By:- Seram Neken
It is high time the state government declared the five days of Yaoshang Festival as ‘Sports Movement Week’ with a view to encouraging the local clubs across the state in their efforts to explore young sportive talents and organize sports festivals spontaneously at their own cost. The focus of the Manipur Chief Minister’s deliverance during the Sportspersons’ Day celebration on 25th February last at Khuman Lampak Sports Complex was the stress laid on encouraging local clubs, which groom and nurture the hordes of reputed players from the grassroots level. In fact, all sports celebrities of today have originated from the roughed and unadorned playgrounds in their home localities. Although their journey from the small grass-fetched local fields to the enormous well-equipped stadia is full of challenges, all sports luminaries should always remember their first-feeds by the local groomers. Apparently acknowledging this sense of gratitude to sports lovers at the ground level, the Chief Minister of Manipur who is both a sports enthusiast and a football player himself, expressed his commitment towards assisting local clubs that take the herculean tasks of nurturing sportspersons. Thanks to Shri N. Biren Singh, who has rightly been termed as the ‘People’s Chief Minister’ for the much-awaited focus on local level bodies of games and sports.Greeting my readers with the coming of Yaoshang Festival and wishing all to enjoy a constructive Yaoshang Sports extravaganza, this writer takes the privilege to propose the Government of Manipur to declare the five days of festival of colours as ‘Sports Movement Week’ all over Manipur. Festivals are an indispensible component of human life. Without them, life would have been monotonous and invaluable. Hence, every community on earth has its own festival in their varied designs and compositions. Manipuris have a rich heritage of festive celebrations, among which the Lai Haraoba is a major one. Lai Haraoba, since the pre-historic times, has changed its style and facets to suit the changed perception of people from generation to generation.Constructive devolution of the celebrations and observances occurs in almost all festivities belonging to different communities inhabiting this Earth. Taking into account the increasing replacement of Yaoshang festival by a variety of games and sports in the nook and corner of Manipur, we may optimistically presume that ‘Yaoshang Festival’ of the Manipuris has gradually become a constructive event day by day. This writer terms it “an intellectual transformation from festival of colors to festival of sports”, which has been occurring in modern Manipur during the last five decades. Yaoshang Sports has become an institution of socialization with multifaceted benefits. It serves as a school for cultivating personality development and hunting young talents. Kids get the opportunity to expose to various competitive events. It inculcates discipline among youths. Besides recreating the ageing people, it promotes organizational skills among the locals, increases social cohesion and reduces crimes & unwanted behavior in society. Every locality must endeavor to tap the inherent potential of Yaoshang Sports in the making of a strong Manipur.Looking back to its recent history, Yaoshang Sports has a unique purpose of its birth. The addition of a variety of games in the Yaoshang festivities began as early as during the pre-independence period. Although there is obscurity on the exact origin of Yaoshang Sports, it is believed that the organization of sporting events during Yaoshang in 1946 at Akampat in the present Imphal East district was the first of its kind in the state.As part of Yaoshang festival, the local adults of that time organized the Yubi Lakpi event by selecting a King. Written accounts named one Thokchom Bhubon from Singjamei Kshetri Leikai (Irengbam Leirak) who acted as the King. He was made to sit on a bullock cart that staged a procession from Thiyam Leirak of the locality via Kongba road to reach Akampat.A number of men, women and youths accompanied the procession and witnessed the Yubi Lakpi. Programmes in the form of Fancy Dress were also conducted. This may be considered the pioneer in the Yaoshang Sports movement which was witnessed and participated by locals of Singjamei Kshetri Leikai, Khongman, Bheigyabati Leikai etc. The second edition of the games was held in 1947 at Akampat again.More events like Arithmetic Competition for children, Chaphu Pubi Race, Laphu Kabi and Blind Hit were added to the meet. One who was known as Maiba Amuba who had hailed from Kabo Wakching Nambol and had been staying along with Yumnam Komol (said to be the driver of Budhachandra Maharaj) at Yumnam Leikai took the role of King in Yubi Lakpi that year. Thus, born the Yaoshang Sports of today. The Annual Yaoshang Sports