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Curtains Down on Sangai Festival 2022

The Sangai Festival 2022 can be said to be a success in terms of footfalls, but there are areas where proper planning seems not to have been carried out.

ByRK Nimai

Updated 29 Nov 2022, 4:52 pm

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The Sangai Festival 2022 is till date the biggest one since its start as Manipur Tourism Festival and its renaming as Sangai Festival in 2010. The venues were spread wide, with the main attraction focussed at Moirang Khunou where the newly erected Ethnic Park is located.

Unfortunately, the polo player statue at Heingang could not be inaugurated, though Ibudhou Marjing’s place is also one of the main venues. Despite the claim that there are 13 venues, it is much more with various other activities roped in.

The footfall also is high with state domestic tourists starved of entertainment coming out in droves to the festival to forget the difficult life for a short while. One small mercy is the unveiling of the newly renovated statue of Shamu Phaba in Khwairamband Keithel during the festival.

The festival can be said to be a success in terms of footfalls, but there are areas where proper planning seems not to have been carried out. Some of these are the distance between the stalls and the Ethnic Park at Moirang Khunou which led the two local MLAs organising events nearer to the stall to attract visitors to the stalls.

Most of the ethnic houses were not manned for some time due to lack of understanding with the different communities and the organisers.

The boarding and lodging of the volunteers manning the huts were not considered in advance, thus creating difficulties which forced them to leave.

Even the site plan of the ethnic huts and the construction leaves much to be desired though the time given for construction is too short.

The projects were perhaps prepared on table as for Makhel, there were provisions for sodding and flower plantation though there is hardly any space.

Hapta Kangjeibung is jammed packed in the evening resulting in a “dust festival”, and one needs to wash one’s hair before going to bed.

The maintenance of the public amenities is poor in almost all the venues in the valley though one cannot speak about those in the hills.

The authorities and the public are equally liable as both contribute to the mess; water is in short supply and cleaning is not done regularly while the visitors throw empty plastic bottles, plastic bags etc at will.

The appeal by the chief minister and the minister in charge MAHUD seems to fall on deaf ears. Utter lack of civic sense!

One is happy to hear from the chief minister that from next year, the whole tamasha will be shifted to Moirang Khunou and Hapta Kangjeibung will be spared in the future. This announcement is one of the best news of 2022.

Some organisations, which run the vehicle parking, may feel unhappy with the decision, but most denizens will be elated.

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The roads are chock-a-block and when there is an emergency, there is no way to go. God forbid, if there is a medical emergency or ceremonies like marriage or saradha nearby.

This will be the costliest festival and the cost may come to about Rs 25 crore.

How the Government will meet the liabilities is unclear and those who lobby to be a part of the festival may have to wait a long time for clearance of the bills!

Tourism department, however, needs to conduct a post mortem so that events and activities which do not attract outside visitors can be axed. While assessing those visitors who are invited as esteemed guests need to be discounted.

The department should focus on the core areas which can sell the state to make it into a destination. The spread loses the focus.

Incidentally, the International Film Festival of India, 2022 was also held in Goa during this period and Manipuri cinema in its Golden Jubilee was honoured by IFFI by including a Special Manipuri Cinema Section where 10 films curated by Manipur State Film Development Society was screened.

The films include Matamgi Manipur, Brojendro gi Luhongba, Ishanou, Phijigi Mani, Loktak Lairembi, Ilisha amagi Mahao, Look at the Sky, Tainted Mirror, Ratan Thiyam the Man of Theatre, and The Silent Poet, besides Beyond Blast which was screened in the Indian Panorama Section.

About 25 delegates from Manipur joined the festival, the largest ever, most relevant but with a few hangers whose contribution to Manipuri films is debatable.

With one of our cadre officers in the helm over there, Manipur was provided space for the state pavilion “Manipur Unexplored” gratis with the state putting up the stall. But one is unclear how one can sell Manipur as a film shooting destination when its infrastructure is limited.

A producer of a well known film came to scout nearly a decade agobut decided not to do so in Manipur due to limited quality accommodations.

About a decade ago, the secretary of MFDC and now MSDFS was nominated as the nodal officer for interacting with outside filmmakers for shoot through a single window system but with the type of infrastructure available, big films will be difficult to rope in.

Manipur can no doubt attract makers of small budget films and these should be where the target should be for the time being.

Film shooting is a huge tourist business and many states lobby filmmakers to shoot in their state and Manipur should also target this. The single window system for film shooting needs to be reactivated so that it can facilitate film shooting by outside filmmakers.

There have been filmmakers from outside who stayed for some time to shoot non-feature films but the ultimate target should be feature films.

During the course of Sangai Festival, there was a mention of the erection of a monument at Makhel to commemorate the trifurcation of three communities; the Meiteis, the Nagas and the Ahoms.

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From oral traditions, one hears that the Meiteis and the Rongmeis separated from the others before reaching Makhel on the way from Mahou Range and one is aware of the spread of the Nagas from Makhel. This had to happen before Christian era, as when Pakhangba ascended the throne in 33 CE, there were already Meitei principalities like the Khaba, Angoms, Moirangs, etc.

There are oral narratives where some of the Tangkhuls claimed they settled near Loktak but due to diseases like malaria were forced to leave for the hills. But one never heard about the Ahoms migrating from Makhel.

The arrival of the Ahoms in the Brahmaputra valley is historically documented; migrating from Mong Mao in Yunan led by Sukaphaa and reached there in 1228 CE (Manipur was then under the reign of Meidingu Thayanthaba).

If the separation from Makhel happened before Christ, the Ahoms can’t be a party.

Before erecting any commemorative stone, it is better to verify through research by competent historians whether it is the Tai-Ahoms per se or other Tibeto-Burmese like the Moran, Chutia, or Motok settled in Assam much before the arrival of the Ahoms but many of whom were later Ahomised. Or else there may be allegations of false claims despite some folk songs.

The effort to attract tourists must not be a one-time event in a year and the department and the Corporation must work throughout the year.

The Tourism Department must immediately conduct a review of the strengths and weaknesses of the Sangai festival; build up on the strengths and minimise the weaknesses.

The spread makes one difficult to manage and lack of proper management can be seen leading to small misunderstandings, and in quite a few places local volunteers step in to take primacy like locating a few stalls near the venue creating difficulties in crowd management and heart burning among the stall lessees.

The levy of equal amount of deposit for stalls at say Hapta Kangjeibung and Heingang is unjustified as the number of days is different. These are glaring examples and there will be many which lay visitors can’t see but the organisers are aware as there will have been complaints, etc.

Construction of many tourist amenities in difficult to reach areas are just pouring money down the drain.

The financial, economic and social viability of the various projects must be assessed before embarking on such ventures. But one thing is for certain that Manipuris really love festivals and the amount of time and money spent by them during the festival must be astronomical, through POL, etc so much so that Tiddim Road was literally traffic jammed and it took more than three/four hours to reach Moirang.  

The sudden declaration of half holidays on the penultimate and last days of the festival clearly indicates that the target for the festival is the local folks and not necessarily the outside tourists.

The target should have been outside tourists though even state domestic tourists generate economic activities and there will be a multiplier effect on the economy. But it is not like outside tourists.

The participation of tour operators is a very positive sign and their ideas and suggestions must be taken into consideration.

(The views expressed are personal)

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manipur tourismsangai festival 2022hapta kangjeibungethnic parkmoirang khunou

RK Nimai

RK Nimai

The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur

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