Nachom / Nachomlei
- A small posy composed of selective flowers used traditionally by Meitei Community -

S. Bhubol *

 Mangka during the maaking of Chingda Satpi  Folk Music Project
Mangka during the maaking of Chingda Satpi Folk Music Project : Pix - Oinam Doren (OurVillageFilms)

By "Nachom", it historically signifies a single or bunch of a few but already identified flowers popularly growing in this land of Manipur and it is adorned mostly by women with placing in between the upper part of ears and nape or braid or on tips of well trimmed hairs.

There is still debating on the origin of "Nachom" while it is believed to have introduced during the mythological period of Goddess Nongthang Leima who was taken as incarnation of Goddess Panthoibi and since then it has been popularly worn by women from the time of historical emergence in and after 33 AD and thus it has been a living tradition of Meetei community till today.

It is said that during the time of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (33 AD) aromatic flowers were used in adorning his consort Laisna's coronation costumes. The Govinda Nachon today is a popular nachom and it appeared out when the royal families of the Meitei had converted into Hinduism and started to worship Shree Shree Govinda at Govindaji Temple at the Palace of Manipur.

This special kind of small posy known as Govinda Nachoms are used to offer adoring prayer to Lord Govinda (Shree Krishna) and Radha every day. These Nirmalas (after-flowers offered at the Lord), are taken as very deeply prestigious to the women.

Hindu women are always eagerly waiting for these blessed flowers and used to keep very carefully as things of boon. Whenever they put on this Nachom, they take it as symbol of protection of Lord Govinda even if these flowers are completely dried. Nachoms are generally composed of Takhellei and leaves of Tulsi and sometimes leaves of the plants like Petruklei and Leibaklei.

Love, peace, harmony and some other impressive meanings being associated with Nachom such as a fully grown woman's agreeing or disagreeing to a man's proposal, reservation, reluctance, joy and freedom, are associated to the traditional use of Nachom.

 Kangjam Padmakumar's Play 'Sambal' staged at Irilbung :: 20th December 2017
Kangjam Padmakumar's Play 'Sambal' staged at Irilbung in December 2017 : Pix - DIPR Manipur

Although "Nachom" is a literary term used to representing a rich tradition coming out as a beautiful cultural facet in times of history of Manipur once an Asiatic tiny nation-state before it entered into the fold of Union of India in 1949 'Nachom Tradition' had been associating so interestingly as indispensable part in the cultural lives of Pakhang- Leishabi (youthful unmarried men and women) representing their states of romantic behaviors but unfortunately this rich tradition has been diminishing day by day in respects of its practice, value and taste in the impact of alien modern material and luxurious things etc.

There is popular believe that the use of Nachom was practiced with plays of the Lai Nurabi Taret (Seven Goddesses) and the Laibungdou Mapan (Nine male-Gods) under the instruction of Sitaba Mapu (the Almighty God) as to implement His thoughts for formation of plants and animals including man and woman and corresponding tasks on earth etc.

Nachoms were said to have worn by the Goddesses to beautify themselves and to communicate with the male-Gods and others. The same practice is still seen in the present day Lai Haraoba Festivals which was believed to have originated from the above dances of Gods and Goddesses and at which festival the Amaibees (priestesses) do unfailingly wear Nachoms.

It is further reflected today in the paintings of most images of goddesses like Nongthang Leima and Panthoibi and others the wearing of Nachoms. And, there is still seen in worshipping of goddesses called "Ima Taret Laikhuramba"(prayer to seven goddesses) and in it there offers seven kinds of fruits and seven kinds of flowers (Heiram Taret Leiram Taret Katpa) with additional seven flowers all red in colours called Lei Angangba Taret that is specially meant for use as Nachoms by the seven goddesses(Lairembees).

As Nachom tradition transcends a rich tradition, its use is described by cultural scholars as " Meina Wai Tangna Sam".

'Likkon Sanaba' as a part of Singju Festival at Lamdeng Makha Leikai Lampak, Lamsang ::  28 December 2017
'Likkon Sanaba' as a part of Singju Festival at Lamdeng Makha Leikai Lampak, Lamsang in December 2017 : Pix - Lamdamba Oinam


The commonly used flowers for Nachoms are the indigenous kinds like Takhellei, Sanarei, Nageshor, Atal Gulap, Khongul Melei, Petruk lei, Leihao, Kusumlei, Tulsi, Chigonglei, Malika, Nageshor and Melei etc.

