Manipur is a land of festivals but even as various tribes celebrate agricultural ones, the dominant Meitei population continues to observe pre Hindu as well as Hindu related festivities. The Rath Yatra or the annual journey made famous in Puri is held in Manipur as well and is known as Kaang Chingba (loosely translated as pulling theKaang/Rath). Kaang starts from the second day of Engel (June-July) with the Kaang Chingba and continues for a period of eight, nine or ten days as per the Meitei lunar calendar and concluding with another Kaang Chingba.
In the Heart of Imphal City
As observed in other parts of the country, the idols of Jaganath, Balaram and Subhadra are taken out in a procession in a decorated Rath/Kaang and people make offerings of sweetmeats, flowers and garlands. The main Kaang Chingba remains the one taken out from the Shri Shri Govindaji temple in the heart of Imphal. The Kaangis decorated with flowers and paintings depicting various scenes from Hindu mythology on three sides.
The three idols of Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra are taken out in processions, first from the inner sanctum of the Shri Shri Govindaji temple by the priests and then drawn in the Rath/Kaang, a nearly 20 ft height structure with six huge iron wheels. Stout ropes attached to the Kaang are then pulled by the devotees who vie with one another to do the honour. Given the huge crowds at the main Kaang Chingba who throng the streets near to the Shri Shri Govindaji temple to make offerings, the procession is not taken out for a long distance.
Songs of Celebration
Once this procession starts, all Meitei localities that have a temple and presiding priests take out smaller Kaang processions where it stops at every house and offerings are made to the accompaniment of devotional songs. In fact, it is this small scale Kaang Chingba that gives the occasion a festive air. Not many of the Kaangs have all three idols of Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra in which case, it is Jagannath alone who gets to meet his devotees. Once the Kaang Chingba is over for the day, devotees gather at the temples to perform a sankirtana known as Joydev-Chongba (since the song rendered in a mix of Bengali and Sanskrit is based on Jayadeva’s compositions).
This type of sankirtana is performed by both group of men and women but separately, the men first, and then the women (but obviously!). Joydev Chongba is performed by standing in a circle and is sung with the rhythm of the Pung (a kind of mirdanga used in Manipur) and accompanied by claps and feet movements. Young women and girls sometimes perform the Chali dance and the evening wraps up with the distribution of Khetchri/Khichdi and a few vegetarian items served by Brahmin cooks on lotus leaves, the costs for which are contributed by the people of the locality where the Kaang is being observed. Even as the Kaang Chingba is held for two days, the evening offerings of Joydev Chongba and partaking of Khetchri goes on for the entire duration of Kaang. Interestingly enough, there is a Ningol Palli (loosely translated as the women’s turn) where only the women of the locality contribute money to cover the cost of feeding Khetchri.