Beauty and Money for a purpose
(A tweak for the purse is essential)

Lunsieh Kipgen *

 Miss Kut at 'Kut 2017' at 1st Manipur Rifles Ground, Imphal  :: 01 November 2017
Miss Kut at 1st Manipur Rifles Ground, Imphal on 01 November 2017 :: Pix - Shankar Khangemabm

Festivals being part and parcel of human life and civilizations cannot be expunged from the annual-occasional hassle-knotted activities and celebration menus irrespective of the staggering expenses involved with them in the present day money economy. Traditional and cultural related festivals assume more importance today with the attachment of community-centric identity to festivals.

The law of the land too encourages preservation of one’s culture, language, traditional practices or heritage, et al. It is in this backdrop that the state too is keen on extending financial largesse to fund festivals when they are viewed as cementing agents for intra-communities, fostering unity, promoting peaceful co-existence, cultural preservation and the likes.

In Manipur a festival of Kut stature may need no introduction considering the level of popularity it has acquired over the years despite the inherent ironical tendency on the part of some to mistake it for a beauty pageantry specific extravaganza. Kut is a cultural preservation festival and the beauty pageant attached with is a side attraction part in tune with the time we live today.

Ever since the popularization of beauty pageantry in Kut festival a section of intellectuals (including pseudo!) have been launching relentless blistering assault on it and advocates its exclusion from the festival programs terming such activity as obscene and against local culture, etc.

The fact that Kut program organizers from State level to district and block levels have made beauty pageantry an important ingredient of the festival simply goes to prove not only its acceptability but also its popularity with the changing times. It needs no reiteration that a lot of young girls have so far managed to get coveted jobs in the corporate sector via this personality enhancement oriented beauty contests in Kut programs.

It is never without a purpose that beauty pageants have come to stay in Kutting events and hence unnecessary seasonal outburst against such “talent show” could be much uncalled for and futile campaign.

Festivals of any kind, ranging from cultural to religion, have not only become increasingly extravagant in nature but at the same time are mostly unproductive expenditure forums for the economically unsound communities where the Kut celebrating communities are no exception.

Apart from the religion based annual festivals whose celebrations with community feasts are almost considered a norm, the annual Kut – Chavang Kut (Autumnal festival) programs ranging from State level to district and block level programs evidently has become a source of financial burden for the middle and higher income strata of this festival celebrating tribal communities. Expenditures on festivals and merry making programs are zero-return.

In spite of this, several lakhs of rupees are consumed (wasted) on Kut programs everywhere every year. Today, Kut programs are organized at different levels to suit regional interests and to enable maximum participation within the regional limits.

The first headache of ‘any level’ such Kut program committee is the fund drive – “how, from where and whom the funds were to be raised”. Such headache was alien to Kut celebrators of the yore when the event was observed at village republic level. Major items required then were butcher-ready domesticated cattle for community feast and semi tamed wild grown yaks (also called Mithun) for sportive purposes particularly high jump prowess competition cum exhibition.

Another important thing required for Kut festival was abundant rice beer whose manufacture raw materials were well stocked. The village community had everything required to hold the annual event. No stage construction, no sound and light aided gadgets, no invited artistes to enthrall the crowd for a price, no cultural troupes to perform on payment, no chief guests; guest of honours; functional presidents, no prize-money entailed beauty contests, etc.

A good season with an abundant agricultural harvest was all that is required. In fact, thanksgiving to the almighty for the successful agricultural operation during the year and celebrating the rich harvest is the essence of this festival. Today’s Kut programs are unthinkable without a reasonably glamorously constructed and decorated stage, a standard electricity and electronic aided illuminating lighting system, an impressive amplifiable “deafening sound system”, etc.

All these are expensive. Same goes for any other public functions. The cash prizes for beauty contest winners in today’s Kut programs also contribute to the list of major expenditures.

No Kut fund drive committee or any socio-religio-cultural program organizing committee ever coerces one to churn out contribution monies from one’s pocket. Reluctant individuals can no doubt escape with readymade excuses in plentitude. Yet willing individuals always display their generosities in contributing money when its purposes are meant for festivities, sports, entertainment and merry making. It is considered a great honour to contribute cash or kind towards a public program so that his/her name is announced in the face of the public for chorus applause. The higher the contribution amount the more the thundering acknowledgment and appreciation clapping.

