Manipur can now rightly be called the land of festivals. Besides the traditional festivals associated with religion and tradition like Yaoshang, Kang, Imoinu Khurumba, Krishnajanma, Kut, Luira Phanit, Gaan Ngai, Christmas, etc, Manipur has seen a rise of various festivals to promote specific items or products or natural gifts. Most of these are to popularise specific items or produce with an efforts to make it known to others while some are with the attempt to attract tourists. Some are sponsored by the state government while some are organised under private initiative.
Sangai Festival, Shirui Festival, Barak Festival, Cherry Blossom Festival, etc are organised with a specific effort to bring in tourists while some like the Tamenglong Orange Festival, Kachai Lemon Festival, Sirarakhong Hathei festival (Sirarakhong is a beautiful name meaning stream of stars), Kakching Mango Festival, the two Pineapple festivals, Singju festival, Kumbi Hentak festival, Nambol Bora festival, etc ate to promote specific produce.
Some of the items like hentak and singju are traditional items and hentak is being revived through the festival. If one counts the number of days under the various types of festivals, the number of days devoted on these may run up to more than a hundred days. One advantage of holding festivals is that once it becomes popular, the roads leading to the venue draws attention of the government, which will make efforts to improve it making life easier for the local populace.
There is nothing wrong in organising festivals to promote a specific item but one need to consider, the cost effectiveness of such festivals. Festivals no doubt provide an avenue for entertainment and recreation of the masses, which were starved of entertainment and recreation, besides enriching the economy at least through the multiplier effect, even if no outside tourist visits.
Even the state sponsored festivals need a review to determine the cost effectiveness and if necessary to introduce mid-term correction to make it more effective. With many families now having disposable income they can enjoy the outings to the venues but it has led to serious problems for those who do not have disposable income. This is especially true for the Meiteis who are in a habit of keeping up with the Joneses. Pressure from the kids is one factor which pushes families to trek to the festivals.
Fortunately, this New Year, there is no report of major accidents leading to mortality though there were a few accidents and the credit should go to the state police which laid down strict guidelines for the public and with some areas which are popular picnic sites made out of bounds by the localities. Some people living near the picnic spots welcome the visitors as they can sell some produce but many find it quite uncomfortable with a huge crowd descending, especially those who drink heavily. Those who come along with whole families were welcome as the mischiefs are limited. Despite police announcements, these places were found strewn with refuse and litters including those of plastics after the event. Why can’t we the people be more civic concerned and leave the places as was when we visited? Utter lack of civic sense is destroying everything.
This writer, as he was earlier posted in Ukhrul was familiar with Kachai lemon and Sirarakhong hathei and knows their qualities and the popularisation of these produce was welcome. Tamenglong orange was one of the best table varieties but unfortunately the festival just cannot redress the poor road conditions. The new alignment from Kangchup may however change all. Many are still unaware of the oranges of Kangpat area of Kamjong District due to distance and road conditions.
Singju continues to be popular among the Meitei households and on many an occasion, it is a part of the menu. Different types of singju based on the raw materials used continue to be popular and in fact it needs no further introduction. It is a healthy food item. However, hentak which was the dominant item in the 1960s have been totally replaced by ngari. One still remembers the days when it is prepared in almost every household using dried ngakha (Punctius ticto) and hongoo (Alocasia macrorrhizos) and allowed to ferment for more than six months.
Till the early 1960s, it was only in Imphal area that ngari was popular and in the countryside it was hentak that ruled the roost. Even ngari was not prepared using earthen pots; it was prepared in cut bamboo tube open on only one side, particularly of Maribob (Dendrocalamus latiflorus). By now the term “utong ngari” have been replaced simply by ngari.
Barak festival is held both in Manipur in Senapati District and in Assam, though the dates are vastly different! This indicates the importance of this river to both the states. The two growing region of pineapple organises pineapple festivals and the two can never meet. There seems strong competition between the two places. But, the Queen variety which are meant for table purposes seems to be slowly replaced by the Kew variety which is more sour but full of juice. One feels nostalgic when one remembers the time when one cycles in group to the Ngariyan range to eat fresh pineapple paying a siki (quarter of a rupee) for a whole fruit. By the way Thayong also perhaps organises a pineapple festival.
Other festivals are also coming up and attracting visitors like the cosmos flower festival at Paorei. and Wuyawon flower (Monolophus secundus syn Caulokaemferia secunda) festival at Singcha, and it is likely that Liyai Khullen will start Beivoli festival to celebrate the flowering of the Giant Himalayan Lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) which has divine fragrance and can draw visitors to this old Poumai village which has a number of other attractions. There is a need for holding such festivals especially in the interior region of the state to popularise unique items so that people from the valley can understand more about the people and their ways of living in the hills.
However, in the valley there is need to look into the social and economic benefit of these festivals as these can be counterproductive. Besides, those attending such festivals need to follow certain basic guidelines such as not becoming intoxicated, do not litter, following the traditions of the places, etc. In the Valley of Flowers, no one is allowed to litter and all wastes are brought back. Such practices need to be adopted here also. Heavy penalty may be imposed to those who violate so that such positive behaviour becomes the norm.
Too much festivity can harm the society, especially the youth who can while away their time without any productive activity. Some of these festivals may have lost its benefit and advantage and these need to be discontinued and the period of the festivals may be curtailed and even the items sold may be restricted. There is no logic in selling Chinese made toys in Sangai festival as this festival is to attract outside tourist, only indigenous items or locally made or prepared items should be allowed to be sold. In other words, there should be strict guidelines so that each festival is unique of its kind, or else all will become irrelevant.
Too much merriment will harm the society and it is therefore necessary to keep a watch on such activities. This writer will be happy to see a festival where city people can go to the village and join in farm work as is done in many developed countries. There the city folk pay to work in the farms for the experience and this can be emulated. Such activity brings those who had distanced from nature back to nature.
(The views expressed are personal)