Though the Kang festival bore resemblance to the Rath Yatra at Puri in Odisha, it has imbibed local influences such as the Meitei architectural style in the making of the Rath or chariot
The recent torrential rainfall and recurrent floods could not dampen the spirit of Manipur, the land of festivals, as it celebrated the 10-day long Hindu festival of Rath Yatra locally known as Kang Chingba (literally, chariot-pulling) festival from 25th June to 3rd July. The festival which is usually celebrated every year between the second and tenth day of the Meitei lunar month of Ingen (June-July) is marked by the chariot journey of Lord Vishnu in his Jagannath form along with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra through the streets of the Hindu localities, particularly in the valley areas of Manipur. These Rath Yatra processions take place only on the first and last day of the festival.
Origins of the Festival
The Cheitharol Kumbaba (Royal Chronicle of Manipur) notes that the Kang Chingba festival was celebrated for the first time in Manipur on the second day of the Meitei lunar month of Inga (May-June) in 1832 during the reign of King Gambhir Singh (1825-1834). After his death, his son King Chandrakriti again celebrated the Kang festival on the 10th day of Inga in 1840 after a seven-year hiatus.
According to Pana Pandit Laitonjam Lokendro Meitei of the Pandit Loishang (Scholars’ Establishment), though the Kang festival bore resemblance to the Rath Yatra at Puri in Odisha, it has imbibed local influences such as the Meitei architectural style in the making of the Rath or chariot. With time, there have been some changes, he said, pointing out that though the seven-coloured flag of Kangleipak (flag representing the seven Meitei clans) used to be hoisted on the roof of the Kang earlier; it has been now replaced by bells.
He further referred to another Meitei celebration called Ahong Khong Chingba during the reign of King Kangba (1405-1359 BC) which bore certain similarities with the present day Kang festival. On the annual occasion of Ahong Khong Chingba, Ningthou Kangba, along with the deity Sanamahi used to travel on a Rath pulled by devotees for the purpose of ‘Konba Lam Yengba, Saban Lam Thokpa’ which roughly means ‘to see his people and territories, and to make sure both his people and territory are safe’.
A Spiritual Journey
Though the procession is taken out by temple Brahmins through all localities, the major procession is the one taken out by the Shree Shree Govindajee temple located in the Palace Compound of Imphal. The cart drawn by devotees is attended by Brahmins, and a team of musicians with conch, mridanga and cymbals. Two young girls holding fly whisks act as Dwarapaala (door guards).
Along the route of the chariot journey, devotees make offerings of sweets, fruits, flowers, incense sticks and barti at various points, usually at their own gates. The chariot stops to receive the offerings, which is done with devotional singing and puja. After the arti (puja), the offerings are distributed to bystanders. People believe that getting an opportunity to hold the ropes, and pulling the cart with the idols will wash away all their sorrows. Another belief is that soil or dust from the wheels of the chariot will cure any ill health. People from all walks of life, and from distant localities, throng the route along which the cart with the idols will be drawn.
Music and Food, Essential Ingredients
During the 10 days of the festival, there are Jayadev performances (singing praises of the Lord) and khubak esei performances (devotional dance to the tune of claps) at the mandaps of temples every evening. The singing and dancing is followed by a feast of khechri (yellow rice cooked with dal) with local dishes such as laphu iromba (spicy mashed banana-stem) and ushoi-mangall ooti (dried peas cooked with young bamboo shoot). The prasad is served on a lotus leaf, which enhances its taste.
There is a local belief behind the serving of khechri as prasad. It is believed that Subhadra was asked by her brothers to cook food while they went out. Frightened by the sound of the sea waves, she hurriedly mixed and cooked both rice and pulses in the same pot and it turned out as khechri. Khechri no wonder has become an integral part of the Kang festivities in Manipur.
The twelfth day of Ingel is called Hari Shayan (the day Hari sleeps according to a legend), and the festivities are completed on this day. Various seasonal fruits and flowers like pineapple, pear, plum, lotus seeds, lotus flowers, lotus leaves, and garlands of soaked dried peas, and paddy grains are known to be associated with the festival of Kang.
By: Reena Nongmaithem