Home » Shumang Lila (Courtyard Play) in Tribal dialects: A case study

Shumang Lila (Courtyard Play) in Tribal dialects: A case study

by IT Web Admin
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Shumang Lila (Courtyard Play) is both an art and a mass media for the Manipuris. A group of artistes perform the play at a venue surrounded by spectators from all sides. The area of performance ranges from 13 square feet to 20 square feet. Except for a small passage (from the dressing room/green room to the stage/platform) for the approach of the artistes/characters, all the spaces are filled with audience. Usually, there is a demarcation between the male side and the female side among the space for spectators. Dressing Room /Green Room which is known as “Lila Sempham” is just a few meters away from the stage/platform preferably on the south-western side of the platform. As the name depicts, a courtyard (Shumang) is usually the venue of this play. However, due to non-availability of sufficient space as courtyards nowadays, the Shumang Lila is also performed in other lawns or public grounds which can accommodate huge audience. Shumang Lila performance is done by both the Male Group and the Female group. The male Shumang lila groups are more popular and liked by the audience. In male Shumang lila group, males perform both the male and the female roles. However in female Shumang Lila group, females take the role of both males and the females. The males taking the roles of females (Nupi Sabi) are a unique characteristic of the Shumang Lila.
Shumang Lila is constructed on a variety of themes – family relationships, socio-political issues, historical and legendary events, so on and so forth. There are plays where song sequences and dances are added to the play for entertaining the audience. Playback singers and musicians are accommodated at a small space beside the stage amidst the audience. Interestingly, male singer sings in female vocal.
Shumang Lila is the most popular traditional media in Manipur. The artistic skills and intelligence needed for a Shumang Lila artist have no parallel with the other performing art forms. In terms of effectiveness and artistic values, it is considered highly superior to the Bengal’s Jatra, Gujarat’s Bhavai, Maharastra’s Tamasha, Karnataka’s Yakshagana and Nautankee of northern Indian states. For years, Shumang Lila has been serving as society’s mirror and educating native peoples with useful messages pertaining to a variety of themes. Shumang Lila can educate the contemporary people. It remains the only indigenous medium that can counter the negative impacts of new media like the satellite cable networks and bollywood films.      
As we have observed, famous film stars of Manipur act in the Shumang Lila – may be to extract and train themselves with the rich artistic intelligence and values. It is a totally live media, the artist used to perform at the centre of hundreds of spectators sitting around him. There cannot be a cheating in acting and no chance of rewind or recast. What has happened on the stage is always the message. Right from the moment the artist comes out on the stage to the moment he leaves it, every movement is the message. The audience is always active and alert in Shumang Lila. It is the only media which maintains a uniform emotion for its heterogeneous audience. Shumang Lila attracts audience from all walks of life ranging from the most learned to the most illiterate, the richest to the poorest, and the most foolish to the wisest. It is the performance which can entertain people of all sections, all age-groups and all occupations. Its popularity as a very effective medium lies in its local touch. The story, the language, the artistes – all is ours. The messages given in Shumang Lilas can go deep in our hearts. It is a unique and popular media among the people irrespective of age, literacy level, profession etc. It is different from other art forms because all members of a family from the youngest to the eldest are its audience.
“To the Manipuris, Shumang (Courtyard) is an important platform for learning and games. It is an institution unavoidably utilized from birth to death. Shumang Lila was born and brought up in the courtyard. Still the Manipuris love Shumang Lila, which continuously discusses various issues from time to time. It informs, educates, entertains and motivates the audience. It is being performed on various occasions such as ‘Chakcha Heijanaba’ (feasting), ‘Naa Hutpa’(Ear piercing ceremony), ‘Lugun Thangba’ (Thread bearing ceremony), ‘Ming Thonba’ (Naming Ceremony), marriage and even death ceremonies in Manipur society.” Shumang Lila is a composite indigenous art form of Manipuris that informs, educates, entertains, persuades and motivates people on a variety of issues.
