- The Festival of Zeliangrong People -
- Part 2 -

Chaoba Kamson *

Ngaidongmei (Tribute to the departed souls)

There is a belief that the soul of a person who died preceding the Gaan-Ngai festival is with his family. Tributes and homage are paid to the departed souls and every household brings a plate of rice, chutney of dry eel, meat, curry, drinks etc. for the dead of the previous year and an old man offers those eatables to the graves. This is known as "Ngaidongmei".

Shaopaak Thetmei (Warning Message)

A group of village elders divided into two or three pay a visit at every house warning the members of each family not to quarrel nor speak ill words against each other during the festival. If there is any quarrel the village authority will take stern action against quarrelling parties.

The 2nd day - Ngaidai (The great festival)

The 2nd day is called, "Ngaidai" and also known as "Tamchan-Ngai". The members of male and girls dormitories will bring tamchas (subscription/eatables) to their respective dormitories. Members of the boys and girls dormitories of those members who died in the previous year will present the tamchas (gift in the form of meat, food, vegetables, drinks or generator, almirah etc) to their respective dormitories. Tamcha is presented to male and girls dormitories.

One banja (priest) will chant tamsuan for two seniormost gaanpis and zousuan for two tunapis (Heads of girls). After the lunch, the male dormitory will collect tamsuan and zousuan with a rilai hoi to the above mentioned families. In the evening, "Tamchan Laam" (Dance) is performed at peikai (House of village Authority) (2) Kengjapui Kaibang (House of old women) (3) Gaanchang Kaibang (House of elders) and (4) Napmu Kaibang (House of calling of paddy) and followed by presentation of gifts (Tamchas) to the above houses.

The gifts consist of eatables such as dry eels (Kharui-Kang), dry small fish (Kha-Kang), wine (Zou), chilly (Tingsaisu), pieces of pork (gakjan kakek), local salt plates (teikok), coin (puan) etc. The remaining materials are returned to male and girls dormitories respectively for longevity of life (kamuikhang). If there are promotions from married women to old women, a farewell dance may be presented in honour of them. The promotion is based on seniority from the house of married woman.

Farewell dance to be presented taking a single person from each house is not customary. Farewell dance for promotion of both men and women is compulsory. If there is no farewell dance mentioned above, Lamreng Laam (Rotation Dance) selecting two members from male dormitory and another two members from girls dormitory is performed for the purpose of fund driving.

Thei Kadimei (Farewell dance to departed souls)

Farewell dance is presented to any member of male and girls dormitories who passed away preceding the Gaan-Ngai festival as his/her soul, it is believed, is with the living people. If the bereaved family favours for farewell dance then it will be performed. If no request comes, it is not compulsory. The graves of the dead will be beautified to whom offering in the form of food and drinks will be prepared and ritual farewell will be given to the dead. The tributes are expressed in the form of dance and feast provided by the family concerned. It is a religious aspect and followed by cultural activities. Farewell dance to departed soul may be adjusted any suitable day.

The 3rd Day - Tuna Gaan-Ngai (Festival of the youth)

The 3rd day is known as Tuna Gaan-Ngai (festival of the youth). In the morning two khangbon (Heads of male dormitory) and two tunapis (Heads of girls dormitory) will bring tamchas to their respective dormitories and one priest (Baanja) will chant tamsuan and zousuan hymns. Then male and girls dormitories share tamchas with Gaanchang Kaibang (House of village elders) and tamchas are cooked there by the young boys.

After having cooked and shouting of Naplao hoi (Hoi for lunch), lunch will be served. After lunch, male dormitory will shout-rilai hoi holding a stick of fire wood each in their hands and proceed to both houses of khangbon and tunapis and chant tamsuan - zousuan praising for abundant gifts and wine. Male dormitory invokes Supreme God to give longevity of life and strength to both khangbons and tunapis.

In the evening boys and girls perform Khangbon Kadimei Laam (Farewell dance for Khangbon), a farewell dance in honour of both khangbons being promoted to a higher position known as Gaanchang. On this day, if no such dance is there, a farewell dance may be presented bidding farewell to those girls (if any) who are going to be married after Gaan-Ngai, festival. Such type of farewell dance may be adjusted in appropriate day. In such situation, number of days of festival may be increased.

The 4th Day - Longkumei (Hill Trekking)

The 4th day is known as Longkumei or Longruimei. Boys and girls climb a hill for sight seeing. They select kings and queens and adorn their heads with "phaak leaves" as crowns. They show their talents such as singing song, drum beating, rah jaimei (Playing of string) etc. After performing these activities, gakting tam (pork chutney), wine, boiled pork etc. are offered to all present there. At least a hoitan is performed.

