Chakaan Gaan-Ngai : The living and biggest ritual festival
- Part 1 -
Chaoba Kamson *
Gaan-Ngai celebration at Mahabali Namching village, Senapati on January 03 2015 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam
The Zeliangrong, an indigenous ethnic group of North East belongs to Tibeto Burman family of Mongoloid stock. Like any other tribal community of the ancient time, the Zemai, Liangmai, Rongmei /Kabui etc. also had a faith in the form of crude religion and they believe that the human race had been created byTingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God that governs the whole world. In fact, the whole manifestation of such faith revolves around Tingkao Ragwang and other Gods and deities who are lesser to the Supreme Lord.
And these religious and ritualistic principles of such faith came down orally through generation without any purposive concretisation by its followers. However, in the year 1994, a big religious congregation of the followers of such faith from the three states namely, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland was held on 16-04-1994 at G.M. Hall, Imphal where it was decided that the ancient and aged old sets of principles of the faith on Tingkao Ragwang be known as Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak or TRC in short literal meaning the "code of Tingkao Ragwang."
They are found scattered in Manipur valley of Imphal West. Imphal East, Thoubal, Bishnupur, Churachandpur, Senapati Districts. They are also found settling in Nagaland in its Peren, Dimapur and Kohima Districts and Assam in its Dima-Hasao, Cachar and Heilakandi Districts. The present article attempts to highlight the Gaan-Ngai festival of Zeliangrong people of North East India. The five days long celebration of this festival is mainly observed by the devotees of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC).
Origin of Gaan-Ngai
According to myth, Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God created a god named Tingpurengsonnang who was made the patriarch and his wife (Ragonlu) as the matriarch of the common dormitory of gods, men, animals and creatures. They spoke a common language. Tingpurengsonnang was assigned to teach men how to speak and sing song, how to behave a ways of life etc. He also taught them the knowledge of cultivation, culture, mode of worship etc.
In course of time, with the development of wisdom and intellect, men started collecting and storing of food grains. Then men began to celebrate Gaan-Ngai festival merrily in praising of Tingkao Ragwang for good harvest and performed religious and cultural activities thus signifying the identity of Zeliangrong people.
As instructed by Tingpurengsonnang, men offered foods and drinks to Tingkao Ragwang invoking Him for longevity of life and prosperity for coming year. They also offered foods, drinks, eatables etc. on the grave as a tribute to the departed soul. Ever since the Zeliangrong people specially TRC devotees have been celebrating the Gaan-Ngai Festival.
Meaning of Chakaan Gaan-Ngai
Chakaan Gaan-Ngai literal meaning is the festival of winter season.Chakaan means season, Gaan means winter, Ngai means festival. This festival is also described as a New Year based on Gregorian calendar as it marks the end of year and beginning of the New Year. In Zeliangrong tradition, this festival celebrates at the end of year as April is the first month of the new year.
When is the Gaan-Ngai festival celebrated? When farmers store enough food grains in the granaries, they are free from agricultural works, their attention is drawn to festive mood, the sky looks clear and high, winter season sets in and cold winter wind blows, the spirits of the dead ancestors wait for the coming of Gaan-Ngai, the hornbill flies out once in a year, the Gaan-Ngai festival is also celebrated once in a year by the followers of TRC on the 13th day of the Manipuri lunar month of Wakching which falls commonly in the month of January every year but sometimes it also falls in the month of December.
The TRC people mainly observe festivals with religious sacrifices celebrating before and after seed sowing. The main philosophy behind celebration of festivals is to thank Tingkao Ragwang for a good harvest. Like other communities, Zeliangrong community has also a set of festivals in a year with a ritual. They celebrate ten festivals in a year in pre-harvest and post harvest.
The pre-harvest festivals are (i) Longnapkaodai (ii) Ginki-Ngai (iii) Gudui-Ngai (iv) Tun-Ngai and the post harvest festivals are (i) Dongjao (ii) Ten-Ngai (iii) Gaan-Ngai and (iv) Rih-Ngai (v) Nanu-Ngai (vi) Pukpha-Ngai.
Why is the festival celebrated?
Tingkao Ragwang created man to do some important works in this world. But he should not always confine to his works only. He needs rest after hard working. He should perform rites and rituals, cultural and sports activities as thanks-giving to Tingkao Ragwang for rich harvest. People worship and pray to Him for well-being and prosperity in the days to come.
Gaan-Ngai is the expression of rejoicing of the community with prayer to Tingkao Ragwang for plenty and welfare. TRC people want to take part the celebration of Gaan-Ngai festival for one hundred times however it depends on the mercy of Tingkao Ragwang. Once man died he never revives except rebirth. Flowers once bloomed will one day regain in course of time. Likewise, Gaan-Ngai festival once celebrated will recycle endlessly.
The purpose of celebration of Gaan-Ngai is to sustain folk songs, to beat drum and dance, to nurture cultural activities, to worship Tingkao Ragwang and other lower realm gods, to shout huai, to execute customary duties such as filling up the vancant post of village authority, males dormitory, the house of old women, the house of married women etc., to maintian peace, discipline and record heirarchy, to pay rich tribute to those who died in the preceding year.
Gaan-Ngai is the festival of the living and the dead
Those who died in the previous year are given ritual farewell during the festival. The graves are beautified and decorated in order to offer the rich tributes. Farewell dances are also presented in honour to the departed souls. Feast is served to the community in his/her name. It is believed that those souls are with the living people till the festival ends. The deceased family offers foods and drink on the graves both in morning and evening before the living people eat and drink.
On the first day of festival, the male dormitory will give a big pig's thigh as a farewell gift to the family. In reciprocation, the deceased family also presents farewell gift as desired by the family. The farewell dance in honour to the departed soul is also presented. The males' and girls' dormitories offer curry to the deceased family in his/her name till the festival is over. That is why, the Gann-Ngai festival is regarded as for living and the dead.
Attraction of Gaan-Ngai festival
The Gaan-Ngai festival lasts for 5 to 7 days depending on local variation. During the festival,. all the admissions of new members (who attains 13/14 years old) to boys and girls dormitories, newly married women admitted to women's institution as new members, married women to head women, head women to old women, promotion from boys to gaanpi, gaanpi to khangbon, khangbon to gaanchang, gaanchang to banja, banja to khunbu or khullak are carried out.
Rites and rituals are performed during the festival. People work, eat and drink together, dance and sing together, shout huai and beat drum together, discuss together relating to the festival, attire new and clean customary dresses, enjoy happily together spending the whole night singing the village guarding songs and carry out the singing competition.
The boys and girls partake the delicious food accompanied by marry-making, singing, dancing, cutting jokes etc. heartily. Performance of cultural activity like Pazeimei which is most attractive for boys and girls is also carried out singing the traditional songs till late night. Those who do not talk on personal grudge before the celebration of Gaan-Ngai talk during the festival.
Therefore, the festival brings love, peace, understanding and unity among the people. Even the marriage is postponed due to attraction of the festival. The deceased family mourns their relatives' death saying that it would be better if death occurs after the festival. Boys and girls continue to remember the happiness and merry making of the festival even after its celebration. That is why, the Gaan-Ngai is an unforgettable one in the mind of Zeliangrong people.
To be continued...
* Chaoba Kamson wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is General Secretary, Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak Phom, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.
This article was posted on Janaury 22, 2016.
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