By Chaoba Kamson
Gaan-Ngai, the biggest festival of Zeliangrong people of North East India, is a religious and cultural festival which is lasting for at least 5 days. The celebration of this festival started from 13th day of Manipuri month of Wakching. This festival is commonly known as Winter Festival. This festival is also described as a new year as it marks the end of the year and beginning of the new year in Gregorian Calendar. During this festival rich cultures such as dance, musical instruments are shown. Ritual ceremonies are offered to Tingkao Ragwang and related gods. Folk songs are sung and traditional drum beating is also demonstrated. New fire is produced by friction of wood and bamboos of the flint. Actually, Gaan-Ngai is the mixture festival of both the dead and living. During this festival farewell rich tribute in the form of food, drink, curry, eatable and ritual are offered to those who died previous’ year. Graves are beautified and dances are presented in honour of the departed soul. This festival according to belief of Zeliangrong people started during the time of mythical god. Tingpurengsonnang who was the patriarch and his wife was matriarch of common dormitory of all gods, men, animals and other creatures.
Demand for declaration of Gaan-Ngai Festival State Holiday and granted thereof.
Zeliangrong social and religious organizations had been demanding and submitting a series of memoranda from time to time to many Chief Ministers of Manipur who gave assurance to grant the Gaan-Ngai Festival as a General Holiday in Govt. holiday list but all assurances could not be materialized. However to some extent, the then R.K. Dorendro Ministry granted this festival at the status of Restricted Holiday in 1976. Tirelessly, the above organizations continued to demand to declare this festival General Holiday but all efforts were in vain. Luckily, Shri W. Nipamacha Singh became the Chief Minister of Manipur in 1997. Prof. Gangmumei Kamei was also a Cabinet Minister holding the portfolio of Hr. Edn., Forest & Environment. After Oath taking ceremony was over, I was asked by Prof. Gangmumei Kamei to submit a memorandum on declaration of Gaan-Ngai Festival as General Holiday so as to enable to include as an agendum to the first cabinet meeting. Accordingly, I submitted the said memorandum addressed to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur. The then Secretary (GAD) Govt. of Manipur, Shri Ramnganing Muivah prepared the Memorandum for cabinet dated 19-12-1997 for declaration of Gaan-Ngai Festival as General Holiday. An extract of memorandum for cabinet is reproduced herewith. “This is a proposal for the declaration of Gaan-Ngai Festival as General Holiday for the calendar year 1998 as represented by the Zeliangrong Rachapriak Phom/Zeliangrong Religious Council)”. The cabinet meeting approved the proposal for the declaration of Gaan-Ngai Festival as General Holiday and issued vide order No. 1/7/92-R&L/Pt.-IV dated 27/12/1997 and again this festival was declared Holiday for all offices and Educational Institutions, all Banks and Financial Institutions under the Govt. of Manipur on 31st December 1998 on account of Gaan-Ngai Festival vide order no. 1/7/92-R&L/Pt.-IV dated 07/11/1998 and a copy endorsed to Shri chaoba Kamson, General Secretary, Zeliangrong Rachapriak Phom (Zeliangrong Religious Council) for kind information. This festival is now a public holiday.
The longstanding demand for declaration of Gaan-Ngai Festival as General Holiday was a great hope and aspiration of the followers of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC) in particular and Zeliangrong people in General. This aspiration was fulfilled by the United Front Govt. led by Shri W. Nipamacha Singh under the initiative of Prof. Gangmumei Kamei, a former Cabinet Minister of the Zeliangrong Community. The granting of a public Holiday by recognizing and understanding its importance is the right step to safeguard the indigenous religion, culture and identify of the Zeliangrong people of the North East India. Shri W. Nipamacha Singh is described as a true lover to indigenous religion. We are grateful to them.
As a gesture of obligation, the Zeliangrong Rechapriak Phom (Now Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak Phom) Assam, Manipur and Nagaland celebrated the festival in grand manners with pomp and show at Ragailong, Imphal on 10-10-1998 inviting the council of Ministers of Nipamacha Singh Ministry.
Deletion of Gaan-Ngai Festival from the holiday list, 2003.
