Sajibu Cheiraoba: One occasion, two narratives
- Part 2 -

Hareshwar Goshwami *

Cheirao-chingkaba at Thangmeiband Cheirao Ching as part of Sajibu Cheiraoba :: April 14th 2022
Cheirao-chingkaba at Thangmeiband Cheirao Ching as part of Sajibu Cheiraoba on April 14th 2022 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

Several justifications exist for choosing the date of Sajibu Cheiraoba. In his book Sajibu Cheiraoba Singshatpagi Mawong, Irom Amubi argues that the 7th day of the Sajibu month (April-May) should be used as the official date for determining Cheiraoba. On the basis of solar calendar, Wahengbam Ibohal Singh thinks the correct day to execute Sajibu Cheiraoba is April 6.

Yet, some other academics think that Cheiraoba should occur in the month of Wakching (December-January). They cite a lot of archaic books to support their claim that Wakching is the first month of the year. Among other references, the ancient text Wakoklon Heelel Thilel Salai Amailon Pukok may be brought up.

The Puya's pertinent passage reads,
"Puyaaashi Ningthem Pamheiba hakthakta sinthok panelep nakhangpiyo Pamheiba Ningthem hakthakphaopata,
Maliya phampal chachahi kumshingi cheishing lee cheichat 3107 sulapane
cheihi kikum houahanpa numittagisin thokpahoupananumit 15 changnawakchingithanintaloiye.
(Khurai Meetei Thoukal Langkal Malup ,Wakoklol Heerel Thirel Salai Amailon Pukok,1972:1).

The aforementioned passage corresponds to the time that the Puya was copied. It claims that the Puya was copied during the reign of Meidingu Pamheiba (Maharaj Garibniwaz), who ruled Manipur between 1709 and 1748 AD. The copying started on the first day of the season's start and was finished by the Wakching (December-January) month's full moon.

Mangangcha Keisham Ibomcha in his book Kumhouba refers to Imoinu Ahonbigi Tungnapham by Yumnamcha Budhichandra and Ningthoumacha Manisana, Kanglei Ningthou Chahi Taramathoi by Ngariyambam Kullachandra Pandit, Tharon by Shri N Ibochouba, and many others who propound the theory that Wakching is the month in which the beginning of the year (Cheiraoba) is to be observed. His calculations are based on how the sun moves.

No doubt, there is some ground for attention on the claim as the sun begins its journey towards north after the winter solstice (December 21 or 22). There could be other factors too. But it may require a systematic research as it would contradict a long established Sajibu basis of new year etc.

In his book Lai Khundil Lalup, Takhellambam Bokul, the former president of Meitei Marup, advanced a different view that the observance of Cheiraoba without finishing the 365 solar cycle days would result in troubles. He writes, "Chahiphadringeida chahigi irattoururabadi phangjabani langjaba Irataduna, aphaba porakpagi mahutta tekchak phangan", (Bokul, Lai Khuldil Lalup,1977: 26)

In his argument against basing the length of the year on the lunar cycle, he claims that there are only 354 days between the first of the year, Sajibu Nongma Panba, and the last day of the year, Lamta Thashi (the new moon in the month of Lamta), leaving 11 days short of the required 365. To close the loophole, correction known as Thananba (Malamash) occasionally takes place.

He continues by saying that rites associated with Saroi Khangba, Lai Khundil Lalup, and Shingtek-Shingthaba are all somehow tied to time keeping. The counting of the little twigs (shings) that stand in for the days in the Lai Khundil Lalup ceremony, connected to the number of days (numit), is a necessary component of the ritual. A year is deemed to have ended after there are 365 shings (little twigs).

The ritual Lai Khundil Lalup is performed every year in the last Saturday of the month of Lamta which he considers to be the last month. From this it can be assumed that the month Sajibu preceded by the month Lamta as the first month of the Meitei calendar year. This proposition opens up one question that on which day of Sajibu, the Meitei new year is to be celebrated ?

