Phalee Luita Phanit: Seed sowing festival, oral tradition and cultural orientation

OT(Orient Thansing) Ramshan *

Luira Phanit : Seed sowing festival of Tangkhuls at Lungshang Village, Shangshak, Ukhrul :: 3 - 5 March 2015
Luira Phanit : Seed sowing festival of Tangkhuls at Lungshang Village, Shangshak, Ukhrul on 3-5 March 2015 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

As in many other tribal societies, oral tradition plays a pivotal role in the Tangkhul society as well. The oral tradition as it was, emanated from the relationship between the social settings and the day to day activities of the people, and in trying to come into terms with the contact to the outside world.

Assimilation of oral tradition begins at childhood with the mother playing a vital role in passing down the tradition to their children. As there were no written records or accounts in any written form, the only way of preserving their antiquity was done through folksongs sung at the time of their traditional festivals and through the folklores (stories and legends of the past) that their grandparents narrated.

As such, folklores and folksongs remain outstandingly significant in unravelling the past/history which basically reveals our traditions. The themes of each folktales and folksongs that we know today are varied, but the essence of their orientations reflects the cultural elements of the past. As the society grows in size, there developed a sense of understanding among the members of the society.

The understanding could be in terms of their daily food habits, dress codes, religions/belief systems, modes of worship, approaches towards governing themselves, etc. This resulted into the birth of customs which apparently directs the common and usual way of behaviour of the whole society.

All these aspects tend to cohere with the passage of time and developed into a refined characteristic of a society, and consequently, this resulted into the culture of the society. Therefore, understanding the traditional-cultural aspect of the Tangkhuls would enhance a better insight into the schematic explanation of the Tangkhul consciousness.

The essential identity of the Tangkhuls, as it were, has not been political but cultural. In a very strict sense of the term, the traditional Tangkhul society to my understanding did not picturize any form of political orientation. Every Tangkhul village in the days of yore might well look like a politically independent unit with the power of wielding the village emanating from the chief of the village, but in its schematic theorization in terms of its social orientation, it was rather a cultural unit.

The refined understanding of the locals towards their society was crystallized in their belief in the existence of a well defined culture, social norm, moral ethic, convention and institutions that bound/bind their social networks. In fact, the traditional Tangkhul society was very firmly intertwined with agricultural activities agriculture being the only means of their livelihood. The folksongs and the stories, which include fairy tales handed down from generation to generation quite vividly, relate the daily agricultural activities of the rural people.

For instance, Luira Phanit, or the seed-sowing festival is perhaps still the biggest traditional festival of the Tangkhuls which they celebrate every year with great pomp and joy. This is a festival celebrated in every Tangkhul village at the beginning of the year though with some modifications now (the date of celebration differs from village to village), precisely to herald the coming of a new year and to commemorate the beginning of sowing the first seed for the coming year. This is the main agricultural festival of the year and its celebration spread over a period of about eleven days in the olden days though the celebration do not extend that much long now a days.

Phalee, earlier Phadang, is one old Tangkhul village situated at about 22 Km from the district headquarter, Ukhrul on the western fringe of the district and about 86 Km from the capital, Imphal. Resting at 5033 feet above the sea level and the latitude and the longitude cutting at 25008' 34.00" N and 94017' 06.34" E (source: Google) respectively, this scenic village enjoys the world tropic climate that virtually suits the habitation of different varieties of edible crops, wild fruits, birds, insects, burrowing animals etc.

And as per the 2011 census, the village has 794 households of which the people of this village are predominantly cultivators by profession. The manifestation of the rich cultural heritage of the good old days of this village can still be seen in the celebration of LUITA PHANIT, the seed sowing festival. It is like flipping the pages of a written history where you get to see the daily social activities of the past as if it is for real.

Since the advent of Christianity in 1923 and in the years that followed, an understanding between the Christians and the non-Christians of this village was brought about in regard to the fixation of the date for its celebration wherein, March 15th 20th of every year was exclusively set aside for this festival of which, hitherto it was usually celebrated a little earlier than this. So it's almost a week long celebration and even now the intensity of the celebration is quite immense.

