E-Pao! Manipur / Arts & Culture :: Lai Haraoba
Lai Haraoba
- The Merry Festival of the Deities -

By: P. Kunjo Singh *

Manipur is a land of deities with Atiya Shidaba as the Supreme God.

Atiya Shidaba, Apanba and Asheeba are the three manifestations or incarnations of God as the creator, the preserver and the annihilator of this universe respectively.

Pakhangba, Sannamahi and Nongpok Ningthou are the incarnations who play the role of the male deities of the Meiteis whereas Leimarel Shidabi and Panthoibi, the role of female deities.

Besides these, three hundred and sixty four deities with their consorts are the most important deities worshipped by the Meiteis.

Lai Haraoba is the festival of the recollection of the creation stories played by all these deities with the first origin of this universe and evolution of the plants and animals through the will of Atiya Shidaba.

Lai Haraoba in progress

Sannamahi and Leimarel are worshiped in every house of the Meiteis. The other gods and the three hundred and sixty four deities are worshipped in the "Umanglai Laisangs" (temple of gods in the reserved woods with spacious grounds) in the villages.

The Umang Lai Haraoba (Merry Festival of the Deities) is the most important ceremony in which the deities are worshipped by all inhabitants of the village as a symbol of the part and parcel of the creation work.

Meiteis take every male and female as god and goddess who play the role and deities in the Haraoba. In the Laiharaoba worship of all the deities such as

  • Thangjing,
  • Marjing,
  • Koubru,
  • Wangbaren,
  • Khamlangba,
, etc. the rituals are the same except in some items or hymns i.e. ikouba, ikourol, and yakairol at the beginning and mikon thagonba, ngaprum tanba, etc. at the end of the festival.

In the performances, the evolution story with the amorous love-affairs of Nongpok Ninghthou and Panthoibi is depicted and played equally in all kinds of lai haraoba.

There are six major types of Lai Haraoba:
  1. Kanglei (Imphal) Haraoba,
  2. Chakpa Haraoba,
  3. Andro Haraoba,
  4. Sekmai Haraoba,
  5. Moirang Haraoba and
  6. Kakching Haraoba.

The differences in the six festivals are very wide and broad. But, the inner significance and the gist are the same.

The difference are in the variations of processes and in cultural aspects and not in the inner wisdom and basis of the philosophy of lai haraoba.

The origin of the festival is that the gods held the first Lai Haraoba on the Koubru hill, so that their descendants should imitate them and perform the same as it had been done by the deities so that they will never forget the secret and sacred story of the creation of this universe and the birth of the different lives on this earth.

First of all, the laibung or haraobung (festival ground) is properly arranged. The king, the knights, the warrior chiefs, the ladies, the village elders and the youths and the girls are given their respective seats properly.

The audience thus sit around the festival ground on the three sides of the laibung opposite the yathokshang (temporary temple of the deity for the festival). The festival continues from one day to even thirty days. But, in most cases ten to fifteen days are commonly held.

The first step for lai haraoba is lei langba, plucking of flowers representating the god and goddess with the collection of many other kinds of flowers offering in the festival. The most important character of lei langba is the keeping of celibacy of the leiroihanjaba (the one in charge of lei langba) with his attendant.

All the participants: the maiba-maibis (priest and priestesses), the dolairengba (the bearers of the palanquin), the pena khongba (the player of an indigenous string instrument), the chong paibas (the special umbrella bearers), the sword and spear (Thang-Ta) bearers, Kwagok-Sengok pubas (the bearers of the ornamented vessels for bettle nuts, flower and money for donations and awards to the top participants) and all the other members who should take part in this festival should strictly follow the disciples of keeping celibacy during the festival.

Some of the items of lai haraoba with slight changes and small differences for the deities are lai ikouba (calling or taking the gods out of water, at the beginning of lai haraoba), lei langba, naoshum ishei shakpa (lullaby), yakairol ishei (awakening), phammang (laimang) phamba, lei katpa, laibou chenba, laibou shaba, etc.

