- Jagabondhu kang tongba nungaibra?
– Nungaite kok tum ingao-ngaowi
[Jagabondhu, is it nice to ride the cart? – No, it isn’t, it makes me feel dizzy]
The Hindu festival of Rathyatra, also known as the cart festival, is known as ‘kang’ in Manipur. It lasts for ten days. In the beginning and the end of these days, the image of Jaganath is taken out in a cart in the nearby area. I had heard the above lines as a pun, and intended as such.
Lord Jaganath of Puri reached the valley of Manipur via Bengal. Enroute, he acquired the name Jagabondhu. Here among the populace of small-eyed people, his USP was his huge eyes (mamit ne haidana jagabondhu muk laoradana – with eyes as big as jagabondhu’s). His other name is Shri Shri Govindaji.
Come June, and Jagabondhu is taken out for his annual stroll outside of the temple premise where he is locked up. He is accompanied by his sister Subhadra and brother Balaram at the main temple of Shri Shri Govindaji where he rides a big cart. The cart is big but his stroll is short, barely a kilometer long. The trio is greeted with offerings of seasonal fruits and flowers by their devotees.
In the hinterlands of the residential areas, he rides alone in a much smaller cart. The rickety little cart rolls along the streets and avenues stopping by every few steps to bestow ‘darshan’ to his devotees. The carts or ‘kang’ is accompanied by a group of devotional Sankirtan performers and other attendees.
The season of kang is a time to freak out. It is a time to watch out for the proceedings in every neighbourhood. The first and the last day, people, young and old, go out to watch what is happening all around. On the days in between, it is the Brahmin temple in the vicinity which is the most happening place.
As a child, kang was always associated with water-balloons, fruit salads and lotus seeds. my father would buy me and my cousins big big balloons. My favourtie was the water balloons. It used to be the size of a cricket ball and would be tied with a long string. My father taught me how to play bounce with the ball by holding the string on one end. I enjoyed it a lot. Every kang, I used to make sure to get a water balloon. Somehow the balloon vendor never seemed to carry it on any other occasions.
As we grew up, me and my siblings would help my parents in doing other chores around the festival. One of the first tasks was to make garlands. These garlands were not confined to floral ones. It would be made of various components. Some of the specialities that most families would make were garlands of peas. Dried peas would be soaked and pierced through to make the garlands. Sometimes, they are interspersed with leaves or sweet smelling flowers. Another seasonal favourite was the garland of lotus seeds. Besides these home-made garlands, the trademark garland was the string of paddy grains.
The season of kang, for me, is associated with five things –a. the fragrant flower of the season, lotus and lilies; b. the fruit of the season – the golden pineapple; c. the flavour of the season – the khechri; d. the rhythm of the season, the joideb (or, Jaydev) and e. kang (mosquitos).
Manipuri or Meiteilon is a fun language to play around with. With just a twist of emphasis or a change of tone, one can reach a pretty different meaning. So ‘kang’ can be pronounced in two ways to mean either the cart festvial (or the cart) or it can mean mosquitos.
Either ways, June is a season of kang – in both senses.