Me And My Manipuri Things

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Physically, a fine race, the Manipuris is devoted to sports and games. There are number of traditional games that have their origin back in Manipur. One of the most popular indoor game among them is Kang. The game, Kang is known to the Bishnupriya Manipuris as Gilla (though Gilla is developed as a variant of Kang) and Kanga-Sanaba to the Meiteis. It is an indigenous Manipuri game played on the day between Manipuri New Year’s Day (Cheiraoba/Bishu) and the Ratha Jatra (Kang) festival.

A round object called Kang which is the seed of a creeper (Uri) is used in this game. It is about one and a half inch in diameter and ¾ of an inch in thickness. The game is played among two teams each of seven either males of females usually mixed up. A player has to Shoot a point from a fixed position. If the parties hit the target twice with the Kang then, Lamtha is adopted. Lamtha is played by propelling the disk on its flat side along the surface of the ground by the force of middle finger of the right hand acting the finger of the left.. At the end of half a duration of the play, interchange of the directions takes place. Of the two teams, the one who can hit the target for a greater number by two Chekpheis (shooting from a standing position) and one Lamtha is the winner.

There are tales, both legendary and mythological, that claim that Kang was played by gods and goddesses, soon after the earth was created. According to some sources Kang is played by the deity “Panthoibi”. It is believed that the seven players on either side represent the seven days of the week and the Chekphei and Lamtha kangkhul are believed to 15 in number on one side and both sides represent 30 days, making a complete month. There are evidences that the Manipuris began to play this game well before the arrival of Vaishnavism in Manipur. Earlier, the dignitaries of the Palace including the Maharani and the Maharaja also participated on social functions. In the old days Kang was played during summer starting from Cheiraoba/Bishu to Kang.

Presently, the game is played in several tournaments through out the year. Rules and regulation have been modified to suit the changing needs of the game. In Bangladesh a Kang Federation is formed to organize the game annually. Besides there are few individual attempts to preserve the cultural tradition of Manipur in some Bishnupriya Manipuri localities like Tilakpur, Ghoramara etc.

To download the special issue of Pouri Patrika on Bishnupriya Manipuri Kang celebration and the Game of Kang click here.

Special thank goes to Sangram Singha (Correspondent, Daily Jugantor and Ekushey TV) for sharing the pictures and video clips.

Pics:

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On Saturday, 24-11-2007 the auspicious observance of Maha-Ras, the principal festival and the foremost annual cultural event of Bishnupriya Manipuri Community in Bangladesh, was celebrated in a grand way and with great enthusiasm. The king of Manipur Maharaj Bhagyachandra (1763-1798) introduced Manipuri Raslila to Manipuri society and from the time onwards Raslila became the most important aspect of Manipuri culture. Since the mid-nineteenth century when the Manipuri Bishnupriyas and Manipuri Meiteis settled in Bangladesh, this festival has been observed in cooperation at Madhabpur Juramandav in Kamalganj upaziala of Moulvibazar district.

As per the records maintained by authorities, the first Maha-Ras ever held outside Manipur, was at Madhabpur Juramandav in 1842.

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Almost in every villages of the Bishnupriya Manipuris, there are at least one or more ‘Mandav’ (sometimes referred as ‘Malthep’ ‘Mandop’ etc.), in which religious and cultural functions are observed. Although the ‘Mandav’’s have close similarities with the temples of Bengali Hindus or the ‘Namaghara’ of the Assamese, there is lot of difference between them. ‘Mandav’s are squire in shape and are very unique in architectural design. A ‘Mandav’ is considered as the core social center for the Bishnupriya Manipuris.

 

There is often a temple called Dou-gor-Leisang (‘Leisang’ in short, meaning the room of the God) is associated with a ‘Mandav’ though not mandatory for every ‘Mandav’. The images worshipped in the village Leisangs are Radha, Krishna, Jagannatha, Subhadra, Balarama, Gopala Deva, Saligrama etc. Composiye figures are very rare in the leisangs. The Manipuri Vaishnavs also worship sacred scriptures such as the Bhagavat Gita, Bhagavat Purana, Chaitanya Chatitamrita and other Vaishnavite scriptures. In the Leisangs, such books are also placed on an alter and the devotees offer flowers and Dhup.

