Ningol Chakkouba or Chakkoudaba
'Ningol Chakkouba' is the biggest festival of the Meiteis, the majority ethnic community of Manipur. Respecting the sentiments and sharing the grief of all the people who have suffered tragedies in the ethnic conflict, we are not celebrating Ningol Chakkouba this time. Who will oppose it? However, there are certain things which we have to look into and take care of, i.e., about the cultural-economics running deep inside this festival. Though I am not a student of economics I may be allowed to blurt out a few things.
There are innumerable farmers ( big and small) who look forward to selling their products like Yongchak, Alu, Gobi, Mairen, Thabi, and other varieties, just before Ningol Chakkouba so that they earn some good profit from their products. It includes even the ‘maroi’ growers. They all want to make a few extra bucks from the massive festive purchase of Chakkouba.
Again there are people who plan months ahead to gain some profit from this festival. I am told that there are thousands of fish farmers who do pisciculture just for the sake of Ningol Chakkouba . Every Ningol Chakkouba they earn a good amount of money. The earnings can run their families for months or even a year till the next Ningol Chakkouba. If Ningol Chakkouba is not done their eco cycle may hamper. Of course, they sell their fish anytime but not at the scale and price they expect on the eve of the festivities.
These days Ningol Chakkouba grub is not restricted to fish alone. It includes chickens, fowl, and even others. The younger generation - sisters and brothers enjoy the red meats along with the fishes. Fish will be there of course as a ‘mathel’ but they concentrate more on their delicacies. Quite often sisters insist that there should be a four-footed item. So the business of these items also grows.
The local weavers normally make good an earning from this festival. Particularly in rural areas our traditional ‘phee - phanek’ are still the main part of the gift. Very costly clothes are also available made of fine silk, but these are meant for the affluent section of the society. But we have to agree with the fact that our traditional gift is the ‘phee & phanek’ . In return, sisters shower blessings on their brothers.
These days’ gift items have gone beyond the usual native textiles. The gift includes gold, Scotties, a TV, a Fridge, a water purifier, and even a Car. This is a new trend that has been going on for quite some time. I must admit that such a materialistic approach inadvertently hurts our fundamental economics of the ‘phanek-phee’ market. The traditional weaving economy is disturbed. Many local weavers are deprived of some decent income from their products during the festival.
Another worrying factor is the intrusion of outside shawls. Expensive shawls have arrived in the market just before the Ningol Chakkouba. These have started replacing our ‘phanek-phee’ tradition. We must try to stick to our age-old practice.
Another wayward trend is giving cash to the sisters so that they buy what they want. A rich brother may give 20 thousand rupees to his sister. There is no limit to that. What I am trying to say is that tradition should be maintained so that our age-old socio-economic equilibrium is promoted and sustained.
Ours is by and large an egalitarian society. A few neo-rich should not destabilize the somber culture that runs through the ages. Injecting more money and materials into the festival may not have a conducive cultural impact. Rather it may create a chasm in the social- milieu between the rich and poor. I may sound like a utopian socialist. But we must try to keep healthy traditions and practices.
The material culture should not affect our traditional solemnity. The sanctity of brother–sister relations and bonding with father & uncles shall continue. What is significant is the love & affection and unending lies. Such a beautiful festival strengthening family lies may not be spoiled by the material culture imbibed from the outside. TV or Fridge may be given on some other occasion, not on this day. Even very expensive clothes may also be avoided so that we all maintain the sanctity of the laity.
We are told that the tradition of Ningol Chakkouba (erstwhile Piba Chakkouba) started some 2000 years ago with the advent of Queen Leisana (sister) inviting Poireiton (brother) for a feast. Consequently, brothers used to visit their sisters to sustain the brother-sister ties. Centuries later Chandrakriti Maharaj, who had many sisters, could not go to all his sisters on the same day and instead, he invited all his sisters to come to his place. Perhaps that was the beginning of sisters coming to their brothers (father and uncles) for a meal of affectionate delicacies. Food and gifts are just excuses – what is crucial is the sharing of joys and sorrows of life and assuring one another to stand by in weal and woe.
Ningol Chakkouba must continue for our own survival – it has intrinsic social, cultural, and economic significance. Even the Olympics were held during wars.