There is at least some truth in what people are saying. While infrastructure development works suffers and there is always a delay in paying salaries and pension, the state has time and money for a series of festivals new and old, hosting beauty pageants and ceremonial business summits including VVIP visits. More so, we are bombarded by a series of festivals in recent times. Among the hill brethren, seed sowing and harvest festivals are celebrated in different forms since time immemorial and Christmas and some other festivals were added after the advent of Christianity.
Among the Nagas, Lui-Ngai-Ni festival was given birth to in recent past as a common seed sowing festival while Kut was invoked among the Kuki-Chin-Mizo groups. Interestingly, different festivals like Orange festival and Lemon festival have come up recently as a way of showcasing unique and area specific horticulture products in the hill areas. Lakhs of rupees are invested in preparing infrastructure related to the festivals, while follow up infrastructural support for the products are at a minimum. The Sangai festival was conceived some years back by the government as a way of showcasing the tourism potential of the state and huge amounts of money is spent in building festival infrastructure and improving roads leading to the venues.
Yet, it is still uncertain as to whether such festivals are yielding positive results in enhancing tourism revenue for the state. Other varied festivals like Singju festivals have come up in the last few years. We will have to wait if a ‘Kalei festival’ is in the works with the government working overtime to legalise liquor.
Every community and tribe has its own traditional festivals since times immemorial. In the hills, despite the conversion to Christianity people are once again re-living the traditional festivals and rites which are often misunderstood with indigenous assertion of past value systems. Yet, we earnestly feel that past traditions and cultural rites could co-exist with the newer Christian values. Look at the Meiteis, who worship Sanamahi despite being Vaishnavite Hindus. It means, one does not have to negate traditional value systems or culture for the sake of the new one.
What is more important is the roots, from which one had risen. Manipur always had its fair share of festivals since time immemorial. With the entry of new cultures and religions, more and more festivals were added. Now also, we are still thinking up more festivals to celebrate. Of all the festivals which had stood the test of time is the Lai Haraoba which is a celebration of the gifts of nature and of fertility of all living beings. In the valley, the Umang Lais or sylvan deities are given designated areas of jurisdiction and the local population conducts Umang Lai Haraoba mostly during the month of Kalen.
Among the pre-Vaishnavite festivals mention may be made particularly of Cheiraoba, the celebration of Meitei New Year and Ningol Chakkouba, where fathers and brothers invite daughters and sisters for a feast of reunion on the second day of Hiyanggei month.
After the advent of Vaishnavism, so many more festivals were added and prominent among them is the Holi festival or Yaoshang and Rath Yatra or Kang Chingba. Yaoshang festival coincides with Thabal Chongba season. Thabal Chongba is a folk dance which 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.
Coming back to the point, festivals require investment be it in terms of grant or donations and the expenses involved in organising it. As it is customary to invite VVIPs to the festivals, it requires lot of money and expenses to host the VVIPs and their cohorts.So, we sincerely think it is time to scale down the extravagance involved in organising festivals for the sake of posterity.