Gaan-Ngai, the Ritual Festival of Zeliangrong

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By Chaoba Kamson

Chakaan Gaan-Ngai — The Zeliangrong people specially the followers of TRC and Heraka religions celebrate Gaan-Ngai festival on the 13th day (Gaan-Ngaibu) of the Manipuri lunar month of Wakching which usually falls in January or sometimes in December. This festival is called as Chakaan Gaan-Ngai as it is celebrated in the Chakaan Season (winter season). Among the festivals, Gaan-Ngai is the greatest and longest day of celebration lasting for at least five days depending on local necessity. Maximum number of songs are sung during the festival. It is the most enthusiastic festival with pomp and show. Merry making is seen in this festival profusely. This festival is celebrated for the dead and the living. Gaan-Ngai is a festival for spreading good will, peace and prosperity.

In the Zelaingrong society, festivals have a very important place. The aesthetic form of Gaan-Ngai lies in cultural dance. The most attractive programme of this festival is dance for all the visitors and viewers. All the programmes are chalked out by the males’ dormitory to celebrate the greatest festival meaningfully in a grand manner. Boys and girls dance in consonance with traditional drum beating, cymbal, gong etc.

1st Day – Starting of Festival

In the early morning on the 1st day of Gaan-Ngai festival, eggs and gingers are offered to both the presiding deities at North and South by a priest praying not to cause any kind of disturbance, bad consequences etc. during and affer the festival. On return to males’ dormitory, holy wine is offered to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods for prosperity, well-being, love, unity, longevity of life in the coming year. Before every lunch and dinner sacred wine is offered to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods after shouting huai.

Heralding of Gaan-Ngai by beating drum

On return to boys dormitory, the priest will offer holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods. Next, the boys will start beating drum going around the village (Ngaikhong Baimei) signifying the commencement of Gaan-Ngai festival.

Extraction of sacred fire

Early in the morning, a fresh fire will be extracted with a dried wood and a splint of bamboo at the jumping ground. Every household will collect the fresh fire and cook for longevity of life. Easy extraction of fire is a good sign of prosperity for the year. It is believed that partaking of the food cooked with the new fire will make them healthy, wealthy and wise.

Observation of spleen and blood curry eating

A big pig is killed and examined its spleen. This is called Gakpai Jaomei in search of good sign. If there is any blemish on the spleen, it is assumed as bad and if there is nothing on it, it is treated as good sign. Then oblation of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods for well-being and prosperity of the village is carried out. The spleen may be given to the first examiner or to the oldest man of the village or the same may be cooked with the rest of the flesh as told by the village elders. The blood curry mixed with other internal parts of the pig will be eaten at boys dormitory, after lunch the boys will dig the jumping ground where the sports of long-jump, shot-put, wrestling are to be performed in the evening.

Calling of paddy at individual family

Towards evening of the first day of the festival in the individual family, a ritual of calling of paddy (Napkaomei) offering a big cock to Tingkao Ragwang as thanksgiving for the plentiful harvest is performed chanting the relevant hymns. Then the cock’s legs are observed to know the omen and followed by offering of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods. After finishing the cooking, the cooked liver of the cock will be offered to Kambuipui, Charaipui and Ancestors who live at the hearth stones to bless for good fortune, health, richness.

Tributes paid to the departed souls (Ngaidongmei)

On this particular day the graves are beautified and decorated. Drinks and eatables are placed on it as a farewell given to all those who died in the previous year in the form of parting meals provided by the concerned families. It is believed that the departed souls do not leave the family or the village until the festival is over.

