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Gaan-Ngai: A festival Of Zeliangrong People Of North-East

Gaan Ngai festival. Image Credit: Sangai Photo.

Throughout out the history of human culture, certain days or periods of time have been set aside to commemorate, ritually celebrate or re-enact, or anticipate events or seasons’”agricultural, religious, or socio-cultural’”that give meaning and cohesiveness to an individual and to his religious, political, or socio-economic community. Because such days or periods generally originated in religious celebrations or ritual commemorations that usually included sacred community meals, they are called feasts or festivals.

Festivals originate for the most part from collective rituals. The tendency of primitive behavior to rely upon magic involves the participation of a social group, clan, tribe or family’”in activities which are held to protect and promote the interests of the whole group and to ward off evil eyes, spirits and misfortune. Hence, the greater proportions of the primitive rituals are collective and as such activities involve collective rituals. Meals partaken of in common assume the character of religious ceremonies. The admission of new members to the tribe, the disposal of the dead, for the preparation of warriors, hunters and fishermen before an expedition, are occasions for collective rituals or festivals, in which the entire community joins. A communal meal is usually a part of the festival. Agricultural operations are associated with series of rituals and festivals. Planting and harvest are important occasions of festival.

Celebration of any festival is largely connected with songs, music, dances, and athletic events participated by both males and females. In the long performance of this ceremony, the participants get opportunity to reinforce their social relations young boys and girls get a chance to express their love and admiration to each other and thus make the whole festival cycle a cohesive unit of integration into the matrix of their culture. This in course of time dissolves gray distance and establishes an emotional integration and solidarity among themselves participating in this festival.

Different festivals or festivities have different purposes for propitiation of gods and supernatural powers. A few festivals are celebrated in order to get protection from the natural calamities. Some festivals are celebrated in order to appease the ancestors who are dead and for family welfare. Most of these festivals are linked with various stages of agricultural operations. Sacrifices for the appeasement of these spirits and deities are generally offered during and just after festivals. Their performance for the appeasement assures the people security and protection. Other activities are secular or social in nature, extending to rejoining and merry-making. This gives an opportunity to the people for enjoyment through revelry.

Gaan-Ngai is the greatest festival of the Zeliangrong people inhabiting in three States of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. Gaan-Ngai literally means the festival of winter season. It is a post harvest festival. When the granaries are full, the landscape is dry, the whole village is free from all agricultural works and people turn to celebration, festivity and worship of Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God and honoring of the dead. In this festival, they produce a new fire so it may also be described as a New Year Festival. It is celebrated by the Northern Zeliangrongs in October or November and in December or January by the Southerners. It is a religious, cultural and customary festival lasting for five to seven days depending on local variation. The social and cultural values, the aesthetic and creative senses, their love of beauty and color are also expressed in the festival. Gangmumei Kamei writes, ‘Festivals are a vehicle of religion and the Zeliangrong religion is sustained by their colorful festivals accompanied by religious rites and prayers, dance and music and feasting during different months of a year’. (Gangmumei Kamei: The History of the Zeliangrong Naga from Makhel to Rani Gaidinlu, 2004) Dancing, singing, eating and drinking are the four main highlights of the festival. (L Jayaseelan: Impact of the Missionary movement in Manipur, 1996) ET Dalton observes, Gaan-Ngai, a biggest festival of Zeliangrongs which happens in December. During the five days its continuance all the inhabitants of the village dressed in their best attire, keep up the dance and song, interrupted only by short intervals of response and breaks dedicated to feasting. (ET Dalton: Tribal History of Eastern India, 1973)


The first day of the festival is called Ngaigangmei, coming of the festival. In general, the festival commences on the thirteenth day of Wakching (December-January). In the morning of the festival, a ritual called Gucheng Phaimei is performed by an elder of Pei at the abode of the village deity called Bambu saying: ‘Upper and lower village deity, today festival is started, on these days of the festival be kind, to prevent any violence, quarrels and danger or sufferings from illness and disorders in dance, music and discipline. For this we are performing ginger offering ceremony, you please prevail and protect us from evils’. On return to boys’ dormitory, Khangchu the same elder offers holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang for safety and prosperity of the village. This is followed by beating of drum which indicates the beginning of Gaan-Ngai. Then, all the males including senior members of Pei gather at the courtyard of Khangchu and Gaukpai Jaomei ceremony is performed in which a big pig is sacrificed to Tingkao Ragwang for wellbeing and prosperity of the village. The spleen of the pig is removed and observed carefully in search of good sign. The victim is consumed by the present members called Jeigan-Tumei. Just before it an invocation to Tingkao Ragwang called Naplao Hoi is performed. Eating together of the pork meat cooked with the blood is a vow they make to stand as one in times of misery and in times of happiness. Thus, it is inaugurated by the male members at a meal in the boys’ dormitory. (Subhadra Channa (Ed): Religion and Tribal Society (Social life and belief system), 2002) In the evening of the particular day, ritual farewell is given to all those who died in the preceding year in the form of parting meal provided by concerned families to his or her friends. It is believed that the departed soul does not leave the village until the parting meal is over. The grave is beautified and drinks and eatables are placed on it as a way of sharing the meal with him or her. (Rajat Kanti Das: Manipur Tribal Scene: Studies in society and Change, 1985). This is locally recognized as Theikadimei.

