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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Ritual, Politics and Power in North East India: Contextualising the Lai Haraoba of Manipur

Title: Ritual, Politics and Power in North East India: Contextualising the Lai Haraoba of Manipur
Author: Otojit Kshetrimayum
ISBN: 978-93-82395-50-8
First Edition: 2014
Binding: Hard Cover
Language: English

About the Author:
Otojit Kshetrimayum is a sociologist with interests in cultural and industrial sociology. He had his education from University of Delhi; Jamia Millia Islamia; and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Currently, he is faculty and Coordinator of Centre for North East at V.V. Giri National Labour Institute under Ministry of Labour & Employment, Government of India. He is the Course Director of the International Training programme on Managing Development and Social Security Measures under ITEC/SCAAP Programme of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

Recipient of  ICSSR Doctoral Fellowship, he had taught in the Department of Social Systems and Anthropology, Sikkim Central University and was the founding Coordinator of the Department introducing MA, MPhil/PhD in Sociology. He had also worked in Women’s Studies and Development Centre, University of Delhi as Senior Fellow.

He is the Assocate Editor of Labour and Development journal. He has edited a special issue on Labour, Employment and Social Protection in North East India. Some of his published research papers include Sociology of Labour and Social Stratification in North East India: Contexualising Handloom Weaving as an occupational Craft in Manipur; CSR Provisions in Indian Companies Act, 2013: An Overview; Cloth, Women and Social Change: Situating Handloom Weaving in Manipur; Rethinking Cooperatives in Rural Development: A Case Study of Handloom Weavers’ Cooperatives in Manipur; Women and Shamanism in Manipur and Korea: A Comparative Study; Mapping Cultural Diffusion: A Case Study of ‘Korean Wave’ (Hallyu) in North East India; ICT Integration in School Education: A Sociological Proposition.

He was selected for the ‘Next Generation Leaders Program’ by Korea Foundation and visited Seoul, South Korea. He is the President of Researchers’ Association for the Study of Korea. 

About the Book:
The world we live today is the age of urbanization, modernization, secularization and globalization. There has been a process of rationalization in every sphere of life. It seems that that there is no place for irrationality in such a social system. It has been assumed that ritual action has declined in importance in urban conditions. Nevertheless, today, ritual is of greater importance than is often realized. There is a need to introspect this perplexing and paradoxical aspect.

The patterns of religious behaviour, like other patterns of social behaviour, are of great interest to sociologists, since they underscore the relationship between religion and society. Religious ritual is one of the dimensions of religious behaviour. The beliefs and ideals of different civilizations are often formulated in their rituals more explicitly than in any other cultural trait, which gives the study of ritualism a greater sociological significance. What is more significant here is to take into account the dynamics surrounding the ritual not only in terms of its ritualistic or mythological connotation but also in terms of other variables such as modernization, globalization, migration, national and regional politics etc., which constitute important variables influencing its dynamics. Notably, there has been a great resurgence of Lai Haraoba ritual in Manipur during the last few decades. It is in this context that the present study tries to examine the dynamics of Lai Haraoba. The main argument put forward in this study is that the rise in the number of religious ritual of Lai Haraoba is associated with the changing socio–political dynamics of the present Manipur where three predominant ethnic communities constituting the Meities, Nagas and Kukis are settled. The increase in tendency for the establishment of the separate territory and administration of different tribes such as Nagas, Kukis etc. has a threat to the existing polity and territory of the state. This can be observed from two changing trends of religion and ritual. Firstly, the increase trend of Lai Haraoba in the state in general and urban area in particular shows the consciousness of the pre–Hindu identity at present. And secondly, the ritualization of the tribal identity in the Lai Haraoba shows the basic urge of the Meiteis to reassert the integral Manipuri identity of the pre–Hindu period. Apart from this, at micro level also there exists certain social and political dynamics, which are associated with Umanglai/ Lai Haraoba.

Lai Haraoba is a ritualistic festival of the Meiteis observing from the ancient times. It is a ritual enactment of the creation myth. It mirrors the entire culture of Manipur and depicts the close affinities between the hill and plain people. It is in fact the combination of religious recitations, traditional music and dance, traditional social values and ancient cultural aspects. It retains the original characteristics of the traditional Meitei religion. Celebrated in honour of the sylvan deities known as Umanglai, the festival represents the worship of traditional deities and ancestors. It literally means, “the pleasing of the god” (Shakespeare) or “the merrymaking of the gods and goddesses” (Nilakanta) or “the god’s rejoice” (Achoubisana). Lai Haraoba, which is about the happiness of the gods after they created the world of human beings, is celebrated in every leikai (locality), and every khul’s (village) laipham (abode of gods) but not everywhere at the same time. It is a community worship wherein the site of worship is situated outside the home, in the domain of the public. Each festival is dedicated to a male and a female deity as a couple who are addressed as ‘Lainingthou’ and ‘Lairembi/Lairemma’ respectively. The theme of the festival is that of celebration of life, its origin, fulfillment of the purpose of living and the continued existence through procreation.

The Lai Haraoba festival is celebrated every year, sometime in April or May in different areas of the state. The celebrations are spread over a long period that could last from a few days to a month. It is a series of rituals. Each ritual is a combination of hymn, dance and music. The ritualistic performance is through the medium of dance. This festival is perhaps the most authentically Meitei of all the traditional festivals. It is also the one which most closely preserves the ancient Manipuri culture and philosophy, and the importance of which is increasing today.

It is in this setting that the present study tries to explore the trends in Lai Haraoba from the early days to the present. The study also takes into account the role of state, bureaucracy, middle class, religious boards and councils, Lai Haraoba Committees and civil society in the affairs of the Lai Haraoba. It mainly tries to locate the relation between the ritual of Lai Haraoba and the political identity of the state. 

The primary sources of information for this study are royal chronicle (Cheitharol Kumbaba), indigenous archaic literature and ancient traditional myths. There are also other secondary sources like the accounts of the British Ethnographers cum Political Agents, and other modern writings and records. Most of the previous scholars confined their works mainly on the ritualistic part of Lai Haraoba. They haven’t discussed much on its other aspects like its implications on the social, political, economic and cultural structure of the Manipuri society.  This is only an attempt to explore the dynamics of Lai Haraoba in the contemporary Manipuri society. 

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