Meitei wedding rituals run into months. It begins from the day the groom’s family visit the bride’s house for “haina singnaba” or the Mangon Kaaba; (the go-between) and culminates with the Tha-phaba (or the first-month anniversary luncheon). Numerous rituals and rites are followed of which the waroipot (sealing the deal or formal engagement), the heijingpot (can be likened to bridal shower of the west but is also similar to engagement as well), the luhongba (wedding) and the mangani chakouba (luncheon reception at the brides’ residence) are considered the most important ones. Of the long list of rituals, we have listed out the most important and significant ones here.
Haina-singnaba or Mangon Kaaba
This ritual is part of what we call “marriage by engagement”. During the Mangon Kaaba, the bridegroom’s mother, along with a few elders(women) of the family, visit the Bride’s parents for a formal meeting. Traditionally, the visiting parties will dress in khwang phanek and white crisp cotton or silk inaphi. While the receiving parties will also be dressed for the formal event in a simple phanek mapan naibi and shawl or inaphi in colours.
The visiting side is expected to bring gifts for the bride and the bride’s family in the form of sweets and dresses or jewellery. In the meeting, the bridegroom’s mother seeks for the bride for their son. If the bride’s parents decide against the union, the negotiation will stop right there. On the other hand, if the participating parties happily agree to it then this visit is followed by the visit of the male members from the bridegroom’s side called the Yathang Thaba.
Amongst most household, the Mangon Kaba is considered as a very auspicious ceremony. Both the parties will consult the Almanac for the best dates which mostly falls towards the beginning of Spring (February-March).
Once the Mangon Kaaba is successful, the father of the groom pays a visit to the bride’s father along with his friends and brothers. Even on this day, this practice is very popular. It is in this special meeting that the final discussions of the alliance happens. If the alliance is confirmed then both the sides will prostrate before each other.
Once the alliance is confirmed, the families involve will decide on a probable date for a formal confirmation called the waroipot.
The “waroipot” largely denotes the agreement to the union. The term waroipot means the concluding gestures (gestures in terms of sweet meat and gifts). Here “wa” means talk or discussions, “roi” from “loiba” means culmination and “pot” means “things” or here “gesture”.
On the day of the waroipot, the groom’s family visit the bride’s house for a small ceremony. The groom’s family is accompanied by few relatives and close friends while the bride’s family along with her close ones will host them. The groom’s family would bring along sweets, fruits, betel leaves and nuts, and gifts for the bride.
Once the guests reach the venue, there is exchange of pleasantries and both the parties will be seated in the designated places. The arangpham or the manager of the ceremony will present the leichandan (the welcome flower and tikka) to the guest. While the presiding priest will make offerings to the Gods and Goddesses, the arangpham will arrange . Thereafter, the entire gathering will be presented the same sweetmeats brought by the groom’s family.
After the rituals are over, female members of the groom’s family will come and meet the bride and present her gifts. The gifts normally comprise of expensive clothing items and jewelry. This signifies the formal engagement. From here, the bride belongs to the groom’s family.
After the waroipot or engagement, some people take a year or two to gear up for the wedding while others take a month or less.
Heijing-kharai Lannaba or Heijingpot
The dates for the heijingpot and luhongba will be fixed eventually after consultation with the family astrologers. The heijingpot is quite similar to the waroipot but is held in a much larger scale. It is most often compared to the engagement of the west but is more attuned to a bridal shower!
On the day of the Heijingpot, the bride is showered with gifts by her friends and family. But the most important and significant rituals happen in the morning when the groom’s parents come to the residence of the bride bearing gifts and sweetmeats.
The day begins with the arrival of the groom’s side of the wedding party at the bride’s residence. After exchange of pleasantries, the groom’s parents will present heijing-kharai to the bride’s parents. The heijing-kharai has seven different types of fruits which is symbolic of the relationship that the two families will share in the future. A fruitful journey in terms of procreation and longevity of the clans and the family name is what is being offered here and accepted. And thus the name Heijing-kharai lannaba meaning exchanging of the “flat bamboo basket which is filled with fruits”.
Thereafter, the guest will meet the bride and ask for her well-being and other needs for the rituals. Once the meeting is over, there will be the handing over of the birth-chart, the kuthi lannaba wherein the mother of the bride hands over the birth-chart of the bride to the groom’s mother.
After these rituals the bride’s family will arrange for a small party for the close relatives and friends of the bride in the evening. The bride will entertain her friends and she will be showered with gifts.
The bor-barton (inviting the groom) is either performed on the day of the heijingpot or the day before the luhongba. In the Bor-barton, a younger boy, preferably a nephew of the bride is sent to invite the groom to the wedding. The boy will carry flowers, pan-tanga (well-decorated pan shown in the picture above) and an invitation card which is handed over to the groom. The groom accepts the invitation and reciprocates with a gift or dakhina.
