Nata Sankirtan Maha Jeigya in the Manipuri society

Yumnam Suren *

   'Nupa Pala' - Nat Sankirtan Wallpaper
'Nupa Pala' - Nat Sankirtan Wallpaper :: Pix - Banti Phurailatpam

Tasmat Sankirtanang vigyorjagadmanglaman Mahatamapi kourvya Bindhyeikanlik Nishkritam.

The above Sanskrit lines occurring in the sixth skandha, the third chapter and the thirty four sloka of the Shri Madbhagavata Mahapurana signifies that Shri Bishnu Sankirtan, a similitu of propitious blessings to all the world, is the one and only means for complete absolution of one's various skins committed, and since the kings of Manipur were staunch believers and worshippers of Bhagavata, Nata Sankirtan was made an inevitable part and parcel of the religions and ritualistic functions as well as festivals of the Manipuri Society which follow. Gouriya Vaisnavism faith.

In all ritualistic functions pertaining to a person's life beginning from conception and birth to death Nata Sankirtan is attached, and also in ceremonies, such as Subha Vivaha (marriage) and Shradha Karm (final performance of funeral service) etc. Nata Sankirtan has been made a very important part of them.

Though the ceremonies of tonsure (Churakaran) the ear-piercing (Karnavedha) and the investitur with the Sacred thread (Upanayan) are performed in abidance of the Smriti Veda by setting up a sacrificial fire in the form of Agnihoti Yagya the formal procedure of the yagya (sacrifice) begins after invoking the tutelary deity (Isla Deva...) with a Nata Sankirtan with a pung-raga (a short drum recital) and the function is closed with the singing of a nata song known as 'Vijay Louba'.

In the life of a Hindu ten ceremonies called 'Dasa Sanskar' are to be performed and there include the three above mentioned Sanskars and 'Chawumba Annaprasan' (giving the first morsel of solid food to a baby) also.

Most of the Indian Hindus have the custom of giving a daughter in marriage to a man by performing a fire-sacrifice and making the Agnihotri Yagya to testify it. But, in the Manipuri Society following Gouriya Vaisnavism instead of a marriage with fire-sacrifice, ..... Parents arrange the ever blessed Nata Sankirtan Mahayagya by invoking Ista Devata (tutelary deity) and give their daughter in marriage to a man with the chanting of Veda Mantra and wish the best future for the young husband and wife.

There existed a great doubt in the minds of the Manipuris about the performance of a marriage ceremony with agni-yagya (fire-sacrifice) that the virtue and benefits of the yagyas would be received by the arranger i.e. the bride's father only to the exclusion of the groom and the bride as they had not attained the stakes of house-holders and were not eligible for the worship of the fire-god and the yagya was useless and irrelevant to the welfare of the new couple, and this might be the reason of the avoidance of agni yagya in the Manipuri marriage and the replacing of it by the Nata Sankirtan Mahayagya in which all present in the wedding ceremony could avail the benefits equally by all.

In case of death, the burning of the dead body was regarded as offering of it to the fire-god whom he worshipped when has was alive and this practice had been followed by the Manipuris irrespective of Gouriya Vaisnavism followers or not.

In this regard, the followers of Gouriya Vaisnavism used to let the dying persons hear Hari Nam Sankirtan before they had fallen unconscious so that they might breath their last with total absolution from sins by hearing the sacred name of Hari, and after death the family of the deceased carry the corpse to the cremation ground by singing Hari Nam Sankirtan and burn the dead body by putting it on the funeral pyre.

For the Manipuris following Gouriya Vaisnavism Nata Sankirtan has been an unavoidably important part of a Shradha ceremony (the final obsequies). In the Shradha involving Pinda Dan, the offering of the panda cannot begin until the Nata Sankirtan is sung invoking Ista Devata (the tutelary deity).

Again, when the panda offering is complete the offerer will take a bath, change a new clothe and bow down before the sankirtan by entering into the mandap (pavillion), and after this the singers will sing 'Vijay' song to conclude the function and at this stage the Mandap Mapu (the person presiding the function) will convey the pretatma (soul of the deceased) to Vaikuntha Dham (abode of Hari) and the function concludes here.