Maibi Jagoi during Lai Haraoba

The complete festival begins in the day time of the second day. It has about twenty steps or items in it. Laiboula thaba is the most important part of the beginning of laibou shaba (creation of the Universe and the synthesis of the human body).

A plantain leaf on the specific place represents the unseen God manifesting the world. The maibi with all the participants who also join in the lai ikouba and lei langba should move around the plantain leaf three times symbolising the manifestations of Mangnag Kuru Shidaba, Luwang Kuru Shidaba, and Khuman Kuru Shidaba (clan deities).

After this the maiba-maibis stand erect before the deity and pray for the beginning of the laibou. At this time no one should move, speak and change his/her position. No one could come in or out of the laibung during this item, Hoirou Haya Laoba.

Maibi delivering hymns

The maibi begins to move in the form of the Khayom jagoi (a dance with hands at the level of the navel) with the Hoirou Haya hymn.

When the maibi sings
Hayingeina noibadi meina waina noiye;
he tangna shamna noiye,

after some of his/her hymns, all the participants begin to move their footsteps without dancing their hands and body.

In laibou shaba the maibi narrates with hymns and dances the creation of this universe; the sun, the stars, the planets, the moon, the earth, air, water, etc. After making this earth inhabitable, the dances shows the creation of all beings including man.

In the case of man, the different parts: the hand, the fingers, the palms, the arms, the head, the neck, the eyes, the body, the thigh, the feet, the toes, and all the other parts are made with the hymns and dances in different khut-theks (hand movements).

There are sixty four important khut-theks for making the human body. All are shown with very fine, attractive and meaningful dances representing the development of the human body in twelve months in the parents' womb.

Then the building of houses, starting of agriculture and other stages of human development are played.

The last part of the dance confines with the songs, paosha isheis, for the welfare of all the individuals. The control of lust, keeping strict discipline of celibacy and control of the mind are very clearly and forcefully sung to remind all the participants the importance and the value of life in this human birth.

Group of Maibis performing

Lairen Mathek and chongkhong litpa are played to represent the continuity of human life.

Kanglei-thokpa or lai-lam-thokpa is a play of the festival performed outside the laibung, in any place suitable for assembling greater number of participants.

Lairoi (the end of haraoba) is very important and it includes performances:
Ougri Hangen (the song of the control of mind),
Khencho (the concept of the third birth or the next birth or the human birth),
Hijan Hirao (the song of cutting big trees for two big boats: one for the male deity, the other for the female deity and with which boat race is held) are sung.

The different kinds of lai haraoba have different kinds of special programs and items. But, the aim and object is the same. To satisfy the gods for making man free from sickness, fearfulness, illness, and for blessing them with good, prosperous, wealthy and healthy descendants, is the only prayer sung in the whole story of the festival.

On the next day of lairoi, Mukna (Meitei wrestling), kangjei (meitei hocky/polo), and races are held and prizes are given to those who win in the competitions of sports and games.

Thus, lai haraoba is the only cultural activity in which social, philosophical and religious life of the Meiteis are depicted very deeply and carefully. With this cultural activity, the continuous thought of the people of this culturally rich land is preserved from the long gone days never decaying and fading.

  • The Meitei Lai Haraoba has been translated variously as The Merry-Making of the Gods or Festivities of the Sylvan Deiteis or The Merry Festival of the Deities by Manipuri Scholars. On the other hand, the British writers preferred to translate as The Pleasing of the God or Gods.
  • For detailed protocols and interpretations of Lai Haraoba, refer to a recent book - The Pleasing of the Gods: Meitei Lai Haraoba - by Drs. Saroj N. Arambam Parratt and John K. Parratt (1997).

* P. Kunjo Singh, M.A. (Manipuri) wrote this article at The Manipur Page. This article was webcasted on April 23rd, 2007.