Unearth jewels from a treasury

A geographic marvel, empowered women and an exquisite theatre tradition... From Manipur’s many little-known stories, Shailaja Tripathi brings you a few

January 02, 2019 04:17 pm | Updated 04:17 pm IST

Walk on the waters

Nature can be baffling, and how! In Loktak lake, you can stand on a piece of land that floats on water. Go boating in the largest freshwater lake in the Northeast and you will come across several floating swamps which are heterogeneous masses of vegetation, soil and organic matter. In the south-western part of the lake is located Keibul Lamjao National Park, probably the world’s largest floating park, which was declared a national park in 1977. If you are lucky you might get a glimpse of the reclusive Sangai here, the endangered brow-antlered deer, also the State animal of Manipur. The Sangai is also called the dancing deer because when it moves on the floating park, it appears to dance on the waters. The construction of the Ithai Barrage for the Loktak Hydro Electric Project, has altered the ecology of the lake. Designated as the Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, the lake is home to diverse flora and fauna, such as several species of aquatic plants, birds, and animals, including the Indian python. The lake is a lifeline for Manipur, especially for its fishermen.

Where women rule

“Ima, Ima, Ima!” You can’t imagine the number of times you will utter this word in Ima Keithel, but you will never get tired of it. Every time I said it, I felt elated. The charged atmosphere of Ima Keithel, (located in Khwairamband Bazaar), an iconic market housing 4,000 women shopkeepers, infuses you with energy. Ima means mother and keithel means market. To see such a large number of women doing business under one roof is a rare sight in our country, but in Imphal it has been the norm, reportedly since the 16th Century. During Nupi Lan, women’s war in 1939, women traders of this market organised agitations against the local ruler and the Britishers, challenging their oppressive economic and political policies. I had first heard of the word ‘Ima’ in 2004 after 12 ‘Imas’ stripped to protest the rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama. These powerful businesswomen dressed in their traditional attire — phanik (sarong) and inniphis (worn over the blouse) — trade in all commodities from vegetables, meats and household utensils, to jewellery, bags, clothes and more.

Theatre for all

When it comes to art and culture, Manipur has so much to showcase such as the raas leela , kartal cholom , pung cholom , jagoi , khamba thoibi and lai haraoba . But there is one more which is loved and appreciated by everyone across Manipur — the shumang leela . College student Konsam Henry says if he were to choose between a popular Manipuri film and a shumang leela show, he would choose the latter. A form of folk theatre, shumang leela is performed to live music by either an all-male cast (who play women’s roles too) or an all-women cast called nupi shumang leela, and occasionally transgenders too. With minimalistic sets, the actors are surrounded by audience from all sides. Traditionally, the play was performed in courtyards. If you want to know why Manipuris find shumang leela so accessible and relatable, check the local cultural calendar after you reach the ‘Switzerland of India’. The hub of shumang leela — Iboyaima Shumang Leela Sanglen — might be hosting a Shumang Leela Festival or a performance, you wouldn’t want to miss.

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