by Seram Neken
Khwairamband Keithel and its kaleidoscopic beauty are always a legend that narrates the varied role of Manipuri women in the society. We cannot wholly term the Manipur society as patriarchal because of the multi-faceted roles of its women in economic, political, social and cultural aspects of life. Ranging from household maintenance to participating in politics, from being small traders in market to becoming famous writers and poets, Manipuri women have the courage and spirit of being the mothers of the society. Great uprisings and agitations for human right protection and social reformation are all women oriented, the origin of which has always been the market itself. Khwairamband Keithel, apart from being a place of economic transactions, trade and commerce, has been the platform where all aspects of life – political cultural and social activities have its origin. Still today, Imas of the market remain a social guardian for us all.
This writer had the rare opportunity to interact with Shri Laimayum Gourachandra Sharma of Nagamapal Kangjabi, who narrated the story behind the ever seen Bazar Kao (market bull) of Khwairamband Keithel. Also known as Keli Kao, the bull has been in the market area for decades. Shrimati Laimayum Ongbi Keli Devi, mother of the octogenarian Gourachandra, offered the bull to Govindaji and made to stay in the keithel area in the early sixties (probably in 1961-62). The woman whose devotion to God was almost genuine and practical decided to devote a Bull in favour of Lord Govinda. Thus, the bull was purchased from one Mikhu of Singjamei Chongtham leikai and devoted to God with a big ceremony ‘ Auhoratri’. The twenty four hour ceremony was held along with a beautiful celebration of Audivas a day ahead. The devotion function was attended by Bhrama Sabha members of the time and held with gaiety and enthusiasm at Shamu Makhong at the city centre. The band party at the ceremony was led by Pishak of Thangmeiband while Oja Biswarup and Oja Gopalmacha played Meitei pung in the sankirtan under the Oja Ngangom Jugindro of the time.
“The offer of bull inside the bazaar area required permission from the Imphal Municipality, for which I approached Tamo Chandrahas, the then Chairman of the municipality. As he hesitated to grant the permission, I again went to Deputy Commissioner Shri Halim Chaudhury, who readily realized my mothers dream” said Gourachandra Sharma. The gratitude shown by the then DC Halim Chaudhury will ever remain a part of the history of Khwairamband market. The original bull is no more today. What we see now at Khwairamband keithel is the offspring of the one offered by Ima Keli.
In his most sentimental tone, Shri Sharma narrated that his mother Keli Devi used to sell Chana Angouba at the gate of erstwhile District Hospital at the city decades ago. Her piece – Chana angouba was so tasty and popular among the market commuters of the time that it later became known as Keli Chana all over the state. Still today, Keli Chana remains a popular and tasty refreshment item for Manipuris.
The history of khwairamband keithel will not be adequate without the legends of the so called Keli Kao and the brand name Keli Chana of the Manipuris. The bull actually has been believed to be savior of the women community who are earning their living in the market. It never hurts the sincere and hard working women doing their business. Rather he disturbs people, who try to attack him. It is a symbol of women’s protection – protection from evil designs, protection from those who endeavour to malign the aesthetic and valorous character of Manipur women. Let us not forget the story behind the legendary protector of our women community in the midst of sea changes brought about by development and modifications.