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Significance Of Gaan-Ngai Festival

Chakaan Gaan-Ngai is the greatest living festival of the Zeliangrong people of North East India. It is a religious and cultural festival. This festival signifies a distinct identity of Zeliangrong people. It is a kind of festival of mixture of the living and dead. The whole culture, religion and social life are interwoven in the performance of Gaan-Ngai. So, Gaan-Ngai as the backbone of Zeliangrong culture, culture and religion are inseparable. All the festivals of Zeliangrong are based on agricultural operations, pre­operation and post harvest. Therefore, Gaan-Ngai in real term is described as a post harvest festival as the farmers store food grains in the granaries and they are free from agricultural works for the coming year. They turn to festive mood.

Meaning of the Chakaan Gaan-Ngai

The literal meaning of Chakaan Gaan-Ngai is the festival of winter season. Chakaan means season, Gaan means winter and Ngai means festival.

Time of Celebration

This festival starts celebrating on the 13th day of the Manipuri lunar month of Wakching every year. This festival lasts for 5 to 7 days depending on local variation. This festival is mainly celebrated by the devotees of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC) and the followers of Heraka religion living in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.

Heralding of the Gaan-Ngai

On the first day of Wakching, the village elders will announce the coming of the festival to make necessary arrangement for the same. The male dormitory will blow cow or mithun’s horn inviting all kinds of gods for participation of the coming Gaan-Ngai festival. Villagers are informed for preparation of the festival by a village elder. This is known as heralding of Gaan-Ngai and locally called as Gaan Shaanmei; boys will dig jumping ground on this day.

The First Day – Beginning of the festival

The 1st day of the festival is called Ngaigangmei. It starts a ritual service at the place of northern and southern village deities by an elder offering an egg and a piece of ginger invoking them so that no untoward incidents happen during the festival. Returning to male dormitory, the elder will offer holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang at the courtyard of male dormitory. After that boys will beat drum which signifies starting of Gaan-Ngai festival.

Making of Sacred Fire

New fire is produced on the 1st day of the festival by friction of wood and bamboos spirits. This is called Mairapmei. Then the villagers are informed to collect the new fire for cooking purposes. Accordingly, the villagers will come and collect the same. It is believed if foods are cooked by the new fire, there will be a long life and prosperity of the coming year. Another significance is that, man will be as strong as fire.

Sacrifice to Tingkao Ragwang

A pig will be sacrificed as offering to Tingkao Ragwang. After the sacrifice of the pig, the spleen will be observed to find out the omen of the future and followed by offering of holy wine (Gakpai Zou) to Tingkao Ragwang. Then the grand Gaan-Ngai feast is prepared at male and girls’ dormitories. After having cooked, ho-hoing (Naplao hoi) will be shouted for dinner and followed by oblation of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang. All the members of male dormitory will taste the curry of Zeigan (Curry of Pig’s inside cooked with blood) which is very important. Zeigan tumei is equivalent to oath taking ceremony.

Shouting of Hoi

It is a form of worship of Thingkao Ragwang, the supreme God. Ho hoing is performed during the festivals and special worship of Tingkao Ragwang like construction of ornamented ritual house (Taraang kai Shumei), performance of ritual charity (Maku Banru), promotional ritual (Bamjou Kimei), performance of ritual for welfare of mankind (Ragaidai).

Objective of Stone Throwing and Long Jump

(a) The objective of Stone throwing during the festival is to make the heavenly granary’s door break. The said granary is full of paddy. If the granary’s door is broken, the paddy will spread and leak out here and there. It the paddy is used for seed sowing, a plenty of paddy will be harvested as believed.

(b) The purpose of long jump is to make the swelling earth spread by the force of long jump which is tantamount to distribution of paddy for mankind.

Therefore, the purpose of stone throwing and long jump during the Gaan-Ngai festival is to receive abundant harvest.

Tributes to the departed souls

Those who died preceding the Gaan-Ngai festival are with their members of the family. Graves are beautified and decorated. Rich tributes and homage in the form of foods, drinks, chutney, eatables etc. are paid for the departed soul. .Farewell Dance to departed souls

Farewell dance is presented in honor to any member of male or girls’ dormitories and any member of married woman who died preceding the Gaan-Ngai festival as his/her soul, it is believed, is with the living people. Therefore, Gaan-Ngai is the festival of the living and dead.

