By C Amuba Singh
The appearance of Cheiraoba on two different dates in the same year in the MANIPUR calendar issued by the DIPR is a display of intellectual bankruptcy of the Government of Manipur. While the people, in a secular democracy, should be free to observe the festival on a date of their choice, based on belief and custom, a Government who values its authority has only one choice to make and hence the Government`s decision to have two one-day holidays on two different dates for the same occasion—the beginning of the new year—only reflects its inability to exercise its moral authority. At no time in the history of Manipur, at least in the period covered by the recordings in the royal chronicle Cheitharol Kumbaba, the Cheiraoba was observed on two different dates in the same year. It has always been on one date—either the Shajibu-Nongma-Panba, the first day of the month of Shajibu, or the day of Shajibu-Palok—but never on both. The following narrative will put this observation on a clearer perspective.
Nowhere in the Cheitharol Kumbaba, the term `Cheiraoba` finds a mention. Going by the significance traditionally attributed to it, Cheiraoba marks the beginning of the new year and not the end of a year. It is commonly accepted that the practice of `Cheithapa` was formally introduced by Meidingu Kyamba in the year Saka 1407 with one scholar named Hiyangloi appointed as the royal scribe. This is corroborated by a corresponding entry in the Cheitharol Kumbaba. However, over the period of 203 years beginning with this landmark year, there is no indication in the records of the date or day on which the new year began, although there are ample indications that this particular date comes after the month of Lamda. It was only in the year Saka 1610 (1688 CE), during the reign of Meidingu Paikhomba, that a clear evidence of the new year beginning on the first day of Shajibu could be found.
From this particular year of the scribe (Cheithaba) Wangkheirakpam Khongchomba – Saka 1610- onwards, the new year began on the first day of the month of Shajibu until a new system of marking the beginning of the new year was introduced 56 years later in the year Saka 1666 (1744 CE) during the reign of Meidingu Pamheiba (1709 – 1748 CE). The new year-mark was called `Shajibu-Palok`, and it corresponds initially to the Vishnu Sankranti in the Hindu calendar. (Later, from 1786 CE onwards, the correspondence was to the day following the Vishnu Sankranti as discussed later.)
For the year Saka 1666 (1744-45 CE), the day of Sajibu-Palok was the 28th day of Shajibu which is 10 April 1744 CE. Significantly, the preceding year Saka 1665 consisted of 365 days. This probably marks a transition from the lunar calendar to the luni-solar calendar system.