Huai procession and sports activities

An act of offering of sacred wine to Tingkao Ragwang and related gods at boys’ dormitory will be performed and chutney of vegetables will be eaten. Then every member of Khangchu and village elders attiring best colourful costumes, shawls, headgear and holding spears in their hands will march up and down of the village shouting huai. After concluding the huai, the procession will move to the jumping ground shouting huai which ends there. Then either a khunbu or khunlak of the village will introduce the sports of shot-put chanting a relevant hymn. After that the boys will throw the stone for prosperity and welfare of the village. Again the village elder will introduce the sport activity of long-jump chanting a hymn. Then the boys will participate the game. The village elder will declare the result of the sports. The winners of the sports are not given prizes instead they (winners) are required to pay fee for declaring his ability and power. At the end, a long huai at jumping ground will be shouted. Next, the people will return to the boys dormitory after sports competition shouting a short huai which ends there. Every important event of Zeliangrong by tradition starts and ends with shouting of huai. Shouting of huai is an invocation to Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God.

Greeting of the Gaan-Ngai Festival

The village elders along with heads of boy’s dormitory (Khangbon) will visit every household greeting the members of family to enjoy in the festive mood joyously and love each other and warn them not to quarrel nor speak ill words against each other during the festival. If there is any fighting or quarreling, the village council (pei) will impose a fine upon the erring person. This is called as Shaopaak Thetmei in local dialect.

Dining togather and merry making

The boys and the girls enjoy the tasty food accompanied by merry making, singing, cutting joke etc. heartily. Performance of cultural activity like pazeimei is also carried out singing the traditional songs till late night. The youth go around the village with spears in their hands  singing the village guarding songs till late night or till day breaks. This is called as kailong lonmei. They are entertained with drink, dried meat chutney or eel, tea, eatables, fruits etc. by the individual family.

2nd Day — Tamchan-ngai

Next day of the festival is called Tamchan-Ngai. In the morning, all boys and girls who are admitted to boys’ and girls’ dormitories as members will bring Tamcha (gifts) in the form of drink, rice, dry meats, vegetables, eatables, fruits along with a jar of rice beer to their respective dormitories. Any member who died in the previous year will also contribute his/her share. Two senior most members (Gaanpi Gandai Kanei) of boys’ dormitory will be given blessings by one elder of pei and so do to two heads of girls dormitory (Tunapi Kanei). Then boys’ and girls’ dormitories will give some shares of gifts and one jar of wine to the house owners of both dormitories. After lunch, the boys’ dormitory will go and give blessings to the above four houses shouting a short huai. The blessing is given to chutney for senior and wine for junior.  The money collected from four houses will be given to the responsible person of boys’ dormitory.

Blessing words (Tamsuan)

Today, we are celebrating the great festival of Gaan-Ngai, one inmate of a particular family is bringing out the chutney which is much more than the sand of Agu and Alang so the boys’ dormitory is giving thankfulness in the form of seven elephants and seven disces for kind benevolence.”

Blessing words (Zousuan)

“Today, we are celebrating the biggest festival of Gaan-Ngai, one particular family is bringing out the sacred wine which is much more the water of Agu and Alang rivers. So our dormitory is appreciating the family and giving thankfulness in the form of seven elephants and seven disces for benevolence.”

Tamchanmei

In the evening, at the courtyard of boys’ dormitory dry cooked fish soup, chutney and a jar of rice beer will be brought out and an elder of the village will offer holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods. After that the soup, tea, wine will be served to all present and followed by a dance of Tamchan laam. This dance will be performed by girls only singing the song of Tamchan luh. Then the dance troupe will proceed to (i) Peikai, (ii) Kengjapui Kaibang (iii) Gaanchang Kaibang, (iv) Napmu Kaibang                             (v) Mathenmei Kaibang where some quantity of wine, pieces of porks, small dried fishes (ngakha), salt cake and coin will be presented to the above institutions by boys and girls’ dormitories. The remaining materials of Tamcha will be  returned to their respective dormitories for longevity of life (Kamuikhang).

Reason of Tamchanmei

Boys and girls dormitories worship to the above institutions to prevent any impending diseases or ailments for the coming year as the above social institutions are treated as holy places. Tamcha is offered as scapegoat as substitute for the distructive period of boys and girls of the dormitories. In short, it is a respect to the village elders.

