Zhaoshomai, fading indigenous religion of Liiyai Khullen, Senapati, Manipur

Mamta Lukram *

 The origin of Barak River
The origin of Barak River

The Barak River and its riverine ecosystem uphold primordial significance in the state. It shares its course with the neighbouring states and later meanders through Myanmar and Bangladesh. Another silent feature worth mentioning of the river is its origin at Liiyai Khullen, Senapati District, Manipur, denoting the biggest Poumai Village.

This village gains widespread popularity for inhibiting preserving the river's source and sustaining through the natural ecology as well. By virtue of physiographic location, ecological concerns represent inherent matter of attention.

Penetrating deep down into the heart of the village, paradoxically, a voice unheard laments over assertions filtered through the influence of 'big tradition'. The declining indigenous religion to a verge of extinction which desperately seeks appropriate intervention with the need for conservation and promotion is ringing aloud. Circumstantial degeneration to a situation where the own larger community reduced its original religion into 'Pagan' is the unfold matter.

 Way to Liiyai, Paomata Sub-division, Senapati District Manipur
Way to Liiyai, Paomata Sub-division, Senapati District Manipur

Zhaoshomai have been the original name of the indigenous religion, the Liiyai villagers cherished. Later, it got replaced by a new name 'Pupaonariimai,' meaning the followers of ancestors, gaining popularity with this new nomenclature in post-influence era of Christianity. This was the ironic standpoint from where the original religion was assigned the status of 'Pagan,' in failure to endorse any major religion of the world, Christianity in particular.

Naturism is the fabrics of indigenous religion. It is considered as the purest form of religion thereby worshipping the forces of nature. Such religions are usually devoid of preaching for conversions and are less indoctrinated with the principles of sacred-profane or purity-pollution. Mother Nature is believed to be the supreme guiding force. Such belief systems have synoptic world view with less discriminatory attributes incorporated with promotion and preservation of natural environment.

 A view of traditional terrace farming in Liiyai Khullen
A view of traditional terrace farming in Liiyai Khullen

Naturism in practice, in a village which heritages the origin source of a river reflexes intrinsic connotation. The latent function of worshipping Nature's cycle is the promotion of conserving natural environment. Another simultaneous function is, it also glorifies keeping intact the root of indigenity, adhering to the values of shared historicity as well.

Conserving indigenous religion in the state could be a synonymous act of promoting integrity by cherishing the religious aspects that accommodate the shared history. The seepage of rooted sense of divide in the state transforming integrity a far cry could be untangled through internalised acceptance, interdependence, and cohesion. It could help reconcile the eroded integrity.

Totem and Myth

According to the 2011 Census, Liyai Khullen has a total household of 1220 with a total population of 7153. At present, the approximate household, according to the villagers and Chief, reached nearly 1600. Interestingly, around 50-60 households are still following the indigenous religion. Almost, the elder generations follow it while the younger generation less preferred it.

According to myth, a lake dried up and the village originated, which later evolved human habitation. The 'totem' of the village as shared by the villager is two Banyan trees growing at one corner, representing two clans "Raomai Clan and Liimai Clan."

An old lady called 'Paichii' dropped her two grandsons Baa and Paodu in the Liiyai village to establish human settlement. She poked her two walking sticks into ground from where two banyan trees sprung up and are surviving till date. It is the ancestor's banyan where spirits dwelt. The right banyan represents Raomai Clan and left banyan represents Liimai Clan.

 The two Banyan Trees, representing totem of the village
The two Banyan Trees, representing totem of the village

The Liiyai community also exhibits a silent feature of synchronising the tradition with religion. They blend their origination myth/tradition with religion. Paodu is believed to be the first king of the village, oral chronicle antecedent of Liiyai Khullen. Kingship is hereditary.

However, by 2012, the previous king, due to absence of a male heir, nominated Danii Paoyu, 49 years, as the king being the nearest in the king's clan. The present king has eight children, six boys, and two girls. Unfortunately, his eldest son is deprived of formal education and one of his daughters has embraced Christianity.