There are few villages which do not have at least one ‘Mandav’. It is said among the Manipuris that a Lam(place) without a ‘Mandav’, a Bamon and an Astrologer is not worth inhabiting. It is considered virtues to spend a part of one’s earning in the construction and endowment of a ‘Mandav’ or ‘Leishang’. In the villages, the ‘Mandav’s are not only the center of religious diffusion, but also the social life of the people. In early days the land grants for the ‘Mandav’ and the gift of vast amount of wealth to the village Bamons who are the caretakers of the ‘Leisang’s attached to a ‘Mandav’ by the Kings of Manipur. Outside Manipur, rich and wealthy people come forward by donating lands, idols, money, cloths and ornaments for the deities.

The most religious and ritualistic festival of the Bishnupriya Manipuris is the Kartika festival which continues during the month of Kartik from the Laxmi Purnima to the Rasa-Purnima. Throughout this period Arati’s (offerings of lights) to Radha-Krishna are performed in the morning, in the for-noon and in the evening in the temples by following traditional rites and rules. Bhajan songs are sung to the accompaniment of Kartal, Pung (Dhak), Bell, Selbong and Moibung. That time they offer Kaboks (puffed rice mixed with sugar) and fruits to the lord.

Religious text , specially the Mahabharata and Ramayana, are recited and explained at every mandav’s or at any certain places where the people gather. The citation & explanation of religious scriptures is called ‘Leirik-Thikorani’.

Generally two knowledgeable and learned persons do this – one plays the role of ‘Thipa’ (the narrator) and the other one as the ‘Warilipa’ (interpreter). The ‘Leirik-Thikorani’ culture played a very important and significant role in propagating the Vaushnavite literature among the people and at the same time it helped in developing the folk and ancient literature of Bishnupriya Manipuri language.

After the ‘Arati’ or ‘Leirik-Thikorani’, prasadam (the food offering given to the Lord) is distributed among the people. They are fed on banana or lotus leave.

Moreover, in the period of Kartika, competition of dance with traditional ‘Dhol’s or wardrums. ‘Jhal’s or big cymbals etc are held almost everyday from villages to villages. These cultural competitions are called ‘Kartikar Phanna’ or the rivalry of Karitika. The big drums ‘Dhol’s and the big cymbals ‘Jhal’s are frequently used by the Bishnupriya Manipuris almost in every socio-religious occasions. It has been heard from some old-aged persons of the community that formerly the competition of ‘Kartikar Phanna’ used to held under the patronage of the kings.

The Kartika festival ends at the day of Rasa Purnima, the great Rasa celebrated on the full moon day Kartika (December).

Link: An article on Kartika Festival in My Bangla Blog

The Kang festival of Bishnupriya Manipuris is a festival of nine-day duration in the bright fortnight in the month of Ashar (June-July) with elaborate paraphernalia. It is observed with great festivity and celebration. On the first day and the last day of Kang festival, Chariot-Procession with the idol of Lord Jagannatha is led out.In Manipur the Kang festival was introduced by Maharaj Gambhir Singh on 1832 AD. He founded the images of Jagavandhu, Balarama and Subhadra and commenced worship on the model of Puri. It should be mentioned that in the village Leishangs image of Lord Jagavandhu is worshippedwith proper rites.

The images are bathed on the day of Snana-Yatra, before fifteen days of Kang. The images are carried out on the Kang ( A wooden chariot specially made for Lord Jagannath) to the accompaniment of music, offerings of fruits by individual house-holders. Sometimes persons stand behind the image and fan it with the Chamora. The structure of the Kang is squire, it has four huge wheels, its head takes the shape of Burmese pagoda and there are two or more long ropes so that the divotees can pull the chariot.