A Nachom is usually made up of a single flower or a bunch of three to five flowers. Atal Gulap (Rose) is used in the "Lai Haraoba" by the Amaibees (priestesses) and in the "Lu Hongba" (Marriage Ceremony) by the ritual singers (isei sakpi sing) and the bride's care-taker (keina sennabi).

In the early "Likon Sannaba", the Leishabees (unmarried young women ) wore beautiful and popular Nachoms made mostly of two to three flowers by selecting and combining ones from seasonal flowers in patterns like
1. Sanarei and Takhellei,
2. Petruk lei, Takhellei, and Ambrajita (black) and
3. Single Malika.

Interestingly, the Nachoms used by the Leishabees( unmarried young women) were always concerned to their admired Pakhangs (bachelors/ gentlemen) participated in the Likon Sannaba, who all came from different parts of neighboring or distant villages and why it was because the flowers were used by the Leishabees as messengers expressing their minds and used to conveying it to approaching Pakhangs (gentlemen) in the way that during the Likon play while flirtations were all happened in between and among the participated males and women if the woman went out by dropping the flower Sanarei from her Nachom it meant that she accepted the man's proposal and if not, not.

Likewise leaving behind intentionally of other flowers by the Leishabees( unmarried young women) had been taken as expressing many meanings.

And it is described in the following what responses and meanings had been used to expressing in places of occasions and meetings when a woman happened to drop her Nachom lei to letting the insisting and approaching male ; if the woman happened to drop off from her Nachom,

1. Sanarei which meant she was living with parental care taking as Gold (mama mapana sanagum luna touribini) and but leaving behind her such parents she is dedicating herself to the a stranger like him;

2. Kusumlei is meant as the girl's living under strict parental care (Mama mapana kupsen sennaribini) and not to be approached to;

3. Atal Gulap signifies her Complete Dedication ( Atat akham leitana sinnajare) to the man;

4. Takhellei the queen flower of Nachom bears the meaning of freshness, activeness and completeness etc (Taru taruba, mapung fana nungaiba), and it was taken as derivative word from 'Tek khat Lei');

5. Khogulmellei is taken for expressing the idea of saying the approaching man her real origin and history before settling things of romance ( Khongul hanna Likho);

6. Petruklei which indicates living in small and humble position that needs to be cared of by the approaching man( pikna leijabini cheksinna loubiyu);

7. Leihao is meant for independence and single not to be sought for anything if being used by girls on single hair's tip and if it is done by widows (Lukhrabi) indicates her fully believing and still dedicating to her deceased husband and also fully attending to her husband's family and taking care of her progenies and so not to be interfered by any male for love in its midst;

8. Nageshor shows the woman's living in single with strict integrity and sustainability and not liking to involve in any affairs, and etc etc.

Likon Sanaba - a traditional game - as practiced/played in Wangoo :: 24 September 2015
Likon Sanaba - a traditional game - as practiced/played in Wangoo in September 2015 : Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

In kinds of Nachom, there are Govindagi Nachom, Lai Haraobagi Nachom, Ras Leelagi Nachom, Likon Nacom, Umang Lai Haraobagi Nachom and others.

In Govindagi Nachom, which is made up by selecting from among the flowers of Tulsi, Chigonglei, Takhellei, in Likon Nachom, that is composed of mostly by choosing from Petruk Lei, Takhellei, Ambra jeeta, Sanarei or by using single Malika; in and Umang Lai Haraoba Nachom, where it was mostly used of Atal Gulap signifying the user's total dedication to Almighty ( Atat akham letana sembiba mapuda katthokchare).

Nachoms can be adorned in three ways such as
(i) keeping it in the ears,
(ii) Keeing it in the braid and
(iii) keeping them on tips of hairs.

Married women put on Nachom on the right ears unmarried ones wera it on the left ears.

Nachoms that are kept on ears can be given to others as gifts of love and harmony but Nachoms keeing on the top and by the side of the braids (Sambul) cannot be given as gifts. Nachoms can be used by youthful girls to signifying their freedom of living under parental cares.

* S. Bhubol (Shintha Handlooms & Handicrafts) wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on August 03 2019.

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