Significance of Gaan-Ngai festival
- Part 1 -
Budha Kamei *
Gaan-Ngai at Maibam Kabui Khul, Nambol on January 22 2016 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam
"Festival is a time of merriment and enjoyment, to imbibe the spirit of love and brotherhood."
The Zeliangrong are one of the natives of Northeast India. Racially, they belong to Mongloid stock and speak the Tibeto-Burman language. Tradition says, the Zeliangrong ancestors originated from a cave recognized as Mahou Taobei; they moved to Makhel and to Ramting Kabin, and then to Makuilongdi, Senapati District of Manipur. From Makuilongdi, they migrated to different directions; the Rongmei to the South, Zeme to the West and Liangmai to the North. Most of the Naga traditions point to Makhel as their original home and from Makhel, they migrated to different directions.
On the basis of traditions and linguistic history, it has been identified that the original homeland of the Zeliangrong and other ethnic groups of Tibeto-Burman family was in South West China. As the Zeliangrong are "Tibeto-Burman, they must have lived with other groups of the same family in South West China about 1000 B.C and migrated to their present habitat(Northeast)" through various routes in batches and at different periods. On the basis of available sources, this article attempts to delve into the Gaan-ngai festival and its socio-cultural significance.
Methods and Materials:
The study has adopted inter-disciplinary method particularly the application of knowledge of both history and anthropology. The data have been collected from available primary and secondary sources; primary source mainly consists of published works of TRCP and also information collected from selected knowledgeable persons of the Zeliangrong community through structured and unstructured techniques. And secondary sources cover all relevant books, journals and internets.
Origin of Gaan-ngai:
According to local myth, Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God created a god named Tingpurengsonnang and he was assigned the task to look after the affairs of a common dormitory (Khangchiu) of gods, men, animals and all creatures. All the members of the dormitory spoke common language. The main duty of Tingpurengsonnang was to teach man how to speak, sing and how to have a way of life etc. In course of time, men became wise and started collecting and storing food grains (settled life). Then, they began to celebrate Gaan-ngai with thanksgiving to god for abundant harvest and offer prayer for prosperity and wellbeing in the days to come. Man offered foods and drink to god with the performance of dance and music; thus, there was peace and harmony among mankind. Man inherited Gaan-ngai from Tingpurengsonnang.
Meaning and Time of celebration of Gaan-ngai:
The term festival is derived from the Latin word Festum meaning "public joy, merriment, revelry" and "abstinence from work in honour of the gods." Allesandro Falassi (1987) in Time out of Time: Essays on the Festival has described festival as " …a periodically recurrent, social occasion in which, through a multiplicity of forms and a series of coordinated events, all members of a whole community, participate directly or indirectly and to various degrees, united by ethnic, linguistic, religious, historical bonds, and a sharing a worldview." Festivals are considered safety valves for the society.
Festivals are celebrated under different names, but their functions are essentially the same. They unite people in a common exercise, thus strengthening the bonds between the participants. Rituals of the festival are meant to ensure the prosperity and safety of the ethnic group or community. Although some festivals are celebrated primarily for worship and ritual, they are also a relief from daily toil and a major source of recreation for a large portion of the world. A festival scholar writes, "The primary and most general function of the festival is to renounce and then to announce culture, to renew periodically the life stream of a community by creating new energy, and to give sanction to its institutions, the symbolic means to achieve it is to present the primordial chaos before creation, or a historical disorder before the establishment of the culture, society, or regime where the festival happens to take place."
Gaan-ngai is the festival of lights and victory, victory over evil; (Gaan means light and Ngai, festival). Another version of Gaan-ngai is the festival of winter season. Chakaan means season, Gaan also means winter and Ngai, festival. This festival is also described as a New Year festival as it marks the end of the year and beginning of the New Year according to the traditional calendar. The New Year is marked by Mhairapmei, the making of new fire by friction of wood and bamboos.
In the past, Gaan-Ngai was usually observed between October and December depending on the state of the progress of agricultural operation. Later on, Kabui Naga Association, the progenitor of the present Zeliangrong Union decided in 1947 that Gaan-ngai be celebrated on the 13th day of the Manipuri lunar month of Wakching. This festival now begins on the 13th day of Wakching every year and lasts for 5 to 7 days depending on local variation. It is mainly celebrated by the followers of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC) and Heraka living in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.
