Dr Budha Kamei
Manipur, once an independent Asiatic state, is located at the extreme north-eastern border of India lying just north of the Tropic of Cancer in between the latitudes 23o50 and 25o41 north and longitudes 93o2 and 94o47 east. With an area of 22,327 square kilometers, the present day Manipur is bounded in the north by Nagaland, in the east and south by Chin Hills of Myanmar, in the south-west by Mizoram and in the west by Assam. The total length of its border is about 854 kms including 352 kms long international border with Myanmar and the remaining 502 kms long border separates Manipur from the states of Assam, Mizoram, and Nagaland. The shape of Manipur is rectangular with Manipur plain or Imphal basin in the centre. It is also the gateway of India to Southeast Asia through the Moreh Town of Manipur passing through National Highway 39(Indo-Burma Road). The Meiteis in the valley and the Naga and Kuki tribes at the surrounding hills occupy the state. The present article attempts to look into the rain compelling ceremony of the Meiteis and its significance.
Rainmaking is a weather modification ritual that does try to invoke rain. Weather modification ritual was common in the world. Even today, some of the rainmaking rituals are still performed by the natives particularly living in the southwestern part of America. In her book The Rhythm of the Redman, Julia M. Buttree describes the rain dance of the Zuni, along with other Native American dances; feathers and turquoise, or other blue items are worn during the ceremony to symbolize wind and rain respectively. The most famous rain dance was the snake dance of Hopi Indians in Arizona. Every two years, late in August, the Snake fraternity of Hopi performed the perilous ceremony. They built a small shelter of cottonwood boughs called a Kisi, where they put rattlesnakes. In it, crouched a man to hand out snakes. Painted and naked except for kilts, the rest chanted, swayed, and sounded shell rattles. In turn, each knelt at the Kisi, received a snake, grasped its middle in his mouth, and danced.
Rice is the staple crop of Asia not exception to Manipur. In Manipur, this crop is planted in the summer season and harvested in autumn. As this crop was the chief source of food of the people, the failure of the harvest usually resulted in famine in Manipur. In the Royal Chronicle, there are numerous references of droughts which caused famines both in the hills and valley of Manipur. At the time of droughts, efforts were made to irrigate rice fields from the nearby rivers (Turen); hymns were recited and many rain rituals were performed for getting rain. According to T.C. Hodson, there are Hindu ceremonies performed by Brahmins such as the milking of one hundred and eight milch cows before the temple of Govindaji or at the presence of the images of Radha-Krishna at river bank, when the people aloud for rain and the Brahmin priests murmur hymns/mantras. But, the great characteristic of the rites of the Hindu system is the management by the priest (maiba), the head of the clan (Piba) or in more important cases by the king, who is, in fact regarded not only as a living deity, but as the head of old state religion. The hill which rises to the east of the valley and which is called Nongmaiching, is the scene of a rain compelling ceremony. On the upper slopes there is a stone which does bear a fanciful resemblance to an umbrella, and the king used to climb there in state to take water from a deep spring below and pour it over this stone, obviously a case of imitative magic. It is a tradition that to erect an iron umbrella on the hill was an almost sure technique of getting rain when occasion needed. In dire extremity of the country human sacrifices were made in the older times in the belief that human blood would have brought rain. The Chief of the Khuman clan (Khuman Ningthou) did worship the Deity Okparen on behalf of the clan whenever rain was required. Before the ceremony, he has to abstain from meat of any kind and from all sexual intercourse. To purify him water is poured over his head by a virgin from a jar which is promptly broken.
In addition to these ceremonies, there are number of ritual practices for getting rain. When people did feel the sufferings of droughts, men and women dividing into two separate groups went on naked at night singing aloud songs for getting rain. If rain falls to the land, where there is distress of shortage of water to the extent that it could cause flood and bring its water level up to the top of the Langjing hill and consequently carry away old men and women of the Patsoi village with the flood, it would receive the people and water would be in plenty. Then, let the sacred drops of rain carry away the immoralities. Another tradition is that the women at night gather in a field outside the village, strip themselves and throw their rice pounding pestles into a nearby pool or the river, chanting hymns and ‘make their way home by byways.
The failure of rain did compel the people to carry out all kinds of ceremony in their respective ancestral shrines. In 1684, ceremony of Lai Puthiba was performed. In 1688, when there was a risk of drought in the valley Yenkhom Maitek soon worshipped rain publicly or privately. Worship for rain was the concern of all peoples irrespective of their principalities (Salais) to which they belonged.
To conclude, in the distant past the people of Manipur performed numerous rites and rituals to get rain for cultivation, animals and plants. These rain rituals may not be applicable in the present society but it is our traditional beliefs and practices for getting rain in times of draught. It is a part of nature worship. It is widespread in the world as in the beginning men did not understand the nature so they prayed for rain.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]