IMPHAL: Even as a fractured electorate returned a hung Assembly in Manipur, the Vaishnava Meiteis of the Imphal valley hustled up to prepare for the five-day Holi festivities called ‘Yaoshang’ that kick-started on Sunday.
Nearly three centuries after Hinduism was adopted by majority people of the valley, Holi or Yaoshang has become the biggest festival of this northeastern state. However, unlike the rest of India, Holi is a five day affair in Manipur. The activities that include sporting events including indigenous games, traditional dances and allied activities, are highly community-based. Several theories also suggest that Yaoshang is a pre-Hindu festival that amalgamated with Holi after Hinduism held its sway in the valley.
IN PICS: Manipur's vibrant Yaoshang festival kicks off
Nevertheless, corresponding with ‘Holika-dahan’ ritual of north India, a small hut made of bamboo and straw is burnt on the first night of the Yaoshang in Manipur. “Folk songs are sung while the hut is on the flames. It signifies the burning of the evil and has connotations of Ramayana. The ritual is called ‘Yokshang Meithaba’ and is organised on a communal basis,” 70-year-old Moirangthem Homendro said while preparing the bamboo and straw hut of his locality Khongman in the outskirts of capital Imphal.
Ranee Khumukcham is hasty as she, along with a group of five other women, stop vehicles on the busy Imphal-Bishnupur highway to collect donation for ¬traditional folk dance Thabal Chongba at night. “Donation from the locality has been less so we have to scout on the highway,” she shoots. In localities where less donations are collected for the ritual dance of young men and women, the powerful ‘Imas’ or mothers of Manipur take to the streets to make up the deficit. "People pay whatever they may out of their own will. We can only plead. Demanding will be against the spirit of Yaoshang,” Ranee added.
Kangla’s flame lights up valley
The commencement of the Yaoshang festivities also sees the carrying of a holy flame from the centuries-old Kangla Fort, the seat of Manipuri royalty, to various sporting clubs of the valley where traditional games would be hosted for the next five days.
Naorem Pradip has come all the way from Ningthoukhong in the southern part of Imphal valley near the famed Loktak lake along with his team of ‘Imas’ and youngsters, after bathing and dressing up in his club’s jersey, to carry the flame
from Kangla fort to his hometown. “Manipuris consider the flame of Kangla fort as very holy and auspicious. Carrying it back home in a torch is not only symbolic but also a matter of pride for the bearers,” he said. The flame will keep burning in the sporting club of his locality until the festivities and related sporting events conclude.