Posting after a really long time, my thoughts are on new beginnings with the new year….more of a hope that actually feeling so, but then what is life without a little hope and a little dream?
Wishing everyone a happy new beginning and a Happy Cheiraoba!
And to those who have already observed it on the first of Sajibu, a belated Happy Cheiraoba!
As mentioned an an earlier post, this is a Meitei festival that marks the ending of one year and the beginning of a new one. Simple? Not quite!! Why then would there be two dates within the same year celebrating the beginning of the same year? This post is my ramblings on precisely that thought.
There are two dates on which the Meiteis commemorate the beginning of the new year within one given year – and this is not including the 1st of January. Both of these dates are marked as the day of ‘Cheiraoba‘ in the English-Manipuri calendars that every household refers to. One is marked as Sajibu Cheiraoba while the other is Cheiraoba Charak Puja. The people celebrating it are oblivious to what Charak Puja is for what matters is the distinction between the two ‘cheiraoba‘ events. Colloquially, this distinction is as simple as a reference to the former and the latter in order of precedence. Underlying this rather simple distinction is the understanding that the former is the ‘Meetei‘ Cheiraoba and the latter is the event of the Meitei Hindus.
By all accords, a household observes it on either of the two dates because a Cheiraoba is an annual ritual. In the present times, it is the former date that has become increasingly more popular. This is the first day of the month of Sajibu, the first month of the new year in the Meitei calendar. It seems perfectly logical to observe the rituals and feasting marking this shift.
Until a couple of decades back, the Sajibu Cheiraoba was celebrated by a small fraction of the Meitei population and to a large extent remained associated to the ‘Meetei Marup’, the group of people who stood against the Hindu evangelization and despite state opposition rejected Hinduism. They remained peripheral for a number of reasons just as the festival earmarking the beginning of the new year in the Meitei traditional almanac remained side-lined while the Hindu calendar remained popular.
Today, the tide seems to have turned and the Sajibu Cheiraoba has become more popular with a majority of people opting to commemorate the day marked in accordance with the Meitei calendar. For the people celebrating it on the later date also, the event is Cheiraoba and propitiate the same deities. However, for those penning the calendar, it is charak puja. The question remains as to what is the charak puja and why is it adjudicated as the day of Cheiraoba?
From a cursory search on the internet, Charak Puja is a Hindu folk festival celebrated in southern Bangladesh and West Bengal on the last day of the month of Chaitra as per the Bengali Calendar. The festival is also known as Nil Puja and is held in honour of Shiva. The belief is that it would usher in prosperity and eliminate the sufferings of the previous year. Perhaps, it is this link that may put into perspective certain observances that went along with the pre-Cheiraoba customs that I remember from my childhood days.
Children used to venture out on door-to-door visits in the neighbourhood collecting rice grains and vegetables with the words:
‘Cheng leiraga cheng piyu, hawaimubi leiraga hawaimubi piyu’
They usually came in a small group with a basket strung on a stick carried by two of them. Then they would sing the rhyme and whoever happened to be at home would give them a handful of rice and some seasonal vegetables. People would peep into their kitchen gardens and pluck some of the beans or peas. I often wondered what they did with it. According to my father, in earlier days the children would take it to the neighbourhood Brahmin temple and probably did some offering there. That was the custom he had known during his times and it was apparently more hearty. During our times, it was highly doubtful if they went back home or to the neighbourhood Brahmin temple. It seemed to be petering out and with every passing year, it became less observable until I stopped seeing the practice altogether.
Now that I think of it, it possibly has more to do in keeping with the practice of Hinduism in Manipur rather than Cheiraoba of the Meitei calendrical year. While it may be early to talk about it in terms of regional Hinduism, the dates marking two Cheiraoba speaks of two different almanac.