By Bobo Khuraijam
Without much thought another December is coming to an end. Right, the end of December means end of a year. End of a year means beginning of another new year. Whether we approve or disapprove the calendar has to be changed. To some, the year 2013 might be a year of delightful tidings. Some might have won lots of ‘housefools’ in tombola draws. A few might have hit the jackpot at the lotteries. A long awaited promotion for a government servant might have got approved without spending a rupee. A bill of a patriotic thikadar might have got passed with an amount he would not reveal even to his shadow. A musician might have composed one of the finest compositions he ever imagines. To a poet or to a writer, the year might have been rewarding in their creative best. Many a lover might have tied knot to a lifelong unison. Long lost friends might have met after many moons. And for us in the Leipung, this is going to be the last musing for the year. Should we whimper with the sundown flooding ourselves with tears? Standing alone, together at the Leipung, should we sing farewell melting away with the tangerine sky of December? No, Taibungo, No. The sky is hazy with smog. You cannot sense whether it is the dust or the diesel kissing you.No fretting, please.
A GIFT: The United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the inclusion of Sankirtan of Manipur in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the world. UNESCO clearly mentions that ‘Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts … that have evolved in response to our environment and contribute to giving a sense of identity and continuity.’One hundred and ninety three countries from across the world decided to sit down together and come to a conclusion that some things are to be preserved for future generation. That those things are to be safeguarded from the threat of globalization; that intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity,an understanding of different communities which helps in intercultural dialogue, and encouraging mutual respect for other ways of life.For us at Leipung, this announcement at the end of the year has made us proud. We would not pretend to understand the whole gamut of the Manipuri Sankirtan. It takes time and devotion for that. But there must be something, something that might have moved the expert members from across the world to come to a mutual conclusion. That Manipuri Sankirtan must be declared a common property of the entire humanity. It is undeniable that the performing art form is a cultural expression of the MeitieVaisnavas. One cannot also refute that this particular cultural expression was born out from a synthesis of two different cultural trajectories. Visible presence of the practice of the Sankirtan is very much there at marriages, ritual ceremonies at the time of death etc. Or for that matter, the arrival of each and every season of a year has a festival with Sankirtan.
WE GOT MORE: We have in our previous musings shared its missing link of the essence with the present generation, however. But we would not claim that it should be done away with. For we know that it is here to stay, to live with. With due respect, one might disown it going by the debate that it is not ‘purely’ or ‘entirely’ Meitei/Meetei in ‘true’ indigenous sense. One might also pitch in the point that the Lai Haraoba is the ‘true’ and ‘authentic’ form of Meiteicultural expression. Yes, we agree. Lai Haraoba is also very much part of the Meitei way of life. This particular cultural expression is nowhere to be found in any part of the world. If we strictly go by the definition and the criteria constituted by UNESCO, Lai Haraoba can also be included in the list of the world cultural heritage. There is no doubt about it. The same applies for so many cultural expressions that are found in so many ethnic groups of Manipur.There is a procedural requirement to make a body like UNESCO heard that there are more things from Manipur that can be declared as heritage. It is an ongoing process which requires time and an apt approach through different channels. At the same time we at the Leipung, also have the view that a body or an institution, with whatever name, whether it be of international level or inter galactic level, their approval or satisfaction simply cannot make us proud of our culture. That proudness must be within our collective inner-selves; of our plurality and compositeness, of our tolerance and compassions with one another. We are all representatives of the humanity. It would be a fallacy to live in the frozen past denying that the world and its cultural manifestations are in a constant flux. There is a great churning of the cultural plurality taking place at different layers of our existence. It does not confine to one political boundary of a country or a race. The Hindu epic Ramayana is staged as theatrical play in its most beautiful form in Bali, Indonesia – a Muslim country. Buddhism practiced in Japan is not entirely same with Buddhism in other Asian countries. And we are no different either. Manipuri Vaisnavism is entirely different from other Vaishnavism practice elsewhere. And so is Manipuri Sankirtan.
FOOTNOTE: just concluded Manipur Film Festival started with controversies and has also ended with controversies. We are told that there are so many players playing the game. LeipungNingthou calls it, “Mamigitaibang da maminamamitkhaakpa”.