TODAY -

Significance of Gaan-Ngai festival
- Part 2 -

Dr Budha Kamei *

Gaan Ngai celebration at Ragailong, Near Minuthong, Imphal :: January 27, 2013
Gaan Ngai at Ragailong, Near Minuthong, Imphal on January 27, 2013:: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam



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; other significance is that the blessed influence of the fresh fire will last throughout the whole year (Frazer 1922:556-557).

Offering at the village gate (Khunnummei): This ceremony is performed in the afternoon of the third day (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 an egg (Loidui) and iron pieces (Tanchu) 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 the 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 unfavourable to the village (Kamei 2004:80-81).

Calling of paddy (Napkao): On the first day, Napkao ceremony, calling of paddy is performed in every household 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 made to goddess of wealth (Kambuipui), goddess of rice (Charaipui) and ancestors (Kairao) who live in the form of hearth stones. This is called Napchanmei. The ritual offering 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 (Kamei 2005:21). A complete genna known as Neihmei (prayer) is observed during the period of the sacrifice.

The chickens are cooked and consumed by the elders of Pei, old women and children who are not yet admitted in the boys’ and girls’ dormitories. T.C Hodson (1996:77) has rightly stated that in Zeliangrong society food tabus are not rigidly imposed on either the very young or the old. Raren Loumei may be interpreted as a 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 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): Ritual farewell is given to those 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 (Das 1985:68).

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 (Hasting: 436). Therefore, Gaan-ngai is the festival of both the living and dead.

Libation of wine (Joupan Keimei): In the 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):

Usually, the unmarried boys and girls of the dormitories in colourful traditional attire actively take part in dancing and singing. The dances performed in the Gaan-ngai festival are 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. All the festival dances are accompanied by relevant songs and musicals instruments like drum, cymbals, gong etc.

Folk song (Lu):

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 with spear in their hand will go around the village singing songs in praise of the might and courage of the people of the village. This is called Kairong Lonmei (guarding the village).

Drum beating (Khong Baimei)

In addition, they perform beating of different types of traditional drum, Khong and playing of harp, Rah jaimei. The way of life of the people is reflected in the dance, dresses, songs and different types of drum beating of the festival.

Customary Activities

Rites of passage are the rites and ceremonies that mark the transition from one life stage to the next (Gennep 1960). They may be given special relevance by being part of a festival event. These may include forms of initiation into age groups, such as Khangchu/ Luchu Jaithaomei (adulthood), initiation into village council, house of married women, house of old women, etc. Gaan-ngai also does serve as an annual assemblage of the community where status quo is conferred to members of the village at different levels having social and administrative implication.

Games and Sports

Festival usually includes rites of competition, which often constitute in the form of games. On the first day of the festival towards evening, at the Daanshanpung, village jumping ground, the young boys perform competition in stone throwing (Taophamei) and long jump (Danchammei) in the presence of the villagers.

These competitions will be introduced by the owner of village (Nampou) with a sort of religious hymns for wellbeing and prosperity of the village. The winners of the competitions are not given prizes but they are required to pay Shon (fees) for declaring and acknowledging his power and ability.

Maintenance of good behaviour

Discipline is sternly enforced by the elders for young boys and girls. An act of issuance of whip (Thingngun Kadimei) is performed at the Khangchiu. The objective of issuance of whip is to teach boys to obey what the elders say, to accomplish the works assigned to them. As a customary practice, an arrangement is made to beat the boys nominally exhorting to pay much attention to work.

The young boys request the elders producing a bottle of wine not to beat them. If the request is accepted, they may be exempted from beating. The girls’ dormitory also follows the same rule. In case the boys are to be beaten, a junior Gaanpi will handle the whip’ whereas at the girls’ dormitory, the twisted cloth called Pheilaak is handled by a Tunapi. It clearly indicates the authority that the elders have in community and the respect that needs to be given to the elders.

Peace and harmony : In the festival, worship of Tingkao Ragwang and communal meal (Jeigantumei) is performed to preserve and promote unity, love and brotherhood of the community. Community tie is recognized as a key element in festival participation. By tradition, participatory actions during Gaan-ngai festival are main platforms through which the Kabui express and shape their ideas about identity, religion, social relations, and belonging.

Conclusion

Gaan-ngai is the ritual festival of the Kabui. In the festivity, they express their way of life through folk songs, dance and music. Rituals of the festival (worship of God) are meant to ensure for safety and prosperity of the whole village community. They honor the living dead with offerings, performance of dance, and decorating the graves so that they will leave the village peacefully and travel to another world where they actually belong.

By participating in the festival, younger generations have the opportunity and learn many new things relating to the Kabui culture and tradition from their senior members/elders of the dormitories. The festival promotes peace and harmony within the family system and the society as a whole. Thus, the whole culture, religion and social life are interlaced in the celebration of the Gaan-ngai festival.

(Concluded ......)


* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on January 23, 2022.


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