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Shivaratri And The Meetei Community

Maha Shivaratri festival is celebrated every year on the 29th day of the month of Phairen in the Meetei Calendar. Ganja (cannabis) and phola are primarily offered to Lord Shiva on this day in every household in Manipur. Phola is a mixture prepared with consecrated milk, curd, sugar, banana, crushed rice, etc. It is said that if we have phola along with ganja it would elate beyond self-control and make more intoxicated. Shivaratri is widely celebrated all over Manipur. Shiva temples at Baruni hill, Gwarok, Ingurok, Koubru Leikha and Thongam Mondum attract thousands of devotees and mass congregations can be seen on this day.

According to tradition, the planetary positions on this night are such that there is a powerful natural upsurge of energy in the human system. It is said to be beneficial for one’s physical and spiritual wellbeing to stay awake and aware throughout the night. Ashutosh is the other name of Shiva which means one who gets satisfied with little effort and will give all the things to its devotee whatever is wished. One who focuses his worship upon Shiva is called a Shivite or Shaiva.

Here is one interesting story of Lord Shiva, showing his merciful nature (Purana). Once a hunter was wandering in a dense forest, to chase a deer and suddenly he found himself on the banks of river Kolidum, where he heard the roar of a tiger. In order to defend himself from the tiger, he climbed up a tree close by. The tiger sat on the ground below the tree without the purpose to leave.

The huntsman stayed at the tree whole night and to keep himself awake, he plucked one leaf after another from the tree and threw it down. There was a Shiva Lingam under the tree and gracefully the tree turned out to be a “bilva” tree (leaves of this tree are adored by Shiva). Without any knowledge, the huntsman had delighted the deity by pouring Bilva leaves all night. With the arrival of the sun, the hunter looked down and found the tiger gone. In its place, Lord Shiva was standing and he prostate before the lord. With Shiva’s blessing, he attained salvation from the bondage of the material world.

Shiva at Baruni hill (Nongmai Ching) in Imphal East is also traditionally worshipped by the Meetei. After Yaoshang festival (Holi), which is celebrated for five days in Manipur, thousands of Shiva devotees visit this sacred site every year on the 28th day of the month of Lamta in the Meetei Calendar. Pilgrims from many far flung areas of the State visit the temple on this day to ask divine favor from Lord Shiva, the Destroyer or Transformer.

The pilgrimage to Baruni hill is attempted at least three times in the lifetime of all Shiva devotees. However, there is another pilgrimage on this day which is unique in nature. Have you ever heard about the word “Bibhut? Bibhut is a group of masked men who disguise themselves as ghosts. They wear different masks and have long hairs. These grosteques often frighten children on the way and they are sometimes extremely terrified too.

These monstrous looking men are the followers of Shiva in human form. Bibhut is also a Marup, which comprises of about 200 members. But other Leikais do not have such Marup except the one in Bamon Leikai, Imphal East. These members in turn represent as Shiva in human form for every year. It is compulsory for every family of this Leikai to be a member of Bibhut Marup. It was set up in early 1920’s.  However, how the Marup was founded as we know it today is not well documented. Money collection for the Marup is done on monthly basis. Every member has to contribute money regularly to ensure its sustenance. One member is unanimously selected every year to represent as Lord Shiva in human form. The Shiva is adored by everyone and fruits are offered to him at every lane he passes through and even decorated him with money amidst the journey to Baruni hill.

Hindus are encouraged to undertake pilgrimages during their lifetime. Most Hindus visit sites within their region or locale. Kumba Mela is the largest pilgrimage recorded in history. Kumba Mela is also credited with the largest gathering of humans in the entire world. Most Hindu places of pilgrimage are associated with legendary events from the lives of various gods. Almost any place can become a focus for pilgrimage. In most cases they are sacred cities, rivers, lakes, and mountains.

*The article is written by Balu Thongam

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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