The states in north east India are inhabited by various tribes and each tribe has unique culture, religious norms and ways of life. The Tangkhul Nagas are among the most fascinating tribes living in Manipur and some parts of Nagaland. They are known for their attachment to festivities, music and dance. The tribe also adheres to its age old customs and religious beliefs despite conversion to Christianity. Luira phanit is a major annual festival of Tangkhul Nagas and it is based on agricultural theme.
Nuances of Luira phanit
Luira Phanit is a significant festival for the Tangkhul Nagas and the tribe living in villages in Manipur’s Ukhrul district and adjacent areas celebrate it with gusto. In fact, the Nagas staying away from their homeland also celebrate it. This seed sowing festival is associated with beliefs of good harvest. It usually takes place in February but in some years, the dates may fall in March too. Earlier, it was a 12 day long and elaborate festival but in recent years, it is celebrated for reduced duration- in most cases less than a week. It marks onset of New Year for the tribe.
Related: Baruni Festival of Manipur
The stages of Luira phanit
Every family in the villages inhabited by the Tangkhul Nagas takes part in this seed sowing festival. Before the festival commences, housewife in each house makes delicacies like sticky rice and rice beer. The village wells are thoroughly cleaned.
On the first day of Luira Phanit, animals like cattle and pigs are slaughtered for making delicacies. These animals are reared domestically by this tribe. A lot of pork meat dishes are prepared. The villagers prepare pork in a special large sized earthen utensil called hamlei. Apart from killing animals for making meals another ritual is performed on the first day. A live chicken is let loose at village outskirts and this is related with the concept of warding off evil spirit.
Related: Cheiraoba Festival Of Manipur
On the 2nd day, which is called ‘vamkashok’- the largest pork meat piece is cooked. It is cooked in Lungpi pot with red chili. The meat, after it is cooked, is served with rice beer. Friends and guests are invited for the feast. The meat is eaten outside the house, as per the norms.
From the third day, travelers and traders do not get entry in the village so that evil spirit does not come with them. This norm is called ‘ khasit’. This is done by lighting bonfire around gardens.
Related: Festivals of Manipur
On the festival’s 4th day, the head of the village goes to a paddy field belonging to him with his wife. They sacrifice a chicken and perform the ceremony for first seed sowing. The blood of slaughtered chicken is sprinkled over the paddy and it is sown in the land. The chicken feather is placed on the spot as well. This commencement of seed sowing is called ‘Awungshikharuk’. Then each household of that village performs chicken sacrifice for pleasing the goddess of wealth and get bumper harvest in return. This is followed by a grand feast where all villagers take part. However, it is customary for the village head to perform this sacred ritual before anyone else.
One important part of Luira Phanit is Laakhanganui or Virgin beauty contest. This is one dancer form in which only virgin women can take part. The women who take part put on their traditional attire and ornaments. The dance movement is both graceful and enchanting.
Related: Raas Leela Festival of Manipur
The changes brought by time
While the core spirit of Luira Phanith has remained the same among the Tangkhul Nagas, a few changes have seeped in the celebration over the years. This has been caused by exposure to Christianity and increased influx of urban culture in the North Eastern states. So, various cultural functions are held on these days and sports like volleyball tournaments are arranged. Of course, a lot of traditional and regional games and contests take place, including the likes of tug of war.