A remarkable journey of a Thang-Ta exponent and teacher : Nongmaithem Khilton

Bob Hijam *

 A remarkable journey of a Thang-Ta exponent and teacher : Nongmaithem Khilton
A remarkable journey of a Thang-Ta exponent and teacher : Nongmaithem Khilton

From the Shangoi (Work Shed) of HULA Sindamshang at Imphal to the hallowed stages of various International Centres, the act of demonstrating and teaching Thang-Ta is a philosophical task for Nongmaithem Khilton.

For Khilton and Thang-Ta Exponents, it is not just an art, but a way of life. A philosophy that explains the Macrocosm and Microcosm of the Universe, a philosophy that is as old as mankind and described as Nung-Pan in Meiteilon. This is the story of Khilton an exponent and torch bearer of Oja Debo's school of Thang-Ta philosophy.

While there are many Thang-Ta exponents who have performed and demonstrated in the international platform, Khilton is one of the very few who have been able to provide a platform and system that helps international students to understand Thang-Ta from their point of view.

He is able to explain and develop a pedagogy that is in sync with other Martial Arts, and demonstrate the inner depth, differences and similarities with other Martial Arts.

Khilton started his journey under the tutelage of Oja Sinam Devabrata, popularly known as Oja Debo in 1981 and continued till Oja's demise in 2010.

Khilton's relationship with the Oja, in true Thang-Ta tradition was that of a Father and Son.

Oja, in recognition of his commitment to the art, his skills and ability to understand the concepts, accepted Khilton as the next generation's torch bearer of Oja's tradition, a tradition that dates back to the school of Paona Brajabashi.

Oja was trained by Paona's only son Oja Paonam Tonsana, and Oja is understood to have acknowledged that he owe his skills to the tutelage Oja Tonsana.

Oja also further studied under other teachers like Ningthoukhongjam Khelchandra. Khilton is the recipient of this knowledge, and is entrusted with the responsibility of preserving and transmitting it to the next generation.

As is the case of all loving fathers, Oja fully understood that it takes a village to raise a child and he instructed and arranged for Khilton to learn specific skills and philosophies from various masters of the art in Manipur.

The masters who accepted and instructed Khilton as their student are
o Oja Ningthoukhongjam Khelchandra,
o Oja Potashangbam Manikchand,
o Oja Pebam Ibomcha,
o Oja Birjit Ngangomba ,
o Oja Khaidem Momon and
o Oja Mutum Achou.

There are several other masters whom Khilton learnt and benefited from. The Thang-Ta's mode of Instruction is by word of mouth in nature, where the contents are strictly for the recipient's ears only, commonly known as Nakong Ani Shuhandaba in local parlance.

Depending upon the level of acceptance, most students are limited to the Shangoi/Shumang , the next level would be accepted till the Mangol of the Master's house, and finally ,the highest level, where the student is given full access to the Master's house.

This category of students are given the opportunity to wash the master's feet. It is normally during such times of washing the Master's feet that sacred knowledges are imparted.

Khilton was the fortunate recipient of such knowledge. Khilton was chosen to demonstrate alongside Oja whenever an occasion or need arose.

Apart from Oja Debo, another person who helped and guided Khilton in showcasing his skills was Dr. Lokendra Arambam.

While Oja Debo was responsible for imparting the skills of Thang-Ta, it was Dr. Lokendra who helped Khilton financially, emotionally and intellectually to the next level.

Dr. Lokendra showed Khilton the path to UNESCO scholarships and awards, arranged opportunities to demonstrate and develop skills that would help him in International platforms.

The ability to express in ways that the International community can understand greatly helped Khilton in setting him apart from other exponents. These skills were imparted by Dr. Lokendra. Without these skills, Khilton would have never been able to present the beauty of Thang-Ta internationally as he is doing now.

Khilton currently teaches Thang-Ta in the Metropolitan Area of Washington DC.

He also established North American Thang-Ta Association in 1998 with the endorsement of Oja Khelchandra and Oja Debo.

He also is a Consulting Instructor with a Leading Dance Institute in the Metro Area of Washington DC.

He is closely associated with other schools of Martial Arts and present papers, demos at various Seminars throughout the US. His students are located in Europe , North America and Manipur.

He was recently accorded membership to the International Dance Council, UNESCO.

I am making a disclaimer that this piece is a result of 20 years of close association with Khilton, not only as a dear friend, but a family member, the God Father to my children and a brother to my wife.

This is a recollection of various conversation that we had over the years and my desire to recognize uncelebrated pioneers. I am also inspired by this art, not limiting it to the physical but the philosophical aspect of it.

The physical aspect is thriving but the philosophical appears to be diminishing and needs our attention and effort to revive and conserve.

* Bob Hijam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer Bob Hijam is based in the US
This article was webcasted on February 18, 2020 .

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