Generally, the first day of Sajibu is to be taken as the new year. But to him (Takhellambam Bokul) the first day of Sajibu does not have the complete 365 days. This could be one of the reasons why Keisham Ibomcha in the chart included in his book Kum Houba gives 13/14 April (in the month of Sajibu) as new year celebrated by Apokpa Marup, Meetei Marup and Meitei Hindus in Manipur.

Sajibu Cheiraoba of the Meitei Hindus

The Meitei Hindus of Manipur and other parts of the world celebrate the new year, or Sajibu Cheiraoba, every year around the middle of April when the sun enters the house of Aries, or Mesha Rashi. This day is also referred to as Mesha Sankranti, which marks the sun's transition into the house of Aries. Every year, the date normally falls on April 13 or 14, and according to many local and regional calendars, it marks the beginning of the first month.

It is thought that Raja Rishi Bheigyachandra (Chingthang-khomba), who ruled Manipur in 1760 AD (1682 Sakabda), introduced the Sajibu Cheiraoba practiced by the Meitei Hindus. He is also an exponent of another Manipuri cheichatlon (calendar) Chandrabda.

"Hiyangeitha 12 nisagolsenda Maharaj Jaisinghga Bhagabati Thakurga
Kabo Khumpong-mayumcha Maniram Singh Sidanandaga (Sidhantaga)
mapumanaiahum mana tannaduna Meitei Kang-leipakki sakamalingkhattuna Panjithok-a.
(Khelchandra-Ibungohal, Cheitharol Kumbabaiii, 2005:123).

In the 'new order' Meiteis developed into masters of astrology. Thanks to their ancient understanding of the archaic Meitei scriptures and Vedic Shastra, which peaked during the reign of Raja Rishi Bheigyachandra (1759-1761, 1763-1798). Without a doubt, the Meiteis were well-versed in astrology even before Raja Rishi Bheigyachandra came to power.

It is clear from the fact that the renowned Kaughmadaw (Kumudaw) Pagoda's foundation stone in Myanmar was put on the day and hour specified by a Manipuri Brahman by the name of Jibananda Thakur. (Khelchandra, Ariba Manipuri Sahityagi Itihas, 1992: 218). Here it may be pertinent to state that it was largely due to the efforts made by Khumbong Maniram Singh Sidhanta, Bhagyabati Thakur, Tai-bangjam Shridam, Chirom Shyamram, Oinam Anand-ram, Yendremba Gangaram, and Achoiba Samram that a new calendar for Manipur called Chandrabda was introduced.

According to some academics, the same year Shajibu Cheiraoba that falls on April 13/14 and followed by Meitei Hindus was also initiated. Thus, Bheigyachandra Maharaja could very well be one of the exponents of Sajibu Cheiraoba that falls on April 13 or 14 based on Solar calendar of the Luni-Solar structure.

The name Sajibu Cheiraoba (new year in the month of Sajibu), the first month of Manipuri calendar is adopted from the traditional Meitei appellation Cheiraoba. According to some academics, the celebration's date was taken directly from the Bengali calendar. However, Sajibu Cheiraoba, as practiced by Meitei Hindus, may have been created and popularized by Raja Rishi Bheigyachandra, as previously stated.

Cheiraoba Chak Katpa at entrance Gate of every house in Imphal :: March 22nd 2023
Cheiraoba Chak Katpa at entrance Gate of every house in Imphal on March 22nd 2023 :: Pix - Khaba Kh

Without a doubt, the Bengali calendar may have had some influence in setting the date based on the motion of the sun and moon. The day coincides with the first day of the Bengali Hindu calendar month of Baishakh, also known as Pohela Boishakh or Poila Baishakh. The first day of Baishakh always falls on April 13 or 14.

