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Hijan Hirao: Text, Context, and Translation: Book Review

James Oinam *



Title: Hijan Hirao: Text, Context, and Translation
Author: Ksh. Premchandra Singh
Year of Publication: 2015
Publisher: Sahitya Seva Smiti, Kakching
No. of Pages: 91

The book, as the title suggests, is on Hijan Hirao which is phonetic variation of 'Hichan Hilao' (Hi = boat, Chan = to construct/make; Hi = boat, Lao = to shout). It is one of the songs or poems sung towards the end of Lai Haraoba festival.

The Foreword for the book, written by Lokendra Arambam, sets the tone for the book by putting the Hijan Hirao literature in contrast to the western/colonial world view. The importance of sensitivity towards our surrounding (ecosystem) by our forefathers, which was mocked at that time by the West, has now been increasingly realized everyone all over the world. The interaction or union between the air (sky), personified by the god Sorarel, and the mother earth is retold again and again in the Lai Haraoba festival.

The ecstasy of the union is relived again and again to spread joy and well-being in the community. From the yum lai (household god), to umang lai (forest god) to lam lai (countryside god), the ancient religion took great care of non-human entities at various hierarchies of the ecosystem.

The main text of the book is in three parts. In the first part, called 'Hijan Hirao: Context', the author quotes various passages to further develop the argument put forth in the Foreword. Also, the quotes highlight the rich literature of the ancient past that needs to be brought to light. Understanding the past would help tremendously in shaping our future for the better is what the author feels.

This part has the folktale of the Sangai, the endemic brow antlered deer of Manipur found in the Keibul Lamjao national park. The story of Sangai is related to the story of the u-ningthou (literally king tree), which is the main story of the Hijan Hirao given in detail in the second part of the book, titled 'Hijan Hirao: The Translation'.

There are useful notes and references section at the end of the first section. The second section, which is English translation of the poem, has useful footnotes explaining the important terms. The third part, titled 'Hijan Hirao: Text', has scanned images of the Hijan Hirao text in Meetei/Meitei script.

Hijan Hirao tells the story of the tree (u-ningthou) which was cut down by the king Luwang Punsiba to make the first boat. The idea of a boat came to him when he saw an ant and a rat cross Singtha River on a tiny twig and a reed floating in the water. The tree was marked to be cut the following morning by the king's men.

The lamentations of the mother tree, Irok Laicham Leima, and the father, Irok Ningthou, in the night before their beloved son is to be cut, are very poignant. Before cutting the tree, all kinds of offerings are made to the tree and a maiba (a priest) is also consulted for the occasion. The picturesque visualization and rendition will draw sympathy from the readers for something or someone whose nature it is not to cry out for help or express its pain.

Phonetic shift due to long use of the Bengali script and not to mention the deliberate attempts by the Meitei kings to suppress the ancient religion has made our ancient literature and culture obscure to us, the present generation. I personally feel poetry like this can be used to inculcate a sense of responsibility towards our environment.

There are perhaps many more such literatures yet to be uncovered, or reread for understanding in the modern context. The author and the Sahitya Seva Samiti need to be congratulated for their efforts in this direction.


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be reached at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on November 22, 2016.


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