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E-Pao! Manipur - The concept of Sajibu Cheiraoba

The concept of Sajibu Cheiraoba
Oinam Anand *



Our society has got festivals in plenty. One of the major festivals in a calendar year is the celebration of the coming new year in the Meitei month of Sajibu.

Sajibu Cheiraoba is an annual religious celebration in which certain rites and rituals are observed with a traditional devotion. The celebration marks the parting of the old year while welcoming the new year.

The name 'Cheiraoba' is a combination of two words which have two different meanings - 'Chahi' (year) and 'laoba' (declaration). It also means 'Chei (stick) and 'laoba' (declaration).

So, overall 'Cheirao-ba' means the announcement of the coming year.

During the olden days, the announcement was made by a man authorised by the king. The man went through all the major streets of the city by holding a long bamboo pole with bells fixed on its top and made announcement of the coming New Year.

Another name given to Cheiraoba, though not used in general, is 'Kurak Langtaiba'. It means the joining of the two ends, that is joining of the end of the passing year with the beginning of the new year.

So to the Manipuris or more particularly to the Meiteis the 'Cheiraoba' festival has close connection with their lives and activities.

The Meiteis believe that the 'Sidaba Mapu' (the Almighty) holds the rein of their fortunes and make plan according to His wishes.

In a man's life, when one cycle of year has passed with peace and prosperity, it is taken that the almighty has favoured him one more year and it is his duty in return to pray to God for his life and security for the coming year also.

Thus Meiteis, both Hindu and Sanamahi cult give so much importance to this religious festival 'Cheiraoba' at the joining of the two years, the passing and the coming with prayer and worship of the deities to guard them against death and diseases and to bring peace and prosperity for the coming new year.

The Meiteis believe that there is an assembly of deities (Lai Khundin-naba) on every Saturday in the month of Lamta (March), the last month of the year.

The first Saturday is of supreme importance and known as Lamta Thangja Ahanba (The first Saturday). On this day, the Gods assemble at 'Heibokching' - a small hill to the south of Imphal.

In this assembly of Gods, sticks representing the number of heads and souls of the man living on earth are counted. The number of sticks representing those persons who would die in the coming year is counted and are kept separated.

This is known as 'Shing Shatpa' (Removal of sticks) means counting of deaths for the coming year. So on this day, in every Meiteis' household, prayer and offerings are made to Gods to please them and to spare the lives of the family members.

After this offerings and prayers the Meiteis believe that their lives are spared and granted by the Almighty alteast for another year and then they make preparations to welcome the coming New Year.

Days and weeks ahead of 'Cheiraoba' houses are made clean. Old cloths and kitchen utensils are made clean or replaced by new ones.

On the day special worship of Sanamahi and Leimarel is done. On this day also a rite is performed at the gate of every household by the elder member for long life and prosperity of the members of the family.

Offerings such as rice, and other eatables are made to the deities namely Lamaba Tumaba (Lord of my land), 'Kum Sana Kumliklai' (the golden year) and Iram Shenba Tushemba (guardian of my land).

Since Cheiraoba is a ritual and festival connected with prayer to the almighty for peace and prosperity of the coming year, it also got another ritual called 'Saroi Khangba' (propitiation of the evil spirits).

Womenfolk warding off evil deities during Saroi Khangba


This is done by the elderly women of the locality to appease the evil spirits. Edible items such as rice, vegetables and others are collected from each family and offered to the tutelary deities - Koubru, Marjing, Wangpurel and Thangjing in order to propitiate the evil spirits who are hungry and demand food from human beings.

Another main feature of this 'Cheiraoba' is the ritual of 'Ushil Shinba' which is done by the head of the family. 'Ngamu', a local fish is used in this ritual.

As many 'Ngamu's as the number of the members of the family are set loose in the pond of the house and keenly observed to the movement of the fishes to predict the coming events of each member of the family for the coming new year.

In the Royal Palace this ritual is performed by the royal priest (the Maiba) for the life and prosperity of the king, the kingdom and his subjects.

King Kyamba who reigned in the second half of the 15th Century AD in Manipur introduced the system of 'Cheithaba'.

A person, who was also a close associate of the king and also born under the same star with the king was chosen by the king in consultation with the priest. He took the responsibility for any calamity that might befall on the king, the people and the state.

He is just like the 'Ushil' which every household performs with the local fish. He is known as 'Cheithaba' for that particular year.

For this sacrifice he was awarded with plots of land by the king and the year was named after him as a mark of honour. This system is still continuing though no plot of land is given now.

After a week that is on the seventh day of 'Cheiraoba' the rituals known as 'Kongba Leithong Phatpa' are also performed in the place between the Iril River and the village Kongba in Imphal east.

This is also one of the rituals observed by the priest concerning the prediction of the king and the state.

*** (with inputs from eminent scholars)

Related Gallery:
* Oinam Anand writes regularly for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on April 18th, 2007.


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