Why not go for Colourful Yaoshang festival

Rev Fr Paul Lelen Haokip *

Yaoshang festival at Imphal area :: 17 March 2014
Yaoshang festival at Imphal area on 17 March 2014 :: Pix - Armando Bond

Even Board exams are botheration for Holi festival lovers. Streets are cleansed, pandals are constructed, shops are filled with gift items and parents hunt to get enough money to buy gifts for their children. Drums sound heard, make-up centres gearing up for a hike. This festival is mostly celebrated by Vaishnavites Hindus around the world. Food, drinks, merry making are the welcome notes to old and young, rich and poor.

Origin and connected legends and myths

In some parts of India, especially in Bengal and Orissa, HoliPurnima is also celebrated as the birthday of Shri ChaitanyaMahaprabhu (A.D. 1486-1533). However, the literal meaning of the word 'Holi' is 'burning'. There are various legends to explain the meaning of this word, most prominent of all is the legend associated with demon king Hiranyakashyap.

Hiranyakashyap wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana.

Hiaranyakashyap commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself.

However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she paid a price for her sinister desires, while Prahlad was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion.

What is Yaoshang Meithaba

Even today, people enact the scene of 'Holika's burning to ashes every year to mark the victory of good over evil. In several states of India, especially in the north, effigies of Holika are burnt in the huge bonfires that are lit. There is even a practice of hurling cow dungs into the fire and shouting obscenities at it as if at Holika. Then everywhere one hears shouts of 'Holi-hai! Holi-hai!'

The tradition of burning 'Holika' is religiously followed in Gujarat and Orissa also. Here, people render their gratitude to Agni, the god of fire by offering gram and stalks from the harvest with all humility.

Further, on the last day of Holi, people take a little fire from the bonfire to their homes. It is believed that by following this custom their homes will be rendered pure and their bodies will be free from disease.At several places there is also a tradition of cleaning homes, removing all dirty articles from around the house and burning them. Disease-breeding bacteria are thereby destroyed and the sanitary condition of the locality is improved.

Krishna and Colours

Joining Yaoshang means to be smeared with different colours. Legend of Lord Krishna is also associated with play with colours as the Lord started the tradition of play with colours by applying colour on his beloved Radha and other gopis. Gradually, the play gained popularity with the people and became a tradition.

There are also a few other legends associated with the festival - like the legend of Shiva and Kaamadeva and those of Ogress Dhundhi and Pootana. All depict triumph of good over evil - lending a philosophy to the festival.

Woes of Yaoshang

I would contribute generously for Sports events but do the same for Nakathengba, considering the latter as necessary evil.

1. Nakathengba (asking for money from different households) to Shelmunba (asking for money by young girls mainly in outdoor). Asking for donation is tolerable but sometimes, there is a demand attached to that so called ‘donation’.

You see beautiful damsels with traditional attire out in the hot sun collecting money for various reasons related with yaoshang celebration. We also see old men and women with smeared sandal wood singing with drums, cymbal and other instruments singing their traditional tunes. If you are a lover of antic things and sounds you will appreciate.

2. You would see young children (mostly girls) spreading ropes and asking money from passers-by. It’s a dangerous job that can cause hurts and even destroy life. There are chances of quarrels and fights. This trend should be stopped immediately and children be directed towards sports, games, literary competitions. Girls are made commodities to earn money even at a tender age. This trend can take ugly picture upon deep analysis.

The Best of Yaoshang

1. Thabal Chongba is a beautiful Manipuri dance where boys and girls hold hands and dance. Boys wearpheijom (dhoti) and girls wear phanek (loincloth worn by female Meetei) in the Thabal chongba. Seeing and joining a beautifully arranged thabal chongba is heavenly in nature. Perhaps this is a good exercise for the younger generation. Today, girls mostly keep up to the attire but boys lack that traditional attire.

2. Thanks to various local clubs taking up Yaoshang Sports in a big scale. This is a welcome paradigm shift from mere begging to physical training for the children. Perhaps the powerhouse of Sports (Manipur) is building up more powerful young men and women.

Instead of collecting money from anybody and everybody, why not go and help the poor, aged, orphans or widows and wish them happy yaoshang with gifts. Any festival should be celebrated with the meaning in its purest form. It is sad to observe commercialisation of any religious or social festivals.

* Rev Fr Paul Lelen Haokip wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao and The Sangai Express
Rev Fr Paul Lelen Haokip is Principal, Sacred Heart School, Yairipok.
This article was posted on March 06, 2015.

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