It was an unplanned trip that day which took us to Wangoo. I had been told about this little village and its presiding deity, Tampha Lairembi, in connection to a study. And it was this connection that took me to the little village. Wangoo is about 63 kilometers by road from Imphal and roughly 19 kms. from Moirang. by Imphal standards, it is ‘very far’. The drive towards Moirang was, as always, a pleasant drive on the state highway with eucalyptus trees lined along the roads which cuts through paddy fields that lay fallow after the season’s harvest. The trees and smooth roads are however sporadic very soon.
It was the end of December when we made the trip. All around, the paddy had been harvested and the fields now lay fallow until the toil of the next agricultural season. The long stretches of paddy fields were dull with the dried stalks of the paddy plants. The empty fields were not lifeless though. As we drove along the long route, it just felt nice to watch from my window as life went by in this place that I feel more and more disconnected with.
Some patches of the fields were green with vegetables that some more industrious owner had planted. Most fields were laid bare. In some of these bare stretches, children could be seen playing. Away from the proximity of home, we passed by a haircutting session in progress. A little distance away, there was a group of men gathered next to a big pile of straw. They had their heads covered to block the sun. They were playing cards and possibly engaged in leipung phamba. There were ponds adjacent to some of these fields where women were washing clothes or drawing water. Clothes could be seen laid nearby or hanging around. A little further down, we caught sight of two women fishing in the small waterway running between the fields. Some children could be seen in these dry fields with a bamboo basket. They were foraging. They were gathering wild vegetables from the paddy fields: peruk (brahmi, Indian pennywort), koukha (arrowhead), kakthum (chinese water chestnut, this is a different one from the shinghara which in Manipur grows in the Loktak Lake), kengoi (loosestrife), etc. These are popular winter vegetables.
We waited in line to cross a small bridge on a rather dusty state highway that no doubt in official papers has been made into a proper pukka road. The leaves around that waiting point were no longer green. It was all reddish brown with mud and dust from the roads. As I looked around, there was a man who was harvesting kouna (reeds) in the swampy streams adjoining the road. These reeds would be dried and woven into mats, baskets and other items. These days reed purses seem to be quite popular as fashion.
As we neared Wangoo, we saw the old Ine who frequented my cousin’s place. She was on her way home after visiting her children who were working on the sugarcane fields at the hillocks. She joined us. We arrived at the shrine of Tampha Lairembi of Wangoo. The shrine is located near a hillock adjacent to the main road. This was the shrine where the Lai Haraoba was observed.
I looked around expecting to find the stone structures that I had heard over the years. All I found was a shrine and its compound that had been built to accommodate a gathering of people. on further query, I was told that this was the main shrine where the goddess was worshipped and the stone structures that I was looking forward to were located a little distance away. It required walking through the fields and a little distance up the hills. winter time is ideal for the climb otherwise the path tends to get very bushy. To be sure, the stone structures of those damned by the goddess were not in Wangoo but in its neighbouring village. as the story goes, they were part of the groom’s party headed for the pre-wedding ritual of heijingpot. The party came without the two fruits that she had specifically asked for. As a result, they were turned into stone for failing to honour her wishes.
The doors of the shrine was closed and there was no one else around except for the handful of children playing around. The children waited around as we offered incense sticks, candles, and fruits. The moment we stepped away from the shrine, they jumped in excitedly competing to get hold of the offerings. I was a little disappointed to come all the way to a closed shrine with nothing else. Seeing my disappointment, the old Ine took us to another nearby location where the core shrine of Tampha Lairembi stood. It was a rather small shrine located on a hillock. Next to it was a very small but cute stone shrine. the two structures stood on the same compound with rusty red marigolds all around.
Leading off from this compound and adjacent to it, was another small memorial dedicated to Wangoo Baji. Adjacent to the shrine was a rather old leihao (joy perfume, plumeria ) tree. The site is also known as Leihao Makhong. The old Ine had heard the story of Wangoo Baji as a child. He was a maichou, a learned man well versed in the Meitei traditional knowledge. It is said that he disappeared into thin air one fine day. Before his disappearance, he had said to the people around that he would come back and when he did come back, the dried up leihao tree standing there would spring back to life. when the tree started budding again after many many years later, it was widely believed that he had come back to life, possibly re-born.
There is no suggestion or claim to validate the belief, except for the fact that the tree that had stood dried to its roots today stands lush with green leaves.
I am not certain about his real name and it was not mentioned either but he is widely known as Wangoo Baji. Baji is a term of reference for a respected senior. He is said to be a name to be reckoned with in the resistance against the destruction of the Meitei scriptures when the Meiteis were inducted into Hinduism. The memorial in his name holds special reverence for the followers of Sanamahism.
To reach Wangoo and not make it to those stones was disappointing. But then, is it not those little unfulfilled thirst that makes you look forward to the next step, the next turn in the chapter of life.