Festivals among the Zeliangrongs :: Part 2

Dr Budha Kamei *

Gaan Ngai Celebrations at BOAT, Imphal :: January 07, 2012
Gaan Ngai Celebrations at BOAT, Imphal on January 07, 2012 :: Pix - Bullu Raj

The following day is called Ngidai, the great festival day also popularly known as Tamchan Ngi [performance of Tamchan dance]. All the boys and girls of the dormitories will bring Tamcha, gift in form of drink, meat, vegetables and rice or eatables [chutney] along with a jar of rice beer to their respective dormitories. There had been a time when they brought ingredients for Tam [chutney] only, there was also a time when they brought eatables that would last for whole five days.

But today, in most villages a fixed amount of money is contributed. The member of the dormitory who died in the preceding year will also contribute his/her share. The parents of the dead members give the Thei Tamcha in remembrance of their deceased near and dear ones. In return, a share of eatables is given by the dormitory concerned to the bereaved family.

In the afternoon of the day, girls and boys of the dormitories will distribute from their collection of meats, drinks, and vegetables to other dormitories such as Peiki [village council] Gaanchang Kaibang [house of elders] Karapei Kaibang [house of old women] and Mathenmei kaibang[house of married women].

While presenting these gifts the members of Khangchiu and Luchiu will sing songs and dances as well. These dances are called Tamchan Lam [Tam means chutney of vegetables, Chan means request and Lam means dance] and the dance is performed only by the girls and the songs sung are known as Tamchan Luh. Because of the performance of the Tamchan dance; the day is also called Tamchan Ngi.

The remaining materials of Tamcha are returned to Khangchiu and Luchiu. It is believed that if young men eat the bit of Tamcha before it is offered to the elderly men and old women, it is not good for them. In other word Tamcha is offered to the elders as scapegoat or as substitute for the destructive period of boys and girls. In short it is a respect/honour given to the elders by the younger generation.

Serving best Joungao, rice beer to a visitor during the festival is a compulsory item. After the evening feast, singing of song competition [traditional songs] between girls and boys at Luchiu will continue throughout the night and no song will be repeated by any singer. On the other hand some boys will go around the village singing songs in praise of the might and courage of the people of the village; those participants are entertained with drink by an individual family. This is called Kairong Lonmei[guarding the village].

Tuna-Gaan ngi, the festival of the youth [boys and girls] falls on the third day of Gin-ngi.

All the four Khangbons, senior members of Khangchiu will bring their Tamcha, eatables and best prepared rice beer to the Khangchiu. The present members of the Khangchiu taste the eatables and drink after offering of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang. In the evening of the day, Theikadilam, farewell dance in honour of the dead is also given at the selected families in which death occurs in the previous year.

The family offers food and drink to the spirit of the dead over their graves. It is the so called departure of souls of the dead. Emile Durkheim writes, when an individual dies, his soul quits the body in which it dwelt, and after the mourning is accomplished, it goes to the land of the souls locally known as Taroilam.

Khangbon Kadi Lam, farewell dance in honour of the promotion of Khangbon of Khangchiu to Peiki is also performed by the dormitories of Khangchiu and Luchiu when the Khangbon of Khangchu are being promoted to a higher grade position called Ganchang. These posts of Peiki are not given by resolution or appointment order but by songs, dances and cultural activities.

In the afternoon of Tuna-Gaan ngi, a ceremony called Khunnummei [offering at the hole of the village gate] is observed in which the Nampou [owner of the village] will go to the village gates and will dig holes in which he offers Loidui, an egg and Tan, iron pieces with the chanting of religious hymns. It is an affirmation that he is the descendent of the founder of the village and prays for the affirmation of his position and strength of the village.

Another ceremony known as Rangteng Pammei is performed in the night when there is complete silence in the village for strength and unity of the village against the elements and forces unfavourable to the village. In fact, the day is important for both the dead and living and for the strength and prosperity of the village

The fourth day is called Longruimei meaning hill trekking; [Long means hill, and Ruimei, trekking]. The boys and girls claim on a nearby mountain range and on the top of hill, they will show their talents and capabilities of the lifetime achievements. Khong Baimei, drum beating is carried out by those who are expert in the art and those who were the killers of enemy, tiger, bear, python, wild pig etc. show Kabaomei[warrior talks].

The participants sing traditional songs and eat the Gaktingtam [boiled pork pounded with salt, ginger, chilies and made into balls] with drink. Among them, two boys and girls are chosen to be kings and queens and each of them wears a crown made of Fak, a kind of long grass. The boys and girls are locally known as Fakgwangs and at the end shouting Hoi is performed.

In the evening, they return to the village and perform Phakgwang Lam, dance in front of the houses of the Phakgwangs. The participants are entertained with eatables and drink. On this day, Meipuigoi, married women have their feast at their dormitory. They performed dance in honour of new members joined in their dormitory.

Napchan [ritual offering to Goddess] is the last day of the Gin-ngi festival. On this day, a ceremony called Napkao [calling of the paddy] offering of pig and fowls is performed at their respective dormitories such as Khangchiu and Luchiu to restore the consumed and wasted rice during the festival invoking Tingkao Ragwang and Kangdailu [Goddess of food grain] for the plentiful harvest of the year.

Offering of the best part of the killed animal or fowl i.e. the liver mixed with rice and drinks are placed on the hearth stones. It is believed that Kangdailu[Goddess of food grain], who lives in the form of hearth stones. The same offering is placed on the Nasham Pantilai, grain jar which is considered to be the core of all wealth and the ritual is carried out by the household mother.

