Chakaan Gaan-Ngai, the Living Ritual Festival of Zeliangrong
By Chaoba Kamson
The Zeliangrong people are found scattered in the present Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal, Bishnupur, Tamenglong, Noney, Jiribam, Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Senapati districts of Manipur. They are also found settling in Nagaland in its Paren, Dimapur and Kohima districts and in Assam in its Dima-Hasao, Cachar and Heilakandi districts. The present article attempts to highlight the Gaan-Ngai festival of Zeliangrong people of North East India.
Starting of Gaan-Ngai Festival
It is a strong belief that Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God created a god named Tingpurengsonnang who was made the patriarch and his wife (Ragonlu) as the matriarch of the common dormitory of gods, men, animals and creatures for a long time. Tingkrangpou (Luchupou) and Makhempei (Luchupei) were the houseowners of Girls’ Dormitory (Luchu) in those days. Tingpurengsonnang was assigned to teach songs, knowledge of cultivation, culture, mode of worship etc.In course of time, men cultivated and collected food grains and stored the same in the granaries. Then men started celebrating Gaan-Ngai festival happily in praising of Tingkao Ragwang for good harvest and performed religious and cultural activities thus signifying the identity of Zeliangrong people. As instructed by Tingpurengsonnang,men offered foods and drinks toTingkao Ragwang invoking Him for longevity of life and prosperity for coming years. They also offered foods, drinks, eatables etc. on the grave as a tribute to the departed soul. Ever since, the Zeliangrong people specially the TRC people have been celebrating the Gaan-Ngai Festival with pomp and gaiety.
The Chakaan Gaan-Ngai literal meaning is the festival of winter season. Chakaan means season, Gaan means winter, Ngai means festivals. This festival is also described as a New Year based on Gregorian Calender as it marks the end of the year and beginning of the New Year. In Zeliangrong tradition, this festival celebrates at the end of year as April is the first month of the new year.
Timing of Celebration
When farmers store enough food grains in the granaries, they are free from agricultural works, their attention is drawn to festive mood, the sky looks clear and high, winter season sets in and cold winter wind blows, the spirits of the dead ancestor wait for the coming of Gaan-Ngai, the hornbills fly out once in a year, the Gaan-Ngai festival is also celebrated once in a year by the followers of TRC on the 13th day of the Manipuri Lunar month of Wakching which falls commonly in the month of January every year but sometimes it also falls in the month of December. The TRC people mainly observe festivals with religious sacrifices celebrating before and after seed sowing. The main philosophy behind celebration of festivals is to thank Tinkao Ragwang for a good harvest. Like other communities, Zeliangrong Community have a set of festivals in a year with a ritual. They celebrate ten festivals in a year in pre-harvest and post harvest. The pre-harvest festivals are (i) Longnapkaodai (ii) Ginki-Ngai (iii) Gudui-Ngai (iv) Tun-Ngai and the post harvest festivals are (i) Dongjao (ii) Ten-Ngai (iii) Gaan-Ngai (iv) Rih-Ngai (v) Nanu-Ngai
The reason for celebration of Gaan-Ngai
Tingkao Ragwang created man to do some important works in this world. But he should not always continue to his works only. He needs rest after hard working. He should perform rites and rituals, cary out cultural and sports activities as thanks-giving to Tingkao Ragwang for rich harvest. People worship and pray to Him for well-being and prosperity in the days to come. Gaan-Ngai is the expression of rejoicing of the community with prayer to Tingkao Ragwang for plenty and welfare. TRC people want to take part the celebration of Gaan-Ngai festivals for one hundred times however it depends on the mercy of Tingkao Ragwang. Once man dies he never revives except rebirth. Flowers once bloomed will one day regain in course of time. Likewise, Gaan-Ngai festival once celebrated will recycle endlessly.
The purpose for celebration of Gaan-Ngai is to sustain folk songs, to beat drum and dance, to nurture cultural activities, to worship Tingkao Ragwang and other lower realm gods, to shout huai, to execute customary duties suh as filling up the vacant post of village authority, males dormitory, the house of old women, the house of married women, admission of new members to boys and girls dormitories, newly married women admitted to women’s institution as new members, married women to head women, head women to old women, promotion from boys to gaanpi, gaanpi to khangbon, khangbon to gaanchang, gaanchang to banja, banja to Nampou/Namgakpou/Napmupou etc.
