Manipur is a beautiful hilly state located in the north-eastern part of India. Nestled between nine hills with an oval shaped valley in the center, the state is also called the Jewel of India and is an amalgamation of culture and traditions. One such beautiful ritual is that of the Manipuri wedding – a fusion of spectacular colors and traditions.
The wedding ceremony is called the luhongba – lu meaning roots and hongba meaning change. This implies the changing of roots or clans by the bride upon marriage to a man of a different clan. The process of a wedding begins with the hinaba where the parents of a potential bride and groom meet each other, express interest and exchange horoscopes. If all things fall in place, the wedding is considered fixed. In the Manipuri custom, the bride’s family visits the groom’s home first and gives consent through the yanthang thanaga custom. Next step is for the groom’s family to return the visit with the waraipot puba ritual where they also bring food to the bride’s home. A formal engagement ceremony called the heijapot is conducted where the wedding date is decided upon.
The tulsi plan plays a very important role in Manipuri weddings and all customs happen around it. The kujaba punba ritual is symbolic of a fresh beginning. During the ritual the right hands of both bride and groom are tied by a cotton string attached with fresh flowers. The kujaba or a combination of the four key elements of a prosperous life - earth, food, clothing and accessories is placed on the tied hands symbolizing a new start to life and is a scared promise to support each other throughout life. The couple is blessed through the dan piba ritual by friends and family.
Another interesting custom is the nga thaba or setting the fish free. A few ladies from the bride and groom’s family together move towards a nearby water body with two ngamu fishes (walking snakehead), a lantern and offerings. The offerings in the form of fruits, flowers and money are made to the Goddess Iraileima or Goddess of Water, after which the two fishes are set free. This implies letting go of all negativities in the life of the bride and groom and starting afresh. The path taken by the fishes when set free are also monitored to predict the married life of the couple – whether it is going to be smooth or difficult. The nga thaba ritual happens while the dan piba is going on and is intended for the well-being of the couple.
This is followed by the lei koiba where the bride takes seven ceremonial rounds around the groom. The bride represents that earth and the groom, the sun. The ceremonial rounds signify the devotion of the bride to her man. After the seventh round, a kundo pareng or jasmine garland is placed around the groom’s neck by the bride. Once the bride is seated next to the groom, he garlands her as well, uniting each other in body and soul. The pundit or priest ties the phiji or the ends of the couple’s clothes and asks them to stand up together.
The bride and groom are then blessed with the kwa by ladies from both families. The kwa is a mix of betel leaves and nuts. The priest then passes the kangshubi or sweet made of peril seeds to the groom who feeds it to the bride as a symbol of everlasting life and affection.
The wedding attire of the Manipuri bride is vibrant with a unique style. She wears a traditional skirt called the rasleela paired with a blouse known as silum. The skirt is symbolic of Radha during the rasleela. The usual outfit of a Manipuri groom comprises of a white kurta, dhoti and a turban. The brides do not generally wear a lot of ornaments.