Manipur is a land of festivities, fun and frolic all the year round. Hardly a month passes without a festival. The festivals of Manipur projects their cultural, social and religious aspirations which, besides removing the monotony of life and help the people lead a better and fuller life.
Important common festivals of Manipur are the Dol Yatra (Holi) in March, Rath Yatra (Car fesival) in June-July and Durga Puja in September-October. Manipuri Hindus celebrate New Year Day, in the second week of April. The other special Manipuri festivals are described below.
Yaoshang Festival: Celebrated for five days commencing from the full moon day of Phalguna (february/March), Yaoshang is the premier festival of Manipur. The Thabal Chongba - a Manipuri folk dance, is particularly associated with this festival. Boys and girls and old women collect donations from house to house and the money so collected is spent in a number of parties and feast.
Kut Festival: It is an autumn festival of the different tribes of Kuki-Chin-Mizo groups of Manipur. The festival has been variously described at different places amongst different tribes as Chavang-Kut or Khodou etc. It is a happy occasion for the villagers whose food stock is bountiful after a year of hard labour. The festival is a thanks giving feasts with songs and dances in merriment and joviality for all, in honour of the giver of an abundant harvest, it is observed on the 1st of November every year.
Ningol Chakouba Festival: It is a remarkable social festival of the Meiteis. Married women of the family who were married to distant places come to the parental house along with her children and enjoy sumptuous feast. It is a form of family rejoining to revive familial affection. It is observed on the second day of the new moon in the Manipuri month of Hiyangei (November).
Chumpha Festival: Celebrated for seven days in the month of December, the Chumpha festival is a great festival of the Tanghul Nagas. The festival is held after harvest. The last three days are devoted to social gatherings and rejoicing. Unlike other festivals women play a special role in the festival. The concluding part of the festival ends with a procession in the village.
Gang-Ngai Festival: Celebrated for five days in the month of Wakching (December / Janaury) GANG-NGAI is an important festival of the Kabui Nagas. The festival opens with the omen taking ceremony on the first day and the rest of the days are associated with common feast, dances of old men and women and of boys and girls, presentation of farewell gifts etc.
Cheiraoba Festival: This is the Manipur New Year Festival. During the festival, people clean and decorate their houses and prepare special festive dishes which are first offered to various deities. Celebrated during the month of April, a part of the ritual entails villagers climbing the nearest hill tops in belief that it will enable them to rise to greater heights in their worldly life.
Heikru Hitongba: Celebrated in the month of September, a festival of joy, with little religious significance along a 16 metre wide boat. Long narrow boats are used to accommodate a large number of rowers. Idol of Shri Bishnu is installed before the commencement of the race.
Kang Festival: This is Ratha Jatra of Manipur. One of the greatest festivals of the Hindus of Manipur, the festival is celebrated for ten days (July). Lord Jagannath leaves his temple in a car known as 'Kang' in Manipur pulled by pilgrims who vie with one another for this honour.
Manipur presents a wide spectrum of music and dance form, which are best way to revive and refresh the daily monotonous lifestyle of the people residing there. Both hill and valley people of Manipur are very fond of songs and music. A few music forms of Manipur are briefly described below.
Khullong Ishei: It is a folk song commonly sung by the Meities in villages when they go to work in the fields or go for fishing. There is no set system of words and sentences. The theme of the song is love. The singer adjusts his words and stanzas of verses of his own to the tune.
Pena Ishei: This song is accompanied with the music produced through Pena. A Pena is a musical instrument, in which a slender bamboo rod is attached to the round dry shell of gourd of coconut. To produce music, the bamboo rod is held in the left hand and the drum shell is pressed against the chest. The curved iron rod is held in the right hand. The string on the bamboo is rubbed with that on the curved iron rod. The theme of the song is the love story of Khamba-Thoibi.
Lai Haraoba Ishei: These songs are full of erotic mysticism but the real meaning is veiled by the use of innocent sounding words. The rhythm of the tune is its quality. It is sung on the ceremonial occasion at Lai-Haraoba.
Some Other Forms of Music in Manipur: Thoubal Chongba is a tuneful song sung during the Thoubal chongba dance. The theme of the song is religious.
Nat is a classical music which is used during the ceremonies such as marriage, Upanayanams etc.
Gaur Padas are songs in praise of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Dhob is sung with a large cymbal known as Jhal. The song is accompanied with the Manipuri style of beating of the drum.
Manohar Sai are the songs named after Manohar Sai who came to Manipur in nineteenth century. The songs are accompanied with small cymbals called Ramkartal and drum called Khol. The songs are devotional.
Napi Pala is a song sung by women. It is a devotional song. The small cymbal called Mandira is used during this song.
Khubaishei is a clapping music. No cymbals are used and the songs are sung accompanied with the clapping of hands. If the Khubaishei is sung by women only, then it is called Nupi khubaishei. It is sung in a standing position.
Raslila songs are a class by themselves due to their special thematic approach. The songs carry deep religious essence. The tribal songs and music have variety and quality.