As the Animal Welfare Board of India has taken back the appeal for celebration of Cow Hug Day on February 14, we have to fall back to celebrating Valentine’s Day as usual. It was indeed a relief, as cows have become extremely rare in the limits of Imphal city.
Years ago, there were at least a few families in the leikais of Imphal rearing cows for its milk. On the day of Gobardhon Puja, children are encouraged to make clay models of cows and offer it to the gods. Anyway, it is back to Valentine’s Day and roses now.
Although, there are several legends surrounding Valentine’s Day, the modern take is of celebration of love and romance and advent of spring generally among the Christians. But now, it has spread to other communities also. And it so happened that, innocent celebrations of Valentine’s Day by boys and girls sometimes turn into rowdy parties and gatherings which provoke the sensitivities of the conservative folk leading to mob frenzy and ostracisation.
Manipur also is not behind in this celebration and florists are doing a booming business on this day. Yet on this day, we have to look back and discuss among ourselves what our society is doing about love and romance between boys and girls.
We have our own tradition in this regard. Yaoshang is one of the most important festivals of Manipur which is celebrated for five days during the Meitei lunar month of Lamta. As it happens with the onset of Spring season, it is also associated with the age-old tradition of Thabal Chongba which is in fact a formal occasion for young boys and girls to meet. What is Thabal Chongba and what it means for the Manipuri society?
One often tries to get away with the simplistic description of a popular folk dance during the annual Yaoshang Festival and even a literal definition of Thabal chongba as ‘dancing by moonlight’. The only other occasion existing till today albeit only in some rural areas is ‘Likkon-Saanaba’ where young boys and girls gather for a game of dice.
Perhaps it is because of the stars, adolescent urges to understand members of the other sex begin to develop in the Meitei month of Lamta as a prelude to the onset of the creation festivities like Lai Haraoba season in the month of Kalen. Every youth has gone through this phase and no one has bypassed it.
Thabal Chongba is one such occasion where the adolescent urges or itch is channelised ritually through a merry dance. It is not just holding hands and dancing away the night with gay abandon. For two consecutive years we have banned the Thabal Chongba ritual or festivities. It means bottling up the itch or adolescent urges and it could most possibly lead to negative social situations which we all would want to avoid.
We have seen in the past, an explosion of negative sexual behaviour among the youth as a result of extreme forms of restrictions and conservatism. Essentially, Thabal Chongba is a folk dance with a purpose for the Manipuris. It serves as one of the socially sanctioned forms of courtship between adolescent boys and girls, with roots in the creation myths and fertility rites of yore.
Being a conservative society, courting is usually allowed at the girl’s home under parental supervision. Yet, socially sanctioned spaces are also created for boys and girls to meet and get to know each other. Thabal Chongba is one such space which continues till today although the forms and settings have evolved. But, it is always under the watchful eyes of the brothers and mothers as it is always held at the locality of the girl.