being organized at Bamon Leikai Basketball Ground is also one of the oldest of its genre, with its 66th edition held this year. (Reference: Souvenir, Silver Jubilee Celebration of Yaoshang Sports, 2008, SEYO, Singjamei Kshetri Leikai). Meitei ‘Yaoshang’ is believed to have its ancestral origin from the ‘Ougri Hangen Chongba’ of pre-historic times. When the two sons of Godly King ‘Atiya Guru Shidaba’ were asked to complete the ‘Nongkhong Koiba’ for succession to the throne, the elder son ‘Sanamahi’ started the journey. However, the younger son ‘Nongda Lairen Pakhangba’ being a small boy was apprehensive that he could not complete the journey.Meanwhile, with the invaluable advice of his mother, ‘Pakhangba’ went round the royal throne of the King in no time and claimed to have completed the ‘Nongkhong Koiba’ before his brother ‘Sanamahi’ came back after going round the whole land physically. When the elder brother came back, he was so furious that he swore to avenge the person who revealed the modus operandi to ‘Pakhangba’ in order to be the king of the land. If it were a man, he would be killed and if it happened to be a woman, he would marry her – this was Sanamahi’s promise. Surprisingly, ‘Sanamahi’ realized that it was none other than his mother who had stealthily helped the younger brother to become the king. ‘Sanamahi’ had to keep his promise by marrying the mother. In every Meitei household we now see ‘Sanamahi’ and ‘Leimaren’ residing together, but with a wall separating them.The furious ‘Sanamahi’ after coming back from ‘Nongkhong Koiba’ chased ‘Pakhangba’ to beat him while the women of royal palace defended ‘Pakhangba’ by joining hands and singing the song “Ke Ke Ke Mo Mo, Yangen Samba Sao Sao, Tokpaga Kambaga Keiga Yenga, Yenkhong Phate Chasillu, Laigi Yenni Chaphade, Ke Ke Ke Mo Mo ...”. It is believed that ‘Thabal chongba’, ‘Phee Munbi’, ‘Sen Munbi’ etc. which are parts of contemporary ‘Yaoshang’ had their origin from the tradition of ‘Nongkhong Koiba’. Hence, Meitei Yaoshang had its own origin as different from the ‘Holi’ of the Hindus.As time goes by, ‘Yaoshang’ changes its facets year after year, decades after decades and centuries after centuries. To the present generation, ‘Yaoshang’ is synonymous with games and sports. It is indeed a mini Olympiad particularly in the valley districts of Manipur. All the ugly scenes and traditions of earlier ‘Yaoshang’ have been subdued to bring in constructive sports festivals in almost all Manipuri localities.Various games including indigenous events such as Mukna and Laphu Kabee are seen to be popular during Yaoshang sports. Apart from sporting programmes; academic events like debating competitions, Ex-tempore speech, symposium competitions, Essay writing, song competitions, mathematics competitions, recitations etc. are organized in the interests of students. ‘Yaoshang’ has today become a festival of sports in Manipur.Apart from being a festival, ‘Yaoshang’ has served as a useful platform for promoting sporting spirit and hunting talents of young people in varied fields of personality development. The children are given enough opportunity for exposure to various competitive events. For the elders who are at the dusk of their lives, ‘Yaoshang’ serves as a valuable recreation item by breaking the monotony of ageing life.It is a meaningful rendezvous where local people of all ages meet, interact, share, exchange views and ideas among themselves. It helps in reducing unwanted behavior, crimes, substance abuse and drugs. May the Yaoshang Sports festival continue to play its constructive role in the making of a unified and strong Manipur. It would be wise enough for the state government of Manipur to declare the five days of the festival as “Sports Movement Week” in order to make the festival a constructive event for the state.The following suggestions may be noted for future growth and fruitful results: 1. Yaoshang Festival may be declared as “Sports Movement Week” by the state government.2. Schedules for various examinations may be made so as not to coincide with this festival.3. Local Sports Events be organised under strict guidelines prescribed by Sports Department in the form of a policy.4. Unwanted scenes such as water spraying, dancing etc. may be prevented by Government. (During previous years, at some places in Imphal city, young boys and girls danced in water by using even Fire Brigade vehicles of the government without any intervention by Police) 5. Police should be alert to prevent adolescent youths from indulging in undesirable acts such as ‘Aber Teinaba’, Pichagari Kapnaba, etc.6. Elected MLAs, and representatives of local bodies may be advised to involve in organizing sports events in localities. Only then, the festival will be constructive and fruitful for future generation.
(The writer is a Imphal-based Columnist)