Heikru Hidongba : Cultural History Of Manipur

Dr. Ch. Jamini Devi *

A Heikru Pareng (Garland made of heikru) before the start of Heikru hidongba festival
A Heikru Pareng (Garland made of heikru) before the start of Heikru hidongba festival

From the Puya called Lamlen Sakok, it is known that Heikru Hidongba was a traditional Meitei festival that had been around long before Rajarshi Bhagyachandra, since the time of Meiding-u Irengba. This was a celebration pertaining to the worship of Sanamahi Pakhangba. There was no fixed day for the celebration. After the king decided on a day considered being auspicious, the festival was held.

From the time of Meiding-u Irengba up until the time of Meiding-u Maramba (Gourashyam), the Heikru Hidongba ceremony was held sporadically at best. However on the day when Rajarshi Bhagyachandra with his uncle Nongpok Leirikhomba (Anantasai) started the seva of Shri Bijoy Govinda, there was a grand celebration of the Heikru Hidongba to commemorate the occasion.

It was decided that beginning the following year, on the 11th day of Langban of each year, the festival would be held. From then on this festival has been celebrated until this day without a break. There have been changes in the way the festival is celebrated from the time of Meiding-u Irengba till today.

Rajarshi Bhagyachandra combined old Meitei traditional elements with elements of Vashnavism such as puja, fruit-flower offering, sankirtan, blowing of the conch, etc. and after Shri Bijoy Govinda graced the boat, the aarti was performed.

One of the most important elements of the Heikru Hidongba is the spectacular visual drama of the boat race. Before the start of the race, graced in a Khabak Lakpa boat (two boats tied together), Shri Bijoy Govinda goes on a procession along the sides of the moat, and stops at every Hiden. This is known as Lai Lamyengba.

At these stops at each Hiden, spectators make offerings of fruits, flowers and aaarti to Shri Bijoy Govinda. After the procession, the boat carrying Shri Bijoy Govinda heads towards the east. At this point, the leaders of each team come towards the boat with offerings to the deity.

After a brief rest and final preparation, the boats are taken to the race area, and the race begins. This spectacle is what Heikru Hidongba is to those who gather each year at the moat to watch it. However, there are other aspects of this festival that relate deeply faith and worship.

The day before the boat race, in the early morning hours, the two individuals who are going to lead each team, put items made of silver and gold in a container, and offer it to Shri Bijoy Govinda. This is to show that all people acknowledge the presence of the supreme lord of the universe. This comes from the ancient ways of worship in Meitei tradition.

On the day of the race, a garland will be assembled from one hundred and eight Heikru. In between each Heikru, there will be a tip of 'hup' interspersing the strand. Another garland will be made out of one hundred and eight rice grains, each grain picked by fingers from its husk.

The two garlands will be offered to Shri Bijoy Govinda and will then be placed on the deck of the two boats. Which garland will be placed on which boat? This is decided on the day of the race by pundits.

The significance of the Cheng Pareng is that- the food that God has given us, is in return being offered back to him. The Heikru Pareng represents the core inside each individual human being. Along with this, the boat racers are dressed in traditional Meitei grabs.

As an example, the two Tengmai Leppa or the leaders of each team, as well as the two Lourungba are all dressed in Ningkham and Shamjin. The rest of the team on each side wears Kokyet of each team's colour.

When the winner of the race is declared, it is announced that either the Heikru pareng team or the Cheng Pareng team wins. Pundits then calculate the pros and cons of either the Heikru's victory or the Cheng's.

About the tradition of Heikru Hidongba, the festival celebrated each year in honour of Shri Bijoy Govinda. What was agreed by all the citizens of the land was that until the moment the celebration has been carried out, it is forbidden, or a taboo to eat Heikru.

Since the festival is attended by all the public, the crowd is extremely large. It is an occasion and chance for people who have not seen one another for a long time to meet up. There is a quaint saying that goes "Hiyang Yenglingeida Tumbagi Sel Thourak-ee" (Being asked to pay up debt for the purchase of Tumba, while watching the boat race).

The Heikru Hidongba is not simply a traditional festival. It unites religion, caste and creed, and brings people together in a platform of friendship and love.

(Extracted from the book 'Cultural History of Manipur' by Dr. Ch. Jamini Devi)

* Dr. Ch. Jamini Devi wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on July 21, 2014.

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