Gaan Ngai - the post-harvest festival of the Zeliangrong tribe of North East India

Beautifully dressed participants at Gaan Ngai festival (photo: Ashok Ningthoujam | E-pao.net)

Gaan-Ngai is the biggest biggest annual post-harvest festival of the Zeliangrong people who inhabit in the State of Manipur, Assam and Nagaland. ‘Zeliangrong’ is the combined name of three cognate tribes Zeme (Zemei), Liangmai and Rongmei. Puimei, another cognate tribe performs the same festivals of the Zeliangrong. Gaan-Ngai is celebrated following the harvest season, in December–January every year. Full form of the festival is Chakaan Gaan Ngai. Chakaan means winter; Gaan means moonlit night; Ngai means festival.

The festival commences with the blowing of the traditional horn, making of holy fire for purification of the community, the congregational prayer of hoi, colourful dances and feast. The five-day festival heralds the closing of the old year and arrival of the New Year.

Gaan-Ngai is called Hegangi among the Zeme, Gin-Ngi among the Liangmai and Gaan-Ngai among the Rongmei and Puimei. The Gaan-Ngai is a festival during which those who died in the previous year are given ritual farewell or departure; their graves are beautified, dances are performed in their honour,feast is given to the community in honour of the dead. Gaan-Ngai is thus the festival of both the dead and the living.

Gaan-Ngai is a great festival, a unique cultural phenomenon, a form of aesthetic expression of the Zeliangrong religion and philosophy. It is also an institution through which the community sustains their cultural heritage and way of life. Gaan-Ngai is the essence of the Zeliangrong culture.

The festival symbolizes the end of a year giving into a major cultural event of not only the Zeliangrong community but of other communities as well regardless of caste, creed or religion.

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