Tributes paid to the departed souls
Those who died in the previous year are given ritual farewell during the festival. The graves are beautiful and decorated in order to offer the rich tributes. Farewell dances are also preseted in honour to the deported souls. Feast is served to the community in his/her name. It is believed that those souls are with the living people till the festival ends. The deceased family offers foods and drink on the graves both in morning and evening before the living people eat and drink. On the first day of festival, the males’ dormitory will give a big pig’s thigh as a farewell gift to the family. In reciprocation, the deceased family also presents farewell gift as desired by the family. The farewell dance in honour to the departed soul is also presented.
The males’ and girls’ dormitories offer curry to the deceased family in his/her name till the festival is over. That is why, the Gaan-Ngai festival is regarded as for the living and the dead.
Gaan-Ngai brings unity
People work, eat and drink together, dance and sing together, shout huai and beat drum together, discuss together relating to the festival, attire new and clean customary dresses, enjoy happily together spending the whole night singing the village guarding songs and carry out the singing competition. The boys and girls partake the delicious food accompanied by merry-making, singing, dancing, cutting jokes etc. heartily. Performance of cultural activity like pazeimei which is the most attractive for boys and girls is also carried out singing the traditional songs together till late night.
Gaan-Ngai makes people happy
When the spring season comes, all trees and plants sprout their stems, when the rainy season sets in vegetables grow profoundly, flowers bloom abundantly likewise Zeliangrong also feel happy when much awaited Chakaan Gaan-Ngai festival comes. Their minds fill with joy and gaiety and their faces look cheerful.
Preparation for Gaan-Ngai
Two or three months before the celebration of Gaan-Ngai, some boys of males’ dormitory will set out to the nearest jungle to search and cut the thin bamboos (Guu). The bamboos will be made to dry for making headgear (Gu-pikam) which will be used on the first day of Gaan-Ngai Huai Procession (Huaigammei). Besides, the boys will prepare and get ready mhaigang (Dried Wood) and mhailu (bamboo splint) for producing of sacred fire which will be used in cooking purposes. The Village Council (Pei) will formally announce the coming of the Gaan-Ngai festival for making wine. Hearing it, the villagers will prepare arrangement for the gala. On the other side, the Males’ Dormitory performs an act of blowing of cow or buffalo or mithun’s horn (Goichei Kapitmei) which signals harbinger of Chakaan Gaan-Ngai at Males’ Dormitory or Jumping Ground (Daanshaanpung) inviting all kinds of goods for participation and informing the villagers for necessary arrangment of the festivals. This is called as heralding of Gaan-Ngai (Gaanshaanmei). Boys will first dig the jumping ground on this day. The villagers are informed by the village council to make soak germinated paddy (Nappok Thuntho) prepare for wine.
Girls are busy for weaving works for the festival while boys prepare headgear (pikam) and repair traditional drum. Boys and girls are in practice of dance and learn folk songs for singing competition. Boys are busy beautifying the village with decoration. Girls are engaged in their house works in keeping it neat and clean. They pound wet-rice for making rice beer. Those who are in service outside Manipur state and students who are studying beyond the state return home for celebration and enjoyment of the festival. So, everybody loves Gaan-Ngai and calls its name, Chakaan Gaan-Ngai when Chakaan season approaches.
On the eve of Gaan-Ngai
One day ahead of the festival, a village old man will inform the villagers to get ready banana leaf and eatables for the festival. In the morning at Males and Girls Dormitories, an act of checking of wirewood called Thingtinmei is carried out. Each and every member of Males and Girls’ Dormitories will bring a faggot of firewood (Mhailamban akhat). Thereafter, a Huai Procession starting from northern gate of the village will march to the Males’ Dormitory. On reaching there, some firewood will be Presented to the owner of Males’ Dormitory. Then, the Males’ Dormitory will bring out an earthen jar of rice beer (zoulai) followed by oblation of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods. A little quantity of Tam and a glass of rice beer will be offered first to the owner of Males Dormitory as a courtesy. The same procedure will also be done to the Girls’ Dormitory. In the evening, boys will collect a ginger and an egg from every household of the village for ritual offering to northern and southern presiding deiteis.
Teaching to Youth
All the boys including head boys will assemble inside the house of Males’ Dormitory. The gaanpis will teach young boys to obey to obey what the elders say, to maintain decipline among themselves, to execute the works assigned to them. Any member who disobeys the orders of the elders or senior will be punished by beating a whip as per custom. As practice and convention, all the boys will be beaten on this day compulsorily. If the young boys make a request by producing a bottle of wine not to beat them and assuring that they will definitely execute all necessary duties. If the assurance is satisfied then they may be exempted from this punishment.
