Aspects of Gaan-Ngai
- The most important festival observed by Zeliangrong -
Lanbilung Golmei *
GAAN-NGAI is the most important festival observed by the Zeliangrong of North East India. The Zeliangrongs belief, pattern of society and cultural practices are found in this festival.
This is why, apart from the religious connection, it is regarded as an identified festival. Gaan-Ngai carries wide ranges of meanings. It denotes the seasonal and Philosophical ideas. It is a winter festival as Gaan means winters.
It has also the connotation of opening the darkness to light. In short, Gaan-Ngai is the festival of winter in post harvest period and also festival to ensure happiness and prosperity as light to the darkness.
1. Origin (and Genesis) of Gaan-Ngai:
There is a myth which explains the origin of Gaan-Ngai. The myth tells that after the creation of this universe including earth by Tingkao Ragwang, life began on the earth. Men and gods had a common dormitory called khangchu in house of Tingpu Rengsonnang.
In this dormitory men and gods were not friendly and men were placed at the mercy of gods. Men suffered at the hand of gods. Later on, men with their wisdom appeared in the physical form of bee (khoidai) and bit the gods.
The gods then fled away from men and the dormitory. Men achieved peace and security As the ages passed the number of men multiplied. Thingpu Rengsonnang the householder of the dormitory, visited the surroundings of the village and he found vegetation and rich condition of fertility.
He proclaimed that the villagers should go for cultivation and then received good harvest. The people after the monotonous harvesting labour decided to offer their crops to the creator and almighty God, Tingkao Ragwang for his blessing and to protect their lives.
They also decided to offer the taste of their crops to the departed souls they celebrated festival for the purposes in the Gaan-bu (Month of Gaan) . Later on, from this myth the philosophy behind the Gaan-Ngai has been evolved.
2. Facets of Gaan-Ngai:
Gaan-Ngai bears different aspects and dimensions. It may be seen as a religious as well as a cultural festival. The religion and cultural characters express the identity. In the midst of these features, social activities are also inspirable.
3. Religious Aspect of Gaan-Ngai:
The religious aspects of Gaan-Ngai may be classified into
(a) prayer to Tingkao Ragwang, the Creator and Almighty god
(b) tribute to the departed soul
(c) sacrifice and ritual to the gods and goddesses of the lower realm including the duties of village and areas.
4. Worship of Tingkao Ragwang, the Creator and Almighty God:
Worshipping Tingkao Rangwang, the Creator and Almighty God is also involved through the offering of the first taste of meals and drinks on many occasions of Gaan Ngai. Napchanmei ceremony which is performed on the fourth day of Gaan-Ngai is a part of worshipping of Tingkao Ragwang.
5. Tribute to the departed souls:
Tribute to the departed souls is the central theme and indispensable part of Gaan Ngai. Farewell to the departed souls is accompanied by tribute and homage. Souls after the separation from body live in the land called Taroilam.
It is the land of the dead where the souls of men go and have another world. There is a god presiding over the land called Taroigong. The belief is supplemented by the tale of Meijipou who visited to the land through the grace of Taroigong. Reference also may be made from the packets of food called "Thei Napdom" buried along with the dead bodies.
There is a belief that the soul of a person who had passed away after the preceding Gaan-Ngai have not yet made his or her final departure from the living families and villagers though they are already in "Taloilam". Tribute and homage to these departed souls are done by the individual families and the dormitories like Chinch, Loch, Mathematic Kaibang and Pekoe and so on.
6. Ritual and sacrifice to the gods and goddesses of the lower realm:
Ritual and sacrifice are performed to the various gods and goddesses generally considered to be the gods of the lower realm, including the village gods, (Bamboo and shong).
The pantheon of these gods consist of Raglan, Vishnu (Bunching) Napsinmei, Karanguang, Koklou, Chonchai, Charakilongmei and Dimei. These gods are workshipped to protect the village from natural calamities and misfortunes. This ritual and sacrifice is performed on the last day of the festivals.
