Harvest rituals and ceremonies

Sothing W A Shimray

Rituals and ceremonies are an integral part of every human society, be it primitive or modern. Ritual is a set of behavior with the sequence established by tradition. Tradition refers to the accepted norms of the society being handed down. Ceremony is the sanctioned pattern of behavior centering on the celebration of a particular occasion, both religious and aesthetic. Thus, the behaviors and methods reflect the individual’s awareness to the society and belief. In a simple word, rituals and ceremonies served to maintain the synthesis and adjustment between society and individual, society and religion and religion and individual.

Like every other society, Tangkhuls, also simply dose not simply harvest their crop just as mere reaping. Sets of rituals and ceremonies have to be performed, apparently to invoke the blessing of the supernatural being. In the past, the Tangkhuls propitiated and invoke the blessing of three deities relating to agriculture, namely, the Supreme being called Zinghungleng, goddess of wealth called ‘phunghui philava’ and deity of the field called ‘lui kameo’. It is said that the goddess of wealth ‘phunghui philava’ is a majestic lady, benevolent in nature but short in stature that seldom shows her charming face to human being except the lucky ones. Lui kameo is believed to be malevolent in nature unless propitiated. 

Harvest season of the Tangkhul begin by September ands by the beginning of November. Rice, being the stable food crop, the focus of harvest is also primarily reckoned from the context of the harvest of rice. Harvest begin with the paddy planted atthe jhumland called ‘khayai lui’ followed by that perennially irrigated field called ‘chihui lui’ and seasonally irrigated fields known as ‘akang lui’. The first ripen crops are offered to the deities by performing ‘mawonzai rituals for two days. The first day which is performed for millets and similar crops is known as ‘zaira’.The second day specifically meant foe rice is called ‘zairei’. To maintain village solidarity, the village chief fixed the date, but the ritual ceremonies are performed by each family at their respective fields. The first crops are nicely cook and along with viand offered it to the deities at the makeshift altar. Partaking ritual of the first cook rice of the year by the family is called ‘dharshat ritual. A special feast is arranged with the first pot either by killing a pig or fowl. The first pot of rice is not shared outside the family. It is believed that if the first pot is shared outside the family, the family’s prosperity waned. If by circumstances, other person outside the family happened to share the first potthen it is mandatory the the person has to join the harvest operation of the family. There seems to be no tradition as who should take the first morsel, but it is apparently appears to be the mother as is evident from the practice still in vogue.

The actual harvest ritual called makahat ritual begins from the day the date is fixed for the harvest till all the rice is stored at the granary called ‘zatchum’. During all this period the family maintained maximum silence, even handling of utensils and tools are done with care so as to avoid loud noises. It is believed that the Goddess of wealth is adverse to violence and other harsh nature viz. loud noises etc. On the day of fixing the date, the husband and wife went to the field and do the necessary propitiation by offering specially prepared viand. A branch is also flagged at the entrance of the main entrance of the house so as to signify the observance of ‘makahat ritual’. On the harvest day, the husband and wife went to the field earlier and again perform the propitiation ritual and do the symbolic first reaping by cutting a handful of paddy and put it in the basket. When the day’s harvest is done, the wife or mother of the family filled the first basket. Similarly, she also put put the first basket of grain to the granary. It is a genna for other’s to do the first filling and putting before the hostess did so.

Time changes. So does the practice with the change of religion. Now, every practice has been, more or less, Christianized. Mawonzai and Dharshat have now been replaced by the Christianized concept of ‘dharreo’. The process maybe different but apparently the significance is all the same.

When the harvest is all done in the village, the Tangkhuls celebrate “chumpha festival’. Chumpha is still considered as an important festival .Rite de granary of the daughter in law is initiated during this festival.