In this Laibung, the ground where the lai haraoba is performed, the smell of leihao, a kind of flower that is pale yellow in color with very sweet scent which Meitei women usually tie it in a strand of loose hair or tucked in buns pervades. This is the laibung of Ema Chaning Lairembi, the local diety of my locality Phoijing as a whole which consists of Nambol Awang Leikai, Phoijing Makha, Phoijing Chingning and Tera Makhong.
It was in the twilight of a fine mid month of May the offering of Jagoi khutthek to the local lairembi began. I a daughter of this land was there to offer the goddess my humble and sincere obeisance.
Women with Mapannaiba Phanek and the Namthang Phee with its borders of multivariate colors and
design flooded the laibung. The Namthang Phee nowadays in a corrupted form is also known by many as Lamthang. It is a special chaddar or phee worn on the occasion of Lai Haraoba. It is white color with borders of variety of color and dotted floral works on the main body of the chador. The border used to be mainly of orange or dark yellow in color but with the change in fashion the variety of color has multiplied and become more vibrant. Nowadays a silk chador called Rani phee is also used with the trend changed. The colors ranged from violet to red, the spectrum of sunlight (VIBGYOR). Some were with bright turquoise, some with dark orange, some with bright ocean blue and others with violet-purple.
Although in flashes I could see the color of blood and the color of bullet among those many colors of the borders of Namthang, I saw the long perished faces among them as if they too came from wherever they are to participate in the Lai Haraoba. But they were done away as momentary delusion. When I saw the phanek mapannaiba I saw in every alternate parallel lines of black and pale pink the story of our lives….the alternate nature of happiness and sorrow. The twilight followed by a dawn and the despair followed by a hope. Yet in our society this rhythmic alteration of life has become either so frequent or sometimes so slow that at times some of us waiting for dusk our lives dawned without our own realization.
The Marei pareng, a kind of necklace worn by Meitei women in the time of celebration supposedly made of gold, adorn their necks. The bright off-white chandon, a design made on the forehead with a special kind of paste made of clay call chandon, was brightly visible. Nachom( a bunch made of different flower) tucked in the ears or at times in the hair-bun of married women or just made to swing with the overflowing tresses of the leishabies ( unmarried women) are beautiful sight. Leigi nachom usually consists of takhellei, chini champrana and rose. Aadhunik eshei (modern Manipuri song) ‘takhelei nachom na samjida, chini champrana napada’ reflects that idea of nachom.
Where else should I go to find this sight? It’s not about the magnificence, not about the grandeur not about the extravaganza, it simply about how much it can turn your heart on when you are there after so many years and when you have actually forgotten the taste of your native land when you actually have only memories left and nothing else to share. What else could be more beautiful what else could be lovelier than our women and our people?
Before the beginning of the jagoi I knelt in front of ema Lairembi to pray. When I closed my eyes it came to me what should I pray for. I realized there are many things I could pray for. Should I pray for good health, for a good groom or a good job? I tried but I could not and I do not know why. I prayed for only one thing… for life… for life to go on… that was the only thing I could ask for at that moment.
The jagoi began with the music and the songs of amaiba and amaibi. The song goes thus:
Mamang Leikai Thambal shaatle
Khoimuna Elle Khoiraba
Shabi Lao lao maangda tharo lao
Kallakpa yammi kanjaoba yammi
Mangda tharo lao
Lanshonbi lamyaida mono ware pothapham
Eepamgi lamdam yenglubadi nungshiba maigeibu taamhoure
Shabi ene macha pammubi
Chingnungi sana loktudagi paibirakloda…
Chekla paikhrabada pombi hanjillakpada
Cheklagi kaidongpham khangdabana
Sibuthoina haraoba subidathoina nungaiba leibara
Jagoi khutthek katpa means offering the movements dance to the diety. In the lai haraoba dance is not just for fun, pleasure or show but its purpose is to offer the very act of dancing to the diety consequently becomes a part of the ritual. Jagoigi khuthek khudingda, with the every movement of the dance I could see only the tranquility, the fulfillment, the joy and the love of our life. The lengthy chapter of life the stories of maladies, the sense of widowhood, the sense of losing sons and daughters in AIDS, sense of waiting for someone who will never return and some who will return to an empty chengphu ( a big pot where rice is stored after husking off. It is an inevitable part of every kitchen in Meitei community) that very night eclipsed for a moment.
It was the aura of a sheer fulfillment. That was the moment of amazement at our eternal capacity to be happy to be joyful at the face of all adversities. That night we all became just living beings who have for a moment left behind all the essences this world has thrusted upon us.
I could see young mothers with all their gracious jagoi khuthek and their young children watching them. Whenever their respective mothers pass by in front of them with the forward progression of the dance they try to reach out to their mothers and scream ‘mama mama!’ crying trying to go to them. I thought if my own child was among the crowd at that moment she would have reached out to me in the same manner. What can be lovelier than this? It was simply beautiful. I smiled and kept on with my Jagoi khuthek following the progression of dance led by the Amaibies. That was a celebration with dreams in each pair of eyes as much as in mine. It was a dance of a new beginning as much as of an archaic end.
May Chaning Lairembi bless us!