Usually the 15th March is a day where pigs are being slaughtered - whether rich or poor every family kills a pig for the festival and being the first day of the festival, visitors from the nearby villages make haste to come to witness the showcasing of the rich cultural heritage. Pork is perhaps still the most preferred meat among the tribal, if I am not mistaken, so is with the people of this village.

Then the remaining 5 days is all about cultural display and showcasing of different talents at the village playground. No one is allowed to go for work till the 20th and every one, young or old, obeys the order given by the village chief. And on the 20th March, which is celebrated as the cultural day every year, it's a compulsion for everyone, young and old, to wear traditional Tangkhul attires.

The one good convention that is still being practiced in this village during this festival is that the married sisters are being called by their loving brothers for a hearty meal. This goes in consonance with the tradition of Ningol Chakouba of the Meiteis.

Some of the competition items during the festival includes folk song (this includes yarra laa, ngakhakva laa and phalee awungashi laa), folk dance, luita laa, high jump, long jump, wrestling, bamboo climbing, carrying rice pounding stick on the back, tug of war, trumpet, flute, violin, guitar and many more. Tug of war is one showpiece of an event that really captivates the hearts of the audience with equal numbers of men and women at each end of the rope trying to pull with their utmost strength.

There goes a proverbial saying, and folks still believe in this act, that if the rope they pull breaks then the year has many good things in store for the village. The mesmerising footsteps of the folk dancers is so thrilling to watch and even as they jump and dance as they enter the village playground, the girls enthralled the crowd with a beautiful folk song
.....oh oh yaronao pasi chong yuwe chong,
yuwe thingwon khawone heh...
oh oh thingwon khawone heh lanaomui lanao malishi shilo heh...
oh oh khiso malishi kongyaola kongyaola ila lishiye heh...

(oh oh young men dancing with the head gear wavering left and right,
looks like blossoming cherries...
oh oh looks like blossoming cherries don't you girls love them...
oh oh even the God loves to see, why not me?..)

The song rather depicts the beauty of the youth where the charm of the days of youth are being epitomised. But the luita laa which are sung in group by clapping their hands together, their position in an encircling manner, is more or less related to agricultural activities
...iramyo iramyo karing kumluiya..karinga kumluiya luita pahnit sawosa...
thipai marai rangwui tawosa...
yangnaowa luithiuw mihaolo..

(Countrymen countrymen the New Year has come...
New Year has come, let's celebrate luita festival...
let's start sowing the seeds...
May the village chief invoke the blessing for sowing....).

The festival, no doubt, is all about merry making and a showcase of traditional sports, yet nevertheless it is a time of invoking the super natural being to bless upon them with a prosperous new year so that they have good harvests at the end of the year. One very interesting feature of this week-long celebration is that on the first day of the festival the chief of the village comes at the village gathering with a handful of paddy and disperses the paddy on the ground symbolizing the declaration to the villagers that they can thenceforth begin the sowing of seeds.

One plausible conclusion we can make out of this is that there was no well-defined demarcation of spiritual and secular elements, both of which are well ingrained into the cultural life of the people, and the chief of the village was both the head of the village in modern political sense as well as the chief priest of the village. As such the role of the chief of the village is quite enormous. Even though we don't practice animism any more where any event was preceded by customary rituals such as animal sacrifice, the enactment of the same act is still done by the chief though in a different way.

The chief of the village then declares to the villagers that they can now start sowing the paddy and also decrees an order that every cattle which are kept in the open fields has to be brought home by every owner. That the time for the Luita festival of the village is quite propitious, with the rain pouring down right after the festival is over, is reverberated by the timeless folk blues of the yesteryears which goes
....Khui kachi yangnao shimthiuw liuthiuw seraroi,
Phalee yangana shimthiuw liuthiuw thang karing nirsheana...

( every chief of the village has invoked the God for sowing,
but when the chief of Phalee does the invocation for sowing it rained...)

* Orient Thansing Ramshan wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
Orient Thansing Ramshan is a research scholar at Department of Political Science, Manipur University
This article was posted on April 01, 2015.

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