TODAY -

Gaan-Ngai
- The Festival of Zeliangrong People -
- Part 1 -

Chaoba Kamson *

Meaning

The word "Chakaan" means season "Gaan" means dry or winter month, "Ngai" means festival. It is known as "Chakaan Gaan-Ngai", the festival of winter season. All the festivals of Zeliangrong people are based on different stages of agricultural operations, pre-operation and post harvest. So, Gaan-Ngai is a post harvest festival. When the farmers have stored foodgrains in their granaries and the villagers are free from agricultural works, people turn their attention to festival.

Those who died in the previous year are given ritual farewell during this festival, their graves are beautified and dances are performed in their honour, feast is given to the community in the honour of the dead. It is believed the souls of the dead are with the living till Gaan-Ngai festival is over.

The deceased family offers foods and drinks to the dead both in morning and evening before the living men eat. In case the living man eats first, the soul of the dead does not eat. Therefore, Gaan-Ngai is the festival of both the dead and living.

Genesis of Gaan-Ngai

According to myth, Gaan-Ngai festival started first during the time of Tingpurengsonnang. There was a common dormitory of man, animals, creatures etc called Khangchu (Dormitory). He was the patriach of the dormitory. He taught men the knowledge of cultivation and cultural activities, system of worship of gods etc. With the development of wisdom and intellect, men started cultivating and receiving abundant harvest and offered crops to Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God, and invoked Him for longevity of life for coming year. They also offered food and drinks to the departed soul. Thus, the Gaan-Ngai had evolved from the house of Tingpurengsonnang.

When is the festival celebrated ?

With the efforts of community leaders, the festival now starts simultaneously on the 13th day of the Manipuri lunar month of Wakching every year (December - January). This date was fixed by Kabui Naga Association (Now Zeliangrong Union) in 1947. The duration of the festival varies from village to village however it lasts at least for five to seven days.

Who are celebrating this festival ?

This festival is mainly celebrated by the followers of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC) and Heraka Cuts living in three States, Assam, Maitipur and Nagaland.

1st Day of Wakching
The village pei will discuss about the Gaan-Ngai festival and village eiders will announce the coming of the festival to make necessary arrangement for the festival. The male dormitory will blow cow or mithun horn inviting all kinds of gods and inform the villagers for preparation of the festival. This is known as heralding of Gaan­Ngai (Gaan Shaanmei). Boys first dig jumping ground (Daanchoumei) on this day.

2nd Day of Wakching
A village elder informs the villagers to make prepare soak germinated paddy (Nappok-Thuntho) for wine.

3rd Day of Wakching
Again, a village elder will announce the villagers to dry up the germinated paddy (Nappok-thuntho).

9th Day of Wakching
A village elder declares the village to make wine (Zou-Southo).

12th Day of Wakching
In the morning at male dormitory and girls dormitory, an act of checking of firewood (Thingtinmei) is performed. Every boy who is admitted as member of male dormitory will bring wisp (Mailam) and faggots of firewood which will be used during the festival. Respective dormitories will touch final arrangement. Thereafter, a hoi procession starting from northern gate of the village will come holding a stick of firewood each in their hands. On reaching the male dormitory, some firewood will be presented to male dormitory as a respect. Then, householder of male dormitory and girls dormitory bring out tam (Chutney of vegetables) and an earthern jar of rice beer (Zoulai) and followed by oblation of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang.

A little quantity of tam and a tumbler of rice beer (Zoungao/Joudui) will be given to the male and girls dormitories respectively. In the evening, boys will collect ginger and egg from every household of the village for ritual offering to north and south presicling deities (Kaipi­Kaiba bamboos). Male dormitory allots works division such as in charge of rice, curry, wine, coin (puansinmei). This system is also done at girls dormitory.

Thing-ngun Kadimei (Issuance of Whip)

An act of issuance of Whip (Thing-ngun Kadimei) is performed at male dormitory. The objective of thing-ngun Kadimei is to teach young boys to obey what the elders say, to keep discipline among themselves and to carry out the works assigned to them. An arrangement will be made to beat the young boys nominally exhorting to pay much attention to works. Then the young boys request gaanpis (senior youth) producing a bottle of wine (fine) not to beat them and stating that they (Young boys) will carry out all works effectively till the festival is over. This wine is known as "Jamlui Zou".

