aribamjs[AT]gmail[DOT]com. This article was webcasted on February 28, 2009.

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