Ningol Chakkouba: The colourful social festival

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Manipur, once an Asiatic state is situated at the extreme eastern corner of India. With an area of 22,327 sq kms, Manipur of today is bounded in the north by Nagaland, in the east and south, by Myanmar, in the south-west by Mizoram and in the west by Assam. A very charming hilly state, which had once separated Assam and Myanmar before the creation of present Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram out of Assam. Three major ethnic groups, namely “the Meiteis in the valley and the Nagas and Kukis-Chin group of people at the surrounding hills occupy the state.” These ethnic groups belong to Mongoloid racial stock and speak Tibeto-Burman languages. In addition to the native population, people of different communities like the Pangans (Muslims), Nepalis, Mayangs (Marwaris, Tamils, Malayalis, Biharis, Bengalis, Punjabis etc) live in Manipur. In fact, Manipur can be aptly described as a miniature of India. The present article is a humble attempt to delve into the Ningol Chakkouba festival, its origin and social significance.
Manipur is a land of festival, merriment and mirth all the year round. A year in Manipur does represent a cycle of festivals and hardly a month passes without a festival. To the Manipuris, festival is the symbol of their cultural, social, and religious aspirations. Besides, it does remove dull monotonous life by providing physical diversion, mental recreation and emotional outlet, helps one to lead a peaceful and joyful life. “The joy of life which is the mother of the will to live is sustained by the successive festivals in this hilly State.”
Among the festivals of Manipur, Ningol Chakkouba is the biggest and colourful social festival. Ningol Chakkouba means invitation of married daughters and sisters to parental house for a grand feast; here, Ningol means married woman not a girl and Chakkouba, calling for a meal. So, it is a special day for married daughters and sisters irrespective of ages. The festival is observed on the second day of new moon in the Manipuri month Hiyangei which falls in November every year. In this festival, all the Manipuris irrespective of poor or rich are actively involved. As a tradition, invitation is formally conveyed some days ahead with Pana (betel leaf folded over betel nuts) to the married daughters and sisters. It is a day for the women old and young to go back again for at least some hours to their respective homes where they have got their roots, but separated when they became a member of another family.
In this festival, married women clad in best traditional attire along with their children go to their parental houses, taking sweets, fruits, and other delicious to meet their parents and brothers and to dine together. Those married women who are far away from the motherland Manipur also return home for the special occasion. It is considered that one who could participate in the festival is the luckiest person. At their parents’ houses, the women are pampered with sumptuous food, gifts and total comfort. Mothers and brothers prepare lavish and extensive meals for their daughters and sisters. Parental family members like Papa, Mama and Dada warmly welcome their Ningols (married daughters and sisters) and grandchildren. It is a form of family rejoinder to revive familial affection.
A marriage separates the “bride from her parental sacred hearth and incorporates her into the sacred hearth of her husband.”  She will worship the ancestors of her husband’s family not those of her own parents. It is natural that human being always hunts for love and wants to be loved. Finding one in life may be one of the most romantic things to come about in life. It is the love of the man in her life which does enable a girl to break ties with her parental home, her parents, brothers and sisters and ties the nuptial knot to the man of her life. At the same time, her relationship with her birth place is mystical, a psychic placenta that refuses to snap by the tug of her married life in her new home. It is said the Naopham, placenta of the child is put in an earthen pot and buried in the Phamel the southern side of the house, if the child is a male, and in the Mangsok the northern side of the house, if the child is a female. It is done in the faith that the child will sense itself endlessly drawn to its parent’s house. As tradition of the land, after marriage, a woman leaves her natal home physically, but the home where she was born and brought up never leaves her. This festival definitely gives an opportunity to bring back the old family members together. It is basically a source of family reunion and get-togethers.
It is a long tradition and it is even said that this festival is observed from the time of the Lais, deities. It is stated that this festival started from the time of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, the first historical king who ruled Manipur in 33 C. E. Ancient Manipuri Literary sources gave us information regarding the origin of this festival that “Laisna, the queen of Pakhangba, one day went to the harvesting place of her elder brother Poreiton just to see the progress of the work. He was very happy to see his sister after long time and as marked of sister and brother love relationship Poreiton gave her two types of rice, i.e. black rice and white rice (sweet smelling rice/Chahao) along with a bunch of banana. She was please to see the affectionate attitude of her brother and so she invited him for a feast to her place. Thus, from that afterwards, and as mark of remembrance the married sisters invited their brothers every year on a particular day.” This is called Piba Chakkouba. Thus, this tradition had been existence for many years. However, the practice had changed from the time of Maharaja Chandrakriti Singh (1850-1886) CE that instead of going by brother to the house of sister, married daughters and sisters were invited by the parents and brothers to their houses for grand feast. It seems that the king found the task of visiting all sisters’ home in one day difficult. He started a new trend to invite all his sisters to his home so that Piba Chakkouba became Ningol Chakkouba. In this way, from that time onwards Ningol Chakkouba has been continuing every year and it has become a festival for the married sisters and magnified as a big festival since all sorts of people male and female, young and old join together and enjoy the day cheerfully.
According to YL Roland Shimmi, “Ningon-chakouba is a Meitei festival celebrated once in a year. Every man holds a dinner in his house and usually invites his sisters. It is actually the day when a brother makes any kind of presentation to his sisters. Ningon-chakouba is parallel to Mangkhap of the Tangkhul.”  The Mangkhap festival is observed for seven days. The fifth day is called Khaso, the arrival day of visitors; after her marriage, generally within two years’ duration, a sister must be provided with grand meal by her eldest brother or so.
Ningol Chakouba festival of course bears a good meaning of love between the brothers and sisters and also signifies the love core of the families. After the grand feast, the parents and brothers present nominal gifts to their daughters and sisters who in turn bless them all for happiness and prosperity in the days to come.
Another facet of the festival, on this day, valley based civil society organizations hold Ningol Chakkouba at different places of Manipur where married women of different communities take part. After grand feast, the organizers present a small gift as token of love to all the participants. In return, the participant married women give blessing to their brothers for wellbeing and prosperity.
Thus, the Ningol Chakkouba festival tightens the bond of love between brothers and sisters.

Source: The Sangai Express

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