Ningol Chakkouba : A beautiful tradition

-Fr Paul Lelen Haokip
Every community stands out distinctly through its unique tradition or way of life. The yearly invitation of married women to their parental home is a beautiful tradition of the Meitei community. Gifts, reunion, life’s experience sharings, family meeting, etc., are some prominent features of the day. During the autumn if you see a well decorated woman with her kids in festive mood carrying variety of fruits heading towards her paternal home, it is most likely to be the day of Ningol Chakkouba. Yes, it is. This festival is also a sign of respect shown to women in general and sisters in particular.
Ningol Chakkouba day is a feast every Meitei woman can be truly happy about. Apart from the already established respect for being a women they enjoy, this day is special to them. The brothers (men folk) seek for blessings by bowing down to their sisters. I have seen this humbling act and found it truly divine in all ways. If every man would love, honour and respect his wife just as he seeks blessings from his sister(s), we would have happier homes with lesser tension. This feast reminds us (men) to shed male-chauvinism and relate to women in a person-to-person relation. This is one of the reasons why I called it ‘a beautiful tradition’. And since it is a tradition, it is not a one-day drama but should be part and parcel of community itself. Then, it will be raised to the status of being a ‘value’ for the community.
The last few years have witnessed a wider of celebration of Ningol Chakkouba in the form of ‘Lunch organized by Defence Forces’through which the fear of uniform-service is reduced and trust between parties improved. Another breath-taking scenario is the Tribal women/friends invited to dine with Meitei women. These are path breakers. Gone are the days when Tribals and Meiteis would not share a cup of water or allow the former into the latter’s house. Thanks to proper education and broader outlook through which some inhuman man-made and crippling religious observances are defeated by culturally humane tradition of eating together as a sign of oneness and unity. If a meal is considered a symbolof oneness and peace, a feast of this sort can heal wounds of past discriminations. “In some respects, a woman is superior to man. She is more tender-hearted, more receptive, her intuition is more intense” said Abdu’l-Baha. So, if women are allowed to come together for a good reason, we are sure to have finer society to live in.
Instead of building higher walls of differences between communities, Govts. authorities, NGOs, Religious groups and Community leaders should pave ways to open windows for peaceful co-existence and mutual cultural enrichment. Intercultural sharings knit communities and enhances tolerance while reducing the hate-graph. We literally open our windows to let in fresh air and let out contaminated air.  In life too, we need fresh ideas, new human interactions and enriching intercultural platforms. We need to feed our cultural-health and mental-health with humane values and societal building exchanges. The Ningol Chakkouba feast is worth preserving and propagating itas it can become a channel of peace in our society. This festival can speak for women-folk in general and their contributions toward upkeep of human life on earth.
If the Meitei community has so far preserved such a beautiful tradition of honouring and respecting their married sisters, mothers, wives, then we can term it as a value worthy of emulation. The beauty of this feast is that everything revolves around CHAK, a love-meal hosted by parental home members. All other things are shared and treasured around the invitation for a meal. Yes, we can dialogue around a meal. We can bond around a meal.
We can build peace with a meal as well. Intercultural interactions become novel ways of mutual appreciation and peaceful co-existence. Cultural differences can also be celebrated and shared with others. Homogeneity is almost always boring while new cultural experiences are enriching for collaborative enterprises.
If Ningol Chakkouba is around, market streets are congested, fruits are in plenty, happy faces multiply and family closeness are on the card. Let’s join one. Praying and wishing all the ‘Ningols’ a lovely day of parental home experience. Come back happy and safe.