Lifecycle ceremonies of the Zeliangrong of Northeast – Part 6

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Dr Budha Kamei
From previous issue

In Zeliangrong society, the period of mourning of a death is observed for one year until the celebration of next Gaan-ngai festival. The family of the deceased observes the mourning in the form of abstention from amusement. The meaning of such action seems evident: grief felt for the loss of a dear relative or friend naturally expresses itself in forms of self denial. But the purpose may sometimes have been intended to divert the ill humour of the dead from those who still enjoyed life in this world. In view of Arnold van Gennep, mourning seems to be as an aggregate of taboos and negative practices marking society of those whom death, in its physical reality, had placed in a sacred impure state. It is believed that during mourning, the living mourners and the deceased constitute a special group, situated between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Gaan-ngai is the biggest post harvest festival of the Zeliangrong people which normally falls in the month of December or January every year. In the festival, ritual farewell is given to all those who died in the previous year. Emile Durkheim says, when an individual dies, his soul quits the body in which it dwelt, and after the mourning is accomplished, it goes to the land of the souls. On the first day of Gaan-ngai, a fare well feast is given by the family for the deceased in which all the near and dear ones take part. The grave of the dead is beautified and offering in the form of food and drink are placed on the grave. On the fourth day of the festival, farewell dance is also given by the dormitory in which he or she belongs. It is believed that the spirit of the dead leaves the burial place after the festival. These rites lift the prohibitions of mourning and make reintegration into the life of society.

The death of a person reduces the strength of a group or community is an important event. The nearest relatives are severely disturbed and the community is mutilated. The whole event breaks the normal course of life and shaken the moral foundations of the society. Death is, therefore much worse than the removal of a member. It threatens the very cohesion and solidarity of the group upon which the organization of the society, its tradition and the whole culture depend.

As we have seen, the critical junctures in the life cycle of an individual are replete with danger. The individual is himself in danger. He also passes this danger on to his family and village at large. Besides the individual, his family and village are also defiled. In view of this, we can say that the main object of all the rites and ceremonies attending birth, initiation, marriage and death, is of two folds: – (i) to remove the pollution attendant on the individual’s household and village, and to protect them against any calamities at the hands of the evils spirits and powers; (ii) to purify the individual himself, keep him away from any hostile agencies, and to ensure for him the security and care given by the God. Thus, Najum Gaimei Khatni Nasan Kanmei reveals an anxiety to integrate the new born child into its father’s clan and a member of the society. (Concluded)

Source: The Sangai Express

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