In a family occurring death of a member 'Dashahan' (a ritual for mitigation of misfortune and miseries due to the death) is performed by reading of Shri Madbhagavat every day until the day of the Shradha Karma and the performance of the ritual is necessarily preceded by singing Nam Sankirtan always.

In case a Shradha karma is to be associated with the offering of Pinda, in offering of the pinda in the morning every day by the 'Gira'-man (the member of the family chosen to be the Pinda offerer who should observe continuously during the period of the funeral services by keeping aloof from his family temporarily), the event is preceded by Name Sankirtan. In performing Ashthi Sanchay (literally means collection of bones, and it is a ritual performed on the sixth day after death) Nam Sankirtan leads the event and sometimes circum ambulates of a Hari Mandir (temple of Hari) is also added.

Nam Sankirtan is a miniature form of Dhruvamel Mahasankirtan and it has may kinds varying in size and quality. They are used in different purposes for the rituals, such as Gira-Thangba (performing of Shradh with Pinda da Lairik Taba (reading and hearing of holy scriptures and Asti Sanchay (bone collection performed on the sixth day after death) etc.

The most extensive form of Dhruvamel Sankirtan is divided into four, as
(i) Maha Dhruvamel
(ii) Gow Dhruvamel
(iii) Nityai Dhruvamel and
(iv) Devi Dhruvamel,
and they are in vogue among Gouriya Vaisnavites of Manipur.

It is strongly believed that by performing such a grand Dhruvamel Hari Sankirtan the sins committed by a person is completely exonerate it is capable of doing it. In ancient India kings after fighting fierce homicidal wars used to perform Ashwamedha Yagya in expiation of the cruel and violent act committed in the fights, and likewise, in Manipur also kings in imitation of it, introduced the performance of Dhruva MahaSankitan after fierceful fightings for the cause of their country to expiate for the cruel and sinful acts committed in the fightings.

After the war again the Awa (Burmese) Bhagyachandra Maharaj perform Maha Dhruva-Mel. After the period of devastated and desolation of Manipur, Gambhir Singh defeated the enemy and regained the throne and he performed Goura Dhruvamel Mahasankirtan In the like manner Narsingh organized Nityai Dhruvamel Maha Sankirtan.

Again Chandrakirti Maharaj, when he became king after a long exile in Cachar, performed Devi Dhruvam Maha Sankirtan to atone for his wrongs and sins. Thus, later, the descendants of Karta Maharaj, in arranging Ningthem Kirtan (Royal Feast) they did it with Maha Dhruvamel Sankirtan, and in Ningthem Kirtans performed by the scions of Narsingh Maharaj, they did it with Goura Dhruvamel Mahasankirtan. In Maha Dhruvamel and Goura Dhruvamel the raga part of Sankirtan is elaborately done and in Nityai Dhruvamel the elaboration is done in the Vijay (concluding) part.

Ahoratra Kirtan is a kind of great Hari Sankirtan prevalent in Goura Vaisnavite society of Manipur. This is performed by the Manipuris on an auspicious day as a remedial measure for poverty, miseries and misfortunes etc.

The Kirtan on Astakal Leela is mainly sung in Ahoratra Kirtan taking the time of a whole day. This is a grand Hari Sankirtan beginning in the morning and ending in the morning of the next day or beinning in the evening and ending in the evening of the next day. This usually started with Adhivas, success by Astakal Leela song and ended with the singing of Vijay song.

In an auspicious event happening to Manipuri Hindu, such as, Pukhri Laisana, Mandir, yum, mandap etc. Hongba (inauguration) of pond, shrine, temple house, pavilion and in the final annual funeral service (Samvatsarik Shradha), Nata Sankirtan Maha Yagya is attached in a simple or large manner according the one's ability, as a rule.

In all the scheduled annual festivals related to Shri Hari and performed in the precinets of Shri Shri Govindaji Temple Nata Sankirtan Mahayagya precedes the function always and other shows (leelas) and kirtans etc. are followed as per convenience and Bijay singing includes artistes from different places and localities irrespective of men, women, youths and children by forming their own association participate in the festivals as of pride and privilege.

