“Lai Haraoba” of Manipur- Festivity of the Gods

One of the most popular dance forms of Manipur, the dance is a duet of Khamba and Thoibi, two most popular mythological characters immortalised in a popular folklore.

The ‘Lai Haraoba’ which literally translates as ‘Festivity of the Gods’ is a native festival of the ‘Meiteis’, the majority ethnic group of Manipur, a state in the northeastern most corner of India.  Predominantly Hindu Vaishnavites after their forcible conversion in 18th Century during the reign of  King  Pamheiba (also known by the Hindu name Garibniwaz) , the  Meiteis  originally had  its  own traditional religion which worshipped  ‘Shidaba Mapu’  or  ‘Atiya Shidaba’  as  the supreme God, the creator.  Sanamahi, Pakhangba, Nongpok Ningthou, Leimarel and Panthoibi are some of the major household deities and about 364 Umang Lais (Jungle deities) are worshiped by the Meiteis. The Lai haraoba is the festivity  or the merry-making of these Gods which according to mythical belief was first held at ‘Koubru Ching’, a hill situated in the northern end of Manipur (along NH 39). The festival is a celebration of the creation of the universe on the will of Atiya Sidaba and the recollection of the evolution of plants, animals and human beings which were enacted by the deities. The same has been followed down the ages by the human beings  so that  they  never  forget the origin of the universe.  Lai haraoba is one of the most important festival of the State of Manipur.

The most enchanting part of the festival is the colourful and exceptionally beautiful traditional dances performed by young and old, from near and far, as seen here in the photographs. The festivity is also replete with dance drama, enactment of Khamba and Thoibi, the hero and the heroine of a popular folk-lore and interestingly an evening outing by the deity in which it is carried around in a palanquin around the locality in full frenzy. Here I give you a glimpse of the festival.

Another famous dance form of Manipur, the Leima jagoi is most acclaimed for its graceful fluid movements. Along with Maibi jagoi, it is one of the most important dances performed in the festival.
Princess Thoibi was the daughter of the King of Moirang. Popular folklore has it that the beauty of Thoibi was unsurpassed. None ever was as beautiful as her. The Thoibi in the picture here perhaps came quite close to the legend. Oh! FYI the Thoibi here is a guy!
The Kabui Naga dance is one of the most colourful and rhythmic dance ever. The Kabuis are a predominant tribe of the Nagas and historically quite close to the Meiteis. It being performed as one of the important dances in the festival reflects the cordial relations between the two ethnic group which goes back ages.
A version of the Kabui Naga dance with a new choreography.
And here is another Thoibi with a modern twist !
The deity goes on a tour of the locality. The bearers of the palanquin are so possesed by the time it returns back that it scrambles all over place. God definitely seems to be enjoying and that too in quite a frenzy.
The street is packed with revellers dressed in traditional costumes following the deity taking a tour. Here is a picture that reflects the mood in the streets.
One Khamba hitching a ride….back to the future !

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