Lamta: As the chilli winds of winter recedes giving way to a lively spring of a riot of colors, life begins a new seasonal cycle of hope. Spritely spring follows dreary winter, life begins with death, hope sprouts in despair, light shines through darkness: all are but part of life. So then, why do we fear the darker side of life?
Today is the first Saturday of the Meitei month of Lamta. Lamta-gi Thangja, as it is known, is the day when the spirits are fed. This feeding carries on every Saturday of this month. In the morning, every household contributes items from their kitchens (a handful of rice grains, an assortment of vegetable, a little dried fish, chillies, salt and a coin) and gathers them at the house of an older woman in the neighbourhood. The articles are them compiled and a group usually consisting of older women would take it out to the crossroads where the spirits are ritually fed off. As they go back, they would gather a small portion of the remnants which would be distributed once again to each households. In the evening, the small quantity of remnants that each household receives would be dispersed in different directions of the compound of the household, often with the whispers ‘nachinjak charo charo‘ (eat your feed, eat).
In my growing up days, we used to relate to this day with trepidation. We would be warned on our way to the bus stop to avoid confrontation with the line of women on their way to crossroads to perform the rituals. we were advised that if we do come across such processions, we would drop a blade of grass or a nearby pebble in their direction as marking our contribution to it. the threshold was something to be careful for it was believed that it was not good to fall on the threshold on that day. There was an element of mystery and fear of the unknown elements that shroud our own human existence. As if to add the final touch, the AIR Imphal radio station would unfailing air the play ‘Henjunaha’ prior to its evening news every time.
Henjunaha-Lairoulembi is one of the seven pairs of the star-crossed lovers of the Moirang Kangleirol lore. Henjunaha meets a tragic end as he fights a lone battle against several saroi-ngaroi (spirits) in the wee hours of the night. His haven would be a house. Were he to cross the threshold of the house, he would reach the safe haven where the his pursuers would not be able to harm him, but if he was not able to make it, he would be left to their mercy. He manages to reach Lairoulembi’s house but before he could reach the safety of this house, the spirits catches up with him in the nick of time. Right at the threshold (juri-tapham), they pin him down and kill him. The fateful event takes place on a Saturday of the month of Lamta.
Every saturday in the month of Lamta, the saroi-ngaroi , laimu-tinmu (spirits) are appeased by the offer of food in the hope that the coming year would flourish without inviting trouble from them. Unlike the high gods, these lesser spirits are believed to be embroiled in the everyday lives of the people. They can play havoc and their interference can be detrimental to humans, hence they need to be pacified. But in a disturbed Manipur which has been caught in a vicious circle of armed struggle, resistance, counter-resistance, rising crime, bribery and corruption, social and moral decadence, one wonders if the saroi-ngaroi, laimu-tinmu has become larger than life imageries that refuse to be appeased by pittance of offerings. Demanding ever more blood, ever more lives, Henjunaha continues to die.