The Innampei festival of Chothe
- Part 1 -

Dr Cheithou Charles Yuhlung *

 Chothe Dance at the Festival of Tribal Dance :: March 26 2012
Chothe Dance at the Festival of Tribal Dance in March 2012 :: pix - Phurailatpam Banti


The Chothes is an indigenous minor Scheduled tribe of Manipur. They concentrated in three districts of Manipur i.e. Bishnupur, Chandel and Tengnoupal. There are 18 villages in all including new six settlements. They have their own distinctive indigenous religion, kinships, socio-cultural, economic and political institutions. The Chothes speak the Chothe language and they have no script of their own. They commonly use Bengali-Manipuri and Roman scripts in writing.

The 2011 Census of India provides the total Chothes population as 3585, with a literacy rate of 69.79 %. The majority of the Chothes are now Christians and just a handful of people of Lamlanghupi Chothe of Bishnupur still adhere to their indigenous religion even today who continues to uplift their traditional customs and cultures.

Agriculture is the main economy of the Chothes who practice both wet and shifting cultivation. The Chothes traditionally practice the prescriptive marriage system where the girls are indirectly exchange in cyclical manner among the seven clans. The Chothe indigenous religion is animism and polytheistic. Since time immemorial, they believed they are the descendants of PuLungchungpa or PuPakhangpa the mythical Dragon-Python God as their Principal Guardian God on the earth. Thus, the Chothes believes in PuChotheThangwai/ ThangmeiPakhangpaas the re-incarnate of PuLungchungpa. However, they also revered the Supreme Heavenly God (PuThangvanRengpa) and a host of other demigods like Sanamahi, Leimaren, Soraren, forest gods, etc.

There exist two types of village political administration among the Chothes - i) The traditional gerontocracy ruled by elders (Village Council) and, ii) Modern system of elected representatives. The former is divided into three houses as:
a) Urinta Bungkung,
b) Tangnga-rinta Bungkungand,
c)Nungak-luthei Bungkung.

However, the latter form is divided into two groups as: a) Phamneingei/Hloukalngei(Ruling party) and, b) Loumingei (Opposition party). The representatives are elected for five years term each.

In the past, the Chothes celebrates various, festivals, feasts, ceremonies and important rituals annually. However, with passage of changes and the majority being converted to Christianity very social cultural aspects remains now. When most of the Chothe villages have given up their cultural melieu the Lamlanghupi Chothe of Bishnupur observes to celebrate two very important festivals and few rituals annually. The two festivals are: 1) InnampeiLin/ Rhinand, 2) AchuiLin.

They celebrate in the name of their Almighty benefactor God and other deities surrounding them. Therefore, in principle these festivals, feasts and ceremonies provide space for people to unite and socialised amongst themselves in communion with Godlike a covenant. Durkheim (1915) said such ceremonies helped group cohesion or solidarity. The two major festivals highlightmany intricateand complex ancient social-cultural elements like rites and rituals, ceremonies, feast, socio-economic and political-cultural behaviours of the Chothes.

The InnampeiLin/Rhinof LamlanghupiChothe

The Lamlanghupi Chothe of Bishnupur is the only Chothes village that celebrates the InnampeiLin/ Rhina' Pre-seed sowing/ Post- harvest' festival. The Central-cluster Chothe called it as Zarrhin. It celebrates for seven days annually in the months of February/ March (Phiren-Lamta). This festival is also commonly termed as Urintalin (lit. elders' festival) because the elders visit the members' houses and inspects their finest wine and daughters to establish matrimonial relationship. The significance of this Pre-seed sowingfestival is that it celebrates in accolade of the unmarried girls by their parents to acknowledge their adulthood. This festive season provides people to familiarise the maidens and propose them as daughter-in-laws or as wife during their evening visits.

The Innampeilin festival is divided into three parts:
(1) Zutuishutpa (lit. filtering/extraction of the wine - Monday and Tuesday),
(2) The Innampeilin(lit. family feast - Wednesday and Thursday), and
(3) Bampuijairikhongpa (lit. youth holding for the night - Friday and Sunday).

Each member of the Village Council (Hu-Bungkung) i.e.: the three Bungkungs (housesor units) played a very important role and responsibilities assigned during this festival. Traditionally, the three political houses conduct their gathering at their respective outposts.

For the Council of Elders (UrintaBungkung) it is organised at village chief's residence. The place where the elders hosted for feast is known as Lomtun. The members of Tangnga-rintaBungkung (lit. Matured adults) hosted in Leihujokpa or Pakhanglakpa's residence. The Nungak-lutheiBungkung (lit. youths) station sat their dormitory (Ruishang/ Loishang/ Sikan inn). Since, there is no dormitory anymore, the youth gathers in one of the Council of Elder's house. For the celebration, every pipa (the lineage or clan heads) of the village i.e. Council of Elders (Urinta) prepares the fermented husk rice beer (SawaiZu) one month in advance. The Chothe festival composes many formalities and ceremonies in their social relationship that signifies their rich culture and high civilisation.

