IMPHAL: “Thabal Chongba during Yaoshang gives us the only opportunity to hold a girl’s hands and dance with her in full public glare, without fear of parents or the society,” said 16-year-old Aribam Chhatrajit, with a big smile on his face. Gender segregation is strict in the Meitei society of Manipur. This is why many young boys and girls -- who otherwise would not dare express intimacy in public – are allowed, during the traditional dancing festivities, to hold hands and dance with a boy or girl of their choice in front of parents and society, without fear of rebuke.
Thabal Chongba literally means ‘the full moon dance’ and is performed on roads and grounds in every locality of Manipur during the five nights of Holi or Yaoshang festivities. Young men and women hold hands and dance in a big circle around lit tube lights to the tunes of a particular pattern for four to five hours. Generally, a pattern of music continues for an hour with 15-minute intervals.
Parents are more lenient with curfews for their children, as Thabal Chongba performances generally start at 8 pm and continue till 12 or 1 am.
“I wait the entire year to dance with the boy of my choice. I practice the steps for it,” said Thokchom Neelam. The dance pattern consists of rhythmic foot-steps that include moving a step forward, bending the knee to sway the body sidewards and then taking a step back.
View gallery: Manipur's vibrant Yaoshang festival kicks off
“Often a boy takes the girl he likes out of the cacophony of the Thabal area to treat her to sweets and coffee. Phone numbers are also exchanged, with some relationships built during the dance getting established over a period of time. This is why teenagers wait for Yaoshang,” said Surjit Usham.
While most youngsters wait eagerly to hold hands and dance with girls, several of them who don’t muster enough courage to dance and talk to a girl end up getting drunk, resulting in several street fights in the city’s alleys. “During every Yaoshang, we plan to drink till our throats and dance in Thabal Chongba. But, as soon as we reach the venue, motivation paves way to fear and embarrassment and we end up as spectators,” said 21-year-old Thomas. “Frustrated that we can’t dance, some of us get into petty fights over very trivial issues,” he added.
Police are kept on their toes during Thabal Chongba as traffic violations are rampant during the festivities. “On an average, we book around 4,000 cases of traffic violation during Yaoshang,” a police official said.
An application named ‘Kumhei’ (festival in Manipuri) has been launched that helps teenagers track Thabal Chongba performances in various parts of Imphal valley. The app, which can be downloaded from Google Play Store, gives the exact time,date and location of Thabal Chongba dances to be held during the five days of festivities.
“We generally locate a Thabal timing and area and go there in groups with our friends for the dance,” said 17-year-old Ningthokhoujam Pramila.