The 1st day of the festival (Ngaigangmei)
Prayer to presiding deiteis.
The Gaan-Ngai festival lasts for 5 to 7 days depending on local variation. The first day of the festival is called Ngaigangmei. First, a small hour in the day-break, a ritual will be performed at the abode of northern and southern village deiteis by an old man offering an egg and a piece of fresh ginger invoking them not to cause any kind of untoward incidents during the festival. Then, the priest will offer holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and lower realm gods.
Heralding of Gaan-Ngai by beating drum
Thereafter, boys will go around the village beating drum which signifies beginning of Gaan-Ngai festival.
Extraction of fresh fire
New fire is produced by the extraction of dried wood and bamboo splint on the first day of the festival at the jumping ground or at the individual house. If it is done at jumping ground, an elder will inform the villagers to come and collect the fresh fire which will be used in cooking. It is believed that man eats the food cooked with the new fire, there will be a long life and prosperity of the coming year.
Sacrifice of pig and examination of its spleen & eating of blood curry
A big pig will be sacrificed as offering to Tingkao Ragwang and the spleen of the victim will be observed to find out the future omen. Then, holy wine locally called Gakpai Zou will be offered to Tingkao Ragwang and other lower realm gods. After cooking, the grand feast is prepared at Males’ and Girls’ Dormitories and followed by Ho-hoing known as Naplao Huai with oblation of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods. All the members of Males’ Dormitory will first taste the curry of Zeigan (curry of pig’s internal organs cooked with blood) which is very important. Zeigam-Tumei is equal to oath-taking.
Shouting of huai is a kind of worship of Tingkao Ragwang. The philosophy of huai procession in the festival is to dispel evil spirits from the village.
Calling of paddy by individual family
Towards evening of the first day of the festival in the individual family, a ritual of calling of paddy (Napkaomei) offering a big cock to Tingkao Ragwang as thanksgiving for the plentiful harvest is performed chanting the relevant hymns. Then, the cock’s legs are observed to know the omen and followed by offering of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other goods. After finishing the cooking, the cooked liver of the cock will be offered to Kambuipui, Charaipui and Ancestors who live at the hearth stones to bless for good fortune, health, richness.
(i) The object of shot-put competition on the first day of Gaan-Ngai is supposed to break the heavenly granary’s door. The said granary is full of paddy. If the granary’s door is broken, the paddy will leak out and spread everywhere. If the said paddy is used as paddy seed for sowing then a plenty of paddy will be harvested.
(ii) The purpose of long-jump is to make the swelling earth kick up by the landing force of long-jump which is believed to a sign of distribution of paddy to mankind. So, the objective of shot-put and long-jump is for successful cultivation and good harvest.
Hymns of Shot-put
“We have dispelled evil spirits from the village by shouting of huai and arrived now at jumping ground. We are about to carry out the act of shot-put competition. When, we throw, “Au. Haipou Tingkao Ragwang,” let us throw stone like thread ball (Langdoi).
Hymns of Long-jump
“Today is the day of festival of our village, when the act of long-jump begins, Au. Haipou Tingkao Ragwang, let us jump like grasshopper (Kah).
After sports activities are over, a group of village elders divided into two to three, will go every household greeting the members to enjoy joyously the festival and warn them not to quarrel nor speak ill-words against each other during the festival. If there is any fighting, the village authority wil take a stern action against the offenders.
Dining together with merry making
Then boys and girls will spend dining together, indulge in merry making, entertain drinking, eating, dancing, joking, singing etc. They may arrange a programme of waving of sash (pazeimei). Some boys look after the village singing the village guarding songs for the whole night. That is called Kailong Lonmei.
The 2nd Day – The great festival (Tamchan-Ngai)
All the members of both Males’ and Girls’ Dormitories will bring their respective Tamchas (Tamcha means gift/subscription in the form of meat, vegetables etc. to their respective dormitories). The deceased family also brings last presentation called Thei-Tamcha to the respective dormitories in the name of the person(s) who died in the previous year. Some quantity of Tamcha will be given to the owners of Males’ and Girls’ Dormitories as a custom. A Banja who acts as priest will perform chanting of Tamsuan (Chutney) for two senior most Ganpis and Zousuan (wine) for two Tunapis (Two heads of Girls’ Dormitory. After the lunch the members of Males’ Dormitory will collect Tamsuan and Zousuan in the form of money shouting Rilai Huai from the four persons mentioned above. This is known as Tamchan-Ngai.
