By Parin Somani
New Delhi: The Manipuri dance form is one of the best in India.
Manipur is referred to as the Jewel of India or the Golden Land comprising 16 districts, each with subdivisions and tribal blocks. The majority of Manipuris are Hindus and worship Sanamahi. The hill districts contain a Christian majority.
In India, the Rasalila is a well-known classical dance form across many states. Even tribal communities have evolved their own forms. But the Manipuri Rasalila surpasses all others for its elegance, music and rhythm.
The state has a history of games and sports like Sagol Kangjei (Polo), which is believed to have originated in Manipur. Hiyang Tannaba (Boat Racing) and Mukna (Wrestling) are also popular. It is believed that boats gift spiritual power.
Manipur is also known women’s empowerment. Ima Keithel, one of India’s largest markets, is managed by women, underlining their independence. Meira Paibis is a group of women which carries fire torches to keep a vigil against social evils. A popular celebration is Yaoshang (Holi), during which Thabal Chongba, a type of Manipuri folk dance, is performed.
Besides, Gang-Ngai is the festival of Kabui Nagas and the Lui-Ngai-Ni, a sowing season festival, are also celebrated. The Meitei New Year is celebrated by offering special festive dishes to the deities. Part of the ritual entails people to climb the nearest hilltops, believing they will rise in their lives. Heikru Hitongba, is a celebration when narrow boats carrying idols of Lord Vishnu are rowed.
In literature, the Manipuri language has its own script known as Meitei Mayek. It is also written in Bangla script. Each tribe has its own dialect. Many novelists contributed to Manipuri literature, including Chaoba Singh (1885-1950), poets E. Nilkanta Singh and novelists H. Guno Singh.
Manipur had been mentioned in the epic Mahabharata when Prince Arjun visited married Manipuri princess Chitrangada. During his second visit, he was said to have been defeated by his son Babhrubahan.
Inhabitants of the Manipuri hills comprise numerous ethnic groups having tribal affiliations with the Nagas or Kukis. The famous queen, Rani Gaidinliu, a Kabui Naga from Rongmei tribe, became well-known as the Daughter of the Hills after she fought against the British at the age of 13.
Manipur’s most famous temple is Sri Govindji Temple with deities of Radha-Krishna. Religious and social festivals, like Rasalila and Yaoshang, are celebrated in the courtyard of this temple.
Meghalaya: Meghalaya, meaning the Abode of Clouds in Sanskrit, was carved out of Assam during the British era. Its capital is Shillong.
The state is populated by three dominant tribes, viz, the Khasis, Pnars and Achik. Their major festivals include the Hundred Drums Festival of the Garos and Behdeiñkhlam festival of Jaiñtia Hills. A Durga temple in Nartiang and a large collection of monoliths are also famous.
The state’s dominant language is English while Khasi and Garo are the official languages. Among the prominent Manipuri writers was U. Jeebon Roy. A few people aided the development to Meghalaya, including Mavis.
Mizoram: It is the Land of Blue Mountains, and has the highest concentration of tribal population among Indian states. The Mizos comprise Hmar, Lushai, Paite, Lai, Mara and Ralte tribes with further subdivisions into clans. Their major religion is Christianity, but other religions are also practiced.
So disciplined, honest and organized the people of Mizoram are that many even leave their shops unattended on highways. They celebrate many festivals usually centred around cultivation seasons, like the spring festival Chapchar Kut. Other festivals like Anthurium encourage Anthurium cultivation in Mizoram and promote tourism.
A variety of traditional dances are performed in the state. They include Cheraw, Khuallam etc. Mandatory community work is practiced by many. Lushai, commonly known as Mizo, is the language spoken in Mirozam. It was significantly influenced by Pawi, Paite and Hmar dialects.
Several writers have enriched Mizo literature. They include Khawlkungi, who was conferred with a Padma Shri. Mizo scientist C. Rokhuma (1917-2016) was well-known for developing an insecticide named RK Mixture.
In traditional religion, Rih Bil is a legendary lake which must be crossed by all souls to get to Pialral, corridor to their heaven. Situated near the India-Myanmar border is a sacred peak believed to be Abode of Gods, named as the Blue Mountain or Phawngpui. Surrounded by diverse flora and fauna it is now a national park. Mizoram is among the most peaceful states in the region.
Nagaland: It is a predominantly tribal state which celebrates festivals throughout the year. Nagaland consists of 16 major tribes and many sub-tribes, each with a distinct character, including language and attire. Their way of living is part of their land, family and clan. Their villages are usually located on hill tops for defence purposes. Entrances of huts are decorated with animal skulls. Weaving is an important skill for Naga women.
The mainstay of the Naga society is agriculture and most of their festivals revolve around farming. Their festival of purification with feasting and singing is Sekrenyi, the main festival of Angami tribe. After completing sowing and the earth begins to show signs of fertility, the Ao tribe celebrates Moatsu. The main annual festival is Hornbill Festival showcasing the Nagas’ tribute to the great hornbill they revere for its alertness and grandeur.
The languages spoken by the Nagas contain different dialects. It makes inter-tribal communication difficult. Their literature in the years 1800-1900 period covered tribal life prior to conversion to Christianity and wars. Its writers include A. Mackenzie, B.C. Allen and others. Poet and novelists, academic and researchers writing on Naga society include Easterine Kire, who also won a prize for her novel. Rano M Shaiza (1928-2015) was the only Naga woman to be elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977. Talimeran Ao (1918-98) has been a well-known Indian footballer and physician.
Nagaland also has the unique distinction of being home to the tallest tree in the world, a Rhododendron, recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Tripura: It is a Sanskrit word meaning “three cities”, known for geographical and ecological, diverse and cultural heritage. The Tripuris are the largest tribal community in the state who follow Hindu deity Shakti and Vaishnavism, as well as local deities accompanied by indigenous customs and rituals, although it is home to non-tribal communities also. The main religion followed by tribes is Hinduism although other religions are also practised.
In South Tripura is located the famous Tripura Sundari Temple, regarded as the among the holiest Shakti Peeths of the Hindus. It has the idol of Goddess Kali in her incarnation as a 16-year-old girl Sharoshi.
Tripura celebrates some popular festivals like Kharchi, Unakoti Mela etc. Pir Dargah Mela, a Muslim festival, is also celebrated in the memory of a Muslim Pir in the village Thakurmura.
Tripura’s spoken languages are Bengali, Kokborok and Manipuri. Many ancient texts refer to Tripura from the epic Mahabharata and the Puranas. It is also mentioned in the Emperor Asoka’s pillar inscriptions. The Rajmala, written in Bangali, is a court chronicle from the 15th century, containing history based on oral traditions from the Manikya kings.
Among the many temples, the Bhubaneshwari Temple, built by Maharaja Govinda Manikya, is noteworthy. King Bir Chandra Manikya (1862-96) also contributed to the cultural and spiritual development of Tripura. He loved Rabindra Nath Tagore’s works, including famous songs in Tripuri.