Shaopaak Thetmei (Greetings)

A group of village elders divided into two or three pay a visit at every house greeting the members of the each family to enjoy joyously and warn them not to quarrel nor speak ill words against each other during the festival. If there is any kind of quarrel or fighting, the village authority will take a stem action against the offenders. This is known as shaopaak thetmei. In the evening, boys and girls will spend dining together, indulge in merry making, drinking, eating, singing, cutting joke and arrange pazeimei in the village.

The 2nd Day – Tamchan-Ngai (The great festival)

All the members of both male and girls’ dormitories will bring their respective tamchas (subscription/eatables). Those members who died in the previous year will also bring the tamcha (s) (Thei-Tamcha). Tamcha means gift/subscription in the form of meat, drink, vegetables etc. to their respective dormitories. Some quantity of tamcha will be given to the owner of male and girls’ dormitories as a respect & custom. One priest (Baanja) will make chanting of tamsuan (chutney) for two seniormost gaanpies and Zousuan (wine) for two tunapis (Two heads of girls’ dormitory). After the lunch, the members of male dormitory will collect tamsuan and zousuan in the form of money shouting a rilai hoi to the above mentioned families. This day is known as Tamchan­Ngai.

Tamchan Dance

Only girls in the evening will perform a dance in the house of pei (Village Authority), Kengjapui Kaibang (House of old women) aI).d Gaanchang Kaibang (House of village elders). This dance is known as Tamchan Laam. Tam means chutney of vegetables, chan means request, Laam means dance.

The 3rd Day – Tuna Gaan-Ngai

The 3rd day festival is known as Tuna-Gaan-Ngai (Festival of the youth). In the morning two Khangbons (Heads of male dormitory) and two tunapi (Heads of girls’ dormitory) will bring tamcha to their respective dormitories. One priest will recite tamsuan and zousuan hymns.

In the evening boys and girls perform Khangbon Kadimei Laam, a farewell dance in honor of both Khangbons who have been promoted to a higher past known as Gaanchang.

The 4th Day – Longkumei (Hill Trekking)

Longruimei or Longkumei means hill trekking. Boys and girls climb a hill for sightseeing. In olden days, they select kings and queens and adorn their heads by phaak leaves as crowns. They show their talents such as singing song, drum beating, rahjaimei (playing of penna/string) etc. After performing these activities gakting tam (pork chutney), wine, boiled pork etc. are offered to all present there.

They return to village and perform a dance in honor to boys and girls who have been chosen as kings and queens. This dance is known as ‘Phaakgang Laam’. The families of the kings and queens will offer money (Laam baan), drinks, chutney, and other eatables.

The 5th Day – Napchanmei

The whole day is busy in preparation for cooking. In the evening a ritual ceremony of calling of paddy (Napkaomei) with a big cock for goddess of food in charge (Majapui) for good harvest and prosperity for the coming year, is performed at both dormitories. The cooked liver of fowl, rice and grinding ginger will be offered to goddesses namely Kambuipui, Charaipei and Kairao (ancestors) who live in the form of hearth stones in the house.

Napsin Ganshin Raomei

After the grand feast is over, napsin ganshin raomei criticizing the heads of the male dormitory for not being served good dishes during the festival is performed at the court yard of male dormitory. Their unsatisfied voices are expressed through songs.

Singing competition

All the members of boys’ dormitory will proceed to the girls’ dormitory for singing 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 singing competition continues till late night.

The 6th Day – Rangpatmei (Worship of all gods of Zeliangrong)

Rangpatmei is the offering of sacrifice to seven brother gods of Ambaan Ragwang (Lower realm gods), presiding deities and propitiation for evil spirits. Evil spirits are not worshipped but they are given offerings to distance from men and not to disturb them. This ritual is known as Raren Loumei.

The village old men and old women will eat the chicken cooked and some portion of chicken will be distributed to minor children. This ritual is performed by offering fowls, wine, water, ginger, egg at the village deity’s abode.

Rangpat Tamcha

Baanjas will bring Rangpat Tamcha in the form of eatable, salt cake, material etc which are equally distributed to all baanjas but gaan-changs are not given.

Maru Zou (Longevity Wine)

A baanja will declare to all to come and collect the Maru Zou (wine). It is believed if drunken, it is good for health and longevity of life.