Not only in the precincts of Shri Govindaji Temple but in all Hari temples in all the nooks and corners of Manipur the scheduled annual functions/festivals pertaining to Shri Hari are performed regularly. All people irrespective of age and sex forming different groups of kirtan singers participate in the festival.

In the festival known as Yaosang which is related to Vasanta Mahotsava, people irrespective of age and sex, forming their own Holi kirtan groups give performances at Hari temples and private houses. In the Rathay festival called 'Kang' in Manipuri boys and girls by forming singing groups known as 'Khubak Eshei kirtan Pala' give performances in various Hari temples.

In the religious festivals of Jalakeli and Jhulon also kirtan singing groups of boys and girls perform at Hari temples at different places. Leela (plays), such as Krishna Leela, Raas Leela, Goura Leela etc. which fall in the class of kirtan are ogranised and performed at different times and places privately. Raas Leela which are performed at scheduled times in Shri Govinda's temple also are included in the class of Krishna Leela Kirtan.

In the Gouriya Vaisnavite Society of Manipur the Nata Sankirtan Mahayagya has been considered and observed very reverentially and giving great importance as Gandharva Vidya (the art of science of music) as well as a Mahayagya (great sacrifice) for the past many centuries. Really speaking the most firm and unalienable virtuous religion service of the Manipuri Society is the Nata Sankirtan only.

The Idea of Vedic religion having entered in the tiny State in the far North East border of India called Manipur many centuries ago, and having endured the impacts of religious revolutions at different stages, the Vedic religion in the form of Gouriya Vaisnava faith had struck its root in the soil of Manipur deeply and is existing still.

The old customs and practices of the Manipuris like maintaining of individual domestic fire-places in every house by setting up a Sacred Spot near it known as 'funga lairu' to worship fire and also worship of the sun, moon and stars and ancestors in consonance with the Vedic ideas have been observed unfailingly and preserved still.

Though suffered devastations and desolation time and again due to foreign invasions and occupations, Manipur had remained a small independent kingdom till the middle of the 20th Century AD and had been preserving many ancient culture and tradition of India in Manipuri society and out of them Nata Sankirtan is one.

Many beautiful artistic activities of Adhivas, Purvaranga are Gandharva Vidya which were actively used in the vedic time and kept recorded in Bharat Natya Shastra but have been forgotten in many parts of India out of disuse are preserved in the Manipuri Society intact.

Some manuscripts of Natya Shastra (art Science of drama) which had remained untraceable for some centuries in India, when they were retrieved and published one after another with the help of European scholars in the beginning of the 20th Century A.D. and while Indians begun to study in the 20th century about the true nature of Adhivas, Purvaran and Gandharva Vidya etc. which were in the Vedic time, they faced a big difficulty in interpreting the meaning of Bharat Natya Shastra even as the knowledge of music and dance of the Vedic Tradition had fallen into oblivion for about ten or twenty generations of men.

If the subject is studied in the light of the taal and dance etc. of Nata Sankirtan which were being used for many log years by the Manipuri the problem will be solved considerably well, because the dance and music employed in Nata Sankirtan is completely based on the principles and tradition of Bharat Natya Shastra.

The knowledge and skill of Taal Vyavastha and Dhruva Pada etc. of Natya Shastra which are considered to have disappeared from the Indian soil are found to be used very well in Nata Sankirtan even at present. Though not elaborately dealt in this book on the topics of punglon (drum formula), Tal (rhythm) Raga and Ragini (tune and sub-tune) of song and dance (by man), Sheigonnabi (Nivandhapada i.e. solo), Tangonnabi (singing in rhythm), Tangonna (singing without rhythm) etc., the something which are written in this book briefly intending to give an easy and quick understanding clearly show that Nata Sankirtan is a Mahayagya serving as a way to fulfil full devotion to Krishna and is created in accordance with the rules of music science of Bharat Natya Shastra.

Again, the ritualistic practice of Yantra puja, Dwiptahuti puja and Jargir puja of Adhivas and the performance of five Dhruva items in Purvaranga which are prescribed in Bharat Natya Shastra are considered to be extinct from the Indian music world and are unseen in any parts of India, and as it is known that they are kept preserved in Nata Sankirtan for many long years intact, it can be taken that an avenue for study and research in the matter is opened to aspirant research.

