Shumang Lila : Performance With A Purpose
Unlocking the treasure 4

Seram Neken *

Iboyaima Shumang Leela shanglen  in 2012
Iboyaima Shumang Leela shanglen in 2012 :: Pix - Jinendra Maibam

"Inclusion of Shumang Lila in school curriculum and establishment of a school for teaching this art form have been the ardent wish of Shumang Lila lovers of the state. Shumang Lila is a composite indigenous art form of Manipuris, that informs, educates, entertains, persuades and motivates people on a variety of issues."

Shumang Lila might have been derived from the tradition of 'Tangkhul Nurabi Loutaba' in Lai Haraoba, as this dramatic episode has all the elements of a Shumang Lila performance humour, pantomimic elements with simple and meaningful dialogues from the rites, traditional proverbs, riddles, singing and dancing. Shumang Lila had been known as "Jatra" or "Jatrawali" in the beginning, may be because of the fact that those performers were always leading personalities of the locality and these plays were performed for important occasions. 'Jatra' literally means 'Lead'.

During the reign of Chandrakirti Maharaj (1850-1886), a genre called "Phagee Lila" came up. In this, the comedians of the time such as Abujamba Saiton and Kharibam Laishuba were summoned to the palace and made to perform to entertain the courtiers particularly the royal women. Later on, comedians like Laithangba, Uritmahum, Heiningmaru etc. became popular artistes. During the reign of Churachand Maharaj (1891-1941), Moirang Parva, Mandav Lila and Phagi lila such as Phadibi Pala and Kabuli Pala were popular.

According to Manipur State Shumang Lila Council, the Moirang Parva performed at Wahengbam Leikai Panjee Mayum Lampak in 1894/95 was the first Shumang Lila performance. Among the early Shumang Lila performances, mention may be made of Harishchandra (1918), Sabitri Seitaban, Meiraba Charan, Thok Lila etc. During the reign of King Churachand (1891-1941), a gifted artist called Chungkham Ibohal and his troupe performed a satirical play against the water tax levied on people using Imphal River. On hearing this, the King arrested him and made to perform the play in front of the King.

Puya Meithaba was the first scripted play and it was followed by BA Mapa Lamboiba around 1945-46. In the 1970s, Shumang Lila female troupes (Nupi Shumang Lila) were born. 'Epom' was also born by 1970. In 1971, All Manipur Jatra Association was formed and the Manipur State Kala Academy changed the name of the performance to "Shumang Lila" by organizing the Shumang Lila Festival from 1973 onwards. Prior to this, Shumang Lila competitions were conducted by Theatre Centre and later by Publicity Department of Manipur Government.

Besides entertaining people and making them forget their day-to-day tensions and worries, Shumang Lila as a traditional medium carries a heavy responsibility to educate people on various issues both local and international. After the infamous Hunger Marchers' Day of 27August 1965, the Manipur Peoples' Party produced a Shumang Lila entitled "Chak Tangba" revealing the misdeeds of Congress Party in connection with the incident. It was said to be an effective campaign against the ruling party.

Various government and non-government agencies have been judiciously employing Shumang Lila to carry messages to the people. The Shumang Lila "Meekap Thokpa" written by Heishnam Dhana from Konjeng Leikai Imphal and performed by Takhellambam Chandro's City Jatra Mandal sometime in 1974 was the first attempt towards utilizing the art form in disseminating family planning messages. Family Planning Bureau's "Chayam Pokpa" and Chana Lukhoi's "Anouba Mangal" (North Imphal Manipur Jatra Mandal) also carried family planning messages.

Shumang Lila : Performance With A Purpose
Pix - Hueiyen Lanpao

Playwright Rupachandra Gosh's "Singareina Kenkhrabada" performed by Meitei Leima Jatra cum Drama Association (Cheitei Party) and "Kanagi Maralno" based on Polio Immunization performed by Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union were successful plays towards generating awareness among the people. The Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Government of Manipur also utilized this medium for spreading awareness on sanitation. Mention can be made of playwright Rupachandra Gosh's "Anouba Mangal" performed by Shining Star Union, "Amambada Meingal" performed by Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union and "Anouba Lambi" of Kamakhya Sangeet Mandal.

The Science and Technology Department also produced play on environment entitled "Anouba Yenning". Chana Lukhoi's street play entitled "Senphu Hangba" performed by Compositional Artistes Association was produced for generating awareness on national savings insurance. Manipur Co-artist Association's Shumang Lila "Makhong Taragi Cheingak" was also produced under the State Veterinary and Animal Husbandry Department, Manipur for awareness generation on animal husbandry services. Manaobi MM's play "Naitom Satpi" was a successful Shumang Lila based on leprosy disease and performed by the Peacemaker Artistes Association.