7. Cultural Aspect:
Religion demands cultural expressions to achieve its spiritual contentment. Religious obligations have been completed only with the cultural expression. The Gaan Ngai is transformed into the cultural activities by the institutions like Chinch, Mathematic Kaibang (institution of Married Women) and Peikai (Council of the village elders). All these institutions execute their works and duties assigned to them.
8. The Role of Khangchu and Luchu:
The main part of Gaan-Ngai and its activities are carried out by Chinch and Loch. The dormitories of Boys and Girls. From the beginning till the end of the festival these institution carried out the entire programme of the festival The following are the items carried out by the Chinch and Loch along with other institutions.
9. Gucheng Phaimei:
On the beginning day of Gaan-Ngai, before the commencement of works, "Gucheng Phaimei" is conducted at first early in the morning. This is throwing out the pieces of ginger both at the end of the village.
There is a religious consideration that the people are going to have a function and evil forces should not disturb the activities of the people. The Zeliangrongs consider ginger to be the representation of cleanliness from the evil forces.
It is used frequently in many rituals and sacrifice. One tells the writer that ginger represents the fingers of the formless Creator and Almighty God Tingkao Ragwang.
10. Gakpai Jaomei:
In the early morning, after Gucheng Phaimei on the first day of Gaan-Ngai, Gakpai Jaomei is performed by the members of Chinch~ and elders of the village are also invited. It is a ceremony of predicting the future of the vi11age from the spleen of pig offered to Tingkao Raglan for his blessing.
The spleen of pig is examined by the village elders. After it, the members of Chinch enjoy a feast including the village elders known as "Jeigan Tumei".
11. Taophai Dangjongmei:
It is carried out in afternoon of the beginning day of the festival. It is exclusively throwing of stone to compete for distance and long jump. Before inaugurating this kind of sports the members of Khangchu along with "Hoi Kaomei" (Pronouncing Ho-Ho-Ho in geometrical pattern).
In other word, it is called "Hoi Gammei". The march with "Hoi Kaomei is concluded at the point of the selected place for the sports.
The chief and privileged elders open• the sports in jumping and throwing stone with hymns for the prosperity of the village. It is followed by the competition among the sportive youths. The winners of the sports are not given prizes but they are required to pay fees called "Shon" for declaring and acknowledging his power and ability.
12. Mairapmei (Traditional way of producing fire):
In the evening, after the gathering of the members at the Chinch, Mairapmei is performed at Chinch Kai. Then they move from door to door to produce fire for each family. Each family is required to cook their food from this fire. A new life has begun with the new fire.
13. Napcha Tukaronmei:
In the evening unmarried men and girls who belonged to Chinch and Loch visit every member houses to enjoy the delicious foods under the supervision of their respective leaders. (Tuna Munsinmei in the care of girls who supervises and it appears similarity with Ningol Lakpa).
In the evening of the same day, two or more persons are chosen by the leaders of the Chinch to go to each house to announce the stem punishment if they are found quarrelling or inciting violence during Gaan-Ngai. It simply means that any undesirable incidents are not preferred during Gaan-Ngai.
15. Tamchan Jouchanmei:
The second day of Gaan-Ngai both the Kangchu and Loch perform Tamchan Jouchanmei. It is the joint distribution by Chinch and Loch from their collection of meats, drinks, vegetables to other dormitories like Pekoe, Mathematic Kiang, Karapei Kiang, Napmu Kiang.
These distributions are accompanied by dances and these dances are known "Tamchan lam". The dance is performed only by girls who are the members of Loch. The songs sung are called "Tam Chanlu".
16. Tuna Gaan-Lam:
Tuna Gaan Lam is performed usually on the third day of Gaan-Ngai. The variation of days is visible from locality to another locality caused by the number of required houses for the dances.
