TODAY -

Romancing the Tribal Culture via Modern Theatre
- Part 3 -
- An experience with Khenjonglang at Sandang Shenba Maring Khun -

BC Khuman *



Shri Vedeshwar Sharma, Assistant Secretary of Manipur State Kala Akademi in his address as the Guest-of-honour, first dwelt upon the changing mindset and radical outlook of the present generation in their world view vis--vis enhancement of the quality of life. He observed that caste-based discrimination has become today outdated, thereby enabling our youth to march forward with progressive ideas and mutual co-operations between themselves, proving themselves worthy of the spirit of the modern age.

After all history is dynamic, not static. Sharma further stimulated the audience with his unbiased attitude and frank expression as he pointed to himself as a standing proof of the secular mindset of the new generation. Though a Brahmin by birth (considered to be of the highest caste in the hierarchy of orthodox Hindu social system), he freely mixes with and dines with anybody belonging to any caste, creed or religion, he informed.

Referring to the intrinsic potentiality of art and culture in forging one's character and attitude, particularly that of the youth, he said that it is high time the notion of 'theatre in education' was put into practice by getting it incorporated in the educational curriculum of schools and colleges.

He also earnestly appealed to the tribal artists and cultural activists to remain alert and well-informed by all possible means such as consulting with their Meitei counterparts who are their sympathisers in the field, visiting concerned offices now and then etc so that they could properly reap the benefits offered to them by the Government.

Shri Suman Kumar, faculty member of the NSD, New Delhi, in his address as the second Guest-of-honour briefly recounted the NSD's role in trying to revive and rejuvenate the endangered cultures of the minorities (the tribals etc) mainly through theatrical enterprises. He happily acknowledged that local artists of the Sandang Shenba Maring village have lots of potential in them as performing artists that have been awaiting proper grooming and guidance till this day. He sincerely thanked the villagers for their enthusiastic response in organizing this workshop which had been a wonderful experience for him.

Mr. M.I. Dominic Kansouwa, Executive Member, ADC, Sadar Hills Kangpokpi, in his speech as the third Guest-of-Honour, recounted the rich cultural heritage of the Maring. Mr. Dominique regretted for the present state of Maring traditional culture, which is suffering under the impact of modernisation, like any other tribal culture or otherwise.

This issue entails due attention from all quarters the Government, the public, the NGOs, the scholars and the intellectuals, he observed. He told the audience that they are also thinking about opening a cultural museum of their own just as Prof. Tombi has suggested in his speech. Mr Dominic also narrated that there was initially an apprehension among the village youths (participants of the workshop) whether a profession in art and culture could provide them livelihood. But 'madam' Thanil Leima had assured them that it could, provided one is truly dedicated and firm-footed, he remembered.

Shri G. Gourakeshwar Sharma, Padmashri, the noted guru of Manipuri martial arts, in his address as the Chief Guest, enlightened and entertained the audience with his well-founded knowledge about the cultural history of Manipur. He recapitulated the forgoing deliberations and briefly supplemented the points as the Chief Guest.

Referring to the cultural relationship between the Meitei and the Maring he remarked that the 'tolok' (linen headgear) of the Maring which is very much unique among the tribes of Manipur has patterns and colours derived from 'Pakhangba' the god of the Meities, who usually takes the form of a snake. About the linguistic affinity also he gave examples by uttering a few Maring words which were not only synonymous but also homophonous.

Shri Sharma earnestly appealed to all culture lovers of the State to work dedicated for culture without any mercenary motive. He encouraged them by assuring that government is to come to their aid with adequate financial support provided they work with genuine interest.

In a jovial mood the septuagenarian grand master of martial arts said, 'We have a very soft corner for the Chingmee. Please don't pretend not seeing it.' To end his speech he recited a Maring folk-song of romantic theme giving its meaning in Meiteilon line by line to the applause of the audience. I could not but admire the high literary quality of the verse. Perhaps with this speech of the Chief Guest, the ongoing scene of the ceremonial function reached its climax.

Dr. K. Sobita Devi, the functional president also added new insights to the ongoing discourse while supplementing the various points having so far presented by the speakers on the dais. As the Director of the department of Art and Culture, Government of Manipur, she also assured the villagers of the Maring Khun of financial assistance to their culture workers, provided they duly apply for it.

Regarding the social and cultural relationship of the Maring and the Meitei she even recounted an historical fact which would be of paramount interest to the students of Manipuri culture. The festival of 'Mera Houchongba', she pointed out, can start customarily only when a particular species of flower is ceremonially offered by the Maring tribe to the Meitei king.

This single fact speaks volume of the cultural interrelationship between the Maring and the Meitei. After all it was not without reason that the brave Marings who were excellent in archery were known as 'Nongpok Thongakpa' (Eastern Sentry), which exemplifies the undisputed role of the Marings in the polity of Manipur during the monarchic rule.

She also recalled the proud story of one Maring subject having been honoured by the king of Manipur in the past. In any case, honouring an individual of a distinct tribe can be viewed as a symbolic gesture of honouring the tribe itself, since it recognizes the indigenous quality of the tribe which is inherently manifest in the individual concerned. To conclude her speech she reminded that preservation and promotion of tribal culture could be made possible only when the public gives full support to the Government machinery.

A vote of thanks was proposed by Mr. Koning Medar. Every single breath of his resounded the profound gratitude of the villagers to everybody concerned for enlightening them on an aspect of culture during the workshop. Of course there was also, as I could perceive, an unmistakable anxiety in them for future course of progress in case they were left alone in the field. That point is not to be taken lightly.

Concluded....




* BC Khuman wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 26, 2010.


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