Hymns of Tamchan

“Au.  Apou Tingkao Ragwang, this village is celebrating the great festival of Gaan-Ngai so today the boys and girls are offering gifts to (i) Peikai (ii) Kengjapui Kaibang (iii) Ganchang Kaibang (iv) Napmu Kaibang (v) Mathenmei Kaibang. Today onward these village dormitories be given a lasting and prosperous institution in future”.

Items

(i)    Dry meat

(ii)    Dry fish

(iii)    Salt-cake

(iv)    Holy wine

There are two kinds of coin (puan) given by boys and girls.

3rd Day — Youth Festival (Tuna Gaan-Ngai)

In the morning, the two heads of boys’ dormitories (Khangbons) will bring their tamcha (share/gifts) to boys’ dormitory. Then, an oldman will declare in appreciation of their tamcha for bringing of huge quantity. The tamchas will be shared to the houseowners of boys’ and girls’ dormitories. After lunch, the members of boys’ dormitory will go to the house of Khangbons shouting huai and appreciate their gifts and wish them for longevity of life. They (Khangbons) will, in turn, give some money for boys’ dormitory. If they are to be promoted to the post of higher rank (Gaanchang), a farewell dance for them will be presented. It not having, a rotation dance in order to drive fund for the dormitories will be performed.

4th Day — Longkumei (Hill Trekking)

Longkumei/Longruimei means hill trekking for sight seeing. The leaves of phaak are used as a means of reading omen (Phaakdaan Jaomei). It is believed that if  the result is positive, the desire of boys and girls is fulfilled. If the leaves of phaak are not available, leaves of jongtou as substitutes are used as headgears. Those who know well the art of drum beating, harp and flute will perform their activities on the top of hill. Those who were the killers of enemy, tiger, bear, python, wild pig etc. show kabaomei, sing traditional songs such as romantic songs, lamenting songs and eat gaktingtam (boiled pork pounded with salt, rotten fish, ginger, chillies, onion and made into ball) with drink. Among them, two boys and two girls are chosen as kings and queens. They are described as phaakgwangs. At the end, shouting huai is performed. They return to the village in the evening and perform phaakgwang laam to the house of two boys and two girls. The participants are entertained with eatables and drink. A last dance to khangchu and luchu will be performed. This dance is called Thenkadimei. On this day, the boy’s dormitory will distribute a bamboo pipe to every household and hang the same to the front wall of the house. The objective is supposed to store the diseases of epidemic inside the pipe.

5th Day — Napchanmei

There is no customary activity in the morning. After cooking, lunch will be served after shouting huai. The whole day is busy for preparation of cooking. Towards evening, Napchanmei, a ritual of calling of paddy of goddess with a cock or a pig is performed at the boys’ and girls’ dormitories to restore the wasted, missing, left out rice during the festival.  After the chicken is cooked, rice, salt, crushed ginger, wine, chicken liver is offered to please Kambuipui, Charaipui and Ancestors who in turn will suppose to bless the boys’ and girls’ dormitories. Both boys’ and girls’ dormitories perform the offering on the hearth stones. It is believed that Kambuipui, Charaipui and Kairao (ancestors) live in the form of hearth stones. The same offering is also placed on the grain jar (Napshaam Pantilai). The ritual is performed by the household mother.

Napsin Gansin Raomei

After dinner, all the members of boys’ dormitory will gather setting fire at the courtyard of dormitory and will start singing the song of Napsin Ganshin Raomei. Napsin Gansin Raomei means criticism made to the leaders of boys’ dormitory particularly to its two khangbons and two senior most gaanpis for not being served delicious dishes during the festival.  Their dissatisfactions are expressed through songs. These songs are known as Napchan luh. They also sing songs criticizing the matriarch of the male’s dormitory for her activities. These songs are meant to ensure welfare and prosperity in coming year. Then they will move inside the boys’ dormitory singing, joking songs and wishing welfare in the coming year.

