There is a lot of formality and decorum in Meitei weddings, starting from what can be worn to who takes the lead
So the onset of Winter brought in peak wedding season in Manipur and thanks to the tradition of ‘auspicious dates and alignments’, from November to February, traffic congestion, a hike in fruit prices and vegetable items used in the various rituals and a new crop of entrepreneurs making merry have been ruling the roost in Manipur. Let me explain…
The Many Rituals That Make Up a Meitei Wedding
Being born into a Meitei family and seen my share of weddings and how things have changed over the years, I am at a vantage point to write how things stand today. But before we move on to the changes, let me mention a few constants in how Meitei weddings have come to be: the ones arranged through families and relatives, marriage after elopement and lastly, the ones under duress (yes, the last one exists too!). Barring the last one, the other two kinds entail social ceremonies with both families going through certain rituals. In the arranged ones (called ‘hainaba’), the groom’s mother and his closest female elders will visit the potential bride’s family and ask for her hand followed of course by the comparison of horoscopes. Once the green signal comes in via the horoscopes, there is the ‘maangonkaaba’ (ascending the patio/verandah) in which the groom’s father and other male relatives will meet the girl’s male relatives (yes oh yes, the Meities are deeply segregated in terms of women only and men only!). This is followed by ‘Yathangthanaba’(literally meaning, sending instructions) where the family elders of the bride visit the groom’s place and finally gives their approval to the wedding. Waraipotpuba (carrying the last word) is yet another ritual where the groom’s family along with relatives and other clan members goes to the bride’s family taking along fruits and food items.
The main Meitei wedding rituals (yes, there is more!) are the Heijingpot, a pre wedding ceremony, the Luhongba or the wedding itself and the mangaanichaakouba (literally, feast on the fifth day). There is a lot of formality and decorum in all of these rituals starting from what can be worn to who takes the lead. Women wear white diaphanous upper wraps (phi) with younger women in the groom’s side allowed to have motifs in colour. Married women wearing their hair loose are frowned upon and only unmarried ones can get away with it. If a woman relative on either side of the families is a widow, she is not allowed to take part in rites like welcoming the groom, exchange of gifts, welcoming the bride etc and will be present only on the periphery. During the Heijingpot and Luhongba ceremonies, ceremonial offerings are first brought from the groom’s house and placed before the clan deity of the bride and once the ceremony is over, it gets handed to the bride’s side. The woman who carries this ceremonial offering has to be someone whose first born is a son.
Then there is the third category of marriage under duress where in earlier times, all a man had to do was catch hold of a woman’s hand and she was considered taken with no room for her consent. Starting from the 60s till the late 80s, it was common for many women to be married off against their will just because men waylaid them and carried them off. Once armed groups started meting out ‘punishments’ to such men by way of beatings and warnings, this practice has died out. By the mid 90s, once vigilantism caught up in Manipur with various groups emerging, it was common to see ‘restaurant drives’ where young couples were married on the spot through ‘Keinakatpa’ (bride offering).
Rules of Elopement
When a couple elopes it is only for a night and once the news is broken to both families, the boy’s mother and other female relatives will meet the girl and bring her home where she will have a meal with the family. Towards evening, she will be dressed in traditional wear gifted by the boy’s mother and will be escorted by the boy’s female relatives to her house. This will be followed by informal parleys by both families and once auspicious dates are found, the main wedding rituals of Heijingpot, Luhongba and Mangaani Chaakouba will follow.
Regardless of which type of marriage is being performed, one common thread is that of serious decorum and patriarchal moorings where there are strict codes on what can be done and not. In this day and age, only a few families do away with the practice of having the groom having his food first and then letting the bride eat from his leftover on the same plate. This, despite the influence of glamour and big fat weddings where young people have parties, cakes are cut and elaborate wedding shoots have come to be added to the traditional ways. The additions in glamour events have also led to a flurry of entrepreneurs making their presence felt in a state where unemployment is still a major issue.