A Festival of Joy and Merry Making
Lallunglu Kamei *
A festival is a time of joy and merry making. It is a celebration of the tradition and culture of a particular community along with following the spiritual and moral precepts it conveys. It is during these times that the spirit and bond of oneness strengthens among the people.
Gaan ngai is the biggest festival of the Zeliangrong community comprising the Zemei, Liangmei and the Rongmei which are said to be brothers originating from a common ancestor.
Likewise these three have their own names of their festival Gaan ngai. The Zemei calls it Hega Ngi, the Liangmei Chaga Ngi or Chaga Ngai and the Rongmei Gaan Ngai. 'Gaan' means 'month' and 'Ngai' means 'festival' in Rongmei dialect.
Gaan Ngai as the name indicates is a festival woven around the cultural dances, folk songs, traditional rituals and pujas. A festive air of merrymaking and fun prevails during the whole times of the festival.
It is a festival celebrated as a mark of joy with the coming of a new year after the long hard months of the harvesting season, keeping in stock at the harvest products of the year, forgetting all the woes and suffering faced last year and looking forward to a better tomorrow.
It is also celebrated as a part of paying homage to the departed souls of the concerned villages by offering prayers and festive foods and delicacies to their respective graves.
Usually celebrated in the cold months of January by the Manipur valley Rongmeis and earlier in the month of December by the hill people, this festival depicts the true mythology of the Rongmeis.
Rich tradition, ritual, colourful costumes, elaborate hand woven clothes and delicious home made dishes characterise the true meaning of 'Gaan Ngai' .
In the beginning in the yesteryears, Zeliangrong people inhabited a small village and celebrated Gaan Ngai at a time altogether as a whole. But as time passed, owing to reformations people began to shift to different places and established their own concerned villages and respectively their own Gaan Ngai.
Back in 1946, according to the resolution made by the 'Kabul Naga Association', the people have been celebrating it in the month of January every year. As stated earlier, Gaan Ngai as being the biggest and longest festival of the Rongmeis, goes on for a whole 5/6 days.
The first day is called the 'Ngai Gangpuinei'. It is on this day that the village elders walk north to south shouting 'HOI' and offer prayers to the village deities.
All the men gather at 'Khangchu' (house of the men) and the women at 'Luchu' and perform an the day) activities. Children are seen wearing new clothes and playing in the festive air.
By the evening, a pig is killed and offered to God along with prayers for a prosperous new year ahead. On this day, every household prepares delicious foods at home and invites different sections of the people to a meal and they are made a part of the festival which also shows a feeling of unity in diversity. Later on boys and girls enjoy their dinner together at a particular place.
The second day is called the 'Tamchan Day'. On this day, in every household foods are offered to the gods and goddesses of their homes and the womenfolk pray that peace and solidarity prevails in the family as well as in the society.
The same thing is carried out at Khangchu and Luchu. As the evening comes, everyone gathers at Khangchu and dances are being performed by the girls which are followed by the Hoi. Then they would carry out a procession till Luchu and the same procedure continues.
The third day of Gaan Ngai is called the 'Tuna Gan Ngai'. It is on this very day that boys and girls dressed in their cultural outfits perform the traditional dance as the elders sing for them in the beat of the traditional drums.
These dances show the richness of tradition of the Rongmeis. Boys and girls are seated next to one another to perform the 'Pajeimei' to the beating of the song and drums.
'Napchan', the fourth day is the day when animal sacrifice is made to the village deities at the respective Khangchu and Luchu and thereby people enjoy a hearty feast. This is followed by song competitions and games among boys, girls and the children.
The fifth day is called the 'Rangpat', a day again when the village elders go to the village gods to offer prayers and offerings which are followed by the traditional Hoi.
Later, in the afternoon people go to the deceased families and share their grief and console them. The womenfolk gather at their place, 'Lakpuikaibang'; Lakpui meaning married women and celebrate the dishes of the newly married women.
The last day of Gaan Ngai, 'Rangnit' is the day where according to ritual no villager is allowed to walk out from the village because it is considered a bad sign.
Thereby youths indulge themselves in games and sports and thus this great festival comes to a close in this way. Gaan Ngai ends up in great pomp and grandeur. Even if so, the Rongmeis show solidarity and unity at all times and not only on these auspicious occasions.
* Lallunglu Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on January 05, 2008.
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