Peacemaker Artistes Association's "Opium War" and Sana Leibak Nachom Artistes Association's "Ugandagi Maraibak" are historical plays campaigning against drug abuse and illicit trafficking. Optimum utilization of the traditional media for public awareness was in AIDS awareness campaigns. Street play on AIDS awareness entitled "Amamba Leichil" written by Congtham Samarendra may be termed as the first play produced for spreading AIDS awareness.

Street play "Matamgi Helloi" (Tamna Artistes Group) was widely displayed in public places under the Manipur AIDS Control Society in 1999. "Lambi Manga" (Romantic Artistes Association) was also displayed in Cachar and Hojai districts of Assam. Thoudam Ruhinilkukar's street play "AIDS Ta Nokphade" was also a popular play on AIDS awareness.

Successful plays on AIDS awareness were "Khuntak Lanshidringeida" written by Rupachandra Gosh (Dedicated World Artistes Association), "Ngashigi Nonglei" of Chana Lukhoi (North Imphal Manipur Jatra Mandal), "Swargagi Lambi" of Thangjam Birchand (Imphal Jatra cum Drama Association), "Monalisha" of Rupachandra Gosh (North Imphal Manipur Jatra Mandal), "Matamgi Khoimu" of Chana Lukhoi (Naharol Khongthang Artistes Association), "Thengmankhare Thabalse" of Thokchom Prafullo (North Imphal Manipur Jatra Mandal), "Jhinjur" of Hiyang Manisana (Meitei Leima Jatra cum Drama Association), "Eidi Luhongjararoi" of Manaobi MM (Imphal Jatra cum Drama Association), "Djuko Lily" of Niladhwaja Khuman (Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union), "Minungshigi Mityeng Ama" of Niladhwaja Khuman (Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union), "Punshi Khongchat" of Gouradhaja Sharma, "Under Arrest" of Ranjit Ningthouja (Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union) etc. During 2002-2003, the Manipur AIDS Control Society produced Shumang Lilas in tribal dialects too.

"Ajawui Tuishot" (Tangkhul dialect) performed by C.R Film Industry, "Khangban Sham Doh Ei" (Paite dialect), "Heo Neingadamin" (Thadou dialect) performed by United Rural Youth Artistes Manipur, "Phaikan Kathan" (Kabui) performed by All Zeliangrong Art and Cultural Organisation etc. were popular tribal dialect plays on AIDS awareness.

For years, Shumang Lila has been serving as society's mirror and educating native peoples with useful messages pertaining to a variety of themes. Shumang Lila remains the only indigenous medium that can counter the negative impacts of new media like the satellite cable networks and bollywood films. As we have observed, famous film stars of Manipur act in the Shumang Lila may be to extract and train themselves with the rich artistic intelligence and values.

It is a totally LIVE media, the artist used to perform at the centre of hundreds of spectators sitting around him. There cannot be a cheating in acting and no chance of rewind or recast. What has happened on stage is always the message. Right from the moment the artist comes out on the stage to the moment he leaves it- every movement is the message.

The audience is always active and alert in Shumang Lila. It is the only media which maintains a uniform emotion for its heterogeneous audience. The audience in Shumang Lila ranges from the most learned to the most illiterate, the richest to the poorest, and the most foolish to the wisest. The story, the language, the artistes everything is indigenous and local. The messages given in Shumang Lilas can go deep in our hearts.

As an innocent member of the audience, let me put certain suggestions for preservation of this art form. As Plato in ancient times opined in his 'The Republic' that 'music and drama as art forms can be either used or misused', the costumes of some of the female role artistes need to be checked in time so as to preserve the unique character of Shumang Lila as a popular media among the people irrespective of age, literacy level, profession etc. All members of a family from the youngest to the eldest are its audience.

If the mature audience feels uncomfortable in the costumes of some of the female-roles, its popularity will diminish. Moreover, there is tendency that young girls may imitate these dresses and styles. Secondly, the state government may establish an academy solely for conducting research and training on Shumang Lila.

The retired Shumang Lila personalities (artistes, directors etc.) may well be accommodated as professors of the proposed institution, where many young talented artistes of the state can be trained in the same manner as National School of Drama (NSD) trains artistes at the national level. Lastly, the Shumang Lila may be incorporated in school curriculum to teach the posterity of this unique art form.

* Seram Neken wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition) as part of The Voiceless Speaks
This article was posted on April 16, 2013

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