Kalum Kai (House of worship) : Its origin and significance
- Part 1 -

Dr Budha Kamei *

A place of worship is a specially designed structure where individual persons or a group of people such as a congregation come to perform acts of devotion, veneration or religious study. A building used for this purpose is sometimes called a house of worship. Temples, Mosques, Churches, etc. are examples of structures created for worship. A monastery of Buddhists may serve both to house for those belonging to religious orders and as a place of worship for visitors.

Joshua J Mark wrote, "A temple is a structure usually built for the purpose of, and always dedicated to, religious or spiritual activities including prayer, meditation, sacrifice and worship. The word temple dates to around the 6th century BCE in reference to Roman places of worship.

Usually, Roman temples faced east or towards the rising sun, though a notable exception is the great pantheon which faces north (only preserved after the rise of Christianity because it was made into a Church instead of being destroyed and built over, which was the fate of most 'native' temples).

In ancient Rome, only the deities of the Roman pantheon had a templum; any building honoring a foreign deity was called a fanum. Visitors to Rome were welcomed to worship at the fanum of their native Gods but were required to worship the Gods of Rome in the temples.

After the rise of Christianity the word 'temple', with its native connotations, was rejected by most Christian congregations in favor of designations such as 'Church' or 'Cathedral', though the word is still used by the Eastern Orthodox Church to refer to their places of worship."

In 447-432 BC, the Parthenon was built in Athens, Greece for the Goddess Athena; and remained devoted to her cult for nearly a thousand years, later on serving as a Christian Church and then as an Islamic Mosque under the Ottoman Empire.

Kalum Kai literally means house of worship of Tingkao Ragwang (Supreme God); (Kalum means worship and Kai, house). It was not a feature of Kabui (Rongmei) culture to have a structure for worship/religious purpose except abodes of deities. It was during the time of Haipou Jadonang temple culture appeared in Kabui (Rongmei) society. He built two temples in his village, Kambiron with the assistance of his followers.

It was possibly done by him at the influence of other religions but he claimed that it was revealed in his dream. He said, "I built temples because Lord Bisnu told me in a dream that there would be prosperity and good health for every one if I do so, although it is not our custom to build temples."

The first temple was built in 1929 and the second temple was six months before his arrest in the year 1931. These temples are known as Kao Kai, high house; (Kao means high and Kai, house). "Next to the house of Jadonang was a temple built on high wooden piles, and entered by steps out in a long log. The temple was a building of bamboo matting, thatched, with a small verandah in front and behind.

It consisted of one room with bamboo benches the whole length of each side wall. From a cross beam in the middle hung an oil lamp. At the far end was a bamboo platform, with a railing round three sides, and a flight of steps on the fourth side. Facing the platform were four wooden chairs on each of which was a white felt hat."

The second temple was located in the upper part of the village. In this temple, images of God Bisnu and his wife wearing typical Rongmei dress were installed on the way of Hindu idolatry worship. But, he did not worship Hindu deities.

"In design it was similar to the first except that there was a long narrow room on each side, parallel to the long central room. The central room contained bamboo benches similar to that in the old temple. There was a shrine in place of the pulpit approached by a flight of steps, ornamented in black and white.

At the top of the steps was a door, behind which was a red covering the opening of the shrine. On the top of the shrine was a platform, approached by a second flight of steps on which was a chair. Just above the chair was a python, curled upon on the ridge pole of the roof.

In front of the shrine was a sacrificial block made out of a log at which goats were sacrificed." In the fronts of these temples there were wild creepers hanging up to be the strings or ropes. Rani Gaidinliu also built a temple at her Nungkao village with the initiation of her Guru.

These Temples were erected facing to the east. Stephen Fuchs wrote that the new religion of Jadonang was a synthesis of Christian Monotheism and Hindu idolatry and temple culture.

In the first temple, there was a pulpit from where the worshippers used to worship. He gave guidance to his followers in worshipping Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God. "Worshipping consists of facing east, putting the hands together and saying Tingkao Ragwang Do what is good for us."

He composed songs to be sung in worship and also gave instruction for the composition of dances to be performed by the worshippers. These hymns, songs and dances were revealed by God.

However, worshipping or preaching from pulpit was not a feature of Kabui (Rongmei) religion. One finds the influence of Church pulpit preaching. Sitting on benches/chairs inside the temple in worshipping was perhaps adoption of Christian mode of worship. In other words, one finds the outward influence of Christianity in the church like temple for religious congregation and services.

Worship of Tingkao Ragwang was strongly stressed. He emphasized that one has to worship God with clean body and mind. One cannot go before God unclean. He constructed two houses for bathing near the Rah Kai; one for male and the other for female. Husband or wife who had been sleeping together had to wash before approaching the God.

With the temple as the centre of religious and other social activities, attaining full status of successful man and spiritual man, after performance of his Taraang Kai sacrifice, Jadonang abolished irrational and obscurantist religious practices and social taboos. Abolition of taboos and gennas had purified the Kabui (Rongmei) religion.

The basic contribution of Haipou Jadonang was the worship of the Almighty God Tingkao Ragwang in a rational form; individual and community worship of God for welfare and prosperity through prayers, ritual hymns, dances and sacrifices; discovery and exploration of the ancient holy abodes of Lord Bisnu in the caves of Bhuvan Hills, Assam and pilgrimages to these places.

In 1859, Major W McCulloch (Account of the Valley of Munnipore and of the Hill tribes; with a comparative vocabulary of the Munnipore and other languages, Calcutta: Bengal Printing Company, p.54) wrote, the Koupooee believe "there is a Supreme God, the creator of all things." Tingkao Ragwang is everywhere that He is 'like wind' and 'like air.' There was no such time when He was not there, and there will be no such time when He will not be there. He is the origin and mover of all things in the universe.

He was never born, and will never die. Fire cannot burn Him. Water cannot wet Him. Air cannot dry Him up. No weapon can cut Him. He is beyond change. He is formless and colorless. He is the protector of men. It is "Who guides below and rules above, the great disposer and the mighty king; than he none greater; next him none can be, or is, nor was; supreme, he singly fills the throne."

To be continued....

* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 06 January 2022

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