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A Side Glance at the Lai Haraoba

What is the best thing about Lai Haraoba? Perhaps its music. Yet there are so many other things that characterise this festival, which is flooded with traditional and cultural charms.

Around a rivulet in the quiet hilly area, there is always an inimitable natural music out of the flowing water, soft breeze, rustling leaves and the chirping birds. It is a unique melody that no state-of-the-art recording studio can recreate. Well, the fact is that there might be a difference in the degree of their distinctive sounds, yet the Lai Haraoba music possesses some qualities, unique and inimitable like those tunes out of the brooks.

Essentially its sound is monochromatic, comprising the euphony from a very few instruments like a dhon (drum), pena (a one-string instrument) and a basi (flute). In its raw sophistication lies the magic of Lai Haraoba music. It brims with folksy tunes; has a melodious repetition that sometimes produces a psychedelic effect, especially when the small instrumental ensemble is combined with the chants; and is of different kinds, depending on the kind of ritual or dance.

Along with the lyrics on the creation of universe, there are also songs in Lai Haraoba, which are overtly raunchy and titillating. This kind of songs reminds us the reality of our supposedly conservative society, but there lies a strong undercurrent of debauchery. In our present generation, the conservatives are disquieted by the moral decadence that we have plunged into.

Redefining aesthetics These two graceful dancers have toured across the globe, creating and exhibiting their finest expression on the stage. On the final day of this year’s Lai Haraoba at our locality as a special show, they took the stage, while mesmerising the crowd with their consummate and delicate footsteps plus inimitable hand movements.
Another thing appealed to me for the first time during my early teenage days, though on a level far from the standards of a usual Lai Haraoba. On other occasions, on any other day throughout the year, it was next to impossible to go outside the house after sunset. Yes, understandably. However, the five to seven days of Lai Haraoba celebration were an exception, as the festivities would continue all over the night.

The perfect excuse, which we had found during these days for staying out late was one of its kind — we had never came across such freedom in our little lives that we had lived in a little way. We would wander, not searching for gods and goddesses with the newfound liberty — but in those days of great curiosity and great experimental minds, we did the things that came quite natural. In short, we misused it. I learnt smoking and drinking during those nights of freedom.

"Dancing is the poetry of the foot." - John Dryden
Some years before the great encounter with the great freedom, we saw that it was not mandatory but some kind of a must-do activity for the kids to take part in the dance programmes. It was unaffectedly fun. Our parents would hire a local teacher and there are so many choices when it comes to dance, right from the Mao-Maram Jagoi to Khamba-Thoibi Jagoi. We danced like no one was watching.

Another remarkable feature of this festival is the collective participation. We live according to community ethos and it is ostensible during the festival. Our neighbourhood smells of strong festive flavours during the Lai Haraoba. Before daybreak, the Pena Yakairol, with its heavy ritualistic and folksy tune, wakes the people out of their slumber. During the day, there are only very few rites and rituals performed at the venue. At sundown, the world culminates at the centre of the Laibung — the Manipuri term for a pulpit — where the main programmes are held; while the folks from a newborn to the oldest person sit and stand around it, watching the events with awe and delectation. Needless to say, naysayers would contend that it is not the merrymaking of the gods and goddesses but is of the mortal sinners.

In these days of socio-political mess, it is notable that the Lai Haraoba stands out, unblemished of our follies. The Manipuri Weltanschauung is safely defended and imprinted on it, no matter how much we have polluted our own identity through proselytisation and other fallacious historical narratives that have pushed us into this dingy corner of the civilisation. As a matter of fact, we are drowned in a deep identity crisis but we have found some solace in the Lai Haraoba.

On the last day of the festival, we have the Lairoi. We realised only during our college days why our parents had earlier forbidden us from watching the last-day programme, even if we were let free all the previous nights. The maiba and maibis, the priests and priestesses, would indulge themselves in obscene dances and songs as a part of the rituals, though it does not necessarily border the promiscuity that we find in our daily mundane life. This year’s festival concluded last week. I saw that the maiba, after taunting the maibis, offered his symbolic faeces to a couple who have failed to conceive. It is believed the lady will now become pregnant in the coming few months.


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This article is also featured on my blog on IBN Live's microsite. Read The Defying Moments
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