By: Seram Neken
An intellectual transformation from festival of colors to festival of sports has been occurring in modern Manipur during the last five decades. Yaoshang Sports has become an institution of socialization with multifaceted benefits. It serves as a school for cultivating personality development and hunting young talents. Kids get the opportunity to expose to various competitive events. It inculcates discipline among youths. Besides recreating the ageing people, it promotes organizational skills among the locals, increases social cohesion and reduces crimes & unwanted behavior in society. Every locality must endeavor to tap the inherent potential of Yaoshang Sports in the making of a strong Manipur.
The addition of a variety of games in the Yaoshang festivities began as early as during the pre-independence period. Although there is obscurity on the exact origin of Yaoshang Sports, it is believed that the organization of sporting events during Yaoshang in 1946 at Akampat in the present Imphal East district was the first of its kind in the state. As part of Yaoshang festival, the local adults of that time organized the Yubi Lakpi event by selecting a King. Written accounts named one Thokchom Bhubon from Singjamei Kshetri Leikai (Irengbam Leirak) who acted as the King. He was made to sit on a bullock cart that staged a procession from Thiyam Leirak of the locality via Kongba road to reach Akampat. A number of men, women and youths accompanied the procession and witnessed the Yubi Lakpi. Programmes in the form of Fancy Dress were also conducted. This may be considered the pioneer in the Yaoshang Sports movement which was witnessed and participated by locals of Singjamei Kshetri Leikai, Khongman, Bheigyabati Leikai etc. The second edition of the games was held in 1947 at Akampat again. More events like Arithmetic Competition for children, Chaphu Pubi Race, Laphu Kabi and Blind Hit were added to the meet. One who was known as Maiba Amuba who had hailed from Kabo Wakching Nambol and had been staying along with Yumnam Komol (said to be the driver of Budhachandra Maharaj) at Yumnam Leikai took the role of King in Yubi Lakpi that year. Thus, born the Yaoshang Sports of today. The Annual Yaoshang Sports being organized at Bamon Leikai Basketball Ground is also one of the oldest of its genre, with its 66th edition held this year. (Reference: Souvenir, Silver Jubilee Celebration of Yaoshang Sports, 2008, SEYO, Singjamei Kshetri Leikai )
Meitei ‘Yaoshang’ is believed to have its ancestral origin from the ‘Ougri Hangen Chongba’ of pre-historic times. When the two sons of Godly King ‘Atiya Guru Shidaba’ were asked to complete the ‘Nongkhong Koiba’ for succession to the throne, the elder son ‘Sanamahi’ started the journey. However, the younger son ‘Nongda Lairen Pakhangba’ being a small boy was apprehensive that he could not complete the journey. Meanwhile, with the invaluable advice of his mother, ‘Pakhangba’ went round the royal throne of the King in no time and claimed to have completed the ‘Nongkhong Koiba’ before his brother ‘Sanamahi’ came back after going round the whole land physically. When the elder brother came back, he was so furious that he swore to avenge the person who revealed the modus operandi to ‘Pakhangba’ in order to be the king of the land. If it were a man, he would be killed and if it happened to be a woman, he would marry her – this was Sanamahi’s promise. Surprisingly, ‘Sanamahi’ realized that it was none other than his mother who had stealthily helped the younger brother to become the king. ‘Sanamahi’ had to keep his promise by marrying the mother. In every Meitei household we now see ‘Sanamahi’ and ‘Leimaren’ residing together, but with a wall separating them.
The furious ‘Sanamahi’ after coming back from ‘Nongkhong Koiba’ chased ‘Pakhangba’ to beat him while the women of royal palace defended ‘Pakhangba’ by joining hands and singing the song “Ke Ke Ke Mo Mo, Yangen Samba Sao Sao, Tokpaga Kambaga Keiga Yenga, Yenkhong Phate Chasillu, Laigi Yenni Chaphade, Ke Ke Ke Mo Mo……..”. It is believed that ‘Thabal chongba’, ‘Phee Munbi’, ‘Sen Munbi’ etc. which are parts of contemporary ‘Yaoshang’ had their origin from the tradition of ‘Nongkhong Koiba’. Hence, Meitei Yaoshang had its own origin as different from the ‘Holi’ of the Hindus.
As time goes by, ‘Yaoshang’ changes its facets year after year, decades after decades and centuries after centuries. To the present generation, ‘Yaoshang’ is synonymous with games and sports. It is indeed a mini Olympiad particularly in the valley districts of Manipur. All the ugly scenes and traditions of earlier ‘Yaoshang’ have been subdued to bring in constructive sports festivals in almost all Manipuri localities. Various games including indigenous events such as Mukna and Laphu Kabee are seen to be popular during Yaoshang sports. Apart from sporting programmes; academic events like debating competitions, Ex-tempore speech, symposium competitions, Essay writing, song competitions, mathematics competitions, recitations etc. are organized in the interests of students. ‘Yaoshang’ has today become a festival of sports in Manipur.
Apart from being a festival, ‘Yaoshang’ has served as a useful platform for promoting sporting spirit and hunting talents of young people in varied fields of personality development. The children are given enough opportunity for exposure to various competitive events. For the elders who are at the dusk of their lives, ‘Yaoshang’ serves as a valuable recreation item by breaking the monotony of ageing life. It is a meaningful rendezvous where local people of all ages meet, interact, share, exchange views and ideas among themselves. It helps in reducing unwanted behavior, crimes, substance abuse and drugs.
May the Yaoshang Sports festivals continue to play its constructive role in the making of a unified and strong Manipur.