Singing Competition

Then the boys will proceed to the girls dormitory singing Luchu Kailong Ronluh for singing competition with the girls. The girls will remain stayed inside the house by closing the doors. On reaching at girls’ dormitory, the boys will sing three different songs but same tune to open the doors. At the same time, the girls will respond that they are ready to open the doors.  At last, the girls will open the door. Then, the boys will take their respective seats. A village elder will offer holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods invoking them not to happen any trouble in the course of singing competition. First, a boy will sing and followed by a girl in rotation. The competition will continue till late night. After the singing competition is over, boys will return to male’s dormitory shouting a short huai (Rilai huai).

Naptengbang Lingmei

In some villages, on the day of Napchanmei, a tree known as Naptengbang is planted at the courtyard of the houses where dance will be performed. A short huai will be shouted at the time of planting of Naptengbang. They make the dry paddy plants (Napgou) as bunch of paddy crops (Napgui) and hang in the branches of the tree. They select four or six houses to perform a dance known as Napteng Laam in the evening. Plantation of tree will be carried out according to seniority. The houseowners will bring one big cock each to boys’ dormitory if the dance is already started by the first house. Among the cocks, one most beautiful and good looking will be used for ritual purpose of calling of paddy at boys & girls’ dormitories. When the dance is completed in all houses, a last dance to Khangchu and Luchu will be performed. After shouting huai (Naplao huai), dinner will be served at boys dormitory. Thereafter, the boys’ dormitory will carry out a programme of Napsin Gansin Raomei. Nowadays, Napchanmei is performed next day of Napteng Lingmei. The planted trees (Naptengbang) will be unearthed on the first day of Rig-Ngai Festival in the month of February by performing a ritual of calling of paddy at boys dormitory.

6th Day – Rangpatmei

Early in the morining, Raangpatmei for the whole village is observed at the northern village gate by the members of village council for well-being and prosperity of the village. One cock each to all gods is sacrificed. Rangpatmei is the worship of all gods of Zeliangrong pantheon i.e. eight brothers of Ragwang, presiding deities of the village, the gods of wind, fire etc.

Evil spirits are not worshipped and they are propitiated not to disturb men and to go away from the society of mankind. The reason behind of closure of village gates is to prevent evil spirits from entering the village and also the villagers are not allowed to go beyond  the village gate. If they happen to meet the evil spirits, they will face bad consequences. Every household will give a cock, a piece of fresh ginger and a bundle of plantain leaf to the village council. The chicken will be eaten by the oldest men of the pei (Banja), old women and minors. Gaanchang and adults are prohibited from eating as it is a prohibited food for them.

The following gods are worshipped at the ritual of Raren Loumei

    Name of God            Abodes of the Divine brothers.

1.    Ragwang (Na-Ragwang)        Ragwang Phaipa, Koubru

2.    Bisnu (Manchanu, Buichanu,    Bhubon Hill, Cachar
    Bonchanu)

3.    Napsinmei (Laorang)        Ganglon Namthan (Phoulungba)

4.    Chonchai            Kashokbut, Taosang

5.    Charakilongmei            Bena (Thongrang Akutpa)

6.    Koklou                Pongringlong

7.    Karangong            Puching (Kheba Ching), Tamenglong

8.    Dimei                    The deity who could not hatch and remains under
                        the earth.

(i)    Ragwang :  Two layers of plantain leaf making a banana cup leaf one layer tearing seven pieces and another layer tearing eight pieces (Kachaakton) will be made to stand on the surface of the earth. Holy wine will be poured inside the banana cup leaf. A good looking cock will be sacrificed and its intestine will be removed and laid on the place of altar. Its legs will be observed.

(ii)    Bisnu : A luiduk will be erected and wine will be poured. A good looking cock will be sacrificed. That cock will be given to priest. The cock offered to Bisnu is called as laigong which means holy. Its legs will be examined.

(iii)    Napsinmei :  Holy wine will be poured in banana cup leaf and a cock will be sacrificed. Its legs will be observed the omen.

