Symbolism in the Tribal Art of Manipur
- Part 4 -

Mutua Bahadur *

 >Mutua Bahadur  speaking at Interactive Lecture series on  15 January 2019, at CMS, Library Hall, Manipur University
Mutua Bahadur speaking at Interactive Lecture series on 15 January 2019, at CMS, Library Hall, Manipur University

Symbolism in the Tribal Art of Manipur
Mutua Bahadur
Cultural Activist & Member, Kangla Fort Board.

(Presented as the key speaker in the Interactive Lecture series organised by Centre for Manipur Studies, Manipur University, 15 January 2019, at CMS, Library Hall)

In the Senapati District of Manipur at the Oinam village inhabited by the Paomai tribe, there is celebration of the thidui, which is performed beyond the tallao area - a place of live megalithic culture. This thidui is the consecration of the soul figure of the dead hero and feasting of the community in the month of kaho (October). If the man dies in September, thethidui is performed in the next month.

If the family is not in a position to perform the ceremony, it could be postponed for a future celebration as well. The members of the community go into the jungle for carving the soul figure and effigies for the thidui and finish the same within two days, and they would bring the figure and place it near the site of the tollao. There are also versions that the same would have to be completed within one day have to be completed within one day itself. The family members feed the persons involved in the ceremony, and the left overs of the food should not be brought into the village.

The entire figures carved for the purpose of the thidui are made from the zn(uningthou) tree. In order to fix these figures on the ground, a 2.80 m. full krathii (Manipuri Name: sayi, Scientific name: Castanopsis hyxtris) tree pole for its base trunk' On this krathii pole, three bamboo are fixed horizontally in three levels, tied by bamboo strips. Before affixing the soul figure on these, an oval shaped split bamboo frame is fixed on to the pole, where the two horizontal bars are tied.

There sword like protrusions made from zn (uningthou) wood are affixed on to the frame, and pointing out to all directions and these are no less than eleven in number. Another semicircular piece is added on to the head of the soul figure headgear, and of all the decorative un piece. The headgear is most prominent. Just in the middle of the headgear, a small spear point is affixed on to the pole with its point up. Of all the figures affixed on to the contraption, the headgear is most prominent.

Right in the middle of these contraptings, the soul figure is affixed. A headgear is fixed on to the soul figure itself. On the tips of both sides of headgear a small bunch of paper decoratives are affixed. The soul figure is carved in such a way that the body is prominent and the legs are shortened and made smaller. There are no two hands. Black thread is used in a coiled manner to simulate the hair. White and black mixtures of thread are used as necklace, and that too in three rounds.

The figure is clad in black, and waistband which protrudes down to the legs below is used as decoration of the middle portions of the body. This decorative piece is made like the necklace with the intermixture of black, white, red, and green likes of thread coiled against the other in short patches. On his right side of the soul figure is an incomplete, easily carved nude figure without the head and legs, but represented only with the breast and enlarged hips and two of such effigies are hung, on the left side, a full figure of a man with his head upside down, but basically carved with an avowen intention to highlight the hands is hung.

On the lower portion of the contraption two easily made tiger with their heads upside down are affixed on to the right and left sides of the figure, tied with bamboo strips. These figures are round shaped in their bodies, and strips are made by painting black colours in a slightly bent manner. These figures are made with the bodies and tails being given prominent form, and the area between the tail and body is smeared with perpendicular black lines.

These black lines are adjusted with beautifully spread polka dotes in a balanced eye - absorbing design, and the lines are not strayed. On the head of the tiger, wavy carved lines are drawn, along with the smearing of polka dotes. Two short spears made of zn wood are affixed on to the respective tigers.

On the lower horizontal bar near to the heads of tigers, are affixed two bamboo strip baskets, on both sides, The celebrants of the thidui ceremony, in order to communicate to the dead that they had accomplished their task hung thinly prepared pieces of an wood on an extended line. These pieces are 30 cm. long, and 5 cm. board, with their heads thinned and are hung with differences in length, with variations of thread connections, affixed on the long horizontal thread line spread for quite a distance.

When the wind blows these pieces of wood produce a croaking sound as they hit one another, these sounds are believed to have been the means of communication to the dead. When the thiduitti ceremony is performed for the dead, these figures which are carved on wood represent the accomplishments during his life time, and the brave deeds are being heralded to those who did not hear of or see any of this brave man's activities.

What has been carved of his soul figure of the thidui, the representation at the shortlegs and non representation of the hands are symbolic manifestation of the passage of the man to the ripe old age, that he died a normal death, after having accomplished his bodily tasks, and had proper incapacitation of his limbs due to old age.

The display of prominent headgear is symbolic of the valour, richness and possession of wealth of the hero and vital energies radiating from the personality, of his dead hero. The figures who are hung upside down are representing effigies of his sons who died an unnatural death, who had been killed by enemies, or who had been lost without trace,

The female nude figures are representations of the activity of the hero to molest these women, of his having captured his wife without her consent. The sexy nature of his victim is prominently signified by these emphasises on the sexy carving itself.

These two tigers in whose bodies spears are pierced are representative of them having been killed with spears by the hero or having been captured alive by him. The two baskets are for food and edibles for the dead soul. In some areas, the baskets are representative of the skulls on the enemy, resulted from headhunting.

At some graveyards the celebration of the dead man's ritual ceremonies are also related to the carving from a big plank of the head of a buffalo or mithun and soul figures of the dead and erection of the same. These carvings of the thidui ceremonies are left on the other side of the village panthong without area disturbance, untouched, and without deliberate attempts on destruction. They are left to the elements of nature for them to take the natural course for withering away. This itself is a pointer to the intrinsic relation between nature and man's creation.

 [See Picture 10: Soul Figure of Thidui]
[See Picture 10: Soul Figure of Thidui]


* Mutua Bahadur who is the Cultural Activist & Member for Kangla Fort Board , wrote this article .
Aheibam Koireng Singh sent this article to
The sender is and can be contacted at akoireng(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on March 11th 2019 .

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