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Sajibu Cheiraoba: Meitei New Year’s Day

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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Sajibu Cheiraoba: Meitei New Year’s Day

Manipur is blessed with natural beauty. Numerous festivals of communities only make Manipur more colourful and attractive for tourists. Manipur is a beautiful state in northeast India. The state is known for its mesmerizing natural beauty and rich heritage. The state celebrates many festivals as part of its religious aspirations and culture. One of the most prominent festivals is Sajibu Nongmapanba, also known as Cheiraoba. The name Sajibu Nongma Pânba derives from the Manipuri words Sajibu – the first month of the year which usually falls in the month of March/April, according to the Meitei lunar calendar; Nongma meaning first date of a month and Pânba – to be. Literally, it means the first day of the month of Sajibu. Cheiraoba Festival heralds a New Year based on the lunar calendar relating to the mathematical calculations vis-à-vis the cultural heritage and tradition of the Meitei community in India.
The Cheiraoba festival of Manipur marks the beginning of the traditional New Year and is celebrated with great enthusiasm and pleasure. On this day, the locals send each other warm greetings, clean their homes, decorate them, worship their God, and visit their relatives. People also gather together and climb the closest mountain slope top symbolizing the ascent of human progress. Cheiraoba is celebrated on the first day of the Sajibu lunar month, the first month of the Manipuri or Meitei lunar calendar. As per the western calendar, the Cheiraoba festival mainly falls in late March or early April. Sajibu Cheiraoba festival is the traditional New Year for the people following the Sanamahism religion in Manipur. Though Sanamahism’s religious followers traditionally celebrated it, now people of all faiths celebrate this.
According to the followers of the Meitei indigenous faith, Meitei New Year or Sajibu Nongma Panba started during the reign of King Maliya Phambalcha (1359 BC-1329 BC), also known as Koi-Koi. Koikoi ascended the throne at the age of 25 years. From this day, the dating of Meitei calendar (Cheiraoba) known as Mari-Fam was introduced. Hence, 1359 BC will be 25 MF, and 2000 AD will be 3334 MF in Meitei calendar taking the birthday of Koikoi as 00 MF. King Koikoi reigned till 1364 MF; according to the Meitei calendar (the Meitei calendar is still unclear and unpublished though). Not to forget, Koi-Koi ascended the throne from King (Ningthou in Meitei) Kangba (1405-1359 BC).
The Cheiraoba festival of Manipur signifies the advent of the New Year or a new beginning. The festival is celebrated to strengthen the relations or bonds of love and brotherhood among families, relatives, and neighbors. The Manipuri people believe what happens on the day of Cheiraoba occurs throughout the year. So meeting their extended families and friends, gifting each other presents, feasting together, and being happy on this day, will result in the same happening for the rest of the year. Hence, on the day of the Cheiraoba festival, Manipur people arrange traditional cuisine feasts for their families, relatives, and friends. First, they offer food to their local deities at their homes’ entrances and then serve it to guests. After enjoying the meal, people with their guests climb to the top of a nearby hill to offer prayers. They believe climbing the hill elevates them to great heights in their lives.
Having said this, it may be further mentioned that Sajibu Nongma Panba is a celebration of the Meitei New Year in which offerings of food were made to sylvan deities and spirits to take away the ills and diseases and all other bad things to make way for good things to come in the New Year. The day begins with rituals offering of different kinds of fruits, vegetables, rice and other uncooked food items and flowers of the new season to the deity Lainingthou (the King of the supreme Lord) Sanamahi. This is done early morning by the elderly women of the house. This ritual was known as Athenpot kaba and is performed inside the house. The supreme Gods and Goddess of the Meiteis namely Leimaren, Lainingthou Pakhangba, Nongsaba, Yumjao Lairembi, clothes are changed on this day. After getting blessings from Lainingthou Sanamahi, an even number of dishes is prepared using the offerings. Traditionally, the males of the house prepare the dishes, with the females helping. After the dishes for the feast are made, they are ritually offered at the front gate of the house. These locations are specially cleansed and sanctified before the offering by cleaning an area. Another feature of Cheiraoba is that the Ningols or married sisters and daughters of a family would bring gifts for the male members of the family on this occasion, which in turn would be compensated during the Ningol Chakkouba when sisters and daughters are invited to the yearly feast.
Spring cleaning activities will be seen in all the families of the Meitei community prior to the festival. They will clean all belongings, including clothes, utensils, household items, unused items around the house, etc. Part of the tradition is to buy new clothes to be worn on the New Year. In earlier times black mud was collected from the river and pond and painted on house walls. Earlier walls of homes were built of mud, straw, bamboo whilst the finishing was done by applying black mud hence this tradition. The painting was done annually. Today wall made of brick except in villages where traditional homes may be found. The Meitei, Manipuri people celebrate the festival with great fanfare; gatherings of the extended family and a sumptuous feast for lunch are arranged. In the evening/night Thabal Chongba dance also generally organized on this day.
Cheiraoba Festival is not just for merrymaking and cultural festivities; it’s profound reflection of the Meitei people’s heritage and values. As communities come together to celebrate the dawn of a new year, there is a palpable sense of unity and optimism that permeates the air. The tradition upheld during this auspicious occasion serve as reminders of the importance of family, communities and positivity in navigating the journey ahead.
(Writer can be reached at: [email protected].)

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