A lot of “social workers” at one point of time have reportedly dried their purses attending social and religious programs as chief guests, guests of honours or presidents. Dignitaries in such programs are expected to donate for the expenses involved in the very function/program they are invited to grace. In return many such ‘dignitaries’ get a traditional shawl and a memento plus people’s regards, praises or even flatteries. Not a bad investment. But when it is for a good social cause like helping the poor and the needy or for a public utility purpose donation not many are kind enough to part with a part of their hard earned monies.

Each community level organizations, church, students and social organizations along with their sub-organizations and branches have the knack of preparing their own budgets and list out the target contribution sources. Elected peoples’ representatives, contractors, bureaucrats, those in government service or corporate sector, businessmen and stable income groups within the society are “informed the fixed rate” of contributions with “great expectations”.

Jubilee commemorations, annual get-togethers, sports meets, tour programs, church or office building projects, sports equipments and musical instruments purchase projects, etc. are some common donation seeking grounds. The brunt of such donations is borne by the middle income level groups in the society. The higher echelons of the society (politicians) mostly get back whatever they give out as contributions to different social and religious groups in terms of vote and so in a way a good investment only.

Banks and other financial institutions are said to be keen on advancing loans for income generating and return-complying initiatives but discourage lending for unproductive though inevitable programs such as marriage ceremonials and celebrative events. Yet the prevailing social psyche of emulating the haves often prompts even the have-nots resort to credit option.

No one can do away with festivals and celebration of different events. Success of a celebrative event is never measured in terms of the level pomp and glamour associated with it but the achievement of the event’s goal and participatory factor. The need would be to curtail superfluous expenditures.

Contributing and spending staggering sums of money on unproductive celebration of festivals, jubilees, anniversaries and entertainment oriented activities undoubtedly is a wasteful expenditure. It nevertheless is not to propagate that all feast-ridden festivities should be discarded but just to stress on prudence and productive spending path. For instance, a village or church anniversary or jubilee commemorative celebrants can focus on constructing an office building, a club-house, a park, a waiting shed, or any structure which would not only stand for years but also would serve public utility purposes rather than wasting precious money on erecting costly exquisite memorial monoliths and lavish community feasting.

Conservative calculations for stage construction costs alone in respect of all major state sponsored or aided festivals in the state during a calendar year is to the tune of Rs. 40/50 lakhs.

The overall expenses in all major festivals of the state for a year could just be fathomed. This of course could just be peanuts for the government. Yet the trending pattern as witnessed today goes to suggest that festivals in the name of major marketable agricultural/horticulture related products have proliferated with impunity. All such festival organizing committees craves to acquire a state recognized festival status.

Orange festival, pineapple festival, chilly festival, and now guava festival in the state are meant to promote cultivation and marketing of these items. Huge expenditures are incurred in staging all these festivals too. Budgetary alloocations for tourism promotional festivals such as Sangai festivals and the recently added Shiroi festivals are already to the tune of seven figures. So is the case with river conservation festival – the Barak festival.

The trend suggests that a day is in the offing when a festival to honor and preserve a mountain range or a beautiful landscaped valley is organized by festival aficionados. The partially state funded and fully state recognized culture promotion and preservation festivals of the state like Kut, Lui-Ngai-ni and Gan-Ngai apparently are reduced to fund starved festivals.

Yet the consolation for these major tribal festivals trio is that unlike other mushroomed festivals they each have the unique state holiday statuses. The need would be to have a uniform policy for state level festivals and criteria for a state festival status.

The increasing unavoidable pocket pinching social programs has pushed some towards chiseling out the innovative way of starting corpus funds for self sustenance. This is appreciable and should be encouraged. Self maintenance, self help or self sponsoring should be the keyword for any annual or regular taxing festivity and celebration chores.

The idea is not to perpetually rely on sponsorships and contributions for any celebrative events all the time. May sound paradoxical but it may also be remembered here that all expenses also need not be return oriented.

After all, celebrations and festivals in great measure contribute towards gross happiness of the people. Happiness is the ultimate goal of all too.

* Lunsieh Kipgen, IPS , wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on November 08, 2015.

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