Filling up the vacant post

If there is any vacant post in village authority (peikai) before the Gaan-Ngai festival, the said vacant post is filled up on this day by a suitable senior most person by declaring with an iron hoe by a Baanja at village gate in the name of Tingkao Ragwang. Besides, any promotion from Khangbon to gaanchang, gaan-chang to baanja, baanja to khunbu or khunlaak etc, from married woman to old woman is decided on this day and prior invitation (Kaphaan Timei) is given to the proposed invitee (s) with a local salt cake for the next year.

Bukaomei (Calling of Souls)

The elders will return to the village pei and another ceremony known as Bukaomei (Calling of souls) to Tingkao Ragwang will be performed. A big cock will be sacrificed after chanting the hymns invoking Tingkao Ragwang to allow to return the outgoing souls to the human bodies. The cock will be cooked and eaten by the elders and pieces of the meat will be distributed to every household.

Bamsonmei (Ritual Service for new Incumbent)

From peikai, a hoi procession will lead to the new incumbent’s house where a ceremony of rite and ritual of a cock’s leg examination will be conducted so as to confirm whether the new head of village fortune will be good or not for the coming years.

The important works done during the Gaan-Ngai festival are as follows: ­

1. Religious activities

(a) Worship to Tingkao Ragwang to protect men from death or danger and to provide longevity of life, welfare and prosperity for the coming years.

(b) Worship of all gods of the Zeliangrong pantheons on the last day of the festival.

(c) Performance of calling of paddy of goddess to recover those rice already consumed or missing during the festival.

(d) Worship to presiding deities on the first day of early in the morning invoking not to cause any kind of disturbances during the festival.

(e) Farewell dance to the deported souls who leave the household and go to the land of the dead (Taroiram) after the Gaan-Ngai festival.

2. Cultural activities

(a) Singing competition of folk songs between boys and girls at girls’ dormitory.

(b) Beating of different types of traditional drum, playing of rah jaimei.

(c) Performance of cultural dance, pajeimei, farewell dance in honor to heads of the male dormitory.

(d) Youth sing village quarding songs spending the whole night to guard against any unwanted incidents in the village.

3. Customary Activities

(a) All admission of new members (boys & Girls) to the irrespective dormitories.

(b) Promotion from minor to major (boys & girls) by giving a piece of pork binding with a string.

(c) Promotion from khangbon to gaanchang, gaanchang to branja, filling up of vacant post of khunbu, khunlaak etc.

(d) Newly wedded women are formally admitted to women institution.

(e) Pig thighs are given away to those members belonging to both dormitories who died before the festival. (f) Those deceased families also offer gifts after the name of the deceased.

4. Games and Sports Activities

Games and sports activities are carried out such as shot-put, long-jump, Javelins throw, wrestling etc on the jumping ground on the opening day towards the evening of the festival.

5. Maintenance of Discipline

(a) Teaching of discipline is strictly enforced by the elders to boys and girls to maintain peace and understanding in the society.

(b) An act of issuance of whip (Thingngun Kadimei) is performed at male dormitory. The objective of issuance of whip is to teach boys to obey what the elders say, to carry out the works assigned to them. As a customary practice, an arrangement is made to beat the boys nominally exhorting to pay much attention to works. The young boys request the elders producing a bottle of wine not to beat them. It the request is accepted, they may be exempted from beating. The girls’ dormitory also follows the same rule. In case the boys are to be beaten, a youngest gaanpi will handle the whip’ whereas at the girls dormitory, the twisted cloth (pheilaak) is handled by one tunapi (head of girls.)

6. Unity and Love

On the first day in the morning, a pig is being sacrificed to Tingkao Ragwang and its blood’s curry prepared with pig’s inside cooked is eaten. This is for the preservation of unity, love and brotherhood of the community. It is a kind of oath taking ceremony. Any kind of activities in respect of singing song, dancing, chanting of hoi, shouldering any burden when in sorrow or joy, all the people will ‘˜York, enjoy, eat, drink together. With this theme, Zeigan tumei is performed.

It is also described that Gaan-Ngai is a unique cultural festival associated with religion and its philosophy.

Therefore, Gaan-Ngai festival brings unity, love, peace and brotherhood with each other.

The writer is the General Secretary of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak Phom Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.

*The article is written by Chaoba Kamson

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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