Day 1(Monday) -Preparation for the InnampeiLin

The first day of the festival is the benediction day (lit. Tongkaipalungni or Leihuheirukkeipalungni (lit. the shopping day for gods). The first and second day is a prelude to the main festival. The wife's of the Tangnga-rinta members went shopping on Sunday or Monday morning to purchase the essential fruits and sweets for the benediction offerings to their Gods PuLungchungpa (Pakhangpa), Pi Leima and Potlungpa.

In the evening by 3-4 pm, the village priest (Thiempu) and the assistant-priest (Leipu) in their full traditional offers the benediction prayerat their sacred grove (Temple) Khuman after offering a simple prayer at their Tangnga-rintaBungkung outpost. The head priest also consults divination (Konjaijunpa) with metallic objects three times that forecast the future course.

Lou-houpaRite (SaroiKhangpa): The first important offertory after the benediction ceremony is the Lou-houpa or Leihuchathakpepa (lit. feeding the gods)of the four directions gods (Shunglung/ Bumbu/Hushapa) that guards the village gates. The assistant-priests (Leipu) perform these rites. The Meitei called this rite as Saroikhangba. The objective of this ritual is to appease the village gods of the four directions in order to help protect the village from any external evil forcesintended to disturb and create problems during this festive days. The four village directions gods are known as viz. ; Nashu (Huru) Bumboo (the east deity), NataBumboo (the west deity), Sakting or Lamleh/Lam-mai (north deity), and Thangting or HuteBumboo (south deity) respectively.

Later, when the assistant-priests returned after the offerings, the head priest made a short prayer with the rice beer (Zuting). Thereafter, they serve the meat chutney (Maytum) by breaking the Cheiche prepared by some junior Tangnga-rinta members and meanwhile they discusses for the next procedures.

Tangnga-rinta Thoukeipa: Another very important ceremony after the Louhoupa(Leihuchathak) is Thoukeipa (lit. Formal report/ Report submission). This custom signifies the official reports madeto the higher authorities about theirassigned duties and responsibilities. They also reported the conditions and welfare of the people to their respective leaders. On the first day, two/three senior members (Lomjuis) of the Tangnga-rinta Bungkung made this formal report (Thoukeipa) with closed fist between their knees to the three leaders of their group: Pakhanglakpa, Zupaipa and Zuhaipa(see Pic.27). Each of them reported their concern department affairs officially. The structure is similar to any modern military reporting systems.

The UrintaThink-bompa Ceremony: The Council of Elders (UrintaBungkung)at the main festive house (Lomtun/Khangchu) similarly prepares for the inauguration of the festival with Think-bompa or Think-tumpa Think-tepa ceremony. The Think-bompa means 'the assemblage of the scroll sticks or review of attendance'. It signifies the ancient Chothe custom of counting of the years and re-distribution of the political portfolios of the Council of Elders. The Meitei called it as Cheithaba (CheitharolKumpapa) means 'The counting of the year'.

In the evening by 5-6 pm, when the village chief arrived escorted by thejunior councillors (Ruis) all the members assembles greets him and takestheir respective seats according to their political hierarchical position and status. Then, a Rui serves the chief the Zutingand performed the opening prayer (Tongkaipa) for the session, followed by the first Zurum with the Zuting. Then, in the meantime, the village priest and Pakhangpalakpa of Matured-adult group reports about the outcome of the divination to the village chief and others.

Then, the Finance Officer (Keirung) chaired this evening session by seeking the approval of the village chief and assistant-chiefs (Hulak, Luplak and Zupai) for the Think-bompa ceremony. He inspects the scrolls carefully for any damages, and if there is none, he then, gathers and counts the scroll sticks and announces their political portfolios accordingly by calling out the cabinet's name and re-assigns the new council's members and their portfolios, if any. Later, after few discussions and clarifications, with the approval of the three village chiefs, the Keirungformally proposes to wind up the assembly session.

The Urinta Thoukeipa Ceremony: When all the formalities like Think-bompa Think-tepa and other ceremonies concludes,the village chief and his elite colleagues may leave the festive place any time of the night. However, before each of them left the place, one of the Rui provides the rice bear for the simple thanksgiving prayer (Tongkaipa) followed by LeizuZurum.

Before the village chief left, the two Hacharis (Changlai/ Changrui) of the Council of Elders similarly performed the Thoukeipaceremony (as explained above the Official report carried out among the Matured-adults groups) to the three chiefs: Hulak, Luplakpa, Zupaipa, and to the host (Lomtun) and to Pakhanglakpa. They reported all the welfare conditions of each department, security measures, and assigned responsibilities.

During the assembly session, it prohibits any member of the village council to leave the festive place before the village chief left. When all the three leaders left, the Keirung the fourth in order of political hierarchy becomes the overall in-charge for the night who oversees the other members of the house that are feasting, singing, drinking and discussing some socio-political affairs of the society.

To be continued ....

* Dr Cheithou Charles Yuhlung wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on February 26, 2019.

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