From the breathtaking potloi to the beautiful bride herself, the exchange of kundo parengs between the bride and the groom, we have shared notes on all things beautiful and ugly about wedding ceremonies. But what about the rituals and ceremonies? What makes them so so heart-breakingly beautiful! We did a little reading and here’s what we got.
Meaning of “Luhongba”
During our research on the term, we came across two very convincing yet different meanings of the term. The first is a technical definition while the latter offers a very spiritual and philosophical meaning to the term.
According to N Mangi Devi (writer, Main Ceremonies of Meitei Society), the word “Lu” means “root” and “Hongba” means “change” referring to the changing of roots or clans by the woman who is being married to a man of a different clan. The technical definition or meaning of the term refers to an important aspect of the life of a man/woman living in a patrilineal society. The significant role played by the clan members and the society in the union is evident and cannot be ignored.
On the other hand, Dr. L Basanti describes Luhongba as the Meitei term for the “sacred and ceremonial union of a man and a woman with due religious rites” (Dr. L. Basanti). This points out the spiritual and physical union of souls which is prevalent in all cultures. According to her, the term Luhongba is made up of two words: “Lu” and “Hongba”. While “Lu” means “head” in archaic Manipuri, “Hongba” means “solemnize”, referring to “to Solemnize the union of the heart and soul of the man and woman”. As Dr. L Basanti points out “marriage is primarily conceived as the lifelong physical and spiritual companionship of the husband and his wife”. Thus emphasizing the sanctity and permanence of marriage.
Thus, we can see that a marriage or the luhongba has to be sanctioned by the society and the clan members through rituals which are either sanctioned by the religion or the belief system of the clans.
Significance of Luhongba
One of the most important aspect of the wedding ceremony or the Luhongba is the Kujaba Punba.
Kujaba Punba: Tying the Knot
The Kujaba Punba is the ritual where the bride and groom extends their right hands and are tied by a cotton string with fresh flowers attached. The implication: the beginning of a new life together. The tied hand will then be loaded with the Kujaba (a combination of the four elements; earth, food-grain, clothes and accessories. All the important things that one needs to start a new life).
The carrying of the Kujaba together implies that as man and wife, they will support each other through life’s ups and downs. It is the sacred promise of staying together for life.
Dan Piba: Blessing Ritual in Meitei Weddings
The couple is then blessed by friends, family, relatives and loved ones in the form of money. The Dan Piba is usually performed by the bride’s side of the family and completed by the father of the bride.
The gift money is meant for the couple’s new beginning.
While the Kujaba and the Dan piba is going on, a lady from the bride’s family and two other ladies from the groom’s side will proceed for the Nga Thaba (Setting the Fish Free). The Nga Thaba is a ritual of praying to the water goddess. It is in this ritual that the close relatives of both the families pray for the well-being of the couple. The letting loose of the fish is symbolic of letting go of all the negativity from their lives.
In this ritual, the three ladies will proceed to a water body nearby with two Ngamu fishes (Channa orientalis or walking snakehead), a lantern and offerings in the form of fruits, flowers and dakhina (in the form of money). The ladies will then make the offerings to the Iraileima, the goddess of water, to shower her blessings on the couple. After which they let loose the two Ngamu fishes.
The reading of the prospects of the couple is another important aspect of this ritual. The ladies involved will take note of how the two fishes swim in the water. If the fishes smoothly manoeuvres through the water then the couple will have smooth and successful married life. On the other hand if any of the fishes is left behind or dies in the process then it is considered as bad omen.
After the Dan Piba (blessing) is the Lei-koiba. The bride takes the ceremonial seven rounds of the groom and at the end of each round, she showers the groom with fresh flowers. This part is different for the different areas in Manipur. While in the Imphal valley, the bride takes seven rounds, in the Barak valley, the number of rounds have been reduced to only 3 to 5.
According to Meitei traditional beliefs, the bride and the groom represents the earth and the sun respectively. Thus the seven rounds signifies that the bride’s dedication and devotion towards the groom.
On the completion of the seventh round, the bride garlands the groom with a pair of kundo pareng (jasmine garland).
Thereafter, the bride goes and sits next to the groom on the luhong phan (the wedding seat/ bench). The groom then takes out one of the two Kundo parengs and garlands the bride. The exchange of the kundo pareng is symbolic of the love the wife has for the man and vice-versa. The two becomes a unit in mind, body and soul.
Thus the garlands bind two bodies, minds and souls.
Finally, the pandit then ties the phiji (the end of the clothes) of the couple and signals them to stand up together.
Kwa Lanaba & Kangshubi Chaba
Another significant ritual which is followed even today is the Kangshubi chaba (eating a sweet made of the peril seeds.) After the rituals at the mantap, the couple is taken to the bride’s house for the final ritual of the ceremony.
In the final ritual, the leading ladies (especially the mothers or the acting mothers) from both sides of the families come together to give blessings to the couple. Three or five ladies each from both sides gives the blessings in the form of betel leaves and nuts. Each of the ladies will pass a kwa (combination of betel leaf, nut and dried coconut) to the groom and then the bride. The bride and the groom will receive them as blessings by bowing to the giver.
Hereafter, the pandit passes the kangshubi to the groom who feeds it to the bride which is symbolic of the love and affection that he will shower on her through life. This brings us to the end of all the significant rituals involving the bride and the groom.
The rituals mentioned above have evolved in certain ways depending on the context and place. However, the meanings remains the same. Do check out our next blog for the different stages of the pre-and-post-luhongba ceremonies!
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More on Luhongba and Meanings:
- Dr. L. Basanti Devi: Marriage- It’s rule, Practice in the Meitei Society.
- N. Mangi Devi: Lu-Hongba
- Manipuri Wedding by Manipur Online