Raang-Patmei, the worship of all gods of Zelian-grong pantheons by offering of fowls, eggs, ginger, water, rice-beer etc. is observed on the sixth day. It is carried out by a priest outside the Northern gate of the village, the seat of Kaipi Bambu, upper village deity25 for wellbeing and prosperity of the village Appointments and retirements of person, handing over of charges, etc, in connection with religious-cultural matters concerning the village are announced at this place.

Such announcements which are believed to be made in front of the gods have strong customary sanctions behind them. A complete genna known as Neihmei[prayer] is observed during the period of the sacrifice. The chickens are cooked at the ritual place and consumed by the elders of Pei, old women and children who are not yet enrolled at the boys' and girls' dormitories.

T.C Hudson has rightly stated that in Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak food tabus are not rigidly imposed on either the very young or the old. Adults are prohibited from eating these chickens. Then, the elders return at the Peiki with a Hoi procession where a priest holding a big cock performs Buhkaomei ritual [calling of the soul] invoking Tingkao Ragwang to extend protection to the people of the village from death and danger and provide welfare to the village and its people.

The pieces of cooked chicken will be distributed to every household of the village and eaten. Maruzou, the blessed wine is distributed to every household or an elder informs the villagers to come and collect the same of which one drinks or touches in the jaw, the sins of animal slaughtering by their hands and misdeed are redeemed.

Gin-ngi is the festival of honouring Tingkao Ragwang. All prosperity with richly harvested crops and everyone has enough for their daily needs is ascribed to the blessing of Tingkao Ragwang and people honour Tingkao Ragwang. This signifies that festival and God are interconnected in Zeliangrong society. Therefore, to celebrate without honouring is to neglect God's providence and blessings. Gin-ngi is to pray and praise for the safety and security in their day to day life.

Another important aspect of Gi-ngi is reconciliation peace and harmony. As the Gin-ngi festival starts, an announcement of the elders is made to all the families that no quarrel or riots during and after the festival, it may be within the individual - husband and wife, society and even to other living creatures, everyone must be happy and peaceful, and settle all the disputes. Peace and reconciliation occupies the central stage in the celebration of Gin-ngi.


Chaga-ngi, war festival is celebrated for one day in the month of January/ February. On the eve of the festival every male of the Khangchiu observes Lumthengmei [fasting] for the purification of one's body, soul and mind, thereby making one self fortunate and for every challenges of life say ready for war, hunting, fishing, cultivation etc. During this festival, men do not touch women and also fetch water separately. The men kill pigs, take a portion for them and give a portion to women.

They cooked them separately and eat separately. There is no feasting in the dormitory. In the afternoon, they will perform the Chong-Kapmei [shooting of and or spearing of the human effigies made of the plantain tree] at the Rang [village gates]. It is believed that one who hits the head of the effigy will be successful in war and hitting on the chest of the effigy is a good luck in hunting. He who strikes at the belly of the effigy will be blessed with bountiful harvest in the year.

In this festival, the elderly men recite of Kavoumei [warrior talks], Ritak Faimei [war hymns], etc. No song and dance is performed in this festival. At the close of the festival, all the young men of the village will march to the upper village gate with bamboo cups which they used for drinking purpose.

And the cup will be split in the middle at one stroke with dao and taken the omen. If one half of the cup turns open and other half turns closed the omen is taken as good. If both the halves turn open or closed simultaneously, the omen is taken as bad. In this way, Chaga Ngi festival ends.

Maleng Ngi:

Maleng Ngi is a ritual festival of the Zeliangrong. It is a festival of worship of Tingkao Ragwang for abundant harvest celebrated in the month of May/June for one day only after completing the works of seed sowing in the field33. In the early morning of the festival, every household performs a ritual called Malengmei, offering of rice-beer and Gutam [crushed ginger] to Tingkao Ragwang and Kangdailu with appropriate religious hymn34.

The objective of this festival is for timely rainfall of the season, to grow the paddy plants properly and nourish and to root to the soil, expand its stems quickly not causing any disturbances by insects or pesticides or warding off decease etc35. Napkao ceremony is also observed by each and every household sacrificing a beautiful cock. The intestine of the victim is removed and hung on the outer side of the wall near the door in the belief that Kangdailu sees it hanging; she is pleased to distribute the paddy.

Ginger soup mixed with chicken meat is served to every member of the family to nourish health and longevity which signifies the deliverance of life from hunger during scarcity or famine36. In the afternoon, people organize entertainment programme in which there is a Duidom Phaimei [throwing of the water put in a plantain leaf container] among the boys and girls followed by Loijaimei, [pulling of rope] tug of war between boys and girls, males and females as a symbolic representation of competition between God and Goddess for possessing the paddy.

It is performed at the Danshanpung and girls ritually win the game, for there would be good yield in the coming year37. In the evening, elderly men will sing katu, an agricultural ritual song by marching from one end of the village to the other end for plentiful harvest in the year. On the next day of the festival, a Genna locally known as Dikap-Nei is observed abstaining from earth or muddy work. People worship Mother Earth for the fertility of the soil and for fruitful cultivation38.

Festival is an indivisible part of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak. The community offers prayer for fruitful cultivation and good harvest in the days to come, the departed soul does leave the families and go to the land of death, the village reinvigorates its energy by affirmation of strength and unity, rejoices in the performances of dance, music, merry making and festivities.

Festival is a unique cultural phenomenon, a form of aesthetic expression of the Zeliangrong religion and philosophy. It is also an institution through which the community sustains their cultural heritage and way of life. It is an essence of the Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak culture. It also creates an atmosphere of peace and solidarity among people by discarding enmity and differences.

Concluded ....

* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on February 26, 2012

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