Nongma Panba Sajibu Cheiraoba is gaining popularity among the new Meitei generations. Some decades ago, only few families celebrate Cheiraoba on Nongma Panba (as new lunar year). No one could imagine such a huge surge in the celebration of Nongma panba Cheiraoba.
Our state is often known as ‘land split into two’. We always have different issues concerning the Meitei society where opinions or perspectives invariably differs. That is why we have Meetei and Meitei. Both are correct, yet none of them is accepted or ignored fully.
Our Cheiraoba festival is also celebrated in two different days. On the first day of the month of Sajibu (April), known as Sajibu Nongma Panba Cheiraoba and the other on the day of Bengali’s Charak Puja following the Hindu calendar (probably on April 13/14).
Two decades ago, Nongma Panba Sajibu Cheiraoba was a relatively quiet affair while it was the second Cheiraoba that was more popular. Today, the tide seems to have turned in favour of Nongma Panba Sajibu Cheiraoba which has become more widespread.
People outside the State have tried to interpret Cheiraoba festival as a religious event celebrated by the Meitei Hindus and Nongma panba Sajibu Cheiraba by Meitei Sanamahism on separate dates. However, there is nothing religious about it. Like those new year festival celebrated in other parts of the country, Cheiraoba is just another festival.
Apparently, it all depends on which calendars we are adopting. Every rich civilization adopted its own system of calender. Some use lunar based while some depends on lunisolar (incorporating elements of a lunar calendar with those of a solar calendar).
Manipur festivals are mostly calculated on the basis of the Bengali calendar which is approximately related to the Hindu solar calendar. People of Assam, Nepal, Mithila, Manipur, Punjab, Tripura, Orissa and Tamil Nadu refers Bengali calender since last two three centuries.
Even South East Asian countries are also adopting lunisolar calenders like the Hindus. That is why we have seen Thailand celebrating Songkran during April 13-15, Myanmar celebrating Thingyan during April 13-16, Laos celebrating Pi Mai during April 14-16. It is all about which calenders we are adopting. If we are using Gregorian calender, then our new year will be on first January.
Cheiraoba is the New Year festival based on the lunar calendar. According to lunar calendars of Hindus living in other States, the lunar New Year is celebrated on the same day as in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and many other Indian states. However, population of Meitei Sanamahism increased and this is one of the main reason for the popularity of Nongma panba Sajibu cheiraoba.
There is nothing wrong in celebrating Cheiraoba on April 13/14 by Meitei Hindus. As per their beliefs and faith, new year on Charak puja is correct. They are also Meetei, with their roots connected with the Western side of Manipur (Nongchup haram). The beauty of Manipur society is due to this heterogeneous culture and religion.
We have to accept it, let every ethnic communities celebrate and contribute to the diverse culture of the State. But, most importantly we should not suppress or dominate the indigenous culture or religion. Sanamahism which dates back to more than 4000 recorded history (from the time of King Kangba) have been under attack on several occasions.
This religion rivives and despite many manipulative theories and cultural invasion, the murky sky above Sanamahism is brighter day by day. Let us not debate on which one is the correct Cheiraoba. Instead, participate and enjoy the festivals, respecting the sentiments of both Meitei Sanamahism and Meitei Hindus.
Lastly, is Sajibu Cheiraoba the real new year of Meitei? Several theories and written records have indicated that Wakching (another lunar month of Meitei) must be the new year of Meitei. During this month, most of the indigenous ethnic communities living in Manipur are celebrating their own new years.
If Kabui can celebrate Gaan Ngai as New Year, Tangkhul as Luira Phanit, Thadou as Hun and Thangal as Angee during January/February, why Meitei celebrate its Cheiraoba in April? This need to be studied further.
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