...Of shoes and ships and sealing wax...

RK Tarachand *

Yaoshang festivities at Imphal on 10th March 2012
Yaoshang festivities at Imphal on 10th March 2012 :: Pic - Bullu Raj

"In Manipur the very essence of spring is Yaoshang. It is that time of year when young people pop pencils or pens into their mouths and endeavor to write songs or lyrics dedicated to some one they have a fond spot for"

Spring has come and is about to turn into summer. The President of the country wished the people of Manipur on the occasion of Sajibu Cheiraoba. In parts of the world where winter temperatures range from cold to very cold, the advent of spring is a preclude to joyous festivities.

In fact in the bleak winter in the north of Britain, swept by waves of icy winds the sound of the cuckoo in itself acts as a reminder that the grip of winter is about to yield to warmth and vibrant life. So much does the cuckoo promises to the highlanders of the British Isles. William Wordsworth waxes lyrical over that often heard but not frequently seen bird. He refers to it as 'blithe spirit'.

In India the majority population celebrates spring in the form of Holi. Holi is a riotous celebration of colour and mirth, and as it is in many other Indian cultures it is a communal celebration. In the southern part of the country, particularly where Pongal and Onam is celebrated there is that added delight of families preparing their best meals which are lovingly shared between near and dear ones.

Throughout the length and breadth of the country dirty politics, communalism and social repression seem to take the back seat. After all the millions of people who lead a wretched life in India have far too little to celebrate. Let the coming of spring be a brief respite.

In Manipur the very essence of spring is Yaoshang. It is that time of year when young people pop pencils or pens into their mouths and endeavor to write songs or lyrics dedicated to some one they have a fond spot for. It is also that time of year when people, much against good advice, wish to sing and dance.

And for the geriatrics? Well its as usual, gape and tilt lances at the wind mills of the mind. Whatever else, the joie de vivre of Yaoshang can only be experienced by a Meetei. We experience it, the rest celebrate it. And of course we also know that Thabal Chongba is the embodiment of Yaoshang.

When Cheiraoba and Yaoshang fall shortly one after the other, then New Year in this corner of the world becomes a joy for the entire family. On such occasions everyone in the family has his or her role cut out. It is against this kaleidoscope of multi cultures that the President has wished the various peoples of India who have adopted diverse cultures. One does hope she comes to Manipur during Yaoshang one of these years.

Culture is a dynamic base of society. It changes with time and the corresponding changes in social reality. The real value of Manipuri culture lies not so much in the reality of changes it has evolved, but more so in the fact that its basic tenets have remained true to its Manipuri characteristic in particular, and to the S.E. Asian identity in general. And for those who are unaware of it, ours is an conscious option shaped by our history.

But to end this small essay on a lighter vein. As the story goes, the Assamese were perplexed that Manipur oozes rich in everything, culture and sports leading the way. So a team of intrepid Assamese leaders went to meet Lord Shiva to air their grievances. We are all aware that Hindu faith depicts Lord Shiva as the biggest giver of boons apart from also being the Lord of destruction.

When they finally reached Mt Kailash they found the Lord seated with his back facing them. Knowing fully well his famous temper the Assamese decided to adjust with the reality as it was. It looked like Shiva was in a bad mood. May be he had got into one of his frequent tiffs with his consort Parvati and as usual he had come out second best. Actually, that formidable virago continuously pestered and agitated him.

Or it could have been that he had inadvertently broken his favourite chillum, or that he felt it foulsome that the Assamese could dare ask for grant of refined culture. Whatever it was, he deigned not to give them a face to face audience.

Anyway the intrepid Assamese then proceeded to air their demands notwithstanding the fact the general mood lacked ambience. The team leader said 'Lord, you have granted a great many gifts to the Manipuris. Since they are a small society, population-wise, we feel you make them lie too much in green pastures. On the other hand, in every aspect in life we feel we are rudderless and not genuine. We feel we are aliens in NE India. Right now Lord we are intending to create a dance to usher in spring. Please help us generously, and as you are already well aware, in Manipur's case, their Thabal Chongba which is just a folk dance is making waves not only in India but even abroad.' A pregnant silence ensued after the Assamese leader had put forth his bewildering demands.

Suddenly without warning Lord Shiva stretched his arms horizontal to the ground. The wrists were cocked with the palms facing the Assamese delegation and he was flicking back the cocked wrists at them. The Assamese took copious notes and waited and waited for more, much more.

The Lord sensed the Assamese had not left; he then brought down his arms in akimbo with the cocked wrists resting on his haunches and repeated the flicking of the wrists, albeit more vigorously. Discomfortingly the Assamese realized that the Lord might actually be dismissing them and that he wanted to be left alone.

The team trudged back to Assam and it was decided that they would make do with whatever was at hand, no matter how meager it was. Anyway when you view the Assamese Bihu dance you will notice the horizontally stretched arms, or arms in akimbo resting on the haunches, and in both instances you will notice the flicking back of the palms.

So much so for culture.

* RK Tarachand wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao(English Edition)
This article was webcasted on March 29 2012.

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