Again Tuna-Gaan lam may be classified into three
(a) dance performed in the recognition of newly admitted member to Kangchu and Loch. Again if it is performed in recognition for the newly member family of the locality, it is called Namteng Lam. It may be grouped together as recognition dance.
(b) Tuna-Gaan lam is also performed in honour to the persons who have been promoted to the higher ranks as the Zeliangrong society is based on hierarchical system. It is simply called "Kadimei".
(c) Tuna-Gaan lam is also performed in tribute to the departed souls and it is a religious consideration. It is named as "Thei Kadimei",
It is a religious aspect of the festival. It is jointly performed by Chinch and the respective families of the village. A pig has been offered to Tingkao Raglan for blessing to ensure for more longer duration of consumption the crops stored.
The cooked pieces of pork are distributed to every family. Again the elders of the families keep the piece of pork with the fresh cooked and uneaten drops of rice to the oven and rice pot pronouncing Hymn .
18. Tuna-Gaan Ngai:-
It is common that Tuna Gaan-Ngai is conducted on the third day or fourth day of the festival. Both at Chinch and Loch, the unmarried jointly make gathering.
Distribution of fresh or dried pieces of meat, small packet of salt and chilly are made to all the participants and the members enjoy rice beer distributed to them. This is called "Tuna-Gan Joulu".
After the conclusion the leaves on which the distribution are covered and closed and then these are given to the ranked elders of the village. It has very significant religious aspect.
An observation and investigation into the practices reveals the religious ethic concerning with Toroilam and Heaven. The pronouncement of each member in the ceremony to meet in the world after death, Taroilam before drinking rice beer (those who do not drink wet their cheek with a drop of rice beer) bear significant meaning.
It is translated and elaborated in such way that every unmarried members has made commitment to safeguard his or her character concerning for the journey of soul to Taroilam and Heaven. From one Gaan-Ngai the morality of unmarried has been cautioned and it is called "Pon-Nimmei"
19. The Kadimei:-
It is a religious aspect followed by cultural activities. Any member of Chinch and Loch who had passed away in the period preceding Gaan-Ngai has not yet made final departure and their souls are in between men's world and Taroilam.
Now farewell to the departed soul with homage and tribute is given. The tributes are expressed in form of dances and feasts provided by the concerned families to his or her comrades.
It is a social aspect, promotion to higher ranks organized during Gaan-Ngai. Promotion from Chinch to Pekoe, promotion to honorary post of chief from lower ranks are conducted in the festival~ promotion to these posts are not given by resolution or appointment order but by songs, dances and other cultural activities, Each family or the village plays significant role in Gaan-Ngai.
On the beginning day of Gaan-Ngai, offerings are made on the graves to the departed souls of their respective families. Families arrange feast or offer drinks and meal to the party who visited to their houses on the duty assigned by the Chinch.
The members of Pei are invited to every meal of Chinch and also to read the spleen of pig on the beginning day. They also make special gathering to enjoy the meat and drinks distributed by Chinch and Loch. They lead the opening ceremony of "Taophai Dangjongmei".
At the closing day ritual and sacrifice performed to the various gods are led by the eldest of Pekoe and they are assisted by the members of Chinch. The gods are the eight brother gods, namely Raguang, Vishnu, Naptime, Karagong, Koloa, Chongchai Charakilongmei and Dimei.
Besides these gods, deities like bamboo (village deities) and shong (Area deities) are included in offering sacrifice. Gaan-Ngai bears the importance from social gathering to the religious belief with cultural activities. It also requires the involvement of the entire villagers from children to the aged groups.
It is a religious festival. People pray to the almighty gods Tingkao Raglan. People pray to the earthly god and goddess for blessing. It is a festival of social promotion Gaan-Ngai provides recognition, the promotion of any person to the higher heirarchical rank of the society. It also inspire and encourage game and sport.
Tingkao Raglan Chapriak Phom (Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland)
* Lanbilung Golmei wrote this article for Hueiyen News Service . This article was webcasted on January 08, 2008.
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