Civil organisations’ efforts to wean the youth from senseless celebration pay off

The origin of Vaishnavism in Manipur can be traced back to the fifteenth century and it gained popularity thanks to successive kings who became devout Vaishnavas.

One of the first Hindu festivals the Manipuris started celebrating was Holi, the festival of colours, locally known as Yaosang.

But Manipuris’ celebration had a dark side to it.

Instead of one day, the festival was celebrated for five days and nights. And the folk dance, Thable chongba, was held for several months every night impervious to the disturbance caused to students preparing for school, college and competitive examinations. Young children were encouraged to steal bamboo, vegetables and other materials needed during the festivities. Girls in small groups stationed themselves at a distance of 15 or 20 metres along the roads and stopped pedestrians and motorists seeking money, ostensibly for organising the folk dance and community lunch.

About three decades ago, some groups concerned at the senseless five-day jamboree and splurge started organising sports festivals. Slowly, they were able to wean the youth in the urban areas from the centuries old carnival.

However, youth and even the elderly in the rural areas still observe the festival with wild enthusiasm, making it impossible for anyone to pass through these areas. Most vehicles are off the roads during the festival. In short, life comes to a standstill for five days.

Some days ago, there was a meeting of leaders of prominent civil organisations that hold sports events during Yaosang. It was decided that the festival will be limited to two days from next year. The All-Manipur Working Journalists’ Union is also considering a review of the five-day holiday for local newspapers.

Organisers of sports festivals told The-Hindu that since Manipur has carved a niche for itself in sports at the national and international levels, attempts would be made to scout for young talents. Also, literary, cultural and other entertainments would be included in the festival from the next year.

In the past, a thatched shack was ceremonially torched everywhere to herald the beginning of the festival. However, these days it is almost impossible to procure straw from the mountains, thanks to the unbridled bush fires ignited by tribals for hunting and shifting cultivation.

Civil organisations are also ensuring that there is no folk dance after the five day festivities.