TODAY -

EEPAN THABA
(First Ceremony after Birth)

By: N Mangi Devi *

EEPAN THABA[1]:-

The first ceremony after birth of a human life. On the 6 day of the birth of (he child this ceremony is "a must" observed by the people of Manipur both in plain and the hills.

The hill people do not observe nowadays after embracing Christianity yet the people mostly the Meiteis are still observing this important ceremony along with Hindu Vaishnavism rituals.

It has a reference to the cleaning and sanctifying the child and the mother. This ceremony has two parts, one in the morning and another in the evening.

In the morning when the sun's rays reflect on the floor of the of house, say of about 9 a.m. a place will be cleaned near the main door of the house and over a basketful of paddy, a garland of ngakha & phabou (dryfishs), meitei-thum (original Manipuri salt-cake), sing (ginger) are put to offer to Koirouhanba, the sun God.

Then near the fire place of the house over a yangkok (winnow) some raw rice, meitei salt, chilly, heibi mana, yendem (kind of vegetables) and meitei ngamu akangba (dry fish) offered to Emoinu Lairembi.

Then all these things are mixed up by the Maibi and put little by little quantity of the mixture (Singju) on small pieces of plantain leaves and then the Maibi takes up one by one saying ku-ku-ku to the child as if the child is being fed.

This practice is for long healthy life of the child. The child is given bath nicely and put it on the yangkok and the Maibi will ask three times to the mother whether she likes yangkok or the child.

The mother says "I don't like yangkok I will take my child and the Maibi asks whether she likes gold and silver or money and again the mother says no, I don't like gold, silver and money, I like my child".

After it the mother will give a coin to the Maibi and takes back her child and embraces the child nicely. On this day the utensils and the clothes used by the mother will either be thrown away or washed nicely according to the values of the materials used by the mother, that indicates the mother can be mixed with other members of the family and people of the locality.

Those things from the yangkok will be taken away by the Maibi beyond the gate of the house and offer them again to the spirits of the locality praying them for the welfare of the child and to guard the child from the evil influences.

AT THE EVENING FUNCTION:

Inside the house on the right side of the entrance door an altar (phambat) has to be made on which things needed for the child like clothes, comb, mirror, neck - chain, book and money will be displayed. Depending on whether the child is boy or girl some variation will be there.

The newly born child in the winnow (yangkok)


In addition to this things like good white uncooked rice half full of an earthen container known as kambi, a bunch of banana counted in pair that comes either 7 or 9 known as 'changthokpa', a special fruit known as 'heijang', a whole betel nut, a betel leaf, a coin, now-a-days, a whole coconut is added and small clothes (phanek-inapphi) of Goddess, a lamp and dhup (agarbati) are offered to the Goddess Shashthi Devi ( after Hindu Vaishnavism).

And one Iratphu (in early days traditional Meitei but after Hindu Vaishnavism it is known as 'Ghot is also prepared). It can be an earthern pot or any metal of brass or copper. Into that pot one single banana, one coin, one whole betel nut and leaf are to be put.

Iratphu has to be kept over some paddy seeds spread on a nicely cut round banana leaf. The pot will be rounded by four small arrows connected together by seven threads in four directions.

The significance of it is the prayer to the seven salais' deities and four Gods of four directions -
  • Marjing (north east),
  • Koubru (north west),
  • Wangbrel (south east),
  • Thangjing (south west).
The priest will perform all the prayers on behalf of the father. Then, the child will be brought out nacked put on a mattress and a bundle of seven threads will tied on the wrist of the child - it will tied on the right if it is a boy and on the left if it is a girl. Then, the child will be gifted the money by father, followed by the maternal uncle and others who have come for the function.

An interesting aspect of this ceremony is what has to be done from the maternal side of the mother of the child as a convention.

Some specific things are to be brought to the house of their daughter who is giving birth, say:-
  1. live meitei ngamu ahingba (live fish) numbering either 3 or 5 or 7 putting into a covered utensil by the banana leaf.
  2. good white uncooked rice in a beautiful container.
  3. meitei thum cake (traditional Manipur salt) either 3 or 5 or 7 in number decoratively put on a flat container (known as lukmai made of bamboo threads).
  4. athelpot - rawrice & vegetables - decorated with banana leaf.
  5. one small mattress, pillow and clothes for the new born child.
  6. new clothes for the mother of the child.
  7. ornaments of the child like bangles & anklets of both hands and legs etc.
  8. other eatables mainly sweets and fruits etc. that can be afforded.
These things will be carried by beautifully well dressed ladies who go in a row according to symbolic values assigned to the things to the house of the new born baby at the evening. This shows the gaiety and sharing happines of the two families, relatives and the community.

Another interesting unique aspect of this ceremony is the ten-kappa ( arrow shooting) by the maternal uncle of the new born baby.

It is shooting of four arrows in four directions to guard the influence of the evil spirits from these directions with specific prayer to the gods of wind, water, Marjing, Koubru, Thangjing and Wangbrel.

That has to be done at the courtyard of the house and the fifth arrow will only aim up in the sky and down to the earth and then will be brought back to the house with no shooting.

This particular arrow is meant for the sky god and earth god that has to be kept on the wall of the bedroom of the child until the child has completed 3 years. The arrow is an indicator to guard the child from all evil forces from all directions.

It is believed that when the child falls ill due to some unforeseen forces of the evil spirits the tip of the arrow if dip into the water and given to the child to drink this will relieve the child from the illness.

**Mother is all-in-all for the child. Motherland sustains vitality of the child.

Foot Note

1. EE-PAN-THABA three syllables that mean Ee-Blood-Pan outside-Thaba-planted, litually blood is planted outside . The connotation is the child syllabically takes the food from the earth that in turn create the blood.

According to Meitei, Mythology the child has two mothers. The first is the mother of its physical body and the second is the mother earth from whom the child gets the food and grow to be a full-fledged human being.

The symbolic feeding of the new born child with the products from the earth and prayer to the sun God is the indication that the child gets acquainted with its second mother, the earth.

The simple rite of prayer to the sun god and the mother earth is called EE_PAN_THABA by the Meitei, putting the child on a yangkok (winnow) indicates the circular form of the earth in which the human child has to play the drama of Absolute God.

Singju represents the milk of the mother earth. The mother asks for her child only not gold or silver or yangkok because among the different kinds of worldly love the mother's love has no parallel.


* N Mangi Devi wrote this book entitled "Main Ceremonies of Meitei Society . This article was webcasted on December 22nd 2009.


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