Diwali is one of the biggest festivals of India and people celebrate it with lights particularly in North India. People lit up their homes with candles or colourful blinking lights while young people celebrate by bursting crackers on the particular day. But the festive season lasts for about a week in which families go about bearing gifts and sweets for relatives and friends. However, there is also an interesting side of this festival.
There is a custom of playing cards and engaging in other forms of gambling among the people on the night of Diwali. They believe this will bring good luck and grace to Goddess Lakshmi for the whole year. In Hindu mythology, it is believed that Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva on Diwali and, the Goddess commanded that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the year.
It is also traditionally believed that gambling on Diwali night is a form of invoking Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth. Whatever be the traditional beliefs, Manipur is not far behind in such indulgences and always makes it a point to introduce its own version.
Diwali night is not the same with North India and Manipur celebrates it one day later. Manipur practices a different version of Hinduism which we call Manipuri Vaisnavism while the way we celebrate Hindu festivals is quite different from that of North India. The ancient culture and value system of the Meiteis are deeply rooted in the Manipuri Vaishnavism which is practised here.
Pluralism is inherent in the Meitei society and it is evident in its culture and religious practices. Every Hindu family including the Brahmins maintains a special place for Lainingthou Sanamahi in its designated corner and worship it daily.
Coming back to the point, the most preferred form of gambling during Diwali season in Manipur is known as ‘Lagao Khaoba’ and it is even sometimes termed as ‘Diwali Khaoba’ also. This form of dice has various names in other countries and regions. It is called ‘Jhandhi Munda’ in parts of India. It is also known as ‘crown and anchor’ and claims English origin, dating back to the early 18th century and popular among British sailors and to some extent among Australian and American servicemen.
Three six-sided dice—each having the symbols crown, anchor, spade, heart, diamond, and club—are used along with a layout (a board or a cloth) containing those symbols. The players place their bets on the layout symbols, after which the banker throws the dice from a cup. In Manipur,
Lagao Khaoba begins about a few days ahead of Diwali night and continues till Ningol Chakouba festival, where young and old, including women, participate. In the rural areas, Lagao gambling begins much earlier and the stakes are very high. In some places, there is no betting limit and some accept bets not only in cash but in kind also. Due to inflation, the cash amounts of bet have increased also with Rs 500 at the minimum.
In the social media, various posts depict mostly 500 notes and sometimes in bundles. There was a controversial report about some Lagao organisers snatching away guns from police personnel after an altercation. As per a viral video, some police personnel came to where Lagao was played at Khurai Lamlong and asked them to wind up the game.
Instead of stopping the game, one of the organisers offered Rs 50 and continued playing the game. While the authenticity of the report is disputed, everyone knows that police personnel always have a field day during Diwali season and Diwali organisers have to cater to the demands of the police patrols which come in dozens. Sometimes, disagreements and fights occur during the Lagao season and it is part of the game.