Every married woman in Manipur waits anxiously for the arrival of the second day of the month of Hiyangei which usually is in late October or November every year. It’s Ningol Chakkouba day, one of the biggest festivals of the state. Every year, it is celebrated in a grand manner in every Meetei/Meitei household with the aim of strengthening the bonds of love and affection between the married women and their parental families. Sisters and daughters are usually presented with gifts, while they in turn offer blessings to their brothers and parents. The women visit their mapam (parental house) in finest traditional attire taking their children along for the grand feast. But during this COVID-19 pandemic the manner the festival will be celebrated in the coming week in the state is uncertain. A cross section of women from different localities expressed their different point of view on how they intend to celebrate the festival amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
A newly wedded woman, Sushma Naosekpam from Uyumpok Maning Leikai, Imphal East expressed that this year’s Ningol Chakkouba will be her first Chakkouba after her marriage. She had been waiting for this moment very eagerly. She will take vegetables from her kitchen garden and fish from the pond to her mother’s house for the festival instead of buying it from the market as there is risk of COVID-19 at congested places and markets. She is taking precautions by staying at home as she has to attend the festival for the first time. As of now her parents are not infected by the corona virus, so she feels happy that she will be with her parents celebrating the special occasion with joy and happiness.
She also appealed to people not to go to congested places or markets for buying things for Ningol Chakkouba as there is risk of being infected by corona virus (Covid-19) during the pandemic. Sushma also encouraged purchase of local products easily available at their own locality for this festival. She also opined to present local traditional handlooms and handicraft products available at their home and locality to their daughters for this year’s Ningol Chakkouba. This will promote the skills and encourage the local entrepreneurs and at the same time it can break the chain of COVID-19 infection.
Another woman from Keibul Lamjao Mayai Leikai, Bishnupur district, Salam Shanti, 51 years, asserted that every year she attends Ningol Chakkouba at her parents’ place near Ithai Dam. But due to COVID-19 she will not go for Ningol Chakkouba this year. She also expressed that many more Ningol Chakkouba will come after the pandemic. She can enjoy it next year as she had enjoyed many ‘Chakkouba’ earlier.
Her children are very happy as they are going to their grandparents’ house after 7-8 years for Ningol Chakkouba, expressed RK Vijaya from Chana Mayai Leikai, Imphal East. But if the situation of COVID-19 becomes worse within this week, she will decide whether they will go or not for Ningol Chakkouba this year. She also said that she will follow the SOP issued by the Health Department by wearing a mask, washing hands or using sanitizer and maintaining social distance while celebrating the grand festival. Vijaya pointed out that she will buy some edible items and vegetables that are easily available in her locality instead of going to congested markets. Amidst COVID-19 situation, Vijaya is going to celebrate the festival just not to lose the bond between sisters and parents and brothers.
Aribam Bidya from Thangmeiband Polem Leikai conveyed that she will be celebrating the festival in a very simple way. She loves the tradition of celebrating the festival down the ages. The celebration will be very simple this year just with 2 or 3 curries and simple gifts. She also appealed to people not to compete for gifts for this auspicious festival. If we compete for gifts that will spoil the true meaning of celebration of this precious and famous festival, she added.
Survival is more important than celebrating any festival during this COVID-19 pandemic, expressed Lilabati Oinam from Keibul Lamjao Mayai Leikai, Bishnupur district. She added that she will be selling fish for the Ningol Chakkouba festival so that she can earn some profits during this hard time of COVID-19 pandemic. She can enjoy the festival afterwards. Her motto of life is to have a proper and sufficient earning first and enjoyment will follow after it, she added.
And Promila from Naoremthong Khumanthem Leikai, Imphal West asserted that she will go for Ningol Chakkouba after a week, not on the second day of Heyangei as there will be overcrowding on that day. Her children too are very happy for this festival. They will follow the SOP and guidelines issued by the Health department while celebrating the festival. This time Promila will not buy sweets and other edible items from hotels, she will buy only packed food items for Ningol Chakkouba.
Ningol Chakkouba festival is also celebrated in the Meitei diaspora outside Manipur and abroad. Various civil society organizations (CSOs) also celebrate this festival inviting many women of different communities of the state. It is not certain whether the CSOs will be celebrating the festival amidst the pandemic this year. The Ningol Chakkouba organizing committee, New Delhi will be organizing a virtual workshop on the importance of Ningol Chakkouba this year as the pandemic does not allow celebrating the festival unlike the previous years.
Even though the Government has issued many guidelines as a precautionary measure to prevent the spreading of corona virus, some people seem to be not following the guidelines in public places and even in the markets. Let’s celebrate the festival of Ningol Chakkouba following the guidelines and be a warrior to fight against COVID-19.