Shumang Lila is believed to have derived from the tradition of ‘Tangkhul Nurabi Loutaba’ performed on the night of the last day of the Lai Haraoba festival as an important ritual, as this dramatic episode has all the elements of a Shumang Lila performance – humour, pantomimic elements with simple and meaningful dialogues from the rites, traditional proverbs, riddles, singing and dancing. In spite of the absence of concrete historical evidences, this is a generally agreed notion among scholars. Shumang Lila had been known as “Jatra” or “Jatrawali” in the beginning, may be because of the fact that those performers were always leading personalities of the locality and these plays were performed for important occasions. ‘Jatra’ literally means ‘Lead’. During the reign of Chandrakirti Maharaj (1850-1886), a genre called ‘Phagee Lila’ (Comedy play) came up. In this, the comedians of the time such as Abujamba Saiton and Kharibam Laishuba were summoned to the palace and made to perform to entertain the courtiers particularly the royal women. Later on, comedians like Laithangba, Uritmahum, Heiningmaru etc. became popular artistes. Phagee Lila was also performed during the Durga Puja festival also. Phagee Lila was out and out comedy, cooking up of absurd stories on the spot to entertain the audience.
During the reign of Churachand Maharaj (1891-1941), Moirang Parva, Mandav Lila and Phagi Lila such as Phadibi Pala and Kabul Lila were popular. Present contemporary Shumang Lila may be perceived as a combination born out of Mandav Lila and Phagi Lila as all elements present in them are present in Shumang Lila. According to Manipur State Shumang Lila Council, the Moirang Parva performed at Wahengbam Leikai Panjee Mayum Lampak in 1894/95 was the first Shumang Lila performance. Among the early Shumang Lila performances, mention may be made of Harishchandra (1918), Sabitri Seitaban, Meiraba Charan, Thok Lila etc. During the reign of King Churachand (1891-1941), a gifted artist called Chungkham Ibohal and his troupe performed a satirical play against the water tax levied on people using Imphal River. On hearing this, the King arrested him and made to perform the play in front of the King.
Earlier, Shumang Lila was performed without any script, on the basis of the story made up with the improvisation of the artistes. There were no assigned directors for the plays. ‘Puya Meithaba’(Burning of Puya) was the first scripted play and it was followed by BA Mapa Lamboiba around 1945-46. In the 1970s, Shumang Lila female troupes (Nupi Shumang Lila) were born. A form of Shumang Lila with full of comedies called ‘Epom’ was also born by 1970. ‘Epom’ has been one of the most popular form of Shumang Lila in Manipur, although it is almost non-existent nowadays with the demise of popular comedians such as Mayang Imphal Tombi, Takhellambam Chaoba, Nameirakpam Babu etc. The storyline and comic framework of this play was based on complete improvisation of the skillful artistes. The comedic plays like the ‘Nokphade’ are not Shumang Lila in the real sense. In 1971, All Manipur Jatra Association was formed and the Manipur State Kala Academy changed the name of the performance to “Shumang Lila” by organizing the Shumang Lila Festival from 1973 onwards. Prior to this, Shumang Lila competitions were conducted by Theatre Centre and later by Publicity Department of Manipur Government.
Playwrights and Directors began to occupy indispensible positions in the production of Shumang Lila. Names of playwrights such as Manaobi MM, Chana Lukhoi, Rupachandra Gosh, Niladhwaja Khuman, etc. have become popular among the Shumang Lila audience nowadays. Renowned Directors such as late Birjit Ngangomba put in efforts to modernize this traditional art form to suit the changing times and tastes of the contemporary audience. Elements of choreography, music and other effects have been added to Shumang Lila, when Shumang Lila endeavors to show various imaginary actions like flight-take-offs. Shumang Lila has successfully portrayed the infamous events like the attacks on World Trade centre.
In the early 20th century a distinct form of Swadeshi Jaatra or nationalist traditional theatre came into being in Bengal. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement and removal of untouchability were favorite themes of these Jaatras. From a small beginning it became a powerful medium to communicate with the high and the low, the literate and the illiterate, the religious congregation and popular masses alike.
During the Indian freedom struggle, mass opinion was generated by incorporation of themes of British oppression in the folk art forms such as songs, dance and drama throughout India. Particularly in West Bengal and Maharashtra, where struggle for freedom was at its fiercest, the traditional media were utilized to instill patriotic feelings in the people’s mindset. Today, the state governments are using the very same art forms to convey ideas of family welfare, banking, education, health and prohibition. Besides entertaining people and making them forget their day-to-day tensions and worries, Shumang Lila as a traditional media carries a heavy responsibility to educate people on various issues both local and international. It has three important characteristic motives – entertaining, educative and reformative. After the infamous Hunger Marchers’ Day of 27 August 1965, the Manipur Peoples’ Party produced a Shumang Lila entitled “Chak Tangba” revealing the misdeeds of Congress Party in connection with the incident. It was said to be an effective campaign against the ruling party.
