TODAY -

Shumang Lila's successful voyage to the past : Rediscovery Of Manipur

Seram Neken *

A play during 37th edition of All Manipur Shumang Leela Festival 2009 at Iboyaima Shanglen Palace compound
A play during 37th edition of All Manipur Shumang Leela Festival 2009 at Iboyaima Shanglen Palace compound
Pix - Jinendra Maibam



Two persons from Thanga area were arrested for reportedly killing and butchering the 'Sangai' a few days back. Had they witnessed the Shumang Lila "E Mari" of Sana Leibak Nachom Artistes' Association, they would not have killed the precious animal. Rather they would have worshipped the endangered creature as their forefather.

The hill and valley peoples of Manipur had their common origin, harmonious relationship, supportive economy and co-operative defense system long before the intrusion of alien faiths and subversive political-economy into this land. Although frequent infightings among the various indigenous clans and also with outside invaders disturbed the balanced existence of these groups at various points of time, the inherent intimacy could well be regained in the system. However, with the coming of alien faiths and peoples from outside, irrevocable wedge appeared between the inhabitants of the hills and the valley.

Political compulsions, religious bigotries and consequent social disparities steadily became wounds in the harmonious existence of the groups. Thus, the present chaos in the state is the gradual outcome of historical realities which happened in the long beleaguered history of Manipur nation. It is now time for all the communities residing in the state to forget the erring past and come together to regain the harmony of the glorious ancient days. This probably is the overall message conveyed by the plays displayed at the 9th Shumang Lila Ningtham Kummei organized by Manipur State Shumang Lila Council.


The news of 'Sangai' slaughter has surely shocked many Manipuris, particularly those natural conservationists of the state. The more painful and terrifying would be those who have recently witnessed the Shumang Lila 'Ee Mari' of the Sana Leibak Nachom Artistes' Association during the ongoing Ningtham Kumei at Iboyaima Shumang Lila Sanglen. Had the two persons seen the said Shumang Lila, they would not have killed the precious animal. Rather they would worship the endangered creature as their forefather. When such valuable plays reach the nook and corner of the state, Manipur can save its precious fauna. This is the potential of Shumang Lila, the best localized mass medium of Manipuris.

The ancient civilization of Manipuris had all the elements of an advanced social environment with an inherent political acumen, a self-reliance economy, technological and warfare skills, and a dignified existence. Peace, harmony, coordination and cooperation amidst the frequent enmities and fights in between were the features of the composite nation. Just like the other ancient world civilizations, Manipur has a big treasure of myths and legends that speak volumes of evolution of the universe, philosophies surrounding creation of human beings, inseparable relations between nature and mankind, ancient scientific discoveries and technological inventions, patriotism and sacrifices etc. they contribute significantly to the art, literature, sports and culture of the native Manipuris.

The play "E Mari" skillfully depicted the invention of the floating boat by Luwang King Punshiba for facilitating conveyance on water. The play scripted by Maipaksana Haorongbam and directed by O. Prafullochandra proficiently revealed 'Sangai', the unique fauna of the state as an incarnation from the person of Luwang Putangkoi (the eldest son of Luwang king Punsiba). It also well illustrated how Manipur's state tree 'Uningthou' was mythically transformed from 'Khoiren Naha Saphaba'. As nature in the form of trees, animals, rivers, mountains and stars were depicted as having blood relations with mankind, these legends definitely insisted the audience members to stick to conservation of nature as their forefathers.

Naharol Khongthang Artistes' Association's 'Nungshibagidamak' narrated the story of evolution of mankind in Meitei mythology. The rich heritage of the Meiteis was superbly imaged in the play scripted by Y. Mani and directed by L. Ibotombi Sharma. While depicting the indelible relations between God and human beings, the play tried to instill the sense of unparallel superiority of God over mankind, and also the loyalty to God necessary for every human being. The cordial relations between the Meiteis and the hill tribal communities in the times of yore were beautifully depicted in Tomthin Artistes' Association's 'Nasunglang Gi' directed by Birjit Ngangomba.

