Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak
- Part 1 -

Budha Kamei *

A Scene from The Zeliangrongs :: Pix by Haobam Ronel (Director)
A Scene from The Zeliangrongs :: Pix by Haobam Ronel (Director)

The Zeliangrong is one of the indigenous ethnic groups of north east India. The Zeliangrong is the acronym of Zemei, Liangmei and Rongmei who live in the states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. George A. Grierson has established Zeliangrong as belonging to the Naga-Bodo Sub-family of Tibeto-Burman language family. (2000:477) Like other indigenous communities of the world, the Zeliangrong people, too, have been following a profound indigenous religion. This profound religious tradition is preserved and practiced through oral traditions by the ancient Zeliangrong community through the ages.

A scholar says, "Traditional religion is handed down from father to child." This religion is deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of the people. It had no name and no founder. But it has been historically evolved through the ages by law givers, religious diviners and prophets. It had no common religious authority as it was managed by the Pei, village council as the religious authority. It was nameless before, yet now known as the Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak in short TRC. It was named after Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God worshipped by the people since ancient time.

So, Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak means the religion of Tingkao Ragwang. The religion is now regulated and managed by a supreme religious authority called the Zeliangrong Religious Council which has two important organs: the Executive Council and the Ecclesiastical Council. The Council has compiled and published the Ringlon Khatni Theilon (Rites de passage), Noushonmei Kathek Karek (The marriage system) and Thousumei Kashoi Kadam in the form of scriptures. Prayer hymns have been composed. Songs and hymns in CDs/cassettes have been produced and distributed among the devotees of TRC.

Kalum Kai, the house of worship was constructed for prayer cum religious congregation on every full moon day and every Sunday. There are twenty Kalum Kais in the three states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. More KalumKai are expected to be constructed as it is a must to have a Kalum Kai in every traditional Zeliangrong village. Preservation of cultural, social, religious identity and solidarity of the Zeliangrongs through their worships and prayers, rites, rituals and ceremonies, festivals and attain the ultimate goal of the souls, i.e to go to Tingkao Kaidai, the abode of Tingkao Ragwang is the main philosophy of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak. The population of the Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak faith in the three states is about 30,000 souls [2011 census]. The present article is a humble attempt to delve the Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak faith of Zeliangrongs.

Religion is the system of worship of God by men with a code of spiritual, moral, social behaviour dealing with God, men and society. Religion needs the community as whole so that its members may worship in common its sacred things and its divinities, and society needs religion for the maintenance of moral law and order. Ancient religion is collective in nature and modern religion is individualistic. (William Robertson Smith 2005) Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak is a primordial religion, existing since the beginning of time, ancient and eternal. (Gangmumei Kamei 2005:1; Namthuibuiyang Pamei 2001:30)

However, Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak is polytheism, a religion which worships of multiple gods, goddesses and deities though it gives great emphasis to the worship of Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God. It believes in Tingkao Ragwang as the highest God out of the many gods. "A God is to be supreme over all others, and the rest are but his vassals, his ministers or angels." (Frank Byron Jevons1985:383) But Heraka cult and Champa religion follow monotheism, worship of only one god Tingwang /Tingkao Ragwang.

In the beginning, the religion had no name so the western anthropologists described the Tribal religion as Animism. When this concept is applied, every religion has some beliefs in spiritual beings. Animism was a primordial stage of every traditional religion. Now, it becomes a mistaken notion because it was quickly outgrown by the religious and spiritual development of the community concerned. Western observers including the anthropologists and sociologists describe that historically evolved religion is not animism. (Gangmumei Kamei 2004:262-263) Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak is not an animistic cult.

The symbol of TRC locally known as Boudaan is typical: The circle represents the universe/cosmos. Criss-cross lines within the circle represent the Zodiac in the sky. And the sun and moon represent the heavenly bodies which are the creation of Tingkao Ragwang. (Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak, A progress Report, 16th April 2003, Imphal, p.3) Boudaan is now widely used for all religious purposes.

God is the name commonly given to the ultimate source and power of the universe and the subject of religious devotion. He is described as the Supreme Being, the creator, and the ordering force of that is. He is infinite, eternal, immutable creator, preserver of all things and the object of worship. He is a perfectly good, and true, that he is eternal and that he possesses omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscient.

The Zeiangrong people believe in the existence of one Supreme God who is the creator of the universe, giver and source of life, the dispenser of plenty and justice (Gangmumei Kamei 1998). He is One and the Only One. He is named Tingkao Ragwang. Tingkao Ragwang literally means the heavenly God, or God of the sky or Lord of the universe. R. Brown has made a reference that the Zeliangrong people worshipped a Supreme Being who was the creator of all. (2001:27). He is the ordainer of the need of human kind, the creator of the uncreated and the destroyer of the created. (Tingkao Ragwang Kalum Kai, Souvenir 2001: 28; Conference on Zeliangrong Religion1994:5-6).So, Tingkao Ragwang is the creator, operator and destroyer.

It is believed that Tingkao Ragwang is the maker of the sun, the moon and the earth. He is called 'The father of the beginning', 'The first of the Gods of the upper world', 'He who adjusts the world by his hand', and 'The lord of truth'. He is also called 'the king of the Gods', 'The lifter of the hand' and 'The lord of the crown'. 'He rules supreme over the gods'. 'He who has made the world and all that is in it'. (George Rawlinson 1980: 24-52) God is everywhere that He is 'like wind' and 'like air'.(E.E. Evans-Pritchard 1977: 4) 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 it. Water cannot wet it. Air cannot dry it up. No weapon can cut it. He is beyond change. He is formless and colourless. He is the protector of men. (E.E Evans-Pritchard 1977:8) Horace says, 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". (Tryon Edwards 1999: 434) Thus, He is worshipped as the Supreme God.