Next is the most important and grand celebration of Meitei Weddings: the Luhongba day (the wedding day).
Luhongba (the Wedding)
The Luhongba is performed either on the next day of the heijingpot or a few days later depending on the almanac. On the day of the luhongba, the groom along with the wedding party formally visit the bride’s residence to get married and bring her home. It is a day long ritual which begins with the lei-lengba (garland making by the bride), the pham-thaba (the setting of the bridal bed and room by her relatives), the bor-jatra and then the main rituals of the luhongba.
On the day of the luhongba, the bride and the groom will be officially pronounced as husband and wife in the presence of their relatives, friends and other members of the society. The day long rituals involves the entire family of the bride and groom with the mothers and fathers playing the main role. A step by step account of the wedding day is recounted in our post on Luhongba: The Wedding Day.
Early on during the day, the mother of the bride will initiate the morning rituals with the cheng heiba (pouring the rice into the pot). This is the first of all the blessing rituals on the wedding day.
Thereafter, the bride will also join the preparation with the lei-lengba (garland making).
While the bride is making the garland, her mother and aunts will prepare for the pham thaba and head for the groom’s place. At the groom’s place, they will set up the room and the bridal bedroom. This completes the morning rituals.
Later in the afternoon, the arangpham will initiate the bor-jatra where the priest will conduct a ritualistic offering to the deities for the well-being of the groom. Both the parents of the groom will be involved in the pooja and give blessings to their son. This is followed by the groom wearing the designated turban and will head for the bride’s residence along with the wedding party.
At the bride’s residence, the sanskritana pala would have started hymns to the deities in the presence of the “mantop mapu” (an elderly person from the bride’s side who will reside as the commander of the entire ritual) and wedding attendees from both the sides of the family. This mostly goes on about 10-15 minutes until the groom arrives at the bride’s residence along with the wedding party and other guests.
As soon as the groom arrives, the sankritana pala will change course and start a new verse/ song which will be a hint for the groom to enter the wedding stage (or mantap). Once the groom takes his place at the luhong phann (the wedding bench), the presiding priest will continue with the recitation of prayers with the father of the bride seated beside them. The father of the bride and the residing priest or pandit then moves on to perform another ritual with the bride, where the father prays for the prosperity of his daughter. As soon as the prayers and recitations are done, the bride will enter the mantap after seeking blessings from the elders.
The main ceremony is very short in Meitei Hindu weddings. As soon as the bride enters the wedding mantap, the bride and groom will receive blessings from the bride’s mother who will tie the knot.
The kujaba is then placed on the tied hands signifying the responsibilities to be shouldered by the couple as they embark on a new life.
Thereafter the relatives of the bride will shower blessings on the couple. This comprise of the main wedding ritual.
Other important rituals of the wedding is the lei-chaiba (the ceremonial seven rounds by the bride around the groom) and the leihukpa (the exchange of garlands). This rituals pronounces them as husband and wife and the bride is ready to leave for her new home.
You can read an elaborate post on the meaning of the various rituals in our post “Luhongba: Meaning and Significance”.
Mapam Chakouba (Wedding Reception)
The Mapam chakouba, also known as the Mangani Chakouba or the wedding reception or (luncheon at the bride’s residence) is normally scheduled on the sixth day from the wedding day. This is the first time the bride visits her maternal home after her wedding. It mainly comprises of a luncheon which is the biggest and most probably the only feast in Meitei weddings.
The run up to the Mapam Chakouba involves a few more steps which we will just brush through. The day after the wedding, the bride’s mother will visit her daughter. (This is because, the mother of the bride is not allowed to go her daughter’s home on the day of the wedding.) The newly married couple arranges for a small tea with snacks for the visiting party. On the fourth day again is another ritual called the “phiruk kaiba” where the mother of the bride along with other relatives open the sacred cupboard and read the prospects of the bride and the groom. This is the final ritual before the wedding reception.
On the day of the Mapam Chakouba, the bride and the groom along with a few members close friends and family visit the Bride’s maternal home for a grand luncheon. The luncheon mostly comprises of the traditional Meitei dishes. In most cases, the groom’s side will contribute a dish or two. However, it is entirely depends on the families involved.
The last and the final formality of the Meitei wedding is the Tha-phaba. On the completion of the first month, the bride’s family will again host a lunch at the bride’s maternal home. This lunch is specially arranged for the bride and her new family. This lunch is mostly a formality to increase the interaction between the two families.
Thus, as seen above, Meitei weddings comprises month-long preparation and rituals. However, not every family follows each and every ritual or formalities. It depends on the circumstances leading to the marriage or the family and clans involved. It is also important to note here that, this is not the only type of marriage which is sanctioned by the Meitei society. There are three other types of marriages which is considered void. We will talk more about that in another post.