They return to the village and perform dance in honour of those boys and girls who have been chosen the kings and queens. This dance is known as "Phaak-gang Laam". The families of the kings and the queens will offer money (Laam-baan), drinks and other eatables. Thereafter, a last dance (Thien-Kadimei) will be performed at both male and girls dormitories. From the girls dormitory, elders, gaanpis and boys will proceed to male dormitory shouting "Rilai Hoi" and on reaching there hoi will stop.

The 5th Day - Napchanmei

On this day a bamboo pipe is distributed to every household by the boys dormitory. Wine is poured into the pipe and cover the mouth of the bamboo pipe with cotton. The purpose of pipe hanging at every household is to store the disease of epidemic inside the pipe which will be thrown away by the village elders outside the village gate in the next day.

A ritual ceremony of calling of paddy (Napkaomei) in the respective boys and girls dormitories is performed to restore the lavish and wasted rice during the festival invoking food in-charge god, Napsinmei and goddess, Mudonlu (Kangdailu) for the plentiful harvest in the coming year. The cooked liver of fowl and rice will be offered to goddesses namely Kambuipei, Charaipei and Kairao who live in the form of hearth stones in the house.

Napsin ganshin Raomei

After the feast is over, there is an assemblage for Napsin gansin raomei (Criticism at Dishes). This function is performed at the courtyard of boys dormitory. Some members are not satisfied with for not being arranged for special dishes so they, instead of speaking directly against the khangbon and seniormost gaanpi, express their unsatisfactory voices through songs. After that some songs (Kaihut Luh) will be sung together inside the male dormitory indulging merry making and expression of happiness over heart to heart.

Singing Competition

Then the members of boys dormitory proceed to girls dormitory singing Luchu Kailong Ronluh (Village guarding song) for singing competition with the girls enthusiastically. On reaching girls dormitory, boys will sit down and a village elder offers holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang praying for avoidance of any untoward incident during the course of the singing competition. First boy will sing and followed by girl in rotation. The singing competition continues till late night. If the act of singing competition is over, boys return to male dormitory shouting a rilai hoi.

The 6th Day - Raangpatmei (Worship of all gods)

Raren loumei means worship of all gods of Zeliangrong pantheon and it is performed at the northern gate (Raang) by a priest. Zeliangrong people worship seven brothers of Anbaan Ragwang, surrounding gods, presiding deities (bamboos) and propitiate evil spirits to distance from mankind. Every house brings a fowl, a ginger and a bundle of banana leaves at peikai. Sacrifices are offered to the seven brothers of Ragwang, surrounding gods, presiding deities who are believed and worshipped by the villagers.

Cooked chickens are distributed to old men, old women and children who are not admitted as members of male and girls dormitories. Adults are prohibited from eating these chickens. At last the priest performs the ceremony of Ragai Kaomei invoking Tingkao Ragwang, Supreme God for giving prosperity and bringing peace to the village and other people in unison respond, "yes".

Raangpat Tamcha
Banjas will bring raangpat tamcha such as eatables, salt cakes and the things/materials which are distributed to Banjas equally but gaanchang is not given.

Raangpat puan
Male and girls dormitories will give puan (in the form of money) to the members of village Authority for their help extended to both dormitories during the festival.

Filling up the vacant posts of Khunbu or Khunlaak.

If there is any vacant post of Khunbu or Khunlak or other posts of a village before Gaan-Ngai festival, the vacant post (posts) is formally filled up on this day by a suitable seniormost person by declaring with an iron hoe at village gate (Raang) in the name of Tingkao Ragwang.

In addition to this, any promotion from khangbon to gaanchang, from gaanchang to banja, from married women to old women is decided on this day and prior invitation (Kaphaan Timei) is given to the proposed invitees with a local salt cake (Teikok) for the next year. After that the old men and others will proceed with a rilai procession towards peikai where a priest will conduct the ritual of Bukaomei (Calling of souls) with a big cock. The cooked chicken will be distributed to every household of the village.

From Peikai, a hoi procession will lead to the new incumbent's house where a ceremony of rite and ritual of a cock's leg examination will be conducted so as to confirm whether the new incumbent's fortune will be good or not for the coming years.

The 7th Day of the Festival

Puantang Nimmei (Giving money to the male and girl dormitories)

Early in the morning, members of the village authority and one of the khangbons will lay some amount on paantonglu (yangkok) ranging from Rs 1000 to Rs 1200 requesting the village authority to accept the amount. If accepted by the village authority, the money will in turn hand over the money to the wife of houseowner of male dormitory. Reason for giving money is that young boys during the festival disturb their sleep and break earthen pots containing wine etc (Naplai joulai).

Thereafter, an old man (Baanja) will offer holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and followed by distribution of chutney of dry eel, beef, pork, drink etc. to each and every member present there. The same procedure will also be done at girls dormitory. In the evening, young boys are taught by "the gaanpis to improve the shortcoming faced during the festival. Thus, the Gaan-Ngai comes to an end.


* 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 15th, 2010.

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