Then, the SPF Govt. headed by Shri O. Ibobi Singh came into power and unfortunately struck off the Gaan-Ngai from the State Holiday list, 2003. The Zeliangrong people already enjoyed holiday for last 5 years in the name of Gaan-Ngai Festival. The unpopular cabinet decision shocked and hurt the sentiments of Zeliangrong people. There was a hue and cry against the decision of the Ibobi Government.
It might not be his intention to delete this festival from the holiday list of 2003 but he was influenced by his coteries. The eight organizations belonging to Zeliangrong Community had formed a committee called, “Demand Committee on Restoration of Gaan-Ngai Holiday” with Shri Meibon Phaomei as the convenor. Zeliangrong United Club Association Manipur Valley (ZUCAMV) and Zeliangrong Religious Council had submitted a memorandum dated 31-10-2003 and 05-11-2002 respectively separately to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur to review immediately the cabinet decision and reinstate the Gaan-ngai Festival in the state holiday list, 2003.
Again on 09-11-2002, a joint memorandum signed by the leaders of (1) Zeliangrong Religious Council, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland (2) Zeliangrong Union, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland (3) Zeliangrong Students’ Union, Manipur (4) All Zeliangrong Arts and Cultural Organisation (AZACO) (5) Zeliangrong Women’s Society Manipur Valley (6) Zeliangrong Youth Front (7) Zeliangrong United Club Association Manipur Valley (ZUCAMV) and (8) Zeliangrong Cultural Council was submitted to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur requesting to review the unjustified cabinet decision and restore the Gaan-Ngai Festival in the General Holiday list, 2003 for unity and integrity of Manipur.
Prominent personalities namely His Highness, the Maharaj of Manipur Sanajaoba Leisemba, Shri Samuel Jendai, Hon’ble MLA and Councilors of Imphal Municipal Council had appealed the Govt. of Manipur to roll back the cabinet decision for all the interest of the society. A number of social organizations like (1) UCM (2) AMUCO (3) AMSU (4) MSF (5) Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) (6) League of the Fourth World People (NE Region) (7) UNC (8) Ethno Heritage Council (9) Laiyingthou Sanamahi Thougal Kanglup (10) Meira Paibi Lup (11) Kangleipak Langjing Apunba Meira Lup (12) All Manipur Ethnical Socio-cultural Organisation (13) Tarahei Youth Development Organisation (14) Manipur Peace and Integrity Council (MAPI) (15) Koren (Koireng) Youth Organisation (16) ANSAM (17) AMKIL (18) IS-TV (19) AIR Imphal Station (20) All Manipur Action Committee, Wangoi issued statements in favour of restoration of Gaan-Ngai Festival in the holiday list, 2003. Local newspapers played a leading role to restore this festival in the holiday list, 2003 by writing in editorial columns highlighting the necessity to retain the same for the best interest of Manipur.
Restoration of Gaan-Ngai Festival in the Holiday List, 2003 :
With the pressure and demand of the public, social organizations, political parties and other at last the Govt. of Manipur bowed down and restored the Gaan-Ngai Festival in the holiday list, 2003 by a cabinet meeting dated 11-11-2002. The SPF Govt. deleted the Gaan-Ngai Festival from holiday list, 2003 for just 21 days only. Anyway, we appreciate the Ibobi Govt. for honouring the voice of the people by sensing the gravity of the public demand.
