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Lai Haraoba

Lai Haraoba is a Manipuri festival, and is associated with Meiteis, celebrated to please traditional deities. It is celebrated in honour of the sylvan deities known as Umang Lai. The festival represents the worship of traditional deities and ancestors. The festival is in part a recollection of the creation stories played the deities with the first origin of this universe and evolution of the plants and animals through the will of Atiya Shidaba. Translated, Lai Haraoba means "merry making of the Gods."

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.

In Manipur and with some Meitei people, 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. 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, 364 deities with their consorts are the most important deities worshiped by the Meiteis.

Sannamahi and Leimarel are worshiped in every house of the Meiteis. The other gods and the 364 deities are worshipped in the "Umang lai Laisangs" (temple of gods in the reserved woods with spacious grounds) in the villages. The Umang Lai Haraoba (merry festival of the jungle Gods) is the most important ceremony in which the deities are worshiped 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.

The rituals within the festival are the same except in some items or hymns, such as ikouba, ikourol, and yakairol at the beginning and mikon thagonba, ngaprum tanba 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.

The festival
There are six major types of Lai Haraoba. The differences in the six festivals are very wide and broad; however, the overall theme is the same. The differences 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 different types are:
Kanglei (Imphal) Haraoba
Chakpa Haraoba
Andro Haraoba
Sekmai Haraoba
Moirang Haraoba
Kakching Haraoba

First, the lai bung 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, the plucking of flowers representing 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 lei roihanjaba (the one in charge of lei langba) with his attendant.

The participants, the maiba and 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 strictly follow the disciples of keeping celibacy during the festival.

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 and 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.

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" 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 (hand gestures) 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.

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.

(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

On the next day of lairoi, Mukna (Meitei wrestling), kangjei (meitei hockey/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 lives of the Meitei 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.

Lai Haraoba Ishei
Lai Haraoba Ishei is a famous folk song played mainly during Lai Haraoba. This song contains lyrics with veiled references to erotic mysticism. The main quality of the song is the rhythm in its tune.

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