Yaoshang : Nostalgia, tradition and identity

M Asnikumar Singh

The cherished days of spring full of beaming sunlight and the light cool breeze are on the horizon now. The air is filled with joy and cheers of people as local youngsters indulge in the day out in the open, playing different types of games and sports. The scene is similar in almost every locality in Imphal valley.
It’s Yaoshang–a unique and auspicious festival of the Meiteis in Manipur on the veins of Holi, the Hindu festival of colours. Yaoshang in Manipur is not only a festival of colours, but also one of bonding, fun, sports and much more. It is also about a beautiful moonlit dance.
Watching young boys and girls enthusiastically take part in the Yaoshang sports in the playground makes me nostalgic of my younger days. It brings back memories of the good old days. Yes, it used to be my playground when life was easier when we worried less and spent memorable moments with friends and loved ones. As someone who grew up among the mosaic of our State’s beautiful and unrivalled traditions of the festival, one can’t help but feel some pain seeing the nature of Yaoshang celebrations changing every year, with materialistic tendencies creeping in.
In this trend, one can only hope that the newer generations recognise and keep the spirit of traditions intact in some ways.
Back in the 80s, I remember how along with our siblings, we used to ask our grandparents for a few bucks. They used to give us Rs 5-10, which was a lot of money back then. The little amount of money and the company of lifelong childhood friends were all we needed. We used to go to other localities with a swagger and act like we owned the world with only a few rupees in hand. It saddens me when I think about those days because they will never come back. Also, our kids will never get to experience the beauty of such long-gone unsullied moments, truly enjoyed without any artificial mediums like social media and credit cards.
Today, innocent children coming home for ‘Nakhadeng’ (a kind of fun donation) at our home evokes a lot of genuine emotions and takes our thoughts to a time when we used to do the same and be mischievous with no harmful intent. Little kids block the streets for a few coins to be deposited in their piggy banks, which they open only on the last day of ‘Yaoshang’ to have a nice meal together, forming lifelong bonds among themselves.
Another delightful feature of the Yaoshang celebration is ‘Thabal Chongba’ performed by young boys and girls in their best Yaoshang dress under a moonlit night, holding hands in a wide circle, to the beating of traditional drums.
Seeing my children go for the much-awaited moonlit dance -‘Thabal Chongba’ with so much enthusiasm and energy brings back memories of the time when we were young and used to have the same zeal about dancing with our friends under beautiful moonlight. Unfortunately, in those days, we had little or no means to click pictures of the fun time we had. But the beautiful happy memories of those days are truly cherished. Sometimes, tensions between groups of youth from different localities used to erupt when a second party used to gatecrash the dancing of a group in a locality. But looking back, we laugh it off, realising it was just an outcome of the boundless energy we had.
The ‘Holli Palla’ groups perform at numerous houses in a single day, without any rest. One knows that the spirit of Yaoshang is what drives their beautiful, emotional performances throughout the day.
Our beautiful State is unique in many respects and the way the people here celebrate the beautiful ‘Yaoshang’ festival with great fervour and joy adds to that uniqueness and beauty. With all my heart, I hope the spirit remains the same and wish my dear friends, colleagues, loved ones and well-wishers a very happy, safe and memorable ‘Yaoshang’.
(Writer is Chairman of Loktak Development Authority & Spokesperson of BJP Manipur Pradesh)