Significance of Gaan-Ngai festival

Dr Budha Kamei
The Kabui/Rongmei are one of the natives of Manipur. Racially, they belong to Mongoloid stock and speak the Tibeto-Burman language. Tradition says, the Kabui ancestors originated from a cave recognized as Mahou Taobei; they moved to Makhel and to Ramting Kabin, and then to Makuilongdi, Senapati District of Manipur. From Makuilongdi, the Rongmei migrated to the South. On the basis of traditions and linguistic history, it has been identified that the original homeland of the Kabui and other ethnic groups of Tibeto-Burman family was in South West China. As the Kabui are “Tibeto-Burman, they must have lived with other groups of the same family in South West China about 1000 BC and migrated to their present habitat” (Kamei 2002: 24) through various routes in batches and at different periods. The present article attempts to delve into the Gaan-ngai festival of the Kabui and its  significance.
Genesis of Gaan-ngai
According to local myth, Tingpurengsonnang and his wife Ragonlu were the patriarch and matriarch of the Khangchu (male’s dormitory). The members of the dormitory were gods and men; they communicated with each other through a common language. As patriarch of the Khangchu, Tingpurengsonnang taught men all the requirements to have a way of life. He imparted the knowledge of cultivation and mode of worship of God; with the knowledge they received, men started agriculture work and harvested and stored the food grains in the granary. Then, they began to celebrate Gaan-ngai with prayer to Tingkao Ragwang (Supreme God) for granting bountiful harvest and prosperity in coming year. Thus, there was peace and unity among men. They also offered foods and drinks on the grave as a mark of respect to the departed souls (Interview report).
Gaan Shanmei (Heralding of Gaan-ngai)
At the first sight of the moon of Wakching, an elder of the village announces the coming of the festival by blowing the horn of the mithun informing the community to prepare food and drinks of the festival. It is also an invitation to all deities for participation in the coming festival. This is known as Gaan Shanmei, heralding of Gaan-ngai (Budha 2016:106).
Meaning and Time of celebration of Gaan-ngai
Allesandro Falassi (1987) has described festival as “ …a periodically recurrent, social occasion in which, through a multiplicity of forms and a series of coordinated events, all members of a whole community, participate directly or indirectly and to various degrees, united by ethnic, linguistic, religious, historical bonds, and a sharing a worldview.” Festivals are celebrated under different names, but their functions are essentially the same. They unite people in a common exercise, thus strengthening the bonds between the participants. Rituals of the festival are meant to ensure the prosperity and safety of the ethnic group or community.
Gaan-ngai is the festival of lights and victory, victory over evil; (Gaan means light and Ngai, festival). Another version of Gaan-ngai is the festival of winter season. Chakaan means season, Gaan also means winter and Ngai, festival. This festival is also described as a New Year festival as it marks the end of the year and beginning of the New Year according to the traditional calendar. The New Year is marked by Mhairapmei, the making of new fire by friction of wood and bamboos. In the past, Gaan-ngai was usually observed between October and December depending on the state of the progress of agricultural operation. Later on, Kabui Naga Association, the progenitor of the present Zeliangrong Union decided in 1947 that Gaan-ngai be celebrated on the 13th day of the Manipuri lunar month of Wakching. This festival now begins on the 13th day of Wakching every year and lasts for 5 to 7 days depending on local variation. It is mainly celebrated by the followers of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC). The whole culture, religion and social life are interlaced in the performance of Gaan-ngai. It is a festival for spreading good will, peace and prosperity and preservation of cultural identity.
Gaan-ngai’s Message
When the Wakching month arrives in the midst of cold gentle breeze, each and everyone remembers Gaan-ngai and its message of love and peace. We should cherish the message of Gaan-ngai to bring peace and harmony in the society. In the present day society, Gaan-ngai’s message of peace has a special relevance. The Scripture of TRC says, “Be truthful, love others, be good to others, good to the guests and please them. Such act of piety will atone hundred sins (Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak 2002: 36).”
Religious activities of Gaan-ngai
Gaan-ngai is a post harvest festival. After agricultural works, people are free with full of paddy in the granary and turn to celebration, festivity and worship of the Tingkao Ragwang (Supreme God) and honouring of the living dead. The rites and rituals associated with the festival are given below:
Offering of ginger (Guhcheng Phaimei): The festival opens with Guhcheng Phaimei (ginger offering) at the abode of Bambu (village presiding deity) to avoid any untoward incidents during the festival. It is performed by an elder of Pei (village council) with relevant hymns. Guh, ginger is considered sacred and it is used in many rites, sacrifices and also towards off Rasi-Rarou, evil forces. It is believed that ginger represents the toes and fingers of the formless creator and Almighty God (Tingkao Ragwang).
Observation of pig spleen (Gaukpaijaomei): In the morning of the first day, Gaukpaijaomei ceremony is performed at the courtyard of male’s dormitory (Khangchiu) sacrificing a big pig in the name of God.           (To be contd)