By Chaoba Kamson
The Zeliangrong people called this festival by different names Zeme as Hegangi, Liangmei as Chagangi and Rongmei as Gaan-Ngai. Chakaan in Rongmei dialect means name of season. Chakaan season is the harbinger of Gaan-Ngai fesival. Gaan means winter and Ngai means festival. The Gaan-Ngai festival is also described as a New Year as it marks the end of the year and beginning of New Year as per Gregorian Calendar. This festival is performed when the old leaves of the trees are dried up and decayed whereas the new leaves are about to sprout stems of trees. When farmers store enough food grains in the granaries; they are free from agricultural works; their mind turns towards festive mood; the sky looks clear and high; hornbill flies out from its nest; winter season sets in and cold winter wind blows; the spirits of the dead in the graves wait for the coming of the Gaan-Ngai. This festival starts celebrating on the 13th day of the Manipuri lunar month of wakching which usually falls in the month of Janurary every year but sometime it also falls in the month of December. This time, the festival falls on 31st December, 2017 thus repeating beginning celebration of Gaan-Ngai twice in 2017 and extends upto 2018. It is also known as festival of the winter season which is popularly known as Chakaan Gaan-Ngai. This festival lasts for five to seven days depending on local variation and it is mainly celebrated by the devotees of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC) (an indigenous religion of Zeliangrong Community) living in three states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.
other community in the world, the Zeliangrong people of NE India also follow a profound indigenous religion known as Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC) which is basically based on the fundamental belief of Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God. Tingkao Ragwang literally means the Heavenly God, God of the sky or Lord of universe. TRC means the religion of Tingkao Ragwang. This profound religion is preserved and practised through oral traditions by the ancient Zeliangrong Community for ages.
Gaan-Ngai festival is for the living and the dead
who died in the previous year are given ritual farewell during the festival. Graves are beautified and decorated in order to offer the rich tributes. Farewell dances are also presented in honour to the departed souls. Feast in his/her name is served to the community. It is strongly believed that those souls are with the living people till the festival is over. The deceased family offers foods and drinks on the graves both morning and evening before the living people eat or drink. In case the living people either eat or drink first the soul does not eat or drink. On the first day of festival, male dormitory will give a big pig thigh as a farewell gift to the family. In reciprocation, the family concerned also presents as a last gift to the male dormitory in his/her name for good memory of the deceased. This is the reason, Gaan-Ngai festival is regarded as for the living and the dead.
Why are Zeliangrong people celebrating the Gaan-Ngai festival?
Zeliangrong people are celebrating the Gaan-Ngai festival every year to execute the following activities.
A – Religious Activities
Ho-hoing which means worship of Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God as thanks giving for the good harvest and prayer for a successful and long life in the coming year is carried out.
Oblation of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods after performing dance and shouting of Naplao huai for lunch and dinner is performed. The shouting of huai is compulsory before the meals.
Gingers and eggs are offered to presiding deiteis on the beginning of the festival early in the morning invoking them not to cause any kind of disturbances during the festival.
A ritual of calling of paddy on the day of Napchanmei is performed at Boys and Girls Dormitories by a priest to recover those rice already consumed or missing etc.
A ritual of Raren Loumei which means worship of all gods of the Zeliangrong pantheons is performed on the last day of the festival at northern village gate. In the evening, a ritual of calling of soul is performed at Peikai, the house of oldmen to return the souls of the villagers which went out of the bodies due to alarming or startled accident in the last one year.
Rich tributes and homage in the form of rice, chutney or dry eel, meat, curry, drinks, eatable are offered on the graves for the departed souls. This is called Ngaidongmei which means departed souls are honoured.
To appease his/her soul, a community feast in the name of the deceased is arranged by the deceased family inviting his/her friends and relatives.
B – Customary Activities
Admission of new members (boys &girls) to Boys and Girls’ Dormitories is registered promoting from minor to major by giving a piece of pork piercing with a string of bamboo which is known as Ganleng Timei.