As per the view of the king, they don't have any particular God, but the Creator. Their religion is meant to preserve the indigenous identity of the community. They follow lunar calendar. Every year, during the month of December/January, one special ritual mean for the indigenous families is carried out. On this particular day, the king along with two pagan boys would go to a particular spot to construct two small mini-house structures, one mean for God, and one mean for men.

Offerings are made to the mini-structures, local brew in cone plantain leaf, to appease the creator. After this, the king will come back home and refrain from taking up any other task that day. In a particular year, if anyone from the indigenous community wishes to construct a new house or expand new agricultural land cover etc, they have to wait for another fifteen days from that ritual.

 The place of ritual for two miniature houses
The place of ritual for two miniature houses

The villagers mentioned that they don't have a particular god, but nature is their God. Nature's cycle and ancestors are entities of worship. They own four ponds of significance for each clan,
a) Likao (Zhimai) called Eagle Pond
b) Pyaori (Lukhrimai) called the Elephant Pond
c) Khaodu (Lurina) called the Tiger Pond and
d) Khakhao (Baikrimai) called the fish pond.

Naming of children and many other rituals are entailed with using water from specific ponds, categorically emphasising its importance. Rituals marks natural calamities, for instance, according to the villagers, whenever there is drought or less rainfall, elders would go and fetch water from Barak River source, with which they perform a ritual to please the Rain God. So, they believed Nature and its worship is of primary importance.

Despite the heavy influence of globalisation and modernisation in the 21st century fast track competitive world; to a Liiyai elder; the importance of indigenous religion as asserted by 75 years old Kholu Hriinii is; "I believe in only one creator and so, I believe my religion which believes the creator is the ancestor, the Nature. When a family observes the full rituals of their religion, the family blessed with good harvest that last long."

The indigenous community has numerous traditional festivals. Ngii is one such important festival of the community celebrated around the month of August. It is a pre-harvest festival seeking blessings for good harvest and is observed for five days. Diihy is the plantation/seed sowing festival, celebrated to appease Nature for a favourable weather and climatic conditions.

It is celebrated for three days. During these festivals, the indigenous people are forbidden to touch the green plants, a symbolic abstinence from hard work. Important attires of men include Toutsiimanii (waist wear), Phaohra (shoulder wear), Mahrasa (shawl), Mazhao (head dress) etc.

 The origin of Barak River
 The origin of Barak River
Pic: The view of the village from the king's place

The Declining Indigenous Religion

Zhaoshomai as an indigenous religion is declining its roots from the community. The influence of parochalisation, where little tradition gulps up by the big tradition is seemingly going on. By denomination, Christianity has become the majority religion, thereby reducing the original religion to minority and thereby termed as 'pagan,' for not endorsing the former.

The king shared his view over the harmonious blending of other religion with the original one. There is no contestation of interest among the people regarding the diverse religious affiliations. Paradoxically, it is an undeniable fact that the original religion is dying. He apprehended people's indifferent attitude towards the original religion with the passing age, however determined himself and his followers may be, in keeping intact the religion.

He called forth the attention from the State Government for initiatives towards conservation of the religion. The two places of importance in the village, the place where they use to construct the two small houses for rituals, and the place where the two banyans are growing; the king wished if it could be converted into heritage sites for better conservation of the dying indigenous religion. He wished if he could erect structures of socio-historic importance in these places through the state support.

The king vaguely shared how multiple times the academicians, researchers, activists and planners visited the village, inquiring host of questions, relevant and irrelevant so far, but none of welfare programmes has been materialised till date.

When enquired into the need for the conservation of the indigenous religion, Dahrii Haba, 75 years old, Paomai Naga expressed;
"We don't have any particular God, our ancestors is Our God. We don't want to lose our forefather's identity, and so, we treasure our religion. As long as the village king/Chief's clan exist, the religion will persist in the community. Pertaining to one's own belief every religion is equally good and if someone truly believes in his/her own religion, God will show the way."

 The Liiyai Khullen King's place
The Liiyai Khullen King's place

* Mamta Lukram wrote this article for
The writer can be reached at mamtalukram(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 24, 2019.

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