TODAY -

Significance of Gaan-Ngai festival
- Part 2 -

Budha Kamei *

Gaan-Ngai - A ritual festival of Zeliangrongs at Maibam Kabui Khul, Nambol   ::  January 22 2016
Gaan-Ngai at Maibam Kabui Khul, Nambol on January 22 2016 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



Production of new fire (Mhailapmei): New fire is produced by wood and bamboos friction. The fire is either distributed to every household or several team of young men visit individual families to produce the new fire. It is believed that partaking of the foods cooked with the new fire will make them healthy, wealthy and wise. It also denotes that one has entered a new era, a time of peace, prosperity and happiness; other significance is that the blessed influence of the fresh fire will last throughout the whole year. The rite of purification by means of fire is to expulsion of some sort of scapegoat carrying the "evil" and "negative" out of the village community.

Offering at the village gate (Khunnummei): This ceremony is performed in the afternoon of Tuna-Gaan ngai. In the ceremony, the Nampou, (owner of the village) the chief functionary will go to the village gates and dig holes in which he offers Loidui, an egg and Tanchu, iron pieces with the chanting of relevant hymns. It is an affirmation that he is the descendent of the founder of the village and prays for the affirmation of his position and strength of the village. This has social and administrative significance.

Ritual of reaffirmation (Raang pammei): In midnight of the third day, Raang pammei ceremony is observed as a symbol of reaffirmation of the strength and unity of the village against the elements and forces unfavorable to the village. During the day time, the youth prepare a wooden pole, the gaa creepers, and canes and keep in the village gates.

In the night, an elder of the Rangteng pammei family uprights the wooden pole of the village gate at the right side of the village gate chanting appropriate hymns which is not to be audible to the gathering. The two warriors dressed in ceremonial warrior dress, holding dao and spear cut the pole. It is followed by the Hoi-Hoing of the gathering to scare away the wild beasts and evil elements followed by a complete silence.

The warriors report to the elders, "Our village is protected and safe it will be prosperous," the gathering at the village gate will respond by shouting "gaiye" (meaning good four times). From the village gate, the gathering proceeds shouting Hoi to the village jumping ground. Then, the refrain of gaiye, will be repeated and it is over. They return to the dormitories in a Hoi procession.

Calling of paddy (Napkaomei): On the first day, in every household, Napka ceremony, calling of paddy is performed by an elder of Pei for bountiful harvest in the coming year. Offering of the best part of the killed animals or fowls i.e. the liver with rice and drink are offered to Kambuipui, Charaipui and Kairao (ancestors) who live in the form of hearth stones. This is called Napchanmei. The same offering is placed on the Nashampantilai, grain jar which is considered to be the core of all wealth. The ritual offering (Napchanmei) is carried out by the household mother as the deity of rice is female.

Village gate opening (Raangpatmei): The last day is called Raangpatmei, gate opening; (Raang means village gate and Patmei, to open). In olden days, the village gates were closed during the festival to secure from enemy attack or raid. On this day, a ceremony called Raren Loumei, worship of Seven Bothers Gods, presiding deities of the village, gods of different aspects of nature like the God of fire, wind etc., propitiation of evil spirits not to disturb men is performed by offering fowls, wine, water, ginger, egg etc. for wellbeing of the whole village community. It is carried out by a priest outside the Northern gate of the village, the seat of Kaipi Bambu, upper village deity.

A complete genna known as Neihmei (prayer) is observed during the period of the sacrifice. The chickens are cooked at the ritual place and consumed by the elders of Pei, old women and children who are not yet admitted in the boys' and girls' dormitories. T.C Hudson has rightly stated that in Zeliangrong society food tabus are not rigidly imposed on either the very young or the old.

Adults are prohibited from eating these chickens. Appointments and retirements of person, handing over of charges, etc, in connection with religious-cultural matters concerning the village are announced at this place. Such announcements which are believed to be made in front of the gods have strong customary sanctions behind them. Raren Loumei may be interpreted as send off the deities because the members of Khangchiu blow horns of the mithun at the Daanshanpung on the first day of Wakching communicating to gods and men regarding the coming Gaan-ngai festival.