Promotion from the post of Khangbon to Ganchang, Ganchang to Banja, Banja to Khunbu or Khunlak etc. from women to old women, filling up of any vacant posts are done during this festival.
Newly married women are formally admitted to women Institution of Mathenmei Kaibang as its members.
A customary pig thigh in big size is given away by Boys Dormitory to Khangbon who is to be promoted to Ganchang and girl (s) who are going to be married after the festival as a part of honour.
Big thighs are also given away to those members of Boys and Girls Dormitories who died before the festival as a token of farewell.
Those deceased families also offer gifts to Boys or Girls Dormitories after the name of the deceased. Both the dormitories offer curry cooked by them to the deceased with the belief that the dead are also with the living persons till the Gaan-Ngai festival is over.
C – Cultural Activities
A programme of singing competition of folk song specially based on romance is carried out at Girls’ Dormitory.
Performance of cultural dance in associating with song, pazeimei which means waving of sash is performed.
Commemorative dances for those who are declared kings and queens adorning the leaves of phaak and putting on the heads are performed towards evening after trekking in a nearby hill where boys and girls used to sing traditional folk songs.
Farewell dances in honour to Khangbon who is to be promoted to the post of Ganchang and girls who are going to be married after this festival are performed along with those members of both dormitories who died bfore the festival as a mark of respect to the departed soul.
A patrolling singing the village guarding songs and spending the whole night with a spear each in their hands to ward off any unwanted incident during the festival (Kailong Lonmei) is executed.
D – Sports Activities
On the first day towards evening of the festival, games and sports activities such as shot put, long jump, wrestling, javelin throw etc. are performed after huai procession.
E – Unity and Love
Early in the morning of the first day, a pig is offered to Tingkao Ragwang and the pork curry mixed with blood called Zeigan is eaten by the members of Boys Dormitory. This is for preservation of unity, love and brotherhood of the community. It is tantamount to oath taking ceremony. Any kind of activities such as singing of song, dancing, chanting of Huai, shouldering any burden, sharing of sorrow or joy; all kinds of works of the people are to be carried out together. In this theme, Zeigan Tumei is performed.
Heralding of Gaan-Ngai
On the first day of Wakching month, a village old man will announce the coming of the festival for making necessary arrangement. The male dormitory will prepare and carry out an act of Gudoumei. Guu means a thin bamboo, Doumei means cutting the same which is to be used as headgear to be adorned on the first day of festival. The male dormitory will blow horn of cow or mithun inviting all gods for participation of the coming festival. On hearing the announcement of the village elder, individual family will prepare Nappok Thunmei. Nappok means germinated paddy and Thunmei means act of dipping of paddy into water.
One day ahead of Gaan-Ngai
First, a village old man declares to the villagers to collect banana leaf and prepare other eatables for the festival. In the morning at Males and Girls Dormitories, an act of checking of firewod called Thingtinmei is carried out. Each and every member of both dormitories will bring a Mailam, a faggot of firewood which will be used during the festival. Thereafter, a Huai procession (holding a stick of firewood each in their hands) starting from northern gate of the village will march on reaching the male and girls’ dormitories and some quantity of firewood will be given for the dormitories in return the dormitories will bring out tam, chutney of vegetables and an earthen jar of rice beer and followed by oblation of holy wine to Tigkao Ragwang. A little quantity of tam and a glass of rice beer will be given to the dormitories as a curtesy. Towards evening, boys will collect a piece of ginger and an egg from every household of the village for ritual offering to northern and southern presiding deities.
The First Day/Beginning of the festival
The first day of the festival is called Ngaigangmei. A small hour in the morning, a ritual will be performed at the abode of northern and southern village deities by an old man offering an egg and piece of ginger invoking them not to cause any kind of untowards incidents during the festival . The old man after returning to male dormitory will offer holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and lower realm gods.Thereafter boys will beat drum which means starting of Gaan-Ngai festival.
Extraction of fire
New fire is produced by rubbing the bamboo strings against the dry wood on the first day of the festival. This ritual is called Mailapmei. The sacred fire is extracted for cooking purposes. It is believed that there will be a long life and prosperity of the coming year if man eats food with new fire. It is also believed that man will be as strong as fire.
