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Chakaan Gaan-Ngai, the festival of the Kabuis

- Chaoba Kamson

Like other community in the world, the Kabui (Rongmei) people, particularly the followers of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC), an indigenous religion, celebrate nine to ten festivals in a year. Of these, the Gaan-Ngai is the biggest religious and cultural festival. This festival signifies a distinct and unique identity of TRC people. The whole culture, religion and social life are interwoven in its observance. Meaning of Chakaan Gaan-Ngai

(a) The Chakaan Gaan-Ngai popularly known as the Gaan-Ngai is the festival of winter season. Chakaan means season, Gaan means winter and Ngai means festival.

(b) This festival is also known as a New Year based on Gregorian calendar as it marks the end of the year and beginning of a New Year.

(c) In fact, all the festivals of Kabui (Rongmei) are based on agricultural operation, preoperation and post harvest. So, the Gaan-Ngai is also described as a post harvest festival. The timing of the celebration is when farmers have stored enough food grains in the granaries, they are free from agricultural works, their attention is drawn to festive mood. The sky looks clear and high, winter season sets in and cold wind blows, spirits of the dead ancestors wait at the graves for the coming GaanNgai, the hornbills flies out once in a year, this festival is also celebrated once in a year by the followers of TRC on the 13th day of Manipuri Lunar month of Wakching which falls commonly in the month of January every year. Celebration of this festival by the TRC people of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland is observed widely with religious sacrifices before and after the seed sowing. They have a set of festivals in a year associated with a number of rituals. The reason of celebration of Gaan-Ngai Tingkao Ragwang the Supreme God who created man to execute some important works in this world is that they should not always confine to works only. They need some rest after hard work and  observe festivals of merriment, revelry and abstention from work to honour the gods. They perform the rites and rituals and engage themselves in cultural, customary, social and sports activities. People worship and pray to the God almighty for well-being and prosperity in days to come. The purpose for observance is to sustain cultural activities like singing of folk songs, beating of traditional drums, perform dances, worship Tingkao Ragwang and gods of the lower realm, shouting of huai, filling up the vacant posts of village authority, males dormitory, the house of married women, admission of newly married woman to women’s institution, boys and girls to their dormitories etc. Tribute to departed souls (Ngaidongmei) are paid to those who died in the previous year are given ritual farewell during the festival. The graves are beautified and decorated in order to offer the tributes. Farewell dances are also presented in honour of the departed souls. Feast is served to the community in his/her name. It is believed that those souls are with the living people till the end of festival. The family of the deceased offers foods, chutney, drink, fruits on the graves both in morning and evening before the people attending the ceremony are offered food and drink. On the first day of the festival, the males’ dormitory gives a big pig’s rear thigh as a farewell gift to the family. In reciprocation, the bereaved family also presents farewell gift to male dormitory and parting dance is performed in honour of the departed souls by boys and girls. Both the dormitories of boys and girls offer curry to the dead family in his/ her name till the festival is over. That is why, the Gaan-Ngai festival is regarded important for both the living and the dead. The first day of the festival is called Ngaigangmei. In the early hours of the first day morning, a ritual called Gucheng Phaimei which means offering of a piece of fresh ginger and an egg to the northern and southern presiding deities (Kaipi Bambu and Kaiba Bambu) is offered to forestall any kind of disturbances and untoward incidents during the festival followed by offering of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other deities for prosperity, well-being and longevity in the coming year. A big pig is sacrificed as offering to Tingkao Ragwang and the priest will examine its spleen and find out the omen. A ritual of culling of paddy at individual family with a big cock is performed for abundant harvest in the coming year accompanied by observation of its legs to know the omen and offering of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other lower realm gods is made. The cooked liver of the cock will be offered by the house wife to Kambuipui (goddess of wealth), Charaipui (goddess of paddy) and Kairao (Ancestors) who live at the hearth stones for good fortune, richness etc. Huai procession and sports activities In the evening at males dormitory, an old man offers holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other lower realm gods. Every members of male dormitory, village elders attired in their best colourful costumes, shawl, headgear holding spears in their hands will march up and down of the village shouting huai. After concluding the huai procession the people will move to the jumping ground. Shouting of huai means worship of Tingkao Ragwang. Then, an elder will introduce stone throwing chanting hymns and after conclusion of shot put programme, the same old man will again introduce the long-jump chanting a hymn, “Let us jump like grasshopper.”  A group of village elders divided into two or three will visit at every household greeting the members of the family to enjoy the festival with love and warn them not to quarrel nor speak ill words against each other during festival. If any fighting or quarrel occurs, the village authority will take a stern action against the offenders. That is called Shaopak Thetmei in the local dialect. At the end, oblation of wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other lower realm gods is offered at the house of village elder. Thereafter, boys and girls will enjoy dining together, singing festival songs, indulging merry-making, dancing, joking etc. led by two male heads of girls (Tunamunshinmei). The second day of the great festival (Ngaidai) is called Ngaidai and also known as Tamchan-Ngai. All the admitted members of males and girls dormitories bring their respective Tamcha which means gift or subscription in the form of dry meat, vegetable, fruits, eatables etc. to their respective dormitories. The deceased family also brings last Tamcha called Thei-Tamcha to the respective dormitories in the name of persons who died earlier before the celebration of Gaan-Ngai. In the evening, only girls perform a dance known as Tamchan Laam singing songs and beating dance instruments. Tam means chutney of vegetables, Chanmei means offering