In search of Khubak Ishei

Dr Rekha Konsam *

 Khubak Eshei in connection with Kang at Shri Shri Radha Krishna Mandir Aribam Mandhop Uripok Khumanthem Leikai :: July 10, 2016
Khubak Eshei at Shri Shri Radha Krishna Mandir Aribam Mandhop Uripok Khumanthem Leikai in July 2016 :: Pix - B. Bhorot Sharma

For the past few years, I have been exploring the devotional performances of Manipuri Vaishnavism.

Ironic as it seems, in almost all of these events the premise has been a unifying theme: each of these performances or 'art forms' is dying. It would, perhaps, not be wrong to say that this holds true not particularly with reference to Hindu Vaishnavite devotional music but applies to most traditional performances.

Having spent some time in these arenas, at some point one begins to ask oneself if these art forms/traditions are dying, then what new forms are taking their places ? Furthermore, what do we mean when we say that they are dying ?

The season of kang (rathyatra), khechri and pineapples came to an end sometime back. It has taken some time to get my thoughts together. The pandemic had forced everything to be on standstill and rituals had been reduced to the bare necessity; but 2022 has been the year that people have started getting back into the usual pre-Covid normalcy.

This year, kang was celebrated with the neighbourhood raths venturing out into its vicinity. With this return to pre-pandemic observations, I was hopeful of refreshing my memories of all the noisy July gaiety of evenings of Joydep (Jayadev), khubak ishei, etc.

My search, however, turned out to be more of a nostalgia for a long-gone era. For something that once characteristically transformed the quiet evenings into a boisterous one, the kang evenings seem to have been put under a silent zone.

Devotional performances thematically dedicated to this season now seem so rare that one has to seek out where it is performed if one wishes to attend. Gone are the times when little children (for some reason, it was usually girls and not boys) would perform them; men and women from the neighbourhood would schedule their own offerings of devotional performance; and the evening would end with a hearty plate of khechri.

The colourful evenings unfolding in the neighbourhood temples seem to have petered out and khubak ishei seems to have lost patronage among its religious community but has survived elsewhere largely through State patronage. Even as the popularity of the Vaishnava culture appears to be on the wane, efforts continue on some fronts to keep alive its devotional expressions as artistic traditions.

It was in my quest for khubak ishei performance in 2022 that I attended an event organized by the Kongpal Nupi Ishei Marup. It was an event organized through the support of the Ministry of Culture on the day of Ningol Pali. It was my privilege that the organizing body was one that I happened to be acquainted with and hence had the good fortune to witness the planning and unfolding of the event.

I learnt that khubak ishei has different sheishaks. Some of these are
Nimai Sanyas,
Yogi Besh,
Krishna Kali,
Niti Lila,
Brindavan Jatra,
Nouka Bilas,
Kakam Laman,
Purba Raga,
Jugol Murti,
Prabhas Yagya.

As common people generally do not engage with it, we are usually more familiar with its performance during the rath (kang) festival. This, I have been informed, comes within the 'Mathur' sheishak.

Thematically, it is the 'Mathur' sheishak that is performed during the kang season. Akur Sangbad is the segment where Akrur takes Krishna to the court of Kansa on his Pushpa Ratha. Lost in the emotions of prembhakti, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu dances in front of the ratha, clapping in joy for the Lord that he revered.

This is said to be the inspiration for the formulation of khubak ishei. One wonders though if it did not have anything to do with the clapping sequences of the Lai Haraoba ritual dance of the maibis.

Like most devotional performances of Manipuri Vaishnavism, khubak ishei was initially not allowed to be performed by women. Said to have started during the reign of Maharaj Gambhir Singh, it was popularized during Maharaj Churachand's reign.

It was also during the latter's time that a woman, Lourembam Tombi, performed it for the very first time. Needless to say, she was admonished at the time. Ironically, the performance of khubak ishei later came to be associated more with women performers rather than men.

One of the leading exponents of this style of performance during our times is Smt. Yumlembam Gambhini Devi (Padmashri, retd Guru, JNMDA). The performance that I witnessed was in the style of Oja Gambhini.

It was led by her student, N Romila Devi, a freelance artist herself who performed with the women of Kongpal Nupi Ishei Marup. Most of them, in some way or the other are involved in Nupi Pala sankirtan performance and the event was a demonstration of further learning the devotional music that they were being trained in.

At the end of the day, my thoughts were on the number of such 'art' forms that were premised on being 'threatened' and their performances which now seem to be, by and large, restricted to institute-trained artists fortified by awards and embellished by certificates of recognition.

Would this mean that the life of such 'art' forms no longer exists for the immediate audience seated at the performance? For how else would one make sense of the request by one such artist to make sure that I took good photographs and videos that would reflect well on their performance.

* Dr Rekha Konsam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 15 2022 .