The girls dormitory also follows the same rule. In case the boys are to be beaten at male dormitory, one youngest gaanpi handles the whip whereas at girls dormitory the twisted cloth is handled by one tunapi (Head of girls).

13th Day of Wakching (Starting of the festival)
The much awaited, Gaan-Ngai festival comes. In the small hour in the morning of the first day, a village baanja (priest) performs ritual offering of ginger and an egg (Bambujaang Lamei) for presiding deities on behalf of the village at the northern and southern gates invoking them not to cause any untoward incidents during the festival. On return to the male dormitory the priest offers holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang for well-being and prosperity to mankind and followed by beating of drum by the young boys heralding the start of the festival.

Mairapmei (Making of Sacred fire)

Extration of sacred fire at jumping ground is carried out in the morning and an elder informs all the household to come and collect the new fire for preparation of cooking. Accordingly, the house owner will come and collect the same. It is the belief that if sacred fire is cooked there is long life and prosperity of the coming year and another inner philosophy is that man is as strong as fire.

Whereas, some villages perform the friction of new fire at every household after the performance of short put and long-jump activities. If the act of extration of new fire (mairapmei) is found missing in any particular house, then the village authority will take action against the male dormitory. Therefore, the young boys (Laibak) check up again and again carefully whether it is carried out or not. If it is found okayed then a rilai hoi procession will proceed to male dormitory where the work of mairapmei as conclusion is also carried out. Thereafter, the young boys will collect wine (mairap Zou).

Sacrifice to Tingkao Ragwang

Pig catcher and his helper are declared as winner and runner-up. A pig is sacrificed as offering to Tingkao Ragwang. After the sacrifice of the pig, the spleen will be examined to find out the omen for the future. After observation of pig's spleen, the boys dormitory brings out "Gakpai Zou" (wine) to offer Tingkao Ragwang. The pig's spleen is given to first observator or to Peikai (House of Village Authority), as told by the elders.

Then the grand Gaan-Ngai feast is arranged at male and girls dormitories. After having cooked, the young boys (Laibak) will call old men, khangbon (Head of male dormitory), members of the male dormitory for ho-hoing (Naplao Hoi) and followed by oblation of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang. They eat zeigan (curry of pig's inside cooked with blood) which is very important to be tasted by each and every member of male dormitory. Zeigan-tumei is tantamount to oath-taking ceremony.

Pikams (headgears) are prepared by senior gaanpis and laibak (Young boys) sharpen the spears which are used in hoi-procession and dance. The young boys dig the jumping ground where short put is kept inside the earth.

Hoi-Gammei (Hoi Procession)

In the evening a disc of tam and an earthen jar containing rice beer (Zoulai) are brought out at the court yard of male dormitory and an old man offers holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang. Then, there is hoigammei procession. Every male, elders, married men, young and children putting on the best ceremonial dresses and holding spears participate in the hoigammei procession. It starts from the male dormitory and proceeds to the village northern gate where the shouting of hoi ends. This hoi procession proceeds to the southern gate and again proceed to northern gate then to the jumping ground (Daanshaanpung).

The village Khunbu or Khunlaak will first introduce stone throwing and long-jump chanting hymns. He will throw stone and perform long-jump at an unreachable place by the young competitors. If young competitors cross the marking place or unreachable place of stone-throwing and long jump performed by the village chief, it is not a good sign for the village. Then, the young competitors will perform stone throwing, long-jump, wrestling etc.

At the end of sports activities, an old man will declare "Taolan" (one who stands 1st position in stone throwing) for seniormost khangbon and "Daanlan" (one who stands 1st position in long-jump) for younger khangbon. Winner and runner-up of stone throwing and long-jump are declared at jumping ground by an elder and followed by shouting of hoi "Long-hoi".

They proceed to male dormitory with rilai hoi (Short-hoi). Shouting of hoi is the beginning and the end of ceremonies. Thereafter, boys and girls dine together (Nap-Tukaronmei) visiting at members' house led by two male heads of girl dormitory (Tuna-Munshinmei) who are in charge of girls dormitory and followed by pajeimei, merry making, joking, mocking, kailong ronmei (Village guarding) etc.

To be continued....


* Chaoba Kamson wrote this article for The Sangai Express. The writer is General Secretary of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak Phom (Assam, Manipur and Nagaland). This was webcasted on January 06thth, 2010.

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