and Laam means dance. This dance is presented to (i) the house of village Authority (Peikai) (ii) the house of old women (Kengjampui Kaibang) (iii) the house of elders (Gaanchang Kaibang) and (iv) the house of married women (Mathenmei Kaibang). The third day is called Tuna Gaan-Ngai (festival of the youth). In the morning two Khangbons (heads of boys dormitory) will bring their Tamcha to males’ dormitory which is known as Khangbon Tamcha. A priest will chant Tamsuan zousuan. Then, the males’ dormitory shares some quantity of Tamcha to the house owner of boys dormitory and to the house of village elders. After having cooked, ho-hoing (Huai for Lunch) will be carried out and accompanied by oblation of holy wine and then lunch. After lunch, members of boys dormitory will shout Rilai Huai holding a stick of firewood each in their hands and proceed to the houses of Khangbons. In the evening, boys and girls perform a farewell dance in honour of both Khangbons on being promoted to a higher status as Gaanchang. On this day, if no such dance is there, a farewell dance may be presented to girl(s) if any, who is going to be married after the Gaan-Ngai festival. Again, if there is no farewell dance for the girl, a rotation dance according to seniority will be performed. Longkumei means hill trekking. Boys and girls climb a nearly hill for sight-seeing. They select a king among the boys and a queen among the girls who stood 1st position in singing competition/drum beating/playing of harp/dance etc. by showing their talents. After performing the above activities, pork meat chutney, wine, boil of vegetables, tea etc. will be served to all participants followed by presentation of a dance there and conclude it by shouting of a long huai. Then, they return home and perform a dance programme in honour of them. This dance is known as Phakgang Laam. The families of the king and queen will offer Laam Baan in the form of money, drink, chutney of vegetables and other eatables for good performance of their dance. On Day Five – the day of ritual offering (Napchanmei), a bamboo pipe known as Khupot is distributed to every household by the boys dormitory. The objective of pipe hanging at every house is to store virus/germs of epidemic disease inside the pipe. In case of absence of pipe hanging in front of any house, a stern action will be taken against the males’ dormitory by the village authority. In the evening, a ritual of calling of paddy will be performed by a priest with a cock at their respective dormitories to restore wasted rice during the festival invoking Napsinmei, god in charge of food and goddess, Kangdailu for fruitful harvest in the coming year. The cooked liver along with rice, crushed ginger, salt and wine is offered to Kambuipui, Charaipui and Ancestors. After dinner, all the members of boys dormitorys will assemble setting fire at the courtyard of boys dormitory and start singing the songs of Napsin Gansin Raomei which means criticism to Khangbon (Napsin Gansin Raomei) of the two Khangbons and two senior most ganpis jokingly for not being served delicious dishes during the festival. Their dissatisfactions are expressed through songs. These songs are known as Napchan Luh. They also sing songs criticizing the matriarch of the boys dormitory for her activities. These songs are meant to ensure welfare and prosperity in coming year. Singing Competition at Girls’ Dormitory - Boys will proceed to Girls’ Dormitory singing Luchu Kailong Ronluh for singing competition there with the girls. On reaching at Girls’ Dormitory, the boys sing about three songs and another three songs inside the house will also be sung which is known as Luchu Kaihut Luh. The boys take their seats and a village elder will offer holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang and other gods praying them not to cause any troubles in the course of singing competition. Boys will first sing and girls will respond by rotation. At the end of competition, the boys will return to Boys Dormitory shouting a short huai. On Day Six – all gods are worshipped (Raren Loumei. It is believed that all gods of TRC pantheon also participate in the celebration of Gaan– Ngai festival. It is performed at the upper village gate by a priest. TRC people worship seven brother gods namely, 1. Ragwang – the king of gods of earth 2. Bisnu – looks after the affairs of man, nature, animals etc. 3. Napsinmei – in charge of paddy 4. Karangong – healer of men suffering from dizziness and a teaser of misbehaved youth  5. Chonchai – looks after health, energy and strength and is adverse to wine 6. Charakilongmei – in chrage of keeping peace, avoiding quarelling among man 7. Koklu – owner of office of the god’s court The objective of Raren Loumei is to ward off any disease, harship, illnesss, misfortune death etc. and evil spirits are not worshipped but they are propitiated not to give trouble, to go away and keep distance from mankind. During the performance of this ritual both the upper and lower village gates are closed and nobody is allowed to go beyond the gates. Violation of this restriction may cause bad consequences. 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 fresh ginger and a bundle of banana leaves to the village authority. The cooked chickens are distributed to old men, old women and children who are not admitted as members of males’ and girls dormitories. Adults are prohibited from eating this food in the belief that they are not successful in earning of money, wealth etc. After lunch, the priest performs the ceremony of Ragai Kaomei meaning invoking to Tingkao Ragwang for giving welfare and prosperity in bringing peace to the village and people present in the ritual will respond as “Owe” which means “Yes” in unison. This ritual is an act of send-off to all the gods (Ra-ginsonmei) upto the northern village gate. All the Banjas will bring their Raangpat Tamcha in the form of eatables, salt-cake, things/ materials which are to be distributed to all Banjas equally but Gaanchangs are not entitled to enjoy it. Raangpat Puan (Giving money to village elders) Both the dormitories of males and girls will hand over coin (Puan) as a scapegoat (Pumlin) of boys and girls to the members of village authority. An elder of the village will declare to all the villagers to come and collect the Maru Zou. It is believed, if drunken, it is good for health and longevity of life. After doing the above activities, the village old men will return to the village peikai shouting a Rilai Huai where another ritual of calling of soul of the villagers known as Bukaomei will be performed to return the outgoing souls to their respective bodies by a priest with a cock chanting the hymns of calling of souls which escape from the body because of startling news or actions caused by accident. The cooked chickens will be distributed to every household and every member must eat a little quantity of it for good health. Thus, the Gaan-Ngai festival comes to an end.