Thirteen Shumang Lila parties performing on mythical and historical themes are taking part in this festival-cum-competitive annual event which ends today. Kamakhya Sangeet Mandal's play 'Eikhoi Amattani' written and directed by S. Birkumar narrated how king Chingthangkhomba endeavored to unite the hill and valley peoples during the 1760s.

Ningthemcha Wairokpa's 'Tampha Wangamlon' performed by Chumthang Creative Artistes' Association and Playwright Chana Lukhoi's 'Khullakpa' performed by Poklen Pokpa Artistes' Association were plays which trace the origin and identity of the Meiteis.

Brilliant Mass Theatre's 'Mee Otpa Nonglei' written by Kiran Meitei and directed by Arapti Iboyaima portrayed the ideal of equal treatment of all sects and religions. Lamjingba Artistes' Union played Arun Laishram's 'Surel Singkakngamba' and North Imphal Manipur Jatra Mandal performed Sanaton Nongthomba's 'Hangkoksana'.

Peacemaker Artistes' Association's 'Nupigi Thamoi' written by Manaobi MM depicted the ideal character of women in Meitei tradition. The ever famous romantic tales of hill lass 'Engallei' was played by Dedicated World Artistes' Association on the story of Ch Tejkumar.

Sangai Artistes' Association's play 'Nungshiba Mapum Puwari machet' written by Imo Heisnamba narrated the story of legendary 'Sanongba Higaiwaa' and the subsequent establishment of Meitei Pangals in Manipur. On the last day today, Imphal Jatra cum Drama Association will act on Ranjit Ningthouja's script 'Nachom' based on the story of legendary 'Naothingkhong' and 'Petanga'.

Majority of the stories dwell on rediscovering the identity of native communities and moulding emotional integrity among various ethnic groups of the state. Many a valuable legendary and mythical tales, which otherwise remained unreached to the contemporary generation, have been amazingly narrated to the audience during this event. This time, Shumang Lila is able to skillfully unlock a variety of momentous historical episodes, meaningful legends and evocative myths for the posterity.

The quantum of crowd is somewhat smaller as compared to previous festivals of such types at Iboyaima Sanglen, Imphal where encouragingly more and more elders have now joined the horde of spectators. Quite superbly, some of the artistes expressed their high professionalism with intact dialogue, originality of acting, colorful costumes and attitude to the satisfaction of the spectators. Hopefully, this experimentation of the state Shumang Lila parties will somewhat be successful in rebuilding a composite Manipur.

Manipuri Shumang Lila has no parallel among the other traditional media in the country. In terms of effectiveness and artistic values, it is highly superior to the Bengal's Jatra, Gujarat's Bhavai, Maharastra's Tamasha, Karnataka's Yakshagana and Nautankee of northern Indian states.

For years, Shumang Lila has been serving as society's mirror and educating native peoples with useful messages pertaining to a variety of themes. In addition to playing historical and mythical plays, Shumang Lila parties are expected to perform social plays on a variety of modern themes to educate the contemporary people. It remains the only indigenous medium that can counter the negative impacts of new media like the satellite cable networks and bollywood films.

It is also necessary that the state government establishes an academy solely for conducting research and training on Shumang Lila, which remains the best medium of mass communication in Manipur. The retired Shumang Lila personalities (artistes, directors etc.) may well be accommodated as professors of the proposed institution, where many young talented artistes of the state can be trained in the same manner as National School of Drama (NSD) trains artistes at the national level.

The government and non-government agencies may also utilize this art form to accomplish their communication objectives, thereby supporting the healthy existence of Lila parties, artistes, directors, writers and organizers. Let us continue to empower the Shumang Lila in accomplishing its mission of rediscovery and rejuvenation of Manipur.


* Seram Neken wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition) as part of The Voiceless Speaks
This article was posted on February 06, 2013



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