The songs sung during the pulling of Kang in praise Lord Jagannath are both devotional and humorous in nature. One of the songs goes like this–

Akhi paka Jagannath ( Lord Jagananth with giant eyes)
Att tuppa Jagannth ( Lord Jagananth with no hands)
Theiping Chora Jagannath (Lord Jagananth who steals jack fruits)
Chehem Chora Jagannath (Lord Jagananth who steals pineapples)
Heinou Chora Jagannath (Lord Jagananth who steals mangoes)

It is said that Lord Jagannath doesn’t mind if the divotees make fun of his physical appearance. Reciting the physical appearance is not regarded as an offence where its sole aim is the complete devotion toward the lord, rather it improved the literary value of the devotional songs. It should be mentioned that the soul of Bishnupriya Manipuri Vaishnavite culture is ‘Bhagabat Lilagiti’s or ‘Radha-Krshna Lilagiti’s. From Birth to death it is our mandatory tradition to observe the rituals through ‘Bhagabat Lilagiti’s along with ‘Nrityabadhya’s. To Manipuris, praising the lord with his quality by singing is more devotional than merely chanting his name.

Every evening during the periods of nine-days of Kang festival, devotional songs are sung, particularly those from the great Vaishnavite literature Gitagovinda of Jayadeva, who is considered to be the most eminent ‘Vaisnnav Padakarta’ of Bengal. The songs are sung along with clapping and dancing, by the people in the Mandav’s or shed for religious and cultural performances. After the singing of devotional songs, feasts of ‘Khichuri’s (a kind of dish made of rice and split pulses) offered everyday by the people in turns, are distributed among the folks.

Kang is an important event in the socio-religious-cultural life of Bishnupriya Manipuris. There is a traditional game called Kang, also related with this Kang festivals. From the early modern and modern literatures of Bishnupriya Manipuri we can find the cultural significance of Kang festival. That’s why renowned Bishnupriya Manipuri poet Sri Madan Mohan Mukharjee writes –

Khalparor kang

Jitegate Akta oya

Aloyte thang thang

Kngaor dine horou oya

lengka marup khomkoriya

Akta oya sajel koriya

Khalparor kang

Tiloilaha, tiloilaha

habbi hato gang

 

The knowledge of culture of a society can be known from the festival they perform. We can learn about their philosophy, their talent in fine arts and creativity and their social structure by study of their festivals, their development and significance. Bishnupriya Manipuris performs all the important festivals connected to the cult of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, but there are some colorful and notable festivals which are particular to Bishnupriya Manipuris only.
The most important of all the festivals is Bishu. Bishu is identical with the Cheiraoba festival of Manipuri Meiteis, which is celebrated in the first day of Manipuri month Sajibu (March/April) in order to herald a ‘New Year’. Every house including the royal family in Manipur take part in this festival with great enthusiasm. The Bishu festival is traditionally observed from the last day of the year and continues for seven days.

On the first day of the festival, special worship of family ancestors with offering of specially cooked food items (mainly different kinds of dhal and vegetables) are carried out in every Bishnupriya Manipuri family irrespective of their Sageis or Lokeis. The offerings are decorated in a banana leaf and placed at front of the main gate (Aarang) of the house. After the offering the different kinds of cooked dishes are exchanged amongst the families of neighborhood and relatives.

At the evening the women folks get busy with making different kind of Pitha’s with paste of rice or wheat and distribute them among the guests. From the evening of the day up to the seventh day, competition different kind of traditional games are held between different parties. The principal game played during Bishu is ‘Nokon’ – a special kind of game. Another traditional game played during Bishu is ‘Gilla’, which is played with a flat and round piece of horn or wood. The players are mainly groups of young boys and girls.

The festival of Bishu is a traditional festival based on traditional customs, rituals and philosophy. It is a living testimony of a well-organized civilization that our forefathers established centuries ago.

Photo: Girls playing the traditional games ‘Nokon’ during Bishu (courtesy: RKCS)
Links: An Article on Bishu celebration in my Bangla blog


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