TODAY -

Chakaan Gaan-Ngai, the living ritual festival of Zeliangrongs
- Part 1 -

Chaoba Kamson *

Gaan-Ngai - A ritual festival of Zeliangrongs at Moirangkhom Kabui Khul  ::  January 13 2017
Gaan-Ngai at Moirangkhom Kabui Khul on January 13 2017 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam



The Zeliangrong people are found scattered in the present Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal, Bishnupur, Tamenglong, Noney, Jiribam, Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Senapati districts of Manipur. They are also found settling in Nagaland in its Paren, Dimapur and Kohima districts and in 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.

Starting of Gaan-Ngai Festival : It is a strong belief that 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 for a long time. Tingkrangpou (Luchupou) and Makhempei (Luchupei) were the houseowners of Girls' Dormitory (Luchu) in those days. Tingpurengsonnang was assigned to teach songs, knowledge of cultivation, culture, mode of worship etc.In course of time, men cultivated and collected food grains and stored the same in the granaries.

Then men started celebrating Gaan-Ngai festival happily 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 toTingkao Ragwang invoking Him for longevity of life and prosperity for coming years. They also offered foods, drinks, eatables etc. on the grave as a tribute to the departed soul. Ever since, the Zeliangrong people specially the TRC people have been celebrating the Gaan-Ngai Festival with pomp and gaiety.

Meaning : The Chakaan Gaan-Ngai literal meaning is the festival of winter season. Chakaan means season, Gaan means winter, Ngai means festivals. This festival is also described as a New Year based on Gregorian Calender as it marks the end of the 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.

Timing of Celebration : 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 ancestor wait for the coming of Gaan-Ngai, the hornbills fly 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 Tinkao Ragwang for a good harvest. Like other communities, Zeliangrong Community have 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 (iv) Rih-Ngai (v) Nanu-Ngai (vi) Pukpha-Ngai.

The reason for celebration of Gaan-Ngai

Tingkao Ragwang created man to do some important works in this world. But he should not always continue to his works only. He needs rest after hard working. He should perform rites and rituals, cary out 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 festivals for one hundred times however it depends on the mercy of Tingkao Ragwang. Once man dies 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 for 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 suh as filling up the vacant post of village authority, males dormitory, the house of old women, the house of married women, admission of new members 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 Nampou/Namgakpou/Napmupou etc.

Tributes paid to the departed souls

Those who died in the previous year are given ritual farewell during the festival. The graves are beautiful and decorated in order to offer the rich tributes. Farewell dances are also preseted in honour to the deported 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 males' 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 Gaan-Ngai festival is regarded as for the living and the dead. To be contd

Gaan-Ngai brings unity

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 merry-making, singing, dancing, cutting jokes etc. heartily. Performance of cultural activity like pazeimei which is the most attractive for boys and girls is also carried out singing the traditional songs together till late night.

Gaan-Ngai makes people happy

When the spring season comes, all trees and plants sprout their stems, when the rainy season sets in vegetables grow profoundly, flowers bloom abundantly likewise Zeliangrong also feel happy when much awaited Chakaan Gaan-Ngai festival comes. Their minds fill with joy and gaiety and their faces look cheerful.

Preparation for Gaan-Ngai

Two or three months before the celebration of Gaan-Ngai, some boys of males' dormitory will set out to the nearest jungle to search and cut the thin bamboos (Guu). The bamboos will be made to dry for making headgear (Gu-pikam) which will be used on the first day of Gaan-Ngai Huai Procession (Huaigammei). Besides, the boys will prepare and get ready mhaigang (Dried Wood) and mhailu (bamboo splint) for producing of sacred fire which will be used in cooking purposes.

The Village Council (Pei) will formally announce the coming of the Gaan-Ngai festival for making wine. Hearing it, the villagers will prepare arrangement for the gala. On the other side, the Males' Dormitory performs an act of blowing of cow or buffalo or mithun's horn (Goichei Kapitmei) which signals harbinger of Chakaan Gaan-Ngai at Males' Dormitory or Jumping Ground (Daanshaanpung) inviting all kinds of goods for participation and informing the villagers for necessary arrangment of the festivals. This is called as heralding of Gaan-Ngai (Gaanshaanmei). Boys will first dig the jumping ground on this day. The villagers are informed by the village council to make soak germinated paddy (Nappok Thuntho) prepare for wine.

Girls are busy for weaving works for the festival while boys prepare headgear (pikam) and repair traditional drum. Boys and girls are in practice of dance and learn folk songs for singing competition. Boys are busy beautifying the village with decoration. Girls are engaged in their house works in keeping it neat and clean. They pound wet-rice for making rice beer. Those who are in service outside Manipur state and students who are studying beyond the state return home for celebration and enjoyment of the festival. So, everybody loves Gaan-Ngai and calls its name, Chakaan Gaan-Ngai when Chakaan season approaches.

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 January 21, 2017.


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