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • Sangai Day 6: Elowe: Dzuko Valley :: Gallery
  • Sangai Day 5: Khunung Eshei :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 27 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Alligator weed: Indigenous fodder resource
  • Two lives :: Poem
  • People don't actually care !!
  • The beauty in tea
  • COVID-19 : Impact in Manipur :: News Timeline
  • Healthy response to Sangai Fest
  • Lessons from Japanese fans at WC
  • Sangai Day 5: Fashion parade :: Gallery
  • Sangai Day 3: Thangal Dance :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 26 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Masterclasses add value to 53rd IFFI at Goa
  • 7th Charuangc 2022 : Rongmei of Delhi-NCR
  • Miss India from Manipur
  • Startup Innovation Conclave 1.0
  • National Constitution Day at Lilong
  • Sangai Day 4: 3 Types Of Drums :: Gallery
  • Sangai Day 3: Chothe Dance :: Gallery
  • Involuntary Displacement in Manipur
  • Forgotten feature Film comes alive at IFFI
  • Will we protect medicines that protect us
  • God gives us our daily bread...
  • NPF consultative meeting at Zunheboto
  • Lapses in education laid bare by student
  • Adding a new flavour to War on Drugs
  • Sangai Day 3: Polo International :: Gallery
  • Sangai Day 2: Tangkhul Dance :: Gallery
  • 1st L. Keivom Memorial Day
  • Eina Khankhiba Natte : Movie Review
  • COVID-19 Status 24 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Eight Meet of Astronomers concluded at MU
  • 'Manipuri films projecting Manipuri culture'
  • Condemn govts of Assam & Meghalaya
  • Corruption-free Manipur resolve under scrutiny
  • Asia at the World Cup
  • Sangai Day 2: Khutpak Chatkoi #1 :: Gallery
  • Sangai Day 2: Tarao Dance :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 23 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Screening of Manipuri films at IFFI
  • Nagaland Govt has no economic policy: NPF
  • Organic seed production- Issue & strategy #2
  • Reinvent Northeast - Dimapur launched
  • Uneasy calm in northeast as border rows rage
  • FIFAWC and Sangai Festival : Splendid recipe
  • Ningol Chakkouba @ Pune :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 22 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Ningol Chakouba organized at Pune
  • Free mega health camp at Nagamapal
  • Outlaw glyphosate and its derivatives
  • Creators Meet of Tripura at Agartala
  • No respite from drug and tobacco threats
  • Manipur: Fountainhead of drugs ?
  • Sangai Day 1: Laihui Folk Music #1 :: Gallery
  • Sangai Day 1: Opening ceremony :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 21 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Copa Manipur at Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • South Asia's film market features Manipur
  • ST Demand: Decided by merits; not by poll
  • Ecotoxicology- needed to save living beings
  • 'Look East policy into Act East Policy'
  • Tourism promotional fest litmus test for state
  • Sangai & Pony, the twin face of Manipur
  • Tarpon Chaklen Katpa #2 :: Gallery
  • Sangai Festival 2022 :: Activities List
  • The Dream Kangleipak :: Book Review
  • COVID-19 Status 20 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • 53rd IFFI featuring Manipuri Cinema kicks off
  • World Toilet Day 2022
  • Pulicat Lagoon, Flamingos' haven
  • Amid substance abuse, thrust on open gym
  • FIFA World Cup 2022
  • 1st CM's Sagol Kangjei C'ship :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 19 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Sangai Fest as a way to Look East Policy
  • 1st Chief Minister's Sagol Kangjei C'ship
  • Organic seed production- Issue & strategy #1
  • For PM Modi, G20 has come at the right time
  • Rock band Arogya releases latest single
  • Community Ningol Chakouba #1 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 18 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Out of the heart comes the issues of life
  • NE Startup Showcase @ Manipur Tech Hub
  • Immortal Gallows :: Poem
  • Workshop on Amrita Meditation at RGU ArP
  • Skin Pigmentation in Winter
  • Influx issue headache for all indigenes
  • Wanted: Visionary leaders :: Follies of past
  • The changing idioms of Manipuri theatre
  • COVID-19 Status 17 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • DFC Shillong launched with Model workshop
  • Antimicrobial resistance... to reverse progress
  • 2nd North East Olympic Games closes
  • Unending quota system & National excellence
  • Solar energy can help India achieve net-zero
  • Sangai Festival as launch pad for tourism
  • All eyes on Qatar
  • Manipur Journalist Awards #1 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 16 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Delegates for IFFI, Goa
  • Intellectual Class- First Line of Defense
  • Who are ST in true spirit of Constitution
  • Journalism is a public good ...
  • Vaccine transported through Drones in ArP
  • Mass tree felling depreciates existence...
  • ST demand : Let Delhi have the say
  • 5th Kwatha Festival #1 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 15 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • This Eleventh Edition of Sangai Festival
  • The garden of Kew #2
  • NE International Fashion Week 2022
  • Housing system for sow & piglets
  • Doctors grieving relentlessly, Govt silent
  • Law catching up after 21 years
  • Leima Jagoi @ Nongshaba #1 :: Gallery