Truly speaking, if India which has become a developing country after getting freedom from British rule wants to show before the world some of its classical music and dance which have close affinity with Indian culture and civilization, which have not been adulterated by other cultures and have been going on in the true vedic form and tradition, Nata Sankirtan is to be placed in the forefront.

Except by knowing it deeply and studying minutely, the Indian people have no other means to know the Indian classical music and dance coming down in the pure Vedic tradition. To find and see the existence of vedic culture and tradition we may delve and forage through the present large treasure house of Indian music and dance which have been mutated by the influence of other culture and civilizations in the long course of time but we shall see only a glimpse of it, and we could hardly achieve it unless we try to do it through the medium of Nata Sankirtan which is still preserving the chaste vedic tradition of music and dance in it intact.

As all societies in the world undergo changes with the changing time, the Manipuri society also does the same naturally. But, the Meities (Manipuris) have been a people that does not easily abandon the belief, custom, tradition and culture which they have used for a long time. As a simple example, when all the countries in the world have used shoe, trousers, shirt and coat like English as a new global fashion we see many persons in the Meitei (Manipuri) society who are repugnant to the Western dress and cannot get rid of dhoti and kurta.

So, we still can see here and there in the Meitei Society the culture and customs which they believed and followed for many long years inceasantly. When the time honoured monarchy in Manipur had come to an end and it was merged into India in the middle to the 20th Century AD and a democratic society had emerged Nata Sankirtan Mahayagya and other old cultural activities which were under good and careful royal patronage fell in the hands of the public and when they cannot be looked after well as they were in the days of monarchy they are like things without any owner now.

The big changes which took place in the short time of about fifty years in respect of living standard, economic condition and political life of Manipuris have given a powerful impact on the social and religious activities of Manipur. Religious or social ceremonies and function which were very vigilantly guarded and maintained by the king are left at the people's hand and they are being performed now accordingly as one likes.

The old religious cultural and social ceremonies function and activities are now facing a threatening situation verging on extinction. And, this situation is what Nata Sankirtan is facing in the Meitei Society now.

In the short time of about the past fifty years, the significance and value of Nata Sankirtan seem to be faded considerably in the minds of most of the people of Meitei Society. As usual people perform in Shradh ceremony in after the death of a member of their families and a marriage ceremony also performed with Nata Sankirtan (in both ceremony) in a big way, but most people seem to be unknowing or unwilling to know the important purpose, inevitability and intrinsic value of Nata Sankirtan Mahayagya in the ceremonies performed.

Performances of shradha, weddings, etc. ceremonies with modern song of Bhajan and kirtan in place of Nata Sankirtan, out of ignorance, are on the rise. Girls and women who cannot be entitled to the virtues and benefits of the rite of Upanayan were banned to sing Sankirtan in religious and public places but since no one could prove Sankirtan to be a mahayagya and since no one could show the diving line of differentiation between kirtans and Sankirtan in the court of law, the restrictions imposed on girls and women against singing of Kirtan or Sankirtan was quashed in a leg case and then they were allowed to give performances of Sankirtan Mahayagya in public places.

The dearth of professional Nata Sankirtan artistes (singers and drummers) who are educated understand the etymology of the art clearly and know the skill and practical application of the art has caused a matter of great concern. Though the important words of Sankirtan, such as Raag, Dhruva Ghat, Setu, Vedi, Mel, Mishra, Sankirna, Sanch Akhara, Anuwa, Adhivas etc. etc. are general and often used freely by all, there are only a few artistes (singers and drummers) who know and use them with propriety.

For lack of supervision by scholars and knowledgeable persons and the prevalence of abridging and omitting parts without considering the inviolable rules, normal tradition etc. and the combining of incomplete parts of Sankirtan by some artistes, this led to distortion of the original forms, features and sanctity of Nata Sankirtan.

In fact, the members of the Meitei Society seem to be unawake to matter still. Most of them appear not to have the desire to guard this invaluable ancestral culture and to keep it clean and intact. They seem to remain thinking that their precious wealth would be guarded and patronized by their king and nobles as before.

* Yumnam Suren wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on August 25 2021.

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