TODAY -

Tha, Tha Thabungton: Reviewing a Lullaby

James Oinam *

Tha Tha Thabungton........ : A scene from 'Heyang Athouba' : Rhythm of Manipur's 3rd Opera Production at JN Manipur Dance Akademi, Imphal on 28th July 2013
Tha Tha Thabungton........ : A scene from 'Heyang Athouba' : Rhythm of Manipur's 3rd Opera Production at JN Manipur Dance Akademi, Imphal on 28th July 2013 :: Pix - Bullu Raj



It is not just in our gut feelings but also a few studies that have shown beneficial mental and physical health effects of lullaby. Lullaby has shown to decrease heartbeat of prematurely born babies, improve respiration, digestion, and not to mention sleep.

Even without all the utilitarian imperatives mentioned, I think it is valuable in itself for its beauty, as it is about living and not just surviving. In this article, I would like to take up a Manipuri lullaby called Tha, Tha Thabungton I came across on the YouTube (from Matamgi Manipur film, 1972).

The version—more than one version of this lullaby exists in Manipur - in this movie seems to have the main ingredients of a lullaby: short simple rhyming words, with 'silences' in between the words, for easy comprehension by a developing brain of a child. The central character in the song is the moon (tha). I wonder if 'thabungton' is shortened form for 'tha mapung maton' (moon-full-top, meaning full moon).

The lyrics are a bit archaic but overall idea is clear, and I will compare this lullaby with two other lullabies that I came across on the internet which also mention the moon. These are a German lullaby called 'The Moon Has Risen' and a Chinese lullaby called 'Northeastern Cradle Song'.

In all three of them, stillness and quietness are emphasized (Manipuri: 'Ngaanli chikna nongmadon' [Shining quietly in the sky]; German: 'The world in stillness clouded'; Chinese: 'The moon is bright, the wind is quiet'). This might have come from the necessity of tranquillity to fall asleep.

Interestingly enough, in all of them the trees/forests are also mentioned (Manipuri: 'Upaal waapaal sumkharey' [The trees and the bamboos are put to sleep]; German: 'The woods stand still in shadows'; Chinese: 'The tree leaves hang over the window'). This shows our connection with the forests or nature.

In the Chinese and Manipuri versions, the baby is wished to have sweet dreams (Chatlo chatlo mangleibaakta: Go, go to the dreamland). But the German version is complicated and philosophical (When from the earth You [God] take us//Let heaven's joy await us [clearly it is talking about death and the netherworld]).

Osho said, 'No one has gone to heaven or hell and come back. Then how do we know they exist?' On the other hand, most of us have been to the dream world. In the German version, going to sleep has been substituted by dying, and the dreamland by heaven.

One might ask, 'Is our conception of the netherworld (heaven and hell) born out of our perception of the dream world?' In the Christmas carol 'Silent Night', baby Jesus is asked to go to 'heavenly sleep' (Christmas carols are said to be sung like lullabies).

One thing that stands out in the Manipuri lullaby is the use of 'uirum, uirum' (sleepy, sleepy) in more than one place. I think this acts as a 'prodding'. (Mothers would make pee-ing sound (shh..) when they want the baby to pee before going to bed. The connection between mother and child can be quite intimate.

In Kangpokpi, Manipur, I have seen tribal mother chewing the food on behalf of the baby and then feeding mouth to mouth.)

In Manipur there is a saying, 'If you don't complete your story before you go to sleep, elephants will chase you in your dreams.' This belief acknowledges how our actions in our waking state influence our dream world. This is just like the belief that our actions while we are alive will determine where we'll go when we die.

Chingtamlen has pointed out that Meiteis used to sing a requiem at the time of death. The relatives of the dying person would ask the person to be born again to them in the song. Music is considered to be one of most difficult to define art forms, and one that is closest to god. There is no need for an average mother to panic.

The simplest form of 'lullaby' I have seen in Manipur is tapping the baby on the chest or back gently with the hands while making a humming sound (Hmm..).

References

o YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1tzw9EnSjA
o http://sanatombi-angomcha.blogspot.in/2011/07/tha-tha-thabungton-lyrics.html
o The Moon Has Risen lyrics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Mond_ist_aufgegangen
o Northeastern Cradle Song: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeastern_Cradle_Song


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT0com
This article was posted on June 17, 2017.


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