Various government and non-government agencies have been judiciously employing Shumang Lila to carry messages to the people. Playwright Rupachandra Gosh’s “Singareina Kenkhrabada” performed by Meitei Leima Jatra cum Drama Association (Cheitei Party) and “Kanagi Maralno” (tr., Whose fault), based on Polio Immunization performed by Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union were successful plays towards generating awareness among the people. The Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Government of Manipur also utilized this medium for spreading awareness on sanitation. Mention can be made of playwright Rupachandra Gosh’s “Anouba Mangal” performed by Shining Star Union, “Amambada Meingal” performed by Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union and “Anouba Lambi” (tr., New Path) of Kamakhya Sangeet Mandal. The Science and Technology Department also produced play on environment entitled “Anouba Yenning”. Chana Lukhoi’s street play entitled “Senphu Hangba”(tr., Opening Saving) performed by Compositional Artistes Association was produced for generating awareness on national savings insurance. This play was translated into Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and English, and performed all over India. Manipur Co-artist Association’s Shumang Lila “Makhong Taragi Cheingak” (tr., Ten legged Support Stand) was also produced under the State Veterinary and Animal Husbandry Department, Manipur for awareness generation on animal husbandry services. Manaobi MM’s play “Naitom Satpi” (tr., Single offspring) was a successful Shumang Lila based on leprosy disease and performed by the Peacemaker Artistes Association.
Peacemaker Artistes Association’s “Opium War” and Sana Leibak Nachom Artistes Association’s “Ugandagi Maraibak” are historical plays campaigning against drug abuse and illicit trafficking. Optimum utilization of the traditional media for public awareness was in AIDS awareness campaigns. Street play on AIDS awareness entitled “Amamba Leichil” written by Congtham Samarendra may be termed as the first play produced for spreading AIDS awareness. Street play “Matamgi Helloi” (Tamna Artistes Group) was widely displayed in public places under the Manipur AIDS Control Society in 1999. “Lambi Manga” (tr. as Five Ways) of Romantic Artistes Association was also staged at Cachar and Hojai districts of Assam. Thoudam Ruhinilkukar’s street play “AIDS Ta Nokphade” was also a popular play on AIDS awareness.
Successful plays on AIDS awareness were “Khuntak Lanshidringeida” (tr., Before Holocaust happens) written by Rupachandra Gosh and performed by Dedicated World Artistes Association, “Ngashigi Nonglei” (tr., Today’s Storm)  of Chana Lukhoi (North Imphal Manipur Jatra Mandal), “Swargagi Lambi” (tr., Heaven’s Path) of Thangjam Birchand (Imphal Jatra cum Drama Association), “Monalisha” of Rupachandra Gosh (North Imphal Manipur Jatra Mandal), “Matamgi Khoimu” of Chana Lukhoi (Naharol Khongthang Artistes Association), “Thengmankhare Thabalse” (tr., This Delayed Moonlight) of Thokchom Prafullo (North Imphal Manipur Jatra Mandal), “Jhinjur” of Hiyang Manisana (Meitei Leima Jatra cum Drama Association), “Eidi Luhongjararoi” (tr., I’ll not marry) of Manaobi MM (Imphal Jatra cum Drama Association), “Djuko Lily” of Niladhwaja Khuman (Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union), “Minungshigi Mityeng Ama” (tr., One Sympathetic View) of Niladhwaja Khuman (Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union), “Punshi Khongchat” (tr., Life Cycle) of Gouradhaja Sharma, “Under Arrest” of Ranjit Ningthouja (Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union) etc.
As a traditional medium of communication, Shumang Lila has the advantage of instant rapport with the people and flexibility to incorporate new ideas and conviction. Traditional performing arts such as the Shumang Lila carry the messages of change, development and growth, as Rabindranath Tagore puts it aptly “All traditional structure of art must have sufficient degree of elasticity to allow it to respond to varied impulses of life, delicate or virile, to grow with its growth, to dance with its rhythm”. Thus, during times of hectic conflict between state and non-state actors, Shumang Lila has tried to discuss the issue objectively on the stage. It has successfully generated awareness on various issues of the state including deadly diseases. The famous message-carrier plays of the past like “Chayam Pokpa”, “Abir Khan”, “Dr. Paal”, “Panthoibi Sayon” and so many others are still popular among the contemporary audience.
