TODAY -

Heraka: The primordial religion

Budha Kamei *



The Zeliangrong people of North East have followed a profound indigenous religion known as the Heraka. Heraka literally means in Zemei pure and not impure. Hera means smaller deities; Ka means fence, or give up, to obstruct, to avoid. So all prohibitions and sacrifices associated with the smaller gods must be fenced out, avoided and only Tingwang must be worshipped. This is the meaning of Heraka.

Here, the purity indicates no blood sacrifices and adoption of a single God or worship of Tingwang, so it is monotheism. In fact Heraka is not a departure from the traditional Zeliangrong people but a rational improvement on it. (N.C. Zeliang: 1980, The word of God, Dimapur, p.9) The main concept of Heraka religion is that those who can obey the authentic principle of Heraka religion will be blessed good fortune in their life and also the immortal souls of good doers will go to God's kingdom. The total figure of Heraka population in North East India is 25,000 (Twenty five thousand) approximately according to 2001 census. They use an earring as a symbol of Heraka believer.

Religion is the system of worship of God by men with a code of spiritual, moral, social behaviour dealing with God, men and society. The Heraka religion is a primordial religion existing since the beginning of time, ancient and eternal. Once upon a time, the western anthropologists led by E. B. Tylor described the Tribal religion as Animism which means belief in spiritual beings, the spirits, ghosts and demons. When this concept is applied, every religion has some beliefs in spiritual beings.

Animism was a primordial stage of every traditional religion. Now, it becomes a mistaken notion because it was quickly outgrown by the religious and spiritual development of the community concerned. Western observers including the anthropologists and sociologists describe that historically evolved religion is not animism. So, the Zeliangrong religion is not an animistic cult. (Gangmumei Kamei: 2004, The History of Zeliangrong Nagas from Makhel to Rani Gaidinlu, Delhi, Pp.262-263)

The Zeliangrong people believe in the existence of one supreme God called Tingwang who is the creator of the Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, Water, Air, Human, Animals and all living things. (Ramkhui Newme:1991, Tingwang Hingde, Haflong,p.4) Tingwang literally means the Heavenly God, or God of the sky or Lord of the Universe. He is eternal, no beginning and no end, source of life, giver of the soul and the ultimate goal of the human soul. He is the architect of men's destiny, holy, source of holiness, source of knowledge and wisdom. He is not created. He creates out of nothing by His will. He just exists. He is benevolent, dispenser of welfare and prosperity to men. He is really omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. (Gangmumei Kamei: 2005, The Zeliangrong Primordial Religion, Pp.5-6) Thus, Heraka people believe in Him only.

The Zeliangrong traditional religion is polytheism; worship of many gods in different categories though it gives emphasis to the worship of Tingwang. It was Haipou Jadonnang, the prophet of the 20th century who first introduced reformation in traditional religion. As a part of purification of his religion, he abolished irrational taboos and gennas. He worshipped Tingwang through prayer. He said "Worshiping consisted of facing east, putting the hands together and saying, 'Ragwang', Do what is good for us." He composed religious hymns to be sung during the worship of Tingwang. He constructed temple called Kao Kai for the purpose of worship of Tingwang. He also introduced idol worship on the way of Hindu idolatry. But he did not worship Hindu deities.

Some scholars observe that the new religion of Jadonnang is a synthesis of Christian Monotheism and Hindu temple idolatry culture. Whatever he introduced reformation in the traditional religion was the revelations of God. He rediscovered the ancient Bhubon cave of God Bisnu and worshipped Him and Tingwang there. It was during his last pilgrimage at Bhubon cave in the year 1931, Tingwang through God Bisnu/Munseniu revealed a new cult to Haipou Jadonnang and Rani Gaidinlu. It was organized by Rani Gaidinlu because of premature death of Haipou Jadonnang and the new cult came to be known as Heraka.

In the article 'The origin and Reformation of Heraka', Pautanzan Newme says,
The first phase of teaching: Rani Gaidinlu told them to offer sacrifices to one God, Tingwang. In this phase blood sacrifice was allowed.
The second phase of teaching: Rani Gaidinlu advised them while performing puja to cut with a dao if it was a big animal, and to use a piece of stick with smaller animals like hen while holding the legs and let blood shed. At this stage, the sacrificial ceremony was a little bit diminished than the first phase. This was introduced after fifteen years.

The third phase of teaching : This was introduced after a further ten years. She instructed her followers that one should perform puja with the animal tied its mouth stuffed with a rag and killed. But a chicken must be killed with the hand, by twisting the neck, without oozing any blood. In this phase, the sacrifice of animals is further diminished.