In the afternoon, Hoi Gammei procession is performed in which all male members of the village (attiring best traditional dress) led by the Khangbons (senior members of Khangchu) with spears in their hands shouting Hoi will march through the length and breadth of the village’”just as nations expose their strength, their power in water, land and air, show their cultural richness on a specific day, the procession is a grand show of their strength. According to R Brown, ‘The festive occasions among the Kowpois are numerous, and are characterized by feasting, drinking, dancing and singing, and un-moderate amount of the haw haw or peculiar cry of the hill-men without which no entertainment of any kind would be complete’. (R Brown: Statistical Account of Manipur, 2001). The peculiar cry haw, haw is a part and parcel of the festivals. It is believed that by performing such cry, they are intimating their joys towards the Supreme God, Tingkao Ragwang. Hoi Gammei procession will come to a halt when they reach the Danshanpung, the village jumping ground where the young boys perform Taophai Danchammei, competition in stone throwing and long jump in the presence of the villagers. These sports are introduced by the Khunbu or Khullakpa of the village. The winners of the sports will be blessed by the elders. Hoi Gammei procession will go back to the Khangchu when the competition is ended. Next, the boys will produce the new fire by the wood and bamboos friction and the same (fire) will be distributed to every household of the village. This is called Mhairapmei. They cook their food for the festival with the new fire. Napkaomei ceremony is performed in every household in which a fowl is offered to Tingkao Ragwang as thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest and prayer for abundant harvest in the coming year. In the evening, unmarried boys and girls of Khangchu and Luchu will visit every member houses to enjoy the tasty foods. This is called Napcha Tukaronmei. Saopak Danmei is conducted by the elders of Pei to every individual family of the village giving word of warning not to quarrel with each other during the festival.


The second day is called Ngaidai, greatest festival day and also known as Tamchan Ngai. All the boys and girls of the dormitories will bring Tamchas, eatables along with a jar of rice beer to their respective dormitories. The members of the both dormitories who died in the previous year will also contribute their share. In return, a share of eatables is given by the representative dormitories to those bereaved families. In the afternoon of the day, girls and boys of the dormitories will distribute from their collection of meats, drinks, and vegetables to other dormitories like Peikai, Gaanchang Kaibang, Karapei kaibang and Mathenmei kaibang. While presenting these gifts the members of khangchu and Luchu will sing songs and dances as well. These dances are called Tamchan Lam and the dance is performed only by the girls. The main objective of Tamchanmei is to avoid any diseases from spreading to boys and girls in the year to come. (Chaoba Kamson: Philosophy of Gaan-Ngai, 2010). A ritual called Rang-Ganmei is also observed for good harvest of the year.

Song competition between girls and boys is held at Luchu after the evening feast. It will continue throughout the night and no song will be repeated by any singer. Some boys, on the other hand, will go around the village singing songs in praise of the might and courage of the people of the village called Kairong Lonmei. They are entertained with drinks by the individual families.

Tuna Gaan-Ngai:

Tuna Gaan-Ngai, the festival of the girls and boys happens on the third day of Gaan-Ngai. All the four senior members of Khangchu called Khangbon will bring their Tamchas, eatables and best prepared rice beer to the Khangchu. The present members of the Khangchu taste the eatables and drink after offering of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang. Theikadilam, farewell dance in honor of the dead is also given. This is called Ngaidongmei (Chamdin Then: Changbi, vol-I, 1973) Khangbon Kadi Lam; farewell dance in honor of the promotion of Khangbon of Khangchu to Peikai is also performed by the dormitories when the Khangbon of khangchu are being promoted to Peikai, village authority. These posts of Peikai are called Ganchang. The same posts are not given by resolution or appointment order but by songs, dances and cultural activities (Chaoba Kamson(Ed): Gaan-Ngai: A festival of Zeliangrong people, 2003)


Longkumei meaning hill trekking is performed by the boys and girls of the dormitories at a selected place on top of the hill. It comes on the fourth day of the festival. On top of the hill, they sing Luchenlu and eat the Gaktingtam (boiled pork pounded with salt, ginger, chilies and made into balls) with drink (Gangmumei Kamei: 2004). Among them, two boys and girls are chosen to be kings and queens and each of them wears a crown made of leaves of Fak, a kind of long grass. They are called Fakgwangs. In the evening, Phakgwang Lam is performed in front of the houses of the Phakgwangs. The participants are entertained with eatables and drink.


Napchanmei is the fifth day or last day of the Gaan-Ngai festival. On this day, a ceremony called Napkaomei, calling of the paddy is performed at their respective dormitories (Khangchu and Luchu) to restore the consumed and wasted rice during the festival invoking Napsinmei and Mudonlu or Kangdailu for the plentiful harvest in the coming year. It is performed by an elder of Pei who officiates as priest. Offering of the best part of the killed animal or fowl i.e. the liver with rice and drink are placed on the hearth stones. It is believed that Kambuipui, Charaipei and Kairao dwell in the hearth. (Chaoba Kamson: 2010). After the evening feast, there is a competition of songs between the boys and girls of the dormitories. They will sing all over the night.


On the sixth day, Raang-patmei, worship of all gods of Zeliangrong pantheon is performed at the Northern gate of the village, the seat of Kaipi Bambu. It is carried out by a priest offering fowls, eggs, ginger, water and rice-beer to all the seven brothers of Ragwang and surrounding deities of the concerned village. Every household of the village will bring a fowl, ginger, chilies, egg etc to the Peikai for the same purpose of the ritual worship.

Appointments and retirements of person, handing over of charges, etc, in connection with religious-cultural matters concerning the village are announced at this place. Such announcements which are believed to be made in front of the gods have strong customary sanctions behind them. Cooked chicken are distributed to the elders of Pei, old women and children who are not yet enrolled at the boys’ and girls’ dormitories. Then, a ritual called Buhkaomei (calling of soul) is performed at the Peikai. The cooked chicken will be distributed to every household and tested for longevity of life. Hence, the Gaan-Ngai comes to an end.

*The article is written by Budha Kamei

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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