Tingkao Ragwang is eternal with no beginning and no end, good, source of life, giver and ultimate goal of human soul, source of holiness, architect of men's destiny, source of knowledge and wisdom. He is created out of nothing by his will. He has no father, nor mother. He just exists. He is beyond time and space. He is omnipresent (present everywhere), omniscient (infinite knowledge), omnipotent (unlimited power) and omnibenevolent (perfect goodness). (Gangmumei Kamei 2005: 5-6; Chaoba Kamson 2009: 1-3) It is believed that Tingkao Ragwang lives in the heaven above the sky called Tingkao Kaidai or Tingkao Ragwang kai; (Tingkao means sky, Ragwang, supreme God and Kai, abode).

According to traditions and myths, Tingkao Ragwang willed to create the universe, god, men and nature. Didimpu and Didimpui created the sun, the moon, the stars, the water, the wind, fire, the earth etc. They were the two primal god and goddess created by Tingkao Ragwang for the same purpose. A god named Dumpapoi created man by the orders of Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme Being. (R. Brown 2001:27) After creating the earth, Tingkao Ragwang bore the thought of creating human beings who could always remember Him, who could rule the world in his place and who could make offerings to Him. Two additional deities named Dampapu and Dampapui were created to create human beings. The two deities took a long time in creating the human beings. But the created man and woman were lifeless and could not move their limbs. Finally, Tingkao Ragwang gave soul and life only then they became alive and human lives. Soul was given Tingkao Ragwang to men.

Soul is the immortal spiritual substance of human person. It is the animating substance of Individual life. The structure of the composition of soul and body is known as a living being and is further termed mortal. "Soul is not born and does not die" (LLyan, Arthur Smu, Dietrichson, Paul, Keyt, David and Miller, Leonard (Ed.) 1967:39) since it originates from Tingkao Ragwang who is the source of soul and life. (Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak 2002:56-57)

It is Tingkao Ragwang who gives Buh (soul) to man. He is described as Buhshinmeipu-Buhdameipu, the giver and protector of Soul. The belief of the existence of a soul from the Paleolithic age may be explained that "the hole frequently found chiseled in the transverse slab of the megalithic monuments or barrows belonging to the Neolithic age was meant to provide the soul (it is often called the soul hole) even if only temporarily, with a way of escape from the grave." (Carl Clemen 1988:5) According to the traditional belief, the physical form of life is enshrouded by transitoriness, having definite span of existence or duration.

The physical body is nothing but a shell or cover of the soul. Human body is the home of the soul. The man is alive so long it resides in the human person and the moment when the man dies, it departs permanently from the body. The life and death of man is indicated by the presence or absence of soul. The soul is pure since it comes from Tingkao Ragwang and the final goal of the soul is to move to Tingkao Kaidai, heaven. (Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak 2002:57) However, it depends upon the actions of man done in the human world since the soul resides in the body of man. Montgomery says, "The soul, of origin divine God's glorious image, freed from clay, in heaven's eternal sphere shall shine, a star of day! The sun is but a spark of fire, a transient meteor in the sky; the soul immortal as its sire shall never die." (Tryon Edwards 1999:116)

Heaven means the dwelling place of God, and the abode or state of being of the saved, or the blessed in the afterlife or in the time after the last judgment. It is a place of peace and definitive happiness. The term also designates the celestial sphere or spheres in contrast to the earth, the dwelling place of man and to the underworld, the abode of the souls. Heaven is also the place of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars, all of which give and symbolize light, a quality of the sacred and the good, as opposed to darkness, the quality of the underworld and evil. 'God being above, everything above- the heavenly bodies and the movements and actions connected with them are associated with him. Thus anything associated with the sky is lacking in earthly things'. (E.E. Evans-Pritchard 1977:3)

The concept of Heaven is interpreted in various ways in different religions of the world. The Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak people believe in the existence of heaven called Tingkao Kaidai, the abode of Tingkao Ragwang. The only wish and dream of every Zeliangrong is to go to Heaven. Local tradition says, there is no suffering, no jealousy, no anger and everything is available in heaven. It is the golden land of peace and happiness. It is believed that only the holy soul or the one who is free from any sin or a doer of good in the human world, one who follows the tenets of the Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak and the performer of great sacrifices like Ragaidai, Bamjou Kimei, Muleng, Banru and Taraang will go to Heaven after death. (Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak 2002: 63-65; Chaoba Kamson 2009: 3) In Bhagavad Gita (15.6) 'That Supreme abode of Mine is not illuminated by the sun or moon, nor by fire. Those who reach it never return to this material world'.

The devotees of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak are required to follow the following basic rules to enable them to enter heaven after death.

  1. 1. Strict following of the teachings of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak: Belief in Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God
  2. Listening to the teachings and stories of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak
  3. Offerings and sacrifices to Tingkao Ragwang
  4. Offer of charity in the name of Tingkao Ragwang
  5. Love and help the poor
  6. Don't hurt a man physically and mentally
  7. Don't tell a lie and don't steal
  8. Be polite to everybody
  9. Don't show vanity
  10. Don't commit incest
  11. Don't commit adultery
  12. Be just while making a judgment
  13. Understand the relationship of men and let there be no jealousy
  14. Understand the creator is the surest way to Heaven
  15. Be truthful, be good to others good to the guests and please them. Such act of piety will atone hundred sins
(Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak 2002:64-65)

They believe in the concept of life hereafter and the land of death locally called Taroilam. After physical death, the human soul goes to the land of death where he will lead another life with his ancestors.

to be continued...

* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on December 06, 2012.

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