  • Manipur Technology innovation Hub
  • North East BJP Karyakartas Sammelan
  • Supreme Court call for revisit of reservation
  • Rural Immersion Camp at West Kameng
  • World Diabetes Day 2022
  • Undeserving PDS rice beneficiaries
  • Leaving the doors wide open
  • On author, research & publication #3
  • COVID-19 Status 13 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • MSAD : newly elected executives for 2022-23
  • 'Trust deficit' in Naga talks
  • Professor Bimola : A Life Fully Lived
  • Love's Twist :: Poem
  • Rani Gaidinliu Training Camp concluded
  • Job for all promise as unemployed rises
  • Presenting Manipur to the world
  • Manipur Fashion Extravaganza #3 :: Gallery
  • Seminar on Role of Women in Sports : Report
  • The great Asian Highway : Tokyo to Istanbul
  • Seminar : Reconstruction of Education
  • 4th National Lok Adalat for the year, 2022
  • Rishi Sunak .. is a pucca English Burra sahib
  • Ningol Chakkouba : Gift presents :: Gallery
  • Conference on Metallomics @ Manipur Univ
  • An awakening sprout in darkness :: Poem
  • Narration from a man who chase mountains
  • Jobs @ JCRE skill solutions, Thangmeiband
  • Masterclass on Social Photography kicks off
  • Training on mushroom cultivation
  • Probe into PMGSY project blot on graft-free
  • Opinion poll & quest for ST status
  • MANITEX @ Nilakuthi #1 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 10 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Consultation: Indigenous Rights in Manipur
  • Aphababu Oiragadi, Shokloidaba Oiragadi
  • Office Assistant @Horizon Studio, Gurgaon
  • Howrah Bridge- A bridge without nuts & bolts!
  • Pollution affects beauty
  • EV boost plan after failure of diesel-auto
  • Raining drugs and drug peddlers
  • Downloadable Manipuri Calendar for 2023
  • COVID-19 Status 09 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Golden Jubilee Manipuri Cinema at IFFI Goa
  • Legal Services Day Ceremony
  • Art of stopping bandhs & blockades
  • Seminar on Role of Women in Sports
  • No time for debate, but action
  • Taking ST campaign to Ministers' doors
  • Camping @Shirui Lily Fest #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 08 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Aku Zeliang : Young Talent of the Year Award
  • 'Soul search' a must for media
  • Safe and sustainable tourism
  • Preserving environment as a Career Choice
  • Manipur in UN's drug cartel map...
  • Manipur on the tourism map ?
  • Hiyang Tannaba @ Loktak #3 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 07 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Application: AgriEntrepreneur across Manipur
  • Sangai Festival 2022 :: Program & Venues
  • Ningol Chakouba at Bengaluru
  • Nightingale Award: 3 nurses from Manipur
  • Uneasy over ambiguous inter-district boundary
  • Prescription from Dr Sapam Ranjan
  • Linthoi Chanambam- Judo Player :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 06 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Will global family planning meet galvanise govt
  • Prohibition law vis-a-vis Manipur
  • Soil: Earth's skin is the environment cleaner
  • The future of students
  • Low conviction diluting object of POCSO
  • Shortage of teachers dating back to 2012
  • Indo-Naga Talks (2012-) :: News Timeline
  • Hari-Uthang Kang Chingba :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 05 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • The garden of Kew
  • Objectionable content have to be answered
  • Rising Sun Water Festival at Umiam Lake
  • Busting fake news a big challenge
  • Ningol on way to her mapam #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 04 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • 3rd Rongmei Freshers' meet in Delhi
  • Consultation on Climate Change in Manipur
  • Soil conservation measures for hill agriculture
  • Pulicat, trading centre since 1st century
  • Quixotically blaming media for blockade call
  • Mature handling of ST campaign
  • Kut Festival @ Churachandpur : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 03 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • 'Lack of Sports Infrastructure in Pherzawl'
  • Delegates wanted for participation at IFFI
  • Legal Awareness through Mobile Van
  • President Murmu's visit to Nagaland ...
  • Winter fruits for glowing skin
  • Protest imminent as Govt eyes Loktak drive
  • Pushes for an 'honourable solution'
  • Kut has become a global craze now
  • AMAND Pune: Cultural Program #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 02 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Requital :: Poem
  • Being Vegan- a big step to protect the Earth
  • Save Meetei and other indigenous people
  • Agniveer Recruitment Rally
  • Social media here to stay
  • Has AFSPA helped in bettering situation ?
  • Kangpat Khullen Primary School :: Gallery
  • On author, research and publication #2
  • Ningol Chakkouba Shopping #2 :: Gallery
  • November Calendar for Year 2022 : Tools
  • Lukanand Ksh : 1st runner up @Mister Intl
  • Chaga Ngee : Festival of the Liangmai
  • Lamyanba Irawat Birth Anniv #4 : Gallery
  • Ningol on way to her mapam #1 :: Gallery
  • Okram Kumar : Archaeological researcher
  • Mera Houchongba @ Kangla #2 :: Gallery
  • Olympians & National awardees of Manipur
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2022 #4: Gallery
  • Rules of English Pronunciation : Download
  • Sub-Syllables in English : Book Download