Ningol Chakkouba festival : Its origin and significance

Dr Budha Kamei
Manipur, one of the states of North East India is bounded in the north by Nagaland, in the east and south by Myanmar (Burma), in the south-west by Mizoram and in the west by Assam. Three major ethnic groups like “the Meiteis in the valley and the Nagas and Kukis-chin group of people at the surrounding hills occupy the State.” These ethnic groups belong to Mongoloid racial stock and speak the Tibeto-Burman languages. In addition, people of different communities such as the Pangans, Nepalis, Mayangs (Marwaris, Tamils, Malayalis, Biharis, Bengalis, Punjabis etc.) live in Manipur. In fact, Manipur can be aptly described as a miniature of India. The article attempts to delve into the Ningol Chakkouba festival, its origin and social significance.
Manipur is a land of festival, merriment and mirth all the year round. A year in Manipur represents a cycle of festivals and hardly a month passes without a festival. To the people of Manipur, festival is the symbol of their cultural, social, and religious aspirations. Besides, it does remove dull monotonous life by providing physical diversion, mental recreation and emotional outlet, helps one to lead a peaceful and joyful life. “The joy of life which is the mother of the will to live is sustained by the successive festivals in this hilly State” of Manipur.
Ningol Chakkouba is the biggest and most colorful festival of Manipuris. Ningol Chakkouba means invitation of married daughters and sisters to parental house for a grand feast; here, Ningol means married woman and Chakkouba, calling for a meal. So, it is a special day for married daughters and sisters irrespective of ages. The festival is observed on the second day of new moon in the Manipuri lunar month Hiyangei, which falls in November every year. In this festival, all the Manipuris irrespective of poor or rich are actively involved. As a tradition, invitation is formally done some days in advance by giving Pana (betel nut) to the married daughters and sisters. It is a day for the women old and young to go back again for at least some hours to their respective homes where they have got their roots, but separated when they became a member of another family.
In this festival, married women wearing best traditional attire along with their children go to their parental houses to meet their parents and brothers and to dine together. Those married women who are far away from the motherland Manipur also return home for the special occasion. It is considered that one who could participate in the festival is the luckiest person. At their parents’ house, the women are pampered with sumptuous food, gifts and total comfort. Mothers and brothers prepare lavish and extensive meals for their daughters and sisters. Parental family members like Papa, Mama and Dada warmly welcome their Ningols (daughters and sisters) and grandchildren. It is a form of family rejoinder to revive familial affection.
A marriage separates the “bride from her parental sacred hearth and incorporates her into the sacred hearth of her husband.” It is natural that human being always hunts for love and wants to be loved. Finding one in life may be one of the most romantic things to come about in life. It is the love of the man in her life which does enable a girl to break ties with her parental home, her parents, brothers and sisters and ties the nuptial knot to the man of her life. At the same time, her relationship with her birth place is mystical, a psychic placenta that refuses to snap by the tug of her married life in her new home. It is said that Naopham, the placenta of the child is interred inside the house of the parents. It is done in the faith that the child will sense itself endlessly drawn to its parent’s house. As custom of the land, after marriage, a woman leaves her natal home physically, but the home where she was born and brought up never leaves her. This festival definitely gives an opportunity to bring back the old family members together. It is basically a source of family reunion and get-together.
It is a long tradition and it is even said that this festival is observed from the time of the deities. It is stated that this festival started from the time of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, the first historical king who ruled Manipur in 33 CE. Ancient Manipuri Literary sources gave us information regarding the origin of this festival that “Laisna, the queen of Pakhangba, one day went to the harvesting place of her elder brother Poreiton just to see the progress of the work. He was very happy to see his sister after a long time and as mark of sister and brother love relationship Poreiton gave her two types of rice, i.e. black rice and white rice (sweet smelling rice/Chakhao) along with a bunch of banana. She was pleased to see the affectionate attitude of her brother and so she invited him for a lunch to her place. Thus, from that afterwards, and as mark of remembrance the married sisters invited their brothers every year on a particular day.” Thus, this tradition had been existence for many years. However, the practice changed from the time of Maharaja Chandrakriti Singh (1850-1886) C. E. that instead of brother going to the house of sister, married daughters and sisters were invited by the parents and brothers to their houses for grand feast. In this way, from that time onwards Ningol Chakkouba has been continuing every year and it has become a festival for the sisters and magnified as a big festival since all sorts of people male and female, young and old join together and enjoy the day cheerfully.
According to YL Roland Shimmi, “Ningon-chakouba is a Meitei festival celebrated once in a year. Every man holds a dinner in his house and usually invites his sisters. It is actually the day when a brother makes any kind of presentation to his sisters. Ningon-chakouba is parallel to Mangkhap of the Tangkhul.”  The Mangkhap festival is observed for seven days. The fifth day is called Khaso, the arrival day of visitors; after her marriage, generally within two years’ duration, a sister must be provided with grand meal by her eldest brother.
Ningol Chakkouba festival of course bears a good meaning of love between the brothers and sisters and also signifies the love core of the families. After the grand feast, the parents and brothers present nominal gifts to their daughters and sisters who in turn bless them all for happiness and prosperity in the days to come. It is said that the wrong doing against sister is not good. Happiness of the brother lies in the happiness of his sister.
Another facet of the festival, on this day, civil society organizations hold Ningol Chakkouba at different places of Manipur where married women of different communities take part. After grand feast, the organizers present a small gift as token of love to all the participants. In return, the participant married women give blessing to their brothers for wellbeing and prosperity. In fact, this festival gives an opportunity to married women of different ethnic groups of Manipur irrespective of caste and creed to come at a place and dine together.
To conclude, we can say that this festival tightens the bond of love between brothers and sisters. It comes once in a year and also gives an opportunity to all the married women to go back to their parental homes and meet their old parents, brothers, relatives and dear ones and dine together exchanging best wishes. Love of brothers for their married sisters and blessing of married sisters for their brothers is the foundation for peace and unity of the State. Let’s carry on the rich and beautiful tradition of the Ningol Chakkouba festival.
[1] Kabui, Gangmumei. (1991). History of Manipur Vol-I Pre-colonial Period. New Delhi: National Publishing House. p.7.
[2] Pandey, S. N. (1999) Society and Politics in Manipur presidential Address, North-East India History Association (NEHA), Dibrugarh University, Dibrugarh, Assam, p. 4.
[3] Roy, J. (1973). History of Manipur. Imphal. (Second Edition). p. 201.
[4] Coulanges, Fustel de. (1956). The Ancient: An Anthropological View of Greece and Rome. New York. p. 42.
[5] Singh, M. Jitendra. (1988). Religion and Society in Early Manipur. Unpublished PhD thesis, M.U. p. 162.
[6] Hastings, James. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. Vol-II, New York. p. 639.
[7] Singh, N. Joykumar. (2012). Religious Revitalization Movements in Manipur. New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House. p. 49.
[8] Singh, Khulem Chandrasekhar. (1994). Inatki Harao Kumei. Imphal. pp.114-116; Nilbir, Sairem. (2010). Chingu Maichou Lourembam Khongnang Thaba (Mahaki Punsi      Amasung Wakhal Phidam Philep), Imphal, p. 99; also see N. Joykumar Singh, op.cit. p. 49.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Shimmi, Y. L. Roland. (1988). Comparative History of the Nagas (From Ancient period till 1826). New Delhi: Inter-India Publications. p. 112.
[11] Ibid. p. 106.