Play the Pena !
Mangka Mayanglambam (Artiste of Laihui Ensemble)
“Touheide” we grew up listening to our elders saying it. But have we ever asked why ? For all these long decades, we keep on believing,and somehow it became a sacred word and we keep on following it and at some point, it is scary too. When an elderly use the word we just accept it like a reflex action and we again pass it to our young ones and it becomes a tradition which keeps on going. As a part of culture, it becomes undeniable in one’s society. There must be an etymology behind the words. So, do our elderly people use proverbs, riddles, folktales etc.while teaching a lesson or passing their knowledge to us.
So now let’s come to Pena. We all know it is the traditional instrument of the Meitei community. Where do we see, and hear it the most ? At Lai-Haraoba festival. Yes, correct. Did you ever encounter women who play Pena on Lai-Haraoba festival ? No, we do not. Why ? Because, traditionally, women are not allowed to play Pena. Why ? “Touheide” told by our elders and scholars since time immemorial. Again, why ? Because women’s Phanek are considered untouchable according to some point of view and because women have mens- truation. Are you happy with that reply ? Of course, some will be, but the majority will not. We shouldn’t criticize other’s trust; we shouldn’t be against other’s perspectives. For every answer, there will be a reason behind which is told and untold at the same time and that reason is made and shaped by none other than Man. We all must respect one's point of view and belief.
Before Pena, the breaking of tradition was started in Nata Sankritana, Manipuri folk theatre and Khongjom Parva where women started to take part. Now in the present day, we can see many women and young girls who play Pena as an instrumentalist, as a Pena Balladeer for their hobby and even professionally without any antagonism. But what we can see is with the change of time, people change. We all need that perfect time, place and situation to face the restricted tradition in order to shape a better platform for our future and coming generation. But we should respect and pass on our old tradition with the change of time. It is disrespectful to combat one’s mind culture.
Women can play Pena; it is an instrument, and even the two sections i.e. Pena Maru is considered as “Ema” (Mother), and Chejing as “Epa” (Father). Not something which is meant to be a sacred weapon. Why weapon ? Is it dangerous ? Yes Pena is a weapon too. “Khutlai” it is what we call it. Men artiste carry it with pride and for protection during the Time of War Combat. So yes, it is a weapon Instrument too. By perceiving the Body of Pena, we can see how it is used as a weapon. Again, women don’t go out carrying weapons during the War period. Men are out for and women are supposed to be inside. Dangerous it is told.
Every society, every family follow their own tradition and have their own culture. The myriad reasons for restrictions for women have pros and cons. Even if we disagree with the tradition you alone cannot change it overnight. We must respect and listen. Every untold reason has a beautiful undying history behind which we cannot expunge.
Hats off and my heartfelt gratitude to Late Oja Thongam Thoiba, founder Guru of Laihui, a center for research on traditional and indigenous art form, the first Pena Maestro who strongly stood that women can also play Pena as a performing art form, it was during his time a big challenge occurred. So does Oja Khagembam Mangi, Padmashree Awar-dee, co-founder Guru of Laihui who has women pupils, when he was in Jawaharlal Nehru Manipuri Dance Academy he took a major role putting Pena class for women. Asides, Rhythms of Manipur was the first to organize a workshop on Pena with women participants in 1993. Rajkumari Takeshwari, the first woman Pena player, founder member of Laihui, started the movement during the 90s, was officially approved by Pandit Achouba. Following her, many women have come up who were once scared for they were eagerly waiting for this moment, one of them even received National scholarship awards in the field of Pena, first approved women Pena singer of All India Radio Imphal who is none other than Ngasam Durgseswori.
Today, Manipur University of Culture has Bachelor of Arts female students specializing in Pena under the guidance of Oja Mayang-lambam Mangangsana. We can say it is a big transformation of tradition on the belief of Pena. Sometimes we need to break the tradition to see through what’s inside it. At the same time, aware of what we are breaking into, so does the tradition of Pena which brings new story and history with the undying history of itself. Keeping apart from involvement on Lai Haraoba and rituals. As an artiste, I say ‘Play Pena’. Cheers.