Sacrifice to Tingkao Ragwang
A big pig will be sacrificed as offering to Tingkao Ragwang. The spleen of the pig will be observed to find out the future of man and followed by offering of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other lower realm gods.
Then, the grand Gaan-Ngai feast is prepared at Boys and Girls Dormitories. After cooking, shouting of Ho-Hoing locally known as Naplao Huai will be performed for dinner and oblation of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang will be offered. All the members of male dormitory will first taste the curry of Zeigan which is very important.
Shouting of Huai
Shouting of Huai is a form of worship of Tingkao Ragwang. The purpose of Huai Procession in the festival is to dispel evil spirits from the village. Ho-hoing is performed during the festival and in the special worship of Tingkao Ragwang such as construction of ornamented ritual house (Tarang Kai Sumei), performance of feast of merit, (Maku Banru) promotional ritual (Bamzou Jangmei), ritual for welfare of mankind (Ragaidai).
Sports activities like shot-put, long jump, wrestling, jevelin throw, throwing of pounding pestle are carried out on the first day of the festival.
A group of village elders divided into two to three will pay a visit at every household greeting the members of each family to enjoy joyously and warn them not to quarrel nor speak ill words against each other during the fesival. If there is any kind of quarrel or fighting, the village authority will take a stern action against the offenders. This message is called Shaopaak Thetmei in local dialect. Then, boys and girls will spend dining together, indulge in merry making, drinking, eating, dancing, cutting joke and arrange a programme of pazeimei in the village.
The 2nd Day/The great festival (Tamchan-Ngai)
All the members of Males and Girls Dormitories will bring their respective Tamchas in the form of meat, vegetable, salt-cake etc. The deceased family also brings farewell presentation called Thei-Tamcha to the respective dormitories in the name of the person who died in the previous year. Some quantity of Tamcha will be given to the owners of males and girls dormitories as a respect and custom. A Banja will perform chanting of Tamsuan and zousuan (wine) for four senior most Gaanpis and for two Tunapis (two heads of girls dormitory). After the lunch the members of males dormitory will collect Tamsuan and Zousuan in the form of money shouting Rilai-huai from the six persons mentioned above. This is known as Tamchan-Ngai.
In the evening, only girls will perform a dance in (i) the House of Pei (ii) the House of old women and (iii) the House of village elders. This dance is known as Tamchan Laam (Tam means chutney of vegetable, chan means giving away and Laam means dance.
Objective of Tamchanmei
The objective of Tamchanmei is to go and offer prayer at the above mentioned three traditional institutions not to cause any kind of illness, diseases of hardship to be inflicted to boys and girls for coming year. The Zeliangrong people treat the three social institutions as holy places.
The 3rd Day/Tuna Gaan-Ngai
The 3rd day is called Tuna Gaan-Ngai. In the morning, two heads of male dormitory will bring Tamcha to the boys dormitory. An elder of the village will recite the hymns of Tamsuan and zousuan. After lunch, the members of male dormitory will shout Rilai huai holding a stick of fire wood in their hands and proceeds to the Houses of two heads of Khangbon praising them for abundant gifts and wine.
In the evening, boys and girls perform a farewell dance in honour of both Khangbons who are to be promoted to the higher post of Gaanchang.
The 4th Day/Longkumei (Hill Trekking)
Longkumei or Longruimei means hill trekking. Boys and Girls climb a nearby hill for sight seeing. They select kings and queens and adorn their heads by Phaak leaves as crowns. They show their talents in singing song, drum beating, playing of harp (Rajaimei). After performing these activities pork chutney, wine, boiled vegetables etc. are offered to all present there. They return to the village and perform a dance in honour of boys and girls who have been as kings and queens. This dance is known as Phaakgang Laam. The families of the kings and queens will offer Laam Baan in the form of money, drink, chutney and other eatables.
