Updated 3 Apr 2022, 7:11 pm
Many have tried to interpret Cheiraoba festival of the Meitei community as a religious event celebrated by the Meitei Hindus and followers of the ancient religion on separate dates. There is nothing religious about it and it is merely heralding of the New Year based on the lunar calendar relating to the method of mathematical calculations vis-à-vis their own cultural heritage and tradition.
We find ancient texts of Meitei astronomy or astrology which is distinct from other cultures in mainland India. We also find similar traditions of celebration of the New Year on the same date as Sajibu Nongma Panba in other parts of the country and beyond in South East Asia.
Sajibu Nongma Pānba popularly known as Meitei Cheiraoba is the first day of the first month of Meitei calendar Sajibu. The name Sajibu Nongma Pānba derives from the Manipuri words Sajibu - the first month of the year which usually falls in April according to the Meitei lunar calendar, Nongma - first date of a month, Pānba - to be. Literally, it means the first day of the month of Sajibu. Similarly, according to the Hindu lunar calendar, the lunar New Year is celebrated on the same day as in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and many other Indian states.
According to the followers of the Meitei indigenous faith, Meitei New Year/Sajibu Nongma Panba started during the reign of King Maliya Phambalcha (1359 BC-1329 BC) also known as Koi-Koi. Koikoi ascended the throne at the age of 25 years. From this day, the dating of Meitei calendar (Cheiraoba) known as Mari-Fam was introduced. Hence, 1359 BC will be 25 MF, and 2000 AD will be 3334 MF in Meitei calendar taking the birthday of KOIKOI as 00 MF.  King Koikoi reigned till 1364 MF according to the Meitei calendar (the Meitei calender is still unclear and unpublished though). Not to forget, Koi-Koi ascended the throne from King (Ningthou in Meitei) Kangba (1405-1359 BC).
However, Hindu astrologers would argue that the Meitei calendar does not have requisite number of days in a year and that adjustments were made in the Hindu calendar so as to accommodate the gap. What they did not explain was that Meiteis have their own way of adjusting the days as could be seen in the dead months (Asiba Thaa) reflected in our calendars.
Sometimes, we find the same Meitei lunar month consecutively and we take the second one as the real Thabaan. That is our way of calculating the days.
Having said this, we would like to explain that Sajibu Nongma Panba is a celebration of the Meitei New Year in which offerings of food were made to sylvan deities and spirits to take away the bad things, diseases and whatever to give away for good things to come in the New Year.
The day, begins with ritual offerings of fruits, vegetables, rice and other uncooked food items to the Meitei deity Lainingthou Sanamahi in the morning.
After getting blessings from Lainingthou Sanamahi, an even number of dishes are prepared using the offerings. Traditionally, the males of the house makes the dishes, with the females helping. After the dishes for the feast are made, they are ritually offered at the front gate of the house.
These locations are specially cleansed and sanctified before the offering by cleaning an area. Another feature of Cheiraoba is that the Ningols or married sisters and daughters would bring gifts for the male members of the family on this occasion, which in turn would be compensated during the Ningol Chakkouba when sisters and daughters are invited to the yearly feast.
First published:3 Apr 2022, 7:11 pm
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