Colourful wraparound kashans, fermented fish and desserts were the stars of the Tangkhul Naga community’s harvest festival
A sea of bright red, burnished orange and parrot green, enveloped visitors over the weekend at CSI St. Thomas Higher Secondary School recently, where over a thousand from Tangkhul Naga tribe of Manipur had gathered to celebrate a special festival, Luira Phanit. The festival that marks the first seeds sown for the year was in its third edition. The theme of the festival, ‘Know Thy Roots’, is a common thread that binds the 2000-strong Tangkhul community in Chennai.
“So many youngsters are moving away from home at a young age, for education and employment. We want them to always remember where they came from,” emphasized Worthing Shanglai, President of Tangkhul Katamnao Long, Chennai (the student union). He mobilised resources and funds from the community, to recreate the Manipuri festival. “There is a village king who sows the first seeds, and then the rest of the families are given seeds to plant on their fields, usually rice, carrots and other seasonal vegetables,” explained Shanglai.
While the seeds are not officially sown in Chennai, Shanglai and his hundred-strong group of volunteers hope to sow seeds of tradition among the next generation. Beginning with a prayer and a speech by Manipur MLA Leishiyo Keishing, the festival united music, games, fashion and food.
“The men’s waistcoats and the ladies’ kashan, a kind of wraparound skirt, have different colours, motifs and meanings. With the kashans, we wear the ‘rose’ and ‘luingamla’ style of weaves in memory of two women brutalised by security forces over four decades ago. We also have the intricate wedding kashan, and the green-and-red kashans originally worn by royalty,” said stylist Sayaila T.
“Every Tangkhul family has a weaver. We make these garments for both special occasions and daily life,” Sayaila explained as she showed me the texture of her crimson skirt, its tight weave meant to protect against the harsh elements during winter. Traditional Tangkhul fashion was on display at the show; men and women complemented their delicate ensembles with heavy necklaces and traditional headbands.
Though the kashan is the star of the show, the food was a close second: traditional fermented fish — Ngari, rice and pork preparations, fermented vegetables and desserts were on offer. Young Tangkhul men tried bamboo climbing, a sport that looks as fun as it is hard work. A tug-of -war got both young and old excited, while tunes by Manipuri bands, Thangmeiso Shinglai and Yursari Ngalung, were played.
“Our brothers and sisters across all 29 Naga tribes like Maram, Poumai, Zeliangrong, have to be connected no matter where we move, to keep our customs alive,” added Shinglai, concerned by the Citizenship Amendment Bill that offers a path to citizenship for illegal migrants fleeing religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and other border countries. Tribes in the North East feel the burden to support these migrants would fall on them, affecting the delicate tapestry of tradition and livelihood they have woven over decades.
The festival gives them a feeling of belonging. Explained Sayaila “While we pray for good weather and harvest at the Luira Phanit, we also ask that we are all together, so we can reap as we sow.”
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