The hearth is the heart of the family. This was true of every Meitei household that was generally a large joint family comprising of the ‘Edhou’ (Grandfather) “Eben’ or ‘Abok’ (Grandmother), Pabung (Father), Palem/Ema (mother), Khura (Uncles), Endomcha (Aunties), Eteima/Enamma (Sister-in-law), Echin enao (brothers, sisters and cousins) and sometimes even the next generation of offsprings. This was so for every household not too long ago, a few generations earlier really, before the onset of the nuclear families. The large family had a generously spacious kitchen to accommodate the multitude of members at one end of the room where all the members would gather around as dusk fell, waiting for the food which was being prepared at the sanctum of the kitchen on the other end. The hearth is lit with firewood and while the food was being cooked, the members of the family, who are gathered around a fire, engage in chit chat and sometimes the elders would enthrall the rest of the family with wonderful stories and legendary folklore. Thus came the coinage ‘Phunga Waari‘ which literally translates as ‘Fireplace stories‘. This was a very simple and yet profoundly significant activity of everyday family life. Needless to say it forged the family bonds stronger and played an important role in the inculcation of family values, traditional norms and social mores that constituted the fabric of the Meitei society which was highly cultured as compared to the present. Today, the families are fractured, the kitchen has gone modular, the fireplace has disappeared for good and so has the ‘Phunga Waari’. Perhaps this could be one of the attributing factors to the disintegrating social fabric of the ‘Meitei society’ and the disappearing values and practices that was once the epitome of the ‘Manipuri civilisation’. It is good old times gone for good.
NB: The painting is a depiction of the ‘Phunga Waari’ in a typical Meitei kitchen that once existed but is now almost non existent. The items like ‘Phou Shumban’ (for pounding rice) seen behind the old man and ‘Hidak pu’ (smoking pipe) can no more be seen in present times. The attires depicted in the pictures are also clothes that are worn in a typical Meitei household.