TODAY -

Tarpon: Annual offerings to the dead by the living

Dr Oinam Ronnie Chanu *

 Langban Heitha Leithaba (tarpon) : For martyrs of Great June Uprising at Kekrupat :: September 26 2018
Langban Heitha Leithaba (tarpon) : For martyrs of Great June Uprising at Kekrupat on Sep 26 2018 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



In Manipur, the ritual of Tarpan is popularly pronounced as Tarpon. Tarpon is an annual Hindu ritual in which the Meitei Hindus offer tributes to their dead ancestors. It is a fortnight long ritual, which is performed during the Hindu month of Ashwin. As per the Meitei calendar, it coincides with the duration from 16th day of Laangban till the new moon of the same month.

Khullem Chandrasekhar Singh (1994: 99) explains that the word 'tarpan' means 'to satiate'. He describes, "During this period, the deceased ancestors expect offerings from their living descendants. According to Brahma Puran, Yamraj, the God of death, releases the dead ancestors and they come down to earth to take offerings and they remain at the entrance of the houses of their living descendants for the entire duration that ends on the new moon day".

It is believed that if human beings do not perform 'tarpan' for their deceased ancestors due to disbelief in Gods, then their ancestors drink their own bloods out of thirst. It is also believed that such show of disrespect to the deceased ancestors can bring misfortune, dangers, and hardships to the living descendants.

For the Meitei Hindus in Manipur, offering of tarpon is considered a religious duty. They offer tarpon either daily during the entire fortnight or only on the first and the last days.

According to available information, Tarpan cannot be performed by the following category of persons: Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya whose initiation ceremony is not yet conducted, those communities that do not practice cremation, the Shudra, a son whose father is still alive, ordinary women except widows who have no sons to perform the tarpan (Sharma, G.T. 2005: 1).

Field investigation in Manipur reveals, Tarpon is generally performed by the male head of the family whose father or parents are no more. Some Meitei Hindu families also offer Tarpon Usop or religious feasts either at the local temple or at home in honour of their deceased ancestors where members of the locality are also invited along with friends and relatives of the family.

The ritual of Tarpan can be performed both in water and on land (Singh, Kh. C. 1994:100; Sharma, G. T. 2005:1). Earlier, people used to perform Tarpon in nearby rivers, however, as the rivers become highly polluted, they prefer to perform it at their courtyard.

There is also a belief among the Meitei Hindus that deceased ancestors really accept the ceremonial offerings, which include items contributed by the married daughters of the family. Therefore, till today, married daughters usually go to their natal place with items to be included in the ceremonial offerings to their natal ancestors.

Although it is believed that offering of just simple water also satiates the ancestors, the three most important items are believed to be uncooked rice, sesamumorientale (thoidingamuba) and dog grass (tingthou).

In addition to these, Tulsi leaves, seasonal fruits such as cherry silverberries (heiyai), citrol (heijang) microcos paniculata (heitup), euphoria longana (Nonganghei), lotus seed (thamchet), pineapple, gooseberries, bananas, white sugarcane, sweet potatoes, betel leaves and areca nuts are also included.

The ritual of Tarpon is usually performed in the morning, at the earliest, when the sun is rising and at the latest, before noon. In its most elaborate style, it is a ritual consisting of various sets of offerings made for almost all kinds of beings, which are believed to exist as per the Hindu religious belief.

Beginning from worshipping the Sun, a series of offerings along with Sanskrit chants are made, each with a particular name which include:
DevTarpan ,
MahushyaTarpan ,
Rishitarpan ,
DivyaPitraTarpan,
YamTarpan ,
PitraTarpan ,
BhishmaTarpan ,
RamTarpan,
LuxmanTarpan,
BastranishpirnodagTarpan .

The making of offerings in this Tarpon is not only for the deceased ancestors of a person, but it is an all-encompassing offering for everything. There are many rules to be followed while performing the ritual such as particular directions to be faced at particular time during the ritual. Performance of Tarpon in this elaborate style is commonly known as the long style of offering Tarpon.

While some of the Brahmans continue to perform the long Tarpon, the pressure exerted by modern life has led to a sharp curtailment in the duration of the ritual. Today, both Brahmans and the Meitei Hindus are switching over to Ram Tarpan or Luxman Tarpan, which are part of the long Tarpon but of shorter duration.

The chants of Ram Tarpan signifies offerings beginning from Lord Bramha to all those Sages, ancestors from both father's and mother's sides, humans, animals, fishes etc. that is, all the living and non-living beings in this whole universe.

While the chant of Luxman Tarpan entails offerings beginning from Lord Bramha to the Trees and Bamboos to all those living beings/organisms in this universe. Therefore, today, either of these two Tarpons is usually performed by the Meitei Hindus.

To call this annual ritual of making offerings to dead ancestors as Tarpon by the Meitei Hindus, as it is pronounced by Bengalis hints that it is an introduction of Vaishnavism. Interestingly, the text Khunung Lichat Sajat (Pandit Thongam Madhav Singh and N. Khelchandra Singh 2006:16) mentions an ancient Meitei practice of making offerings to their ancestors during the entire month of Laagban (August/September) at every Meitei house.

Further, Sanamahi Laikan also supports that this pre-Hindu practice of offerings to ancestors was being substituted by the Hindu ritual of Tarpan during the reign of King GaribNiwaz. It therefore, points that the ritual has been observed to replace the pre-Hindu annual offerings, which used to be conducted during the same time.

The similar essence of the two rituals performed during the same time probably enables the Meiteis to accept the Hindu version of the Meitei ritual. Whatever the case may be, the Meitei Hindus still perform this annual ritual with deep reverence.


* Dr Oinam Ronnie Chanu wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be contacted at ronoinam17(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 30, 2018.



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