The 5th Day/Napchanmei
The whole day is busy for preparation of cooking. In the evening, a ritual ceremony of calling of paddy (Napkaomei) with a big cock invoking goddess of food grains in charge for good harvest and prosperity for the coming year is observed at both dormitories. The cooked liver of cock, rice, and crushed ginger will be offered to goddesses of Kambuipui, Charaipui and Kairao (ancestors) who live in the form of hearth stones in the house. This ceremony is called Napchanmei. The objective of calling of paddy is to restore the wasted rice at the time of preparation of cooking, eating etc. during the festival.
Napsing Gansin Raomei
Napsin Gansin Raomei means criticism made to the heads of male dormitory and senior most Ganpis for not being served delicious dishes during the Gaan-Ngai festival. The programme is carried out at the courtyard of male dormitory after the grand feast. Their unsatisfied voices are expressed through songs. These songs are known as Napchan Luh. They also sing songs criticising the matriarch of the male dormitory for her activities. The songs are meant to ensure welfare and prosperity in coming year. Then the members present will move inside the dormitory singing song, wishing prosperity and welfare to the owners of Boys Dormitory for the coming year.
All the members of Boys Dormitory will again proceed to the Girls’ Dormitory for singing of song competition with the girls. On reaching at Girls Dormitory, a village elder offers holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang praying not to cause any unwanted incidents during the course of singing competition. First, a boy will sing and followed by a girl in rotation. The competition will continue till late night.
The 6th Day/Rangpatmei
It is believed that all the gods of Zeliangrong pantheon also participate in the celebration of Gaan-Ngai. So, Raren Loumei, the performance of the sacrifices to seven brother gods and the deities worshipped in a particular village is observed on the last day of the festival at the abode of northern village deity. It is carried out by a priest and its objective is to ward off any diseases, hardship, illness, death etc. Evil spirits are not worshipped but they are propitiated not to give trouble to men. This ritual is known as Raren Loumei. During the performance of the ritual, both the northern and southern village gates are closed and nobody is allowed to cross the gates. Violation of this restriction means evil consequences even death may happen. This is the reason behind, any person is not allowed to go beyond the village gates. Another reason of closure of the village gates is to stop the evil spirits from entering the village. For this ritual every household will give a fowl, a piece of ginger and a bundle of banana leaves to the village authority. The village old men and old woman will eat the cooked chickens and some quantity of chicken will be distributed to minor children. It is also a ritual of send-off all the gods (Ra-ta Ginsonmei) upto village northern gate.
Bukaomei (Calling of soul)
After the performance of Raren Loumei, the village elders will return to the village pei where another ritual ceremony known as Bukamei will be performed. A big cock will be sacrificed after chanting the hymns invoking Tingkao Ragwang to allow returning the soul to human body. The cooked chicken will be eaten by the elders and pieces of the chicken will be distributed to every household.
Attiring new and clean customary dresses, the Zeliangrong people enjoy happily together spending the whole night singing the village guarding songs, romantic songs of luphai and carry out the singing competition. The boys and girls partake the delicious food accompanied by merry making, singing, dancing, cutting jokes etc. heartily. Performance of cultural activity like pazeimei which is most attractive programme for boys and girls is also carried out (waving of sash) singing the traditional songs till late night. Those who did not talk on personal grudges before the celebration of Gaan-Ngai talk during the festival.
Therefore, the Gaan-Ngai brings love, peace, understanding and unity among the people. Even the marriage is postpond due to attraction of the festival. The deceased family mourns their relatives’ death saying that it would be better if death occurs after the festival. Boys and girls continue to remember the happiness and merry-making of the festival even after its celebration. That is why, the Gaan-Ngai is an unforgettable one in the mind of Zeliangrong people. Thus, the Gaan-Ngai festival comes to an end.
Lastly, I, on behalf of the Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak Phom, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland extend my hearty greetings to all Zeliangrong people living in NE India to enjoy happily the Gaan-Ngan Festival which begins from 31st December, 2017 to 6th January, 2018 with pomp and gaiety with the spiritis of preservation of the rich cultural heritage and ancient religion (TRC) of Zeliangrong Community.
Source: Imphal Free Press