The fourth phase of teaching : After another five years the fourth phase was introduced. On the 11th of January 1990, at Kapelo village of North Cachar Hills, Rani Gaidinlu vigorously declared and confessed before the general public that we have fully done the requirement of sacrificial oblation in puja. Now, influential sacrifices of animals in any puja are to be totally abolished. And we are free to perform puja with a clean mind and body at any specific time and day. Rani Gaidinlu proclaimed to the people : While performing puja with a clean mind and body, recite the Holy psalms and sing the prayer songs; you would be blessed for sound health and to live a very happy life free from evils spirits. And if anything wrong with you, you may throw it upon me—I can affirmably bear such things for your sake. (P. Newme 2002:4)

Thus, abolishing of sacrifice brings about a strong sense of purity. This gives way to the new-simply singing the psalms and praying with an empty hand. Bhubon cave is one of the holiest places in the world located in the eastern side of Moti Nagar Bazar in Cachar District of Assam. Moreover, it is considered to be as one of the Godly pilgrimages for all human beings in the belief that occasionally all heads of Gods came together for meeting and the souls of all kings or rulers used to house after death in this cave.

This cave was first discovered by Gairemnang, semi folk Hero but it was unknown to the people. It was rediscovered by Haipou Jadonnang. For the Heraka, Bhubon cave represents the point of reformation began there because in this cave the blessing of Tingwang was bestowed upon Hapou Jadonnang and Rani Gaidinlu to introduce a new cult in the Zeliangrong society. Because of this fact, it becomes a pilgrimage site for the Heraka people in the month of February every year.

Kalumki means house of worship (Kalum= worship; Ki=house). The Kalumki is separate from the rest of the village in the way it is conceived, as physically treated and respected. Every Heraka village must have one Kalumki and it is the most sacred ground for the Heraka. It is usually built on the highest point of a village. It is done in the same model of the first temple built by Haipou Jadonnang and Rani Gaidinlu invoking as a chain of memory for legitimation.

Every Kalumki must have a Naimik Kakelum Be Bam, place of sunrise prayer outside facing east. East is vital for two factors: it signifies the direction of Bhubon cave, as well as that of the sunrise, which is great importance during Jalua, full moon ritual. The sunrise prayer place must be elevated and is reached by the three steps symbolizing life-death -life. There is a veranda before entering the Kalumki. The main entrance is called Muidi; once inside there is another side entrance called Muicheiki, small door on the right, as it is strictly forbidden to place it on the left. If using the Muicheiki, one must re-enter using the same door.

Before entering the compound of the Kalumki, shoes must be removed. Inside there are two sections : the right for the male and the left for female. On the left there is a bench facing the congregation for the girls specially chosen to serve the Heraka community and on the right is reserved for the secretary, chairman, president, and priest of the village. Podiums are also present on both sides for those wanting to say a few words. On the podium is written 'Tingwang Hingde' and below that 'Sam Yi Besa Bam' (Speak the truthfulness).

At the front of the Kalumki is the altar, centrally placed and elevated. One must climb the three steps to it, proceeding the right leg, then left, and right. The altar is on two levels. On the first level, only fruits, vegetables and flowers can be placed while the second level is for coins and paper money. This offering is accompanied by a prayer (personal and private). Once that is finished, one must turn anticlockwise and return to one's place. While one waits to reach the altar, a space must be kept between the right and the left for Tingwang to come and go in –between. When one looks directly above from the altar, there is a small opening into a short wooden tower.(Arkotong Longkumar:2008, Where Do I Belong: Evolving Reform and Identity Amongst the Zeme Heraka of North Cachar Hills, Assam, India, Phd Thesis, Edinburgh, 2008)

The way of worship in the Heraka religion is very simple. It is a devotional worship. In the Heraka religion prayer may be performed individually or collectively at any time and day, whenever require. An individual may offer prayer every day at the morning and in the evening usually before sleep. The devotees compulsorily offer sunrise prayer on every Full Moon day and the Heraka New Year Day at Kelumki. An individual or collectively offers prayer at the time of ailments and birth or death of a person etc. They pray at Kelumki on the Full Moon Day and the Heraka New Year Day.

