Religious aspects and social significance of Zelliangrong festivals : Nanu -Ngai

Dr Budha Kamei *


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." The present article is an attempt to throw light on the religious elements and social significance of Zeliangrong festivals with special reference to Nanu-ngai.

Methods and Materials

The necessary data have been collected from available primary and secondary materials of published works and also from well informed informants of Zeliangrong community. The approach of the study is ethno-historical.

A profile of the Zeliangrong

The Zeliangrong are one of the natives of Northeast India. According to local tradition, the Zeliangrong ancestors originated from a cave known as Taobei. They moved to Makhel and to Ramting Kabin, and then to Makuilongdi, North District of Manipur. From Makuilongdi, they migrated to different directions: the Rongmei to the South, Zeme to the West and Liangmai to the North. Today, the Zeliangrong people are found inhabiting in the three states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.

3.1. Meaning and Time of Celebration of Nanu-ngai

Culture can be preserved when the religion of the community survives. Culture is a vehicle of religion. Cultural festivals are times of "worship and prayer to Almighty God for plenty and welfare and celebration for them." The social and cultural values, the aesthetic and creative senses are expressed in the festival through dances, songs and music.

In a year, the Zeliangrong people celebrate a number of festivals at different stages of agricultural operations according to lunar calendar with festive spirit and prayer. Nanu-ngai is one of them and celebrated for two days in the lunar month of Nanu-bu, which usually falls in March; (Na means child, Nu, ear-boring and Ngai, festival).

It is a sort of the registration of the children born in the preceding year in the Karapei kaibang/Kengja kaibang (house of old women) for community recognition. It is also meant for the birth of more offspring as well as to have a fruitful cultivation in coming year.

In March, there is a "festival of three days' continuance, in which the ears of the children born in the previous year are pierced."

3.1.1. Day One

On the first day, the family who has first baby son/daughter offers a dog to God for wellbeing of the child. This is locally called Jeishanmei (sacrifice of dog). The child is loved by all as she/he comes first in the family. The victim is consumed by the participants. The Lugaan (son-in-laws) of the family will make necessary arrangements for the next day as the last day is the most important day of the festival.

3.1.2. Day Two

On the second day, at the first cock-crow, an old woman along with male members of the child's family will fetch water in a Joumuh (dry gourd) from the Duikhun (village pond) for bathing the child and cooking of ritual offerings. Before fetching the water, they first contact the water with the spear which they brought (in the distant past, Duihkun was generally located far from the village area, so they took spears for safety from wild beasts) as a way of purification. Iron locally known as Tanchu represents as a symbol of sanctity of God.

This water is locally recognized as Karoudui (holy water for sanctification and good health). In view of Frank Byron Jevons , water purification is a means of gaining for the worshipper the protection of water deity against the consequences of pollution. This practice of taking spear is now given up, but it is suggested to contact the water with an iron hoe before fetching the water.

According to local creation myth, Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God willed to create the universe, god, men and nature. Didimpu and Didimpui created the sun, the moon, the stars, the water, the wind, fire, the earth etc. They were the two primal god and goddess created by Tingkao Ragwang for the same purpose. After creating the earth, Tingkao Ragwang bore the thought of creating human beings who could always remember Him, who could rule the world in place of Him and who could also make offerings to Him.

Two additional deities named Dampapu and Dampapui were created to create human beings. The two deities took a long time in creating the human beings. However, the created man and woman were lifeless and could not move their limbs. Finally, Tingkao Ragwang gave soul and life only then they became alive and human lives. Soul and life was given by Tingkao Ragwang to men. In this faith, they perform Najumgaimei ceremony in honor of the Creator of man.

In this ceremony, an elder of Pei having living wife who officiates as priest and offers Sangdai (a cock) and Sanglou (a hen), ginger, wine, cooked rice etc. to Tingkao Ragwang and Dampapu-Dampapui for blessing the child with a bright future, longevity of life and happiness and prosperity, success in reproduction, victory over the enemies and to overcome all the socio-religious obligations and perform Maku banru, great sacrifice etc.

If the priest is a widow, it is believed that the child will become a widow in future. This is followed by oblation of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang, Bambu (presiding deities of the village), and Kairao (ancestors of the family) for wellbeing and prosperity of the child and propitiation of wine to evil spirits not to give trouble to men.

In case of twins' birth, the items of the ceremony are made double. The victims are cooked separately for the ritual of Kashan kanmei (ritual for safety and protection). After Kashan kanmei ritual, all the children (born in the previous year) are brought at the house of the old women for ear-piercing. This ritual act recognizes the existence of the child in the society. The objective of ear-piercing is to insert an ear decoration/ornament. This also indicates that the Zeliangrong people begin to wear ornament from infant stage.

In the morning, Neknanun (children who are not yet enrolled in the boys' dormitory) will perform a ritual procession distributing mud along with a bunch of Thinglouthai to every household of the village for plentiful food grain in the year. Thinglouthai, a kind of fruit is traditionally used as symbol of Nap (paddy).

In the ritual procession, they will sing songs for fertility of the village. At the noon, they will collect like meat, fish, vegetable etc. from every household of the village. This is locally called Nekgong kakhamei (collection of eatables). The villagers cheerfully give food items as the young boys performed the ritual activities for fruitful cultivation in coming year. The collected food items are cooked at the Nek kaibang (house of children) and consumed. This is followed by Pang makumei, (ritual procession) in which the boys of Khangchiu seek the blessing of God for healthy sexual life in the society.

The young boys actively take part in the festival: they sing songs and pray for fertility of the soil as well as for man. Each of the child household will bring Nanu cha, gifts in the form of vegetable, cooked black rice and curry, local salt plates, etc. at the Kengja kaibang and the gifts are distributed among the elderly people. At the Kengja kaibang, the elders of Pei will sing traditional songs like Rah lu and Magen lu.

In the evening, Nanu laam, Nanu dance is performed by old women with relevant songs sung by the elderly men at every household of the child born in the preceding year. At the end of Nanu laam, fertility song called Konshumei will be sung for the birth of more offspring in the family. Traditional sexual songs sung in the festival of Nanu-ngai arouse the boys and girls of the dormitories, and married couple to expand the family circle and to multiply the family members. Some opine, it is not fair to sing the sexual arouse songs in front of the female members.

However, it may not be wrong to do it at a proper place instead of moving from one end of the village to another. In the evening, the boys and girls of the dormitories perform dances with the accompaniment of drum, cymbal at each house who has first baby child, but this not a compulsory; it is an entertainment.

On the next day of the festival, a complete genna called Nashang nei is observed in the village. It is a community and individuals prayer to God to avert death at delivery in the village. M McCulloch says, there is "an annual village genna of three days in which the ears of the children born after the last festival of this nature are pierced." Birth is a question of life and death of a woman. This is the main idea of the prayer.


To conclude, Nanu ngai is one of the important ritual festivals of the Zeliangrong. The ways of life of the people is expressed in the songs and dances, ritual actions of the festival. Fertility ritual is observed to increase the population as well as to have a bountiful harvest in coming year. The villagers (young and old) take part with festival spirit, discipline and love. Ultimately, it brings peace and social solidarity.

It also provides a safety valve of monotonous life. The village community recognizes the existence of the child and the responsibility of the parents to bring up the child. The younger generation also has got a chance to learn the process of the festival to carry on their forefathers' culture and tradition.

* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at budhakamei(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 29, 2019.

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