TODAY -

The great Mera Haochongba festival

Rongreisek Yangsorang *

Mera Houchongba , re-affirming close bond and ties between hill and valley people at Kangla on 18 October 2013
Mera Houchongba , re-affirming close bond and ties between hill and valley people at Kangla on 18 October 2013
Pix - Gnet Cyber Cafe



On the 8th July, 1861, Colonel McCulloch, the Political Agent in Manipur wrote to the Governor General in Council of British India, thus "In the month of Mera it was agreed that an expedition should proceed to the Angami Hills: I would urge it".

So, a solitary word Mera conceived by the Political Agent to mean the season of autumn in Manipur is encouraging and exhilarating too, for which every Manipuri is supposed to be proud of.

The festival of Mera Haochongba which occurs in October every year as a one day event is for heart-warming and recalling the past glory of the land.

The pre-harvesting season is filled with ecstatic joy and the bounty of beautiful scenes in the hills all round the valley in Manipur which has irresistible charm with the starry heaven overhead stretching in an unending expanse in which man has the feeling of elation and elevation amidst such beautiful things at the time when leaves change their colours with climate becoming milder.

The season is synonymous with the festival itself heralding peace and prosperity.

In R. Brown's version, "The festival called Hawchongba, in October, lasts for only one day; it is a gathering of the hill tribes under the Manipuri Government, and is a curious sight on account of the great number of different tribes assembled, with their curious dress and weapons, differing from each other in feature and language, but all unanimous in one particular, to get drunk as speedily, and remain so as long as possible.

The hill-men indulge in feats of strength before the Raja, such as carrying heavy-weights, etc. They also indulge in war dances and sham fights. The sports of the day conclude with a feast, at which they are regaled with the flesh of the cows, buffaloes, dogs, cats, etc.

The flesh is dried and preserved on purpose for their meat." Besides Mera Haochong-ba, other festivals were celebrated in the royal palace.

According to Prof. J.Roy, Pamheiba ascended the throne under the title of Gharib Niwaz in 1714 A.D. "All Naga Chiefs were invited at the coronation ceremony. The ministers and officials of Manipur received the Naga chiefs, made friendship and intimacy with them. The Raja entertained the Naga Chiefs with good feasts and wine."

At Kangla, King Khagemba (Khagingamba) in 1631 A.D. sacrificed 100 buffaloes, 100 goats, 100 sheep, 100 cows, 100 ganders, 100 ducks, 100 doves, 100 hens, 100 pigs and 100 dogs alongwith a variety of fruits and flowers to seek the blessing of gods including that of Koubru Hill on the north of Imphal valley or appease them (CK, p38).

It is plausible that the ceremony must have been performed like a festival with the participation of hill chiefs; for such a huge number of cattle and fowls were butchered at the palace. Not only this sacrifice, from time to time, a number of tigers and leopards caught by the hill men were brought to the royal palace as a token of love and respect to the king. Many of such instances had not been recorded, though.

A score of valley friends who are highly educated will reciprocate the possibility that animals brought to the royal palace were for meat. From all this account, it is apparent that all of the valley people were once meat eaters with wine as their essential daily stuff.

Only in the first half of the 18th century, dhal and vegetables had taken the place of meat and wine as their common diet. It is felt no one is hurt by it.

Another belief is that there was no evidence of untouchability persisting between the people of the hills and plain in ancient Manipur because of the fact that all communities ate together in the palace or elsewhere during festival seasons, mainly in Haochongba.

It was an amusement enjoyed by the royalists alongwith their hill brethren, and was likely that they ate meat and drank wine profusely together in merry-making. The hill-plain relation was cordial is certain. When a wandering fakir set his foot at the soil of the land, everything had changed shattering the composite Manipuri society of varied culture, custom and tradition.

When the Hindu way of observance of custom in its entirety became a compulsion for the plain people, the hill people had distanced themselves from their plain brethren. Responding to the call of the Lord, they had embraced Christianity in phase manners out of their own will.

Even then, religion cannot be the basis for human development and growth but reason and modern science alone will be.

The writer is driven into thinking about the era of bad feeling in India when Harijans were segregated from the society and the narrower sense (If a Shudra has all the qualities of a Brahmin, can we not call him a Brahmin? The answer is "no") are all the inherent evils of the society.

It is all a sad thing that schools and hostels were started for the segregated Harijan boys and girls, and separate wells were dug for them who previously had to walk many miles to get water and dispensaries set up exclusively for them. What is irrational at the worst of the society is to debase man by man as unclean or untouchable.

Say for example, a Hindu headman refused to drink water from the same well a Harijan man drank, and a village barber refused to shave and cut the hair of a Harijan boy and moreover mixing with them was considered irreligious activities. All these can be treated as vanities of the old era in India even if such act of treatment still continues unabated in many parts of the country.

It is on the basis of several incidences one has experienced all this time that some of those who are educated and have cultivated mind among the plain people are found to have realized factors which may cause serious misunderstanding between the people of hills and plain.

But those of conservative or orthodox families in thousands are against what are thought to be normal human values and dignity.

Alarmingly, there are still many people in the old habit of practising untouchability though various social organizations based at Imphal are saying such practices have stopped. The old practice being the root cause of the present turmoil in the state, intellectuals, leaders of students' unions and politicians must come forward to cleanse the dirts of the society.

At the moment, liberal outlook or positive attitude of man towards his fellow being is indispensable for drawing a community closer to that of him, and the chapter of untouchability or whatever it may be, should be sealed forever in this age of reason and advanced science.

In one's realms of the imagination, there will be total touchability in the foreseeable future, otherwise no one can see far in the valley of Manipur because of the mountains all around. The valley can't stand alone without the hills and so on.

Therefore, without grading high and low, rapid development of the hill areas of Manipur is the main agenda now to ensure and strengthen the integrity of the state.

In resurgent Manipuri society, everyone must learn now to live like brothers and sisters helping each other in the hospitals, workplaces, shopping complexes, offices, schools and colleges in the state as in the era of good feeling, and the remaining obstacle, being ritual purification and racialism only.

For it, every effort should be made to create an atmosphere in which the hill people won't feel looked down, ashamed, embarrassed and exploited, without also forgetting the existence of numerous small tribes who are the branches of Manipuri society.

The propaganda, that all is not well in the north; all those in the east are hostile to the valley; and the south is boiling and has also become a killing field, will only aggravate situation rather than help solve myriad of problems confronting the state.

Looking back to the ancient past, some people may have doubt over the motive of celebration of Mera Haochongba as to whether it was meant for collection of tributes from the hill chiefs or an enticement for hill people to seep back to animism having no bearing in the present era. It is not.

Till today, it has its own great relevance and significance for the sole purpose of building hill-plain relationship on a strong foot-hold. In the 70s, functionaries of a hill village, to which the writer belongs, used to tell about it fondly and their interaction with fellow chiefs in the festival.

It may have been considered outdated too, but exponents of social harmony and those who are deep-rooted in their native land will always applaud it in no uncertain term.

Lastly, it is the only one of its kind which can bring each and every community together to a common platform. Of all the Manipuri games and amusements like hockey on foot, boat-racing on the moat in front of the king's palace, etc., the festival which has full participation of hill chiefs is the great Mera Haochongba festival held in October every year.

It shall continue with an improvement in its style of celebration as the symbol of love and amity between all communities, and it is the only festival unconnected with religious rites and rituals congenial for Christian participation.

Related Articles on Mera Houchongba




* Rongreisek Yangsorang wrote this article for The Sangai Express .
He also writes to e-pao.net and has an exclusive page here. This article was first webcasted on November 09th, 2006



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