Resonance Music

Pena, the sound of Manipur

A boy playing Pena, a traditional instrument of Manipur  

On a visit to Imphal, we were awestruck by the city’s beauty.

Our sightseeing tour took us to Kangla Fort (also known as the Palace of Kangla), situated on the banks of the Imphal River, and the Temple of Shree Govindajee, dedicated to Krishna and Radha. There, we heard the reverberating sound of the Pena.

It is an important traditional instrument, is synonymous with Manipur. It is also the oldest musical instrument of the Meitei group of people. It is played in folk music, solo, in a group, or as the accompanying instrument for the Manipuri dance and at the Lai Haraoba festivals.

The instrument is also known as Bana or Bena or, as the Nagas call it, Tingtelia. It is also played in some parts of Bangladesh and is a part of folk theatre.

Pena belongs to the category of chorodophones and is a bowed mono-string instrument. The main body is called ‘Penamasa’ in Manipur and is made out of bamboo and the bow is called ‘Pena Cheijing.’ It is attached to a coconut shell, which is the resonator, and is cut in half. Four holes are drilled on the shell for acoustic purposes, where one is covered by dried animal skin and the other is left open.

There is a fingerboard made of wood. To control the tension of the string, there is a bamboo peg fixed inside a hole. The hole is pierced on the bamboo rod. A scroll is also attached to the tail of the instrument. The bow is made of wood. It is curved at one end, which is made of metal. Tiny metal bells are attached to this curve at the back of the bow that jingles while playing, thus providing the rhythm. The bow hair is traditionally made from the horse’s tail but sometimes metal strings or those made out of wood fibre are also used.

The performer can play the instrument sitting, standing or while dancing. The coconut shell part is placed near the neck or the chest of the performer, who holds it like a violin. The Pena, which used to be played for royalty once, is now connected with the Lai Haraoba festivals, which comprise rituals, apart from song and dance.

It is learnt that the credit for preserving the oral tradition of Lai Haraoba goes to the priest referred to as the Amaiba, the priestess, Amaibi, and the Pena player/singer called the Penakhongba/Pena Asheiba. Lai Haraoba, which is celebrated to please the ancestral deities, tells the story of creation.

While invoking the spirits of the ancestors, the Amaibi usually dances and the performance takes place near rivers or ponds or on the way to the shrine. It is accompanied by the Pena and sometimes the percussion instrument, Dholok. Amaibi sings songs, accompanied by the Pena, in praise of gods, Nature and Mother Earth.

Regional variations

Nganbi Chanu in his article ‘Ritual Festival for Appeasing Ancestral Gods: A Study of Kanglei Lai-Haraoba Festival of Manipur’, says that “Inspite of the philosophical essence and main rituals of the Lai-Haraoba being the same, there are some regional variations in the performances, say in dances, songs, hymns, rituals, sequences etc... There is, however, only four types of Lai-Haraoba recognised by Pundit Loishang of Manipur. These are Kanglei Haraoba, Moirang Haraoba, Chakpa Haraoba and Kakching Haraoba.”

There are daily rituals during the festival. The morning ritual starts with a song to wake up the deities, where the Penakhongba plays the Pena as well as sings. Women devotees dance at the shrine of the Lai-Harouba during the Laipou Jagoi ritual, where the procession is led by the dancing Amaibis and the Pena players.

Ritual dances about the legendary hero Khamba and heroine Thoibee from their epic stories are frequently performed in Manipur. In this connection, the Khamba dance is performed at the Lai-Haraoba and the Pena player sings about the great deeds of the hero. It is heard that the Pena players were supposed to learn the ancient songs and perform them at the palace during this ritual. It was once performed on various occasions from birth to religious functions but now it is restricted to religious rituals. Today there are not many who play the Pena, which needs support to be preserved for posterity.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 7:11:22 PM |

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