Ritual Dance (Tamchan Laam)
In the evening, only girls will perform a dance to (i) the House of Village Authority (Peikai) (ii) the House of Old Women (Kengjapui Kaibung) and (iii) the House of Village Elders (Ganchang Kaibung). This dance is known as Tamchan Laam (Tam means chutney of vegetables, Chan means offering/request and Laam means dance.
Objective of Tamchanmei
The objective of Tamchanmei is to go and offer prayer at the above mentioned institutions not to cause any kind of illness, diseases of hardship to boys and girls for coming year.
“Au. Haipou Tingkao Ragwang, today we are celebrating the Gaan-Ngai festival with a happy mood and other dried fish, holy wine, salt-cake, puan (coins) to you. We present to the above institutions in honour to the holy places, So, we pray to you to give a lasting and prosperous institution in future.
The 3rd Day – The Youth Festival
The 3rd day is called Tuna Gaan-Ngai (Festival of the Youth). In the morning Khangbon (Head of Males’ Dormitory) and two Tunapis (Heads of Girls’ Dormitory) will bring Tamcha to their respective dormitories. An old man will recite Tamsuan and Zousuan hymns. After lunch, the youth of Males’ Dormitory will shout Rilai Huai holding a stick of firewood in their hands and proceed to both houses of Khangbons and Tunapis and chant Tamsuan and Zousuan praising for abundant gifts and wine. The Males’ Dormitory beseeches Tingkao Ragwang to give longevity of life and strength to both Khangbons and Tunapis. In the evening, boys and girls perform Khangbon Kadimei Laam, a farewell dance in honour of both Khangbons who have been promoted to a higher post called Ganchang.
The 4th Day – Hill Trekking (Longkumei)
Longkumei or Longluimei means hill trekking. Boys and girls climb a nearby hill for sight seeing. They select kings and queens and adorn their heads by Phaak leaves as crowns. They show their talents in singing song, drum beating, Rah-Jaimei (playing of horp) etc. After performing these activities Gakting Tam (pork chutney), wine, boiled vegetables etc.are offered to all present there. They return to the village and perform a dance in honour of the boys and girls who have been chosen as kings and queens. This dance is known as Phaakgang Laam. The families of the kings and queens will offer Laam Baan in the form of money, drink, chutney and other eatables.
The 5th Day – Feasting of Goddesses and Ancestors
The whole day is busy for preparation of cookings. In the evening, a ritual ceremony of calling of paddy (Napkaomei) with a bigcock for goddess of food incharge (Majapui) for good harvest and prosperity for the coming year is performed at both dormitories. The cooked liver of fowl, rice and grinding ginger will be offered to goddesses namely Kambuipui, Charaipui and Kairao (Ancestors) who live in the form of hearth stones in the house. This is called as Napchanmei.
Criticism to heads of Males’ Dormitory for not being served delicious foods
(Napsin Gansin Raomei)
Napsin Gansin Raomei means criticism made to the leaders of Males’ Dormitory particulary to its senior most Ganpis for not being served delicious dishes during the festival. This programme is carried out at the courtyard of Males’ Dormitory after the grand feast. Their unsatisfied voices are expressed through songs. These songs are known as Napchan Luh. They also sing songs criticising the matriarch of the Males’ Dormitory for her activities. These songs are meant to ensure welfare and prosperity in coming year. Then the members present will move inside the Males’ Dormitory singing song, wishing prosperity and welfare for the coming year.
Singing competition at Girls’ Dormitory
All the members of Males’ Dormitory will again proceed to the Girls’ Dormitory singing a village guarding song (Kailong Lonluh) for singing competition with the girls. As soon as they stop singing, the door of the Girls’ Dormitory will be opened.Then, the boys will again sing some songs (Luchu Kaihut Luh) inside the House and followed by offering of holy wine by a village elder to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods praying not to cause any unwanted incidents during the course of singing competition. First, a boy will sing and then a girl does so in rotation. The competition will continue till late night. If the act of singing competition is over, boys return to the Males’ Dormitory shouting a short huai (Rilai huai).
