Festivals of the Northeast are celebrated with much colour & aplomb. Ruled in general by the Gods of agriculture, the festivals are rich in tradition, soulful music, striking costumes & of course, sumptuous food. Manipur has a lot of festivals for you to immerse yourself in and enjoy:
Yes, believe it or not, but in Manipur, Christmas is one of the biggest & best festivals. It is not only celebrated among the Christian communities but everyone in Manipur comes together during this winter festival to bake Christmas cakes, decorate their houses with lights, read the Bible & sing Christmas carols! There is nothing quite like seeing Christmas the way it is celebrated here, with midnight masses held in Churches.
Cheiraoba festival – the festival that ‘springs’!
The Spring festival of Manipur, Cheiraoba is celebrated on the 1st day of the Sajibu month (March-April). This festival sees people dressing up in traditional costumes, visiting friends & relatives, exchanging gifts & greetings & also cooking local delicacies. An important ritual that people undertake every year during this festival is climbing up the Cheiraoching hill-top. It is believed that climbing this hillock signifies the rise of human civilisation. The local Goddess Sanamahi is also worshipped in this festival.
Yaoshang – Manipuri Holi
The full-moon day of the Phalguna month (February-March) sees the celebration of the Yaoshang festival which continues for 5 days. This is a major festival, not only for Manipur but for the entire Northeast. People spray colours on each other, sing songs & dance together. Feasts, parties, sports & games are organised by collecting money from everyone. A key highlight is the Thabal Chongba – a Manipuri folk dance in which boys & girls hold hands & dance around in circles. It is held tentatively from 1st-5th March.
Lai Haraoba – festivity of the Gods
The local Gods & Goddesses get their time of glory in one of the most widely celebrated festivals in Manipur, Lai Haraoba. Ancestors are remembered & worshipped. Local deities such as Sanamahi, Nongpok Ningthou, Leimarel, Pakhangba, & the 364 Umang Lais or jungle deities then take the centre stage. Men & women present folk dances & perform popular folklores such as the Thoibi & Khamba before the local deities. Don’t forget to see the procession in which the deities are carried on palanquins!! This festival is held in the month of May.
Kang festival – Manipuri Rath Yatra
Literally translating to rath or chariot, the Kang festival sees Lord Jagannath, Balarama & Subhadra being taken in kangs in the Govindjee temple, every year. While pulling the kang with fervent devotion, the devotees also play the nahal, gongs, bells, drums & conches. Bartis, which are cotton balls soaked in ghee, are also offered to the Gods. The 10-day long festival sees community feasts being organised in the evening as well. This important festival is held tentatively from 14th-24th July.
Heirku Hindongba – the Manipuri boat race festival
The 11th day of the Langbal month (September) sees the boat race on the canal in the Bijoy Govinda area, in which local youths participate with tremendous zeal, enthusiasm & team spirit. Heirku Hindongba, the boat race festival, mandates the boats being cleaned & purified with Holy Shlokas & decorated with garlands. Spectators come from all over the state and stay in tents erected specially for them to see this exciting race. The race doesn’t go unsupervised though. The idol of Lord Vishnu resides by the canal to preside over this festival. The deity is also offered Gold & Silver by the Brahmins before the race commences.
Kut festival – the autumn festival
As the trees shed their leaves in autumn, the people of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribe celebrate Kut – a celebration of peace, harmony, communal ties & friendship. Also known as Chavang-Kut or Khodou, it is meant to celebrate the generous food stock of the year. People offer their gratitude to the Gods for the bountiful produce by singing, dancing and merrymaking.
Be sure to see who becomes ‘Miss Kut’ – a beauty pageant organised during this festival. This bright & colourful festival is held tentatively on the 1st of November.
Sangai festival – the biggest cultural festival in Manipur
Arguably the biggest cultural extravaganza held in November, the Manipur Sangai Festival showcases the state’s art & culture. Spectacular dance performances, music, sports, exhibition of local food & handicrafts are just some of the things on offer. Jointly organised by the Film Forum of Manipur, this festival also sees the screening of local movies & short-films by the state’s very talented movie makers. So, what all can you expect to see here:
Kabui Naga dance
Yubi-Lakpi (a native sport not unlike rugby but played with greased coconuts instead!)
Thang Ta (a sport that hinges on spear & sword skills)
Sagol Kangjei (the original Manipuri Polo which inspired the game we see today)
Mukna Kangjei (a unique combination of Hockey & Wrestling)
Manipuri food delicacies such as the Nga-Thongba, Paaknam & Eromba.
This splendid festival is held tentatively from 21st-30th November.