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Iboyaima Laithangbam
Date of Publish: 2015-11-19

Manipur’s own women’s day


( Ningol Chakkouba is a unique festival in Manipur which celebrates the coming of married women to their paternal homes for a meal. )

 

Every November comes an important occasion of festivity for the Manipuri society. This year too, the annual festival of Ningol Chakkouba has just passed.

It is a unique festival, one that celebrates daughters in a country which has otherwise an overall discriminatory attitude towards girls.

On a November day, married sisters a nd daughters are invited to their paternal home for a sumptuous meal. History records that this practice began in 33 AD when Nongda Lairen Pakhangba was the king of Manipur. His sister Laishna, had once gone to the house of her brother, Poireiton. Apart from a multi-course delicious meal, she was given various home-grown fruits and handloom spun clothes as gifts. Since then, this practice has been an inextricable part of the Manipuri society.

Initially, this practice was found only among the Meiteis and the Kabuis. Though now, it has become a catalyst for communal harmony in the State. It began when some decades ago, civil society organisations started hosting feasts here and there where women of all communities were invited for a meal. Each of them was also given a handloom spun sarong or shawl as a gift. The idea behind these mass feasts was to remind people that all communities lived as members of the same family before the advent of Vaishnavism in the State  in the 18th century after which untouchability began to be practised in Manipuri society leading to a social divide with a lingering effect.

Former Chief Minister Rishang Keishing  had also a plan to take forward the idea officially and host a lunch for couples belonging to both tribal and non-tribal communities. But then, he was ousted from power before his dream was realised.

However, the practice of organising feasts where women of all communities are invited is spreading into most parts of the four valley districts dominated by the Meiteis. Such occasions underline the common belief that the tribals and the non-tribals are brothers of the same parents; that while the elder brother stayed in the hills, the younger brother decided to remain in the valley. However, with an ugly twist of history, an artificial social chasm was created which is deplored by one and all.

Yet another change in the last few decades can also be seen taking over the festival. In the early times, families preserved the pristine beauty of the social practice by gifting ordinary clothes and arranging simple but delicious meals for their sisters and daughters.

However, with more and more ill-gotten money trickling in to the State, many began to use the festival as an occasion to show off their riches. There began a competition among many newly rich families about who can afford more expensive gifts for their daughters and sisters.

However, there has been appeals time and again from various sections of society not to corrupt the unique practice.

On the day of Ningol Chakkauba, it is a must for married women and their children to don new clothes. They also have the custom of bringing fruits and sweets to their parental homes while coming for the meal. This is the harvest season for the traders who deal in imported fruits, sweets and other heavy demand items.

However, the family of Irom Sharmila who has been on fast unto death since November 4, 2000 demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 has not hosted Ningol Chakkouba since then. Sharmila is the youngest and most loved sibling in the family. When she has been on fast unto death, languishing in a prison there is no charm or meaning in hosting such lunches which are meant for festivity and jubilation, said  some  family members.

Unfortunately, these days, prices of most commodities skyrocket on the eve of Ningol Chakkauba. Prices of many commodities in Manipur are anyway one of the highest in the county due to lack of the Government initiatives to check untrammelled extortion of illegal taxes by militants of many hues.On top of that, most prefer to gift apples and coconuts brought from outside the State over locally grown fruits like the guavas and the berries and end up paying inevitably a huge sum.

Yet another offshoot of the festival is hosting games by some youths, such as dice, housie, etc., for the public, at times from October onwards. One such housie ticket this year was as high as Rs 10,000 which came with the irresistible first prize of a new sleek car.

Though such events tarnish the pristine image of the festival, the good outcome of it has been that some have succeeded in making the festival a unifying force for the Manipuri society at large.

Even police and other government departments including Assam Rifles now organise feasts for womenfolk. Also, the practice has rubbed off on non-Manipuri families living in the State for generations. They too now invite their daughters and sisters home for Ningol Chakkouba.

Iboyaima Laithangbam

( The writer is an Imphal-based senior journalist. He can be reached at imphalreport@gmail.com )

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