The whole culture, religion and social life are interwoven in the performance of Gaan-ngai. It is a festival for spreading good will, peace and prosperity and preservation of cultural identity.
Areas of celebration:
Gaan-ngai is a festival based on ancient/antique/traditional religion. Celebration in the hill areas of Manipur where majority of the Zeliangrong have accepted Christianity has almost become non-existent. However, it is celebrated with full pomp and passion in the valley area where the antique religion is alive. It is also observed by the TRC villages inhabiting in Assam and Nagaland.
When the Wakching month arrives in the midst of cold gentle breeze, each and everyone remembers Gaan-ngai and its message of love and peace. We should cherish the message of Gaan-ngai to bring peace and harmony in the society. In the present day society, Gaan-ngai's message of peace has a special relevance. The Scripture of TRC says, "Be truthful, love others, be good to others, good to the guests and please them. Such act of piety will atone hundred sins."
Gaan-ngai is a post harvest festival. When the granaries are full, the landscape is dry, the whole village is free from all agricultural works, and people turn to celebration, festivity and worship of the God (Tingkao Ragwang) and honoring of the living dead. The rites and rituals associated with the festival are given below: Offering of ginger (Guhcheng Phaimei): The festival opens with Guhcheng Phaimei (ginger offering) at the abode of Bambu (village presiding deity) to avoid any untoward incidents during the festival. It is performed by an elder of Pei with relevant hymns. Guh, ginger is considered sacred and it is used in many rites, sacrifices and also towards off Rasi-Rarou, evil forces. It is believed that ginger represents the toes and fingers of the formless creator and Almighty God, Tingkao Ragwang. In ritual chants, Guh is not merely addressed as just Guh, it is always addressed as Kachak Gubung (golden ginger).
Observation of pig spleen (Gaukpaijaomei): In the morning of the first day, Gaukpaijaomei, (observation of pig spleen; Gauk means pig, Pai means spleen and Jaomei, to observe) ceremony is performed at the courtyard of Khangchiu sacrificing a big pig in the name of God. The spleen of the pig is removed and examined carefully for the sign of good and evil that is to come in the year. The portent is read as: if there is blemish on the spleen it is assumed as bad and there is nothing on it, is regarded as good sign.
Communal feast (Jeigantumei): Rites of conspicuous consumption usually involve food and drink. These are prepared in abundance and even excess, made generously available, and solemnly consumed in various forms of feasts, banquets. Traditional meals or blessed foods are one of the frequent and typical features of festival, since they are a very eloquent way to represent and enjoy abundance, fertility, and prosperity. Ritual food is also a means to communicate with gods and ancestors.
The above sacrificed animal is cooked and consumed by the members present at Khangchiu. Eating together of the pork meat cooked with blood called Jeigan is an oath taking to stand as one in times of misery and happiness. Some say Jeigan is meant only for the Banja, Taku and Gaanchang. But all the members of Khangchiu irrespective of age must have it as a vow. However, sitting arrangement is made according to age grade. Before meal they cry Naplaohoi.
Hoi procession (Hoigammei): This Hoi procession takes place on the first day. In the afternoon, every male of Khangchiu wearing the best colorful varied shawls meant for their age, headgear and holding spears in their hands will march from one end of the village to another; it starts from Khangchiu and return to the same place with Rilai Hoi after the sport competitions like long jump, throwing stone, wrestling etc. at the Daanshanpung (village jumping ground). It expresses the strength and unity of the village.
In the Zeliangrong tradition, every important event starts and comes to an end with Hoi. Shouting Hoi is an invocation towards Tingkao Ragwang. R. Brown writes, "The festive occasions among the Zeliangrongs are numerous, and are characterized by feasting, drinking, dancing and singing, and shouting of the Hoi, Hoi without which no entertainment of any kind would be complete." The objective of Hoi procession is to renew the magical defense of the village community against natural and supernatural enemies.
(To be contd......)
* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on January 11, 2017.
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