In the early morning, they gather at Kelumki and recite hymns and offer collective Sunrise Prayer. The Priest offers prayer to Tingwang. Then, they enter Kelumki in singing devotional song. Individual member also offers prayer at the holy Altar. They sing a rejoicing song in praise of Tingwang. On the Heraka New Year Day, they sing a devotional song followed by incantation of Heraka hymn and drink Telau dui (Holy water).(Ramkui Zeliang: Heraka: The primordial Religion in a workshop on Philosophy and Spirituality of Eternal/Primordial Religions and Culture of Janajatis of North East India held in Guwahati from 22nd to 24th Oct. 2010)

Tingkupau, priest is the head of the village. He plays a leading role in all religious activities of the village. He is regarded as a commune with God. So, he is respected by all as Divinity. The priest of Heraka is selected to the oldest male from amongst the villagers who has courage enough and experienced in worshipping to control his villagers and having fanatic childlike minded person. When the priest is once selected then he has to govern the role of priest till his long life time. The priest and the holy altar stone must be properly maintained and should be considered it as the Chief and the dependency of the village respectively. Tingkupau has to perform every prayer of the village such as to perform prayer for good health and rich harvest of the village both in individual or collective affairs. He will broadcast the day of prayer on the eve of every prayer and perform prayer on every important festival and also must attend all the festivals.

Like other religion of the world, Heraka also has rules to be observed by the devotees known as Hingde book. This Hingde book speaks about eight steps. They are: 1. Tingwang created the earth and will destroy it again but believe in Him and sing His praises and pray to Him.

2. Respect your parents and elders and preserve the good Zeliangrong culture.
3. Have a disciplined mind and a clean body. Selflessness will make your image wonderful and you will become the son/daughter of Tingwang.
4. In all speech and work your mind must be truthful. Search for knowledge and light but breed not jealousy and enmity.
5. Love all of Tingwang's sons and daughters and search the way for happiness and peace.
6. Observe Full moon day well
7. Set up a Kalumki and pray with an empty hand
8. Have faith in rebirth (Ramkui Newme: 1991, Tingwang Hingde, Haflong, Pp.10-11)

Like other communities of the world, the Heraka people also celebrate Hengi, Festivals in all seasons and in almost every month related with the stages of agricultu-ral operations according to the Lunar Calendar. Every festival begin with prayer to Tingwang for yielding abundant crops, good health and prosperous life of the villagers and to dispels all evil fates.

The village authorities called Paime/Kelodeime fixe the suitable date or days of each festival according to agriculture seasons. The important festivals are:
a) Hepumra, Heraka New Year observes on the first Crescent month of the year in January,
b) Helei ngi, seed sowing festival observes 3 (three) days in the month of March,
c) Nchang ngi observes 1(one) day in the month of June,
d) Puakpat ngi, new crops harvesting festival observes 3 (three) days in the month of September or October, and
e) Hega ngi, boon Festival or Year ending Festival observes 3 (three) days, two days ahead before the Full Moon day of the last month of the year (i.e. December/January).

Other minor Merry-making festivals which do not require prayer had been restrained to observe in the Heraka religion. Out of the 5 (five) festivals, Hega ngi is the biggest festivals of the year. Hega ngi literally means boon festival; Hega= Boon or good luck, Ngi= Festival. It is believed that those people who can get chances to observe this Hega ngi festival is considered to be the luckiest person.

In the Hega ngi Festival, Tingwang M'pua Peibam Mai, offering day of newly cultivated crops to Almighty God is the main festival of Hega ngi. This is the first day of the festival. The other second and third are observed as Ngi Di Mai and Puapat Mai respectively. Parting ceremonial service to the departed souls of the preceding year is also observed in this festival.

It is believed that Telau dui is the holiest water which is available only in Bhubon Cave. Therefore, Rani Gaidinliu used this Telau dui for healing the sufferings of her followers during her freedom struggle against the British. The Heraka people use to collect Telau dui from Bhubon Cave every year. It is used on the inaugural day of a new house of worship and sprinkling of Telau dui upon the person indicates converted into Heraka religion.

Heraka people believe in rebirth of human soul. Although, the living human body dies, its soul is not death since it comes from Tingwang. It is believed that all souls of righteousness and good doers will go the Kingdom of God after death or born again to human life in a high ranking family according to the Judgment of the Supreme God and live in a notable life in this earth. And ultimately, those who had done good deeds in all generation of his/her life in this world will certainly go to the Kingdom (Heaven) of God living eternally liberation from beyond all miserable life after death. But on the contrary, mankind of falsehood, evil doers, and sinners will be born again and again after death into the lower forms of destitute life as retribution and ultimately its soul would become extinct after like a dew drop falls and dried up.

In conformity with the expression of rebirth at length by Rani Gaidinliu, all Heraka followers have fully been believed in the re-birth with the vision of blissfully life in heaven and fear of retribution or punishment to sinners by the Tingwang after death is the main objective of believing re-birth in the Heraka religion.

Thus, Heraka is a pure religion of Zeliangrong people of North East.


* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on March 06, 2011.


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