Calling of soul (Buhkaomei): After the completion of Raren Loumei ceremony, the village elders return at the Peikai with a Hoi procession where a priest holding a big cock and performs Buhkaomei, calling of the soul invoking Tingkao Ragwang to extend protection to the people of the village from death and danger and provide welfare to the village and its people. The pieces of cooked chicken will be distributed to every household of the village.

Ritual farewell to the dead (Thei-Kadimei): In the festival, Thei-Kadimei, ritual farewell is given to the persons who died in the previous year in the form of parting meal provided by concerned family to his/her friends. It is believed that the departed soul does not leave the village until the parting meal is over. The grave is beautified and drinks and eatables are also placed on it as a way of sharing the meal with him or her. It may be interpreted as a farewell banquet– a send off one who is unwilling to go at the termination of which the deceased is formally but firmly shown the door. Therefore, Gaan-ngai is the festival of both the living and dead.

Libation of wine (Joupan Keimei): A libation is a ritual pouring of a liquid (milk or other fluid such as rice) as an offering to a god. It was common in many religions of antiquity and continues to be offered in various cultures today. In Gaan-ngai festival, every rite is concluded by offering of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang, Ditingmei, Kaipi Bambu, Kaiba Bambu, Kairao for well being and prosperity and propitiation of wine to evil spirits not to give trouble to men.

Cultural Activities:

Festival competitions include various forms of contests such as drum beating, singing, dance etc. In Gaan-ngai festival, the boys and girls of the dormitories perform various types of dance and music.

Dance (Laam): Dancing is not an invention of man, since birds and monkeys dance. Dancing is perhaps the earliest form of expression of joy of man. When society did become more organized, various forms of dances were set aside for various occasions. In all community festivals, they enjoy the festivals with merry-making, feasting, dancing, and singing. Usually, the unmarried boys and girls of the dormitories in colourful traditional attire actively take part in dancing and singing. It is believed that dances are of divine origin as men learned them from gods. The steps in most folk dances are simple, such as walking, hopping, skipping, and whirling; others have intricate patterns.

The dances performed in the Gaan-ngai festival are also known as Chapa Laam. They are Khangbon Kadi Laam, farewell dance to Khangbon (leader of the Khangchiu), Thei Kadi Laam, dance in honor of the dead, Tamchan Laam, Tuna Kadimei Laam (farewell dance to a bride), Pazeimei, dance waving of sash etc. Dances like Laophun, Laoreo, Laotai, Laodi Laam etc demonstrate the movement of hand depicting the seed sowing, weeding, cutting of paddy plants and harvest are included in the Chapa Laam. Man learns from nature the form of dancing based on the movements of birds, animals and insects.

Dances of imitation of animals and insects are Gaa Laam, crab dance, Khoiguna Laam, bee mating dance, Kit Laam, cricket dance, Raengdai Laam, dance of hornbill, Goichei Bang Laam, the dance of movement of the horn of the bull, Apang Laam, huluk (monkey) dance of plucking fruits, Tareng Laam, spinning dance etc. All the festival dances are accompanied by relevant songs and musicals instruments like drum, cymbals, gong etc.

Folk song (Lu): The folk songs of Zeliangrong would be what Vansina has defined oral traditions as "documents of the present" also inheriting "a message from the past." The oral traditions cover all verbal testimonies that are reported statements concerning the past. The folk songs form the essence of the Zeliangrong culture. It is believed that song is divine origin. Men adopted the songs sung by gods. Their songs express their love, their hardship, hope, frustration, victory etc.

Festival songs are also known as Chapa Lu. In the festival, singing of song competition between girls and boys is performed at Luchiu at the night time and no song will be repeated by any singer. On the other hand some boys will go around the village singing songs in praise of the might and courage of the people of the village. The participants are entertained with drink by individual families. This is called Kairong Lonmei (guarding the village).

(To be contd......)


* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on January 13, 2017.


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