The 6th Day – Worship of all gods
It is believed that all the gods of Zeliangrong pantheon also participated in the celebration of Gaan-Ngai. So Raren Loumei, the performance of the sacrifices to seven Brother-Gods and the deities worshipped by Zeliangrong people is observed on the last day of the festival at the abode of northern village deity. They are:-
1.Ragwang (Na-Ragwang), Ragwang Phaipa, Koubru
2.Bisnu (Manchanu/Buichanu/Bonchanu), Bhubon Hill, Cachar
3.Napsinmei (Laorang), Ganglon Namthan (Phoulungba)
4.Karangong, Puching (Kheba Ching)
5.Chonchai, Kashokbut, Taosang
6.Charakilongmei, Bena (Thongrang Akutpa)
It is carried out by a priest and its objective is to ward off any diseases, misfortune, hardship, illness, death etc. Evil spirits are not worshipped but they are propitiated not to give trouble to men, in another word, to dispel the evil spirits from mankind. This ritual is known as Raren Loumei. During the performance of the ritual both the northern and southern village gates are closed and nobody is allowed to cross the gates. Violation of this restriction may invite evil consequence, even death may happen. this is the reason behind any person is not allowed to go beyond the village gates. Another reason of closure of the village gates is to stop the evil spirits from entering to the village. For this ritual every household will give a fowl, a piece of fresh ginger and a bundle of banana leaves to the village authority. The village old men and old women will eat the cooked chickens and some quantity of chickens will be distributed to minor children. It is also a ritual of send-off all the gods (Ra Ginsonmei) upto the village northern gate.
Worship during the festival
It was a common feature of quarelling and killing between gods and men when Tingpurengsonnang was the patriarch of the common dormitory. Accordingly, Tingpurengsonnang made a judgement and allowed them to live separately. Gods repeatedly, made requests to Tingpurengsonnang to allow them to participate and enjoy the celebration of Gaan-Ngai with men. At last, Tingpurengsonnang agreed on one condition that they should give good blessings to men on the last day of the festival. Gods also agreed with what Tingpurengsonnang said. So men blow horn of cow or mithun or buffalo inviting all the gods to participate in the Gaan-Ngai festival. Because of this reason, TRC people perform a ritual of Raren Loumei at the northern village gate on the last day of the festival.
All the Banjas will bring Rangpat Tamcha in the form of eatable, salt-cake, material etc. which are equally distributed to them but Ganchangs are not entitled to enjoy it.
Both the Dormitories of Males and Girls will hand over puan (coin) as a scapegoat (pumlin) of boys and girls to the members of village authority.
A hanging pipe made of bamboo which was earlier distributed at every household to store the diseases of epidemic inside the pipe will be collected after pouring wine into the pipe and cover its mouth with cotton. This pipe will be thrown away beyond the village gate by the village elders.
Longevity wine (Maru zou)
A Banja will declare to all the villages to come and collect the Maru Zou. It is believed if drunken, it is good for health and will have longevity of life.
Filling up the vacant posts
The lying vacant post of village authority (Peikai) before the Gaan-Ngai festival, the same is filled up on the day of Rangpatmei by a suitable seniormost person. It is formally declared by a Banja with an iron-hoe in the name of Tingkao Ragwang. Besides, any promotion from Khangbon to Ganchang, Ganchang to Banja, Banja to Khunbu or Khullak etc, from married woman to old woman is decided on this particular day. Prior invitation (Kaphaan Timei) is given to the proposed invitee (s) with a local salt-cake for the next year.
Calling of souls (Bukaomei)
After the performance of Raren Loumei, the village elders will return to the village peikai where another ritual ceremony known as Bukaomei will be performed. A big cock will be sacrificed after chanting the hymns invoking Tingkao Ragwang to allow to return the soul to its original place (human body). The cooked chicken will be eaten by the elders and pieces of the chicken will also be distributed to every household.
There is a conducive atmosphere with good term while celebrating the festival. Those who do not talk on personal grudge or enmity before the celebration of Gaan-Ngai talk during the festival.
Therefore, the festival brings love, peace, understanding, respect, unity among the people. Even the marriage is postponed due to attraction of the festival. Boys and girls continue to remember the happiness and merry making of the festival even after its celebration. That is why the Gaan-Ngai is an unforgettable one in the mind of Zeliangrong people.
Lastly, I on behalf of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak Phom, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland send my hearty greetings on the occasion of Gaan-Ngai to all Zeliangrong people to enjoy the festival joyously and happily beginning from 10th January, 2017.
(The writer is the general secretary of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak Phom Assam, Manipur and Nagaland)