In addition to Bengal, numerous non-Hindi speaking Indian States including Assam, Kerala, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, and Punjabas well as numerous South-East Asian Nations— including Myan-mar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, and Bangladesh—as well as some groups within the Chittagong Hill Tracts—celebrate the new year on April 13 or 14 every year, depending on local or regional astrological forecasts.

Assam celebrates the occasion as Bohag or Rongali Bihu, Bengal and Bangladesh as Poila Baishakh (Pohela Baishakh), Tamil Nadu as Puthandu, Tripura as Boisuk, Punjab as Baishakhi or Baishakh, the Chittagong Hills as Sangrai by the Marma people and Biju by the Chakma people, Myanmar as Thingyan, Cambodia as Chaul Chnam Thmey, Sri Lanka as Aluth Avurudda, Thailand as Sonkran, Laos as Bpee Mai/Sonkran and so on. The event may be observed for two to five days in various places.

Thus, Sajibu Cheiraoba based on Solar calendar of the Luni-Solar structure is celebrated in mid-April by the Meitei Hindus and Meiteis who believe in 365.6 days as a full cycle of a year with many culturally similar people of the South-east Asia. In some places, the festival is observed for two to five days.

Here, it might be pertinent to note that, contrary to what some have said, the celebration of the occasion in Manipur has nothing to do with the Hindu Bengali Siva worship ceremony known as Charak Pujah.

The Meitei Hindus' Cheiraoba rite is very distinct from the Charak Pujah ritual in terms of its essence. The human Charak is dragged around with a rope that is attached to a pole during the Charak Puja event after being pierced with hooks called borshi on his back. Also, on the final day of Chaitra/Chaitro, at midnight, Charak Puja is performed.

A month before Chaitra Sankranti, which often falls on the final week of March or the first or second week of April, planning for the festival of Charak Puja, however, normally begins. According to the Bengali calendar, the months of Chaitra (March/April) and Baishakh (April/May) are considered the first and last months of the year, respectively. As a result, there are no similarities between Charak Puja and the Meitei Hindus' celebration of Cheiraoba in Sajibu.

Observation of the Festival

Even though the event is commemorated on different dates in Manipur, the way it is observed is essentially the same. In general, the celebration consists of two parts. Lai Khundin Lalupiv, Shingthekpa-Shingthabav, Shingshatpavi, Cheithabavii, Kongba Leithong Phatpa (digging the hole at Kongba), and Sajibu Leikhul Phunba (closing up the hole in Shajibu) are all included in the first section.

Usually, the priest from the palace performs this part at the national level. The second part is typically done at the family or home level.

As a custom, a local priest (Maiba) casts substitute with a Ngamu (Lata fish) before Lainingthou Sanamahi on behalf of each member of the family to ward off bad luck on the day of Cheiraoba. The owner places the fish in a pond and watches the fish's behavior to determine its fate. It is regarded as a positive omen if the fish make no noise and dive right into the water.

It is customary to prepare and serve Yumlai (household deities) and Lamlai (alfresco deities), a family lunch that includes a range of foods and seasonal fresh vegetables after cleaning the house and household things. Every home performs special worship to the household deities Lainingthou Sanamahi and Leimaren Shidabi for the health and prosperity of the family in the upcoming years.

The offerings prepared in this way are cooked, and before the entire family consumes them, a tiny portion of it is placed at the homestead's gate, the Phunga Lairu (hearth of the family) etc. Following the lunch, people used to ascend a nearby hill that the Meiteis believed to be the abode of Gods and Goddesses.

They are at least reminded by this story that Manipur is a place of hills and valleys, and that many of their ancestors originally resided there. There are more explanations in this regard. The day is also celebrated as a time for family get-togethers, yearly house cleaning, greetings, water pouring, and visiting temples throughout much of Southeast Asia.

Several traditional practices followed in other Southeast Asian nations and those of Manipur are nearly comparable, with the exception of the water-pouring component.

To be continued...

* Hareshwar Goshwami (Writer and Politician) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 09 April 2024

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