Manipur can well be described as the land of never ending festivals since one goes off only to bring in another in its place partly owing to the various communities living in the state with their different beliefs and practices. Call it multiculturalism or a penchant for revelries and festivities but the people of the state do not have any dearth for being in high spirits under the garb of festivals. Amongst the various communities living in the state, it is the Meties who can boast of being the ones who takes the prize when it comes to observing a never ending array of festivals. For the Meiteis, every festival is of course a major festival with Yaoshang being the top of the pile given that it is held for five full days starting from the full moon of the month of Phagun during which time, the scheme of things come to a near complete halt. The number of days of the festival is near to similar with the observations in certain parts of North India but suffice to say that the five days of Holi in Manipur surpasses the nature of celebrations and social and cultural indulgence. For the very young, the festival is an innocent introduction to the fine art of ‘extorting’ money, which children do by going to homes and asking for money or putting ‘roadblocks’. For the older young people, ‘Yaoshang’ as Holi is known is a socially sanctioned courting period where strict social and cultural codes of no show of personal affection can be crossed by holding hands to the beat of drums and music at night.
The younger generation in fact, often fails to see the devotional aspect of Yaoshang apart from the connotation of the Hindu mythological story of the veil Hollika being burnt on the fire while the noble Prahlad is saved because of his devotion. To the older generation, Holi means a time for offering the best of spring to Lord Krishna and his consort, Radha and celebrating their divine love. For the later generation of course, the sub text of spiritual devotion can be lost but it is evident that the air of romance has caught on given the number of elopements that take place during the five-day period. There is still no proper study in this link between social and cultural sub texts of festivals but in Gujarat, another traditional society statistics have shown that the festival of Navratri that allows for open social sanction of young people mixing together leads to an increasing marriage activity!
One other activity around Holi that cannot be left out is the Sports meets that are organized at the Leikai level. Many often describe them as being representative of the great love for sports that people of this state have. There may be some amount of truth is this assumption but it would be wrong to pitch Sports meets during the festival as a strong ground for appreciating and encouraging sports in the state. Firstly, the activities are conducted in an almost casual manner: there are no clock timers for athletic activities; the judges are often the elders of the Leikai or young people while the participants are mostly people who do take up any athletic activity for the whole year. For the Yaoshang sports meets to be actually an extension of grooming or encouraging sporting talents, there needs to be much more competitiveness. Perhaps organizing them on the lines of Municipal wards etc may help bring in some seriousness. While organizing sports meets have brought down the extent of small children standing by road-sides and stopping pedestrians and vehicles for `Nakatheng`, much needs to be done if they are to be vehicles for encouraging sporting talents.
While most states in the country mark Holi in one day, in Manipur the majority of shops and business establishments remain closed year after year. Passenger vehicles stay off the road and people who make a living from daily labour or selling vegetables etc will suffer the most and not much gets done during the five-day break including for media houses. With the financial year closing around the corner, some Government departments and officials would certainly be cursing the festival this time round. But more than anything else, one hopes that the five day period does not bring a surplus of bad tidings at the end of festivities as proved by earlier occasions starting with the Heirok incident and subsequent others where there have been loss of lives. May this Holi be a safe one!