Tribal Shumang Lila appeared for a short period in the history of Shumang Lila in Manipur.  In the absence of any further encouragement and support, it lost its way. In the year 2002, a few interested people initiated an experiment by introducing Shumang Lila among the selected tribal artistes groups and made them display at villages in hills to spread useful messages for their life. The taste was very good and unexpected. There was active involvement and participation among the artistes – there was hectic enthusiasm among the audience. Interestingly, when the premier show of Tangkhul Shumang Lila “Ajawui Tuishot” was first staged at Dewlaland sometime in 2002, the 1000-packed audience was enthralled by the artistes of C.R Film Industry based in Phungreithang, Ukhrul. The play was full of comedies. Even Meities who did not know Tangkhul dialect fell made in laughter. Thereafter, these plays were shown in different villages of Ukhrul district on demand by the public. The experiment was successful indeed.
Likewise, the Paites also developed their Shumang lila “Khangban Sham Doh Ei” and performed for the first time at Paite Veng Imphal in the same year. The Thadous under the banner of United Rural Youth Artistes Manipur produced and played “Heo Neingadamin” and the All Zeliangrong Art and Cultural Organisation of Kubuis performed “Phaikan Kathan”. The Thadou play was displayed at Tuibong for the first time and Kabui play was shown at Pandon, North AOC. All these plays were the same as the ‘Shumang Lila’ performed by the Meiteis. The only differences were – it was in their own dialects and the females played female roles and males as males. There was no tradition of “Nupi Sabi” among them. A short span after production and display in remote villages of hill districts of the state, the Tribal Shumang Lilas unfortunately discontinued for there was none to encourage and support.
Actually, these plays were produced by the Manipur State AIDS Control Society for spreading AIDS awareness in tribal populated areas. The popularity of Shumang Lila among the Meitei community and its being a highly effective messenger for HIV/AIDS prompted the then Project Director of Manipur AIDS Control Society – Dr. Khomdon Singh Lisam. He put extra effort to introduce and experiment the age-old Shumang Lila tradition among the different tribal communities. On 19 and 20 July, 2002, the Manipur State AIDS Control Society organised a workshop for scriptwriters and Directors at Mass Hotel Imphal where around thirty playwright, artistes and Director belonging to tribal communities attended. The project was to organize plays in tribal dialects with a dual-objective – to spread awareness on HIV/AIDS in nook and corner of the states and also to enrich the tradition and culture of the hill people with the addition of Shumang Lila. Those who took active part at the initial stage were renowned playwright Chana Lukhoi, Shumang Lila Personality Narendra Ningomba, Artist Rai Khan Assurance (Tangkhul), writer Lanboi Kabui (All Zeliangrong Art and Cultural Organisation), artist Th. Angam (Thadou community) and so on.
Playwright Chana Lukhoi and Dr. Khomdon Lisam took the pains in translating the scripts of these Shumang Lilas. The late Shumang Lila Gurus Laikangbam Ibotombi (Mama Ibotombi), Mangsidam Binod (Heingang) and Thokchom Ibema Leima took the responsibility to train the tribal artistes by going from one hill district to another and staying there for a long period. It was a herculean task to teach Shumang Lila to the tribal people as there was a language barrier between the trainers and the trainees. The scripts were their own. The tribal brethrens have their own stories related to HIV and AIDS – which they penned and dramatized. A committee comprising Dr. Nognmaithem Tombi, Meghachandra Kongbam, Chana Lukhoi, Dr. Khomdon Lisam and one other from the community concerned observed the plays and moulded to its presentable shape. In fact, the popularity of Shumang Lila among the tribal people is no less than that of Meiteis. When they saw their own people playing in their own dialects, their enthusiasm unexpectedly grew to a level that could not be provided by any other art form. Indeed, sharing of this tradition among the different communities of Manipur will bring a closer tie among the people of the state.
It is unfortunate that the tribal Shumang Lilas met an immature end due to lack of nourishment. Neither its creator nor the government department of Art and Culture seem to take its responsibility. Shumang Lila in tribal dialects (Tribal Shumang Lila) may be preserved and promoted as an effective means of mass communication. It will help promote the art and culture of the tribal communities. It will help increase interactivity among the various groups in Manipur. Moreover, it is the right of the indigenous peoples to preserve their own traditional art forms in their own interests.
In the valley, people used to invite Shumang Lila for performance on various occasions by paying a certain fee, thereby sustaining the artistes groups. However, such is not the case with tribal Shumang Lila groups. It is imperative to nurture and nourish their plays until it reach the status of standing on its own feet and provides additional or alternative gainful sustenance.

By : Seram Neken & Kh. Gourashyam Singh

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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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