(iv)    Chonchai : Water instead of holy wine will be poured in banana cup leaf and a cock will be scrificed. The cock’s legs will be examined the omen.

(v)    Charakilongmei : Holy wine will be put inside the banana cup leaf. A cock is sacrificed and its legs will be observed to find out the omen.

(vi)    Koklou : Holy wine will be put inside the banana cup leaf and a cock is sucrificed. Its legs will be observed by the priest.

(vii)    Karangong : Sacred wine will be poured in banana cup leaf and a cock is killed and the priest will read the omen of the intestine.

(viii)    Dimei : Banana cup leaf turning in opposite side will be used and wine will be poured therein and a cock is sacrificed.

Kunmei (evil spirit) : Banana cup leaf turning in opposite side will be kept and wine is poured. An egg will be kept in breaking.

Pa-ra (other evil spirits) : Banana cup turning in opposite side will be kept and holy wine wil be poured. Either an egg or a cock will be used or killed.

There may be slight difference of local deities depending on local variations. Old men (Banja) and old women (Karapei) are entertained and offered their shares. Minor children are informed to collect cooked chicken at the abode of northern village gate. That chicken is known as chaangramjan. The priest will recite hymns (Ragai Kaomei) for well-being and prosperity of the village. The members present will respond with one voice. Thus, the work of Raren Loumei comes to an end.

Rangpat Tamcha : Banja (old men) will bring Rangpat Tamcha in the form of eatables, salt-cake, materials etc. which are equally distributed to all banjas and old women. Gaanchangs are not entitled to entertain it.

Khupot Laitatmei : The hanging pipe made of bamboo which was earlier hung on the day of Longkumei at every household will be collected by the members of pei. The house owner will pour wine into the pipe and cover its mouth with cotton. This pipe will be thrown away beyond the village gate by the village elders.

Maru Zou : As customary practice, a banja will declare to all the villagers to come and collect the Maruzou (blessed wine). It is believed, if drunken, it is good for health and will have longevity of life.

Filling up the vacant posts and advanced invitation given for promotion :

If any post lying vacant in the village council before the celebration of Gaan-Ngai, the said vacant post is filled up on this day of Rangpatmei by a suitable seniormost person. It is formally declared by a banja with an iron-hoe in his hand in the name of Tingkao Ragwang. In addition, any promotion from Khangbon to Gaanchang, Gaanchang to Banja, Banja to Nampou or Namgakpou etc. and from married women to old women is decided on this day. In such cases, prior or advanced invitation (Kaphaan Timei) in the form of a local salf cake (Teikok Timei) is given to the proposed promotees for the next year.

Bukaomei (calling of souls) :

After  the performance of Raren Loumei, the village elders will return to the house of village authority (peikai) where another ritual ceremony known as Bukaomei will be performed. A big cock for the villagers will be sacrified after chanting the hymns invoking Tingkao Ragwang to allow to return the souls (which temporarily escapes from the body because of startling news or action caused by accident) to its original places (human bodies). The cooked chicken will be eaten by the elders and pieces of the meat will also be distributed to every household to eat it. Thus, the Gaan-Ngai Festival comes to an end.

Conclusion : Festival is an inseparable part of Zeliangrong inhabitants of North East India. The people rejoice and offer prayer to the Almighty (Tingkao Ragwang) as thanksgiving and for future prosperity. Festival is a unique cultural phenomenon, a form of aesthetic expression of the Zeliangrong religion and philosophy. By observing the festivals, they sustain their rich cultural heritage and way of life. It is an essence of the Zeliangrong culture.

Lastly, I, on behalf of the Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak Phom, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland extend my hearty greeting to all the Zeliangrong people to celebrate the Gaan-Ngai festival 2014 (which begins from 13th January) joyously with a spirit of love and understandings.

(The auther is the General Secretary of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak Phom, Assam, Manipur & Nagaland  and his contact No. – 8794627273)

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