Socio-cultural significance of Gudui-Ngai

Dr Budha Kamei *

  Gudui Ngai, Zeliangrong festival , celebration at Majorkhul Rongmei village on 7th May 2017
Gudui Ngai, Zeliangrong festival , celebration at Majorkhul Rongmei village on 7th May 2017 :: Pix - Daniel Chabungbam

Northeast is the home of different ethnic groups. These ethnic groups have their distinct cultures and traditions which handed down from one generation to the next through oral traditions. The Zeliangrongs are one of them spreading in three states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. In Manipur they are found settled mainly in Tamenglong and Noney districts. In the valley they are found scattered in Imphal East and West, Thoubal and Bishnupur districts.

The paper is an attempt to look into the Gudui festival of Zeliangrongs and its socio-cultural significance. Culture can be preserved when the religion of the community survives. Culture is a vehicle of religion. Culture and religion are inseparable in Zeliangrong religion known as Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (for short TRC).

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 creativity are expressed through dances, songs and music. In a year the Zeliangrong people celebrate nine festivals at different stages of agricultural operations according to lunar calendar with festive spirit and prayer.

The Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak is sustained by their colorful festivals accompanied by religious rites and prayers, dance and music and feasting during different months of a year. The ancient/antique religion is based on rituals; it is collective in nature and modern religion is individualistic.

Gudui-ngai also known as Maleng-ngai is a popular ritual festival of Zeliangrongs. It is a festival of worship of Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God for bountiful cultivation. They celebrate the festival on the 13th day of Guduibu (which falls in May every year) for one day after completing the seed sowing.

In the early morning of the festival, every household of the village performs a ritual called Malengkeimeil Tingbankmei, offering of Zou-ngao (rice-beer) and Gutam (crushed ginger) to Tingkao Ragwang and Kangdailu, rice goddess with relevant religious hymn. It is performed at the courtyard by the head of the family or an elder of Pei, village council who officiates as priest.

Napkao, calling of paddy is also performed in every household by sacrificing a big and beautiful cock to Tingkao Ragwang. The leg of the victim is observed carefully in search of good omen and it is followed by offering of holy wine (Zoupan keintei) to Tingkao Ragwang, Tingmei Jangmei, Kairao (ancestors) and Para (evil spirits) for wellbeing and prosperity of the family.

Here, it may be noted that evil spirits are not worshipped, but they are propitiated not to give trouble to men. The intestine of the victim (Loirei) is taken out and hung outside the wall near the main door of the house. It is done in the belief that Kangdailu distributes paddy (Nap) when she sees Loirei hanging. In short, the aim of Gudui-ngai is to offer prayer for warding off diseases which may fall on the paddy plants.

It is believed that Gu, ginger represents the toes and fingers of formless Creator, Tingkao Ragwang. They use ginger in important ritual worships and sometimes to ward off evil forces (Rasi-rarou). In Maleng-ngai, ginger soup mixed with chicken meat is served to every member of the family for good health and long life.

It also signifies the deliverance of life from hunger during scarcity or famine. In the afternoon, members of the Bachelors' dormitory organize entertainment programme in which there is a Duidom Phaimei (throwing of the water put in a plantain leaf container) among the boys and girls (Tuna Gaan) followed by Loijaimei, (pulling of rope) tug of war between boys and girls, males and females as a symbolic representation of competition between gods and goddesses for possessing the paddy.

It is usually performed at the Danshanpung, village jumping ground and girls ritually win the game, for there would be good yield in the year. According to TC Hudson, there is a festival in the month of May in which the girls have a tug of war against the boys in order to take the omens for the future of the crops.

In the evening, elderly men will sing Katu, an agricultural ritual song by marching from one end of the village to the other end for plentiful harvest in the year. It starts from the Khangchu (Bachelor's dormitory) and returns at the same place. On the next day of the festival, a complete Genna locally recognized as Dikap-neih is observed abstaining from earth or muddy work; (Di means Mother Earth and Kap, cry).

It is believed that Mother Earth (Apui kandi) cries in agony as men burnt the forest for jhum cultivation; all creatures and insects were also killed by fire. In this faith, they strictly observe Neihmei to give relief to the Mother Earth. The term Genna comes from the Angami word Kenna meaning prayer.

Neihmei is the collective form of worship of Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God by the whole village community or individual families abstaining from physical work on the occasion of the beginning of various agricultural operations. During Neihmei, no one is permitted to go beyond the village gate and no outsider inside the village. Everyone does abstain from breaking it because of the fear of evil consequences flowing from the will of a divinity.

Colonel McCulloch remarks of the Zeliangrong that "A whole village or individual members of it are often 'Neina' or under prohibition. Sometimes this state of things lasts a day, sometimes several. The 'Neina' may be against the entrance of strangers or the exit of members, or of both, or allowing the entrance of strangers, disallow their going into houses, etc."

To Nagas, a genna is a community worship of God. The purposes of Gennas are to avert epidemics, natural calamities/misfortune circumstances and restoration of prosperity. According to M Horam, gennas are compulsory rest days, mass abstention of work at the height of the agricultural season, sacrifices and prayers, all have the same and single aim, that of plentiful harvests.

On this day of Dikap-nei, people worship Mother Earth for the fertility of the soil and fruitful cultivation. To conclude, one can say that festival is part and parcel of the Zeliangrong people. Festival is a unique cultural phenomenon, a form of aesthetic expression of the Zeliangrong religion and philosophy. It is an essence of the Zeliangrong culture.

In the celebration, they offer sacrifice to Tingkao Ragwang and Kangdailu for fruitful cultivation in the coming year. They also respect and honour the Mother earth. Festival creates an atmosphere of peace among the participants and finally settles the differences. The young boys also have the opportunity to express their love to girls. Thus, festivals unite not only the family members, but also the community as a whole.

* 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 May 16, 2019.

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