First Celebration of Gaan-Ngai Festival at State Level at BOAT :
The Gaan-Ngai Celebration Committee, Manipur was formed with Shri G. Moirangjao as the Chairman, Shri M. Maringa as Vice-chairman and Shri Chaoba Kamson as Secretary. Shri Poudongai Kamson, Shri Meibon Phaomei, Shri Poubilung Dangmei, Shri Abungba longmei and Miss kanettu Dangmei were appointed as Joint Secretaries of the Committee. It was on 16-01-2003, the first of its kind of State Level Gaan-Ngai Festival was celebrated expressing happiness over restoration of Gaan-Ngai Festival in the holiday list, 2003. Cultural and religious activities were performed on the stage. His Excellency, the Governor of Manipur, Shri Chintamani Panigrahi and Shri O. Ibobi Singh, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur graced the function as the Chief Guest and the President respectively. Again, the 2004 State Level Gaan-Ngai Festival was staged lively at G.M. Hall, Imphal. After that I handed over the charge of Secretary of Shri Poudongai Kamson and his colleagues. The nomenclature of the organization from the original, Gaan-Ngai Celebration Committee, Manipur was changed into “State Level Gaan-Ngai Celebration Committee, Manipur by prefixing two words “State Level”. This Committee has been celebrating the Gaan-Ngai Festival at State Level since 2005 till date inviting different Zeliangrong villages to participate and perform the rich cultural activities. The total number of Gaan-Ngai celebration at state level is now 9 years without break since 2003. The modes of celebration are as follows :
1. Offering of holywine to Tinkao Regwang and related gods.
2. Extraction of sacred fire by rubbing the bamboo flint with dry wood.
3. Shouting of Hoi which is a form of worship of the Supreme God.
4. Speech on the Gaan-Ngai Festival.
5. Performance of cultural varieties programmes such as dancing, singing, traditional drum beating, pazeimei, merry making etc.
Statement of ZU (AMN) :
Meanwhile, Shri K. Poushinglung, General Secretary, Zeliangrong Union (AMN) issued a statement which appeared at Sangai Express and Hueiyen Lanpao on 12/10/2011 stating that a ban was imposed on particular organsing committee for tarnishing the image of the rich traditional festival of Zeliangrong and particularly the Zeliangrong people by organizing Gaan-Ngai Festival in a mockery way. A committee called, “Gaan-Ngai Committee 2012 (ZU-AMN) was also formed to celebrate the State Level Gaan-Ngai 2012 in a grand way to expose the rich cultural and traditional festival of Zeliangrong to the outside world.
The Statement creates disunity among Zeliangrong Society :
Here, I would like to ask some questions on the statement.
1. If the ZU(AMN) has a good intention and wants a unity and an understanding among the Zeliangrong Community, why did you not call the members of the State Level Gaan-Ngai Celebration Committee, Manipur at the meeting ?
2. The above committee observed this festival at State Level for last 9 years, why had the ZU (AMN) been sleeping not observing the festival at state level for many years ?
3. Most of the celebration of Gaan-Ngai Festival at State Level function, either the Governor of Manipur or the Chief Minister or the Cabinet Minister graced the function as the Chief Guest or President or Guest of Honour. To grace the function as Chief Guest, President and Guest of honour by the above VVIP, how did you say that the function was celebrated in a mockery way ?
4. It is also mentioned in your statement that particular organizing committee had tarnished the image of the rich traditional festival of Zeliangrong. No organization in Zeliangrong Community had been trying to tarnish the image of the rich culture. We all are and shall be celebrating this festival to expose the rich culture in the world.
5. Like, State Level Gaan-Ngai Celebration Committee, Manipur, your committee will also surely perform the following religious and cultural activities such as :
(i) obtain of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and related gods.
(ii) Sacrifice of a pig to examine its spleen.
(iii) Extraction of hoi (Ho-hoing)
(v) Beating of traditional drum.
(vi) Dancing, singing, eating etc. which are the main items of the programmes. Then where is the question of deviation from religion or tarnishing the image of the culture ?
6. Is there any other religious and cultural activities to perform on this occasion except the above activities ?
There is no harm to celebrate the Gaan-Ngai Festival in traditional form at State Level, District Level and Village Level. So the festivals like Lui-Ngaini, Kut, Mera houchongba are also being celebrated at State, District and Village Level. Any organization should not play a monopolistic role in the celebration of Gaan-Ngai Festival. Therefore, ban on any organizing committee to celebrate the Gaan-Ngai Festival at State Level is unjustified.
In conclusion, let the State Level Gaan-Ngai Celebration Committee, Manipur and Gaan-Ngai Committee 2012 (ZU-AMN) be celebrated at State Level with the spirit of love, affection and understanding accompanied by pomp and gaiety to bring a prosperity and lasting peace in Manipur.