3/19/2011 | India , Manipur

Yaoshang (Holi in Manipur)

The Indian spring holiday of Holi is kind of a big deal in Imphal.  Unlike elsewhere in the hills of the Northeast India where the tribal communities are mostly Christian, the Meiteis of the Imphal valley are Hindu and celebrate the spring holiday of Holi, know locally as Yaoshang, with particular exuberance.  Yaoshang is celebrated for 6 days beginning with a puja on the evening of the full moon.  After the puja the temporary thatched huts, built to house the deities, are burned down at the first sight of the full moon, and Yaoshang begins.

The Meitei celebration of Yaoshang is like a mix of Indian Holi, the Olympics, a high school dance, and American Halloween.  Children take to the streets and go door to door demanding money as American children would go trick-or-treating on Halloween.  The young adults meet in the evening at various sites set up in the streets and open places of Imphal for a traditional line dance.  The young women in each locality host the event often raising money by setting up ropes in the streets and asking for donations to pass.  During the day each locality in the city has as a sports festival.   The sports festival is kicked off in Olympic like fashion with a torch relay through the streets that originates either at the Kangla, or the Shri Govindajee Temple.  Throughout Yaoshang a mix of games and sports competitions are held at the various grounds in each locality.  A true community building event where every one from young kids to grandfathers and grandmothers compete in competitions as diverse as foot tug-of ware, freeze dance, musical chairs, as well as more traditional sports such as football (soccer) and foot races.  With divisions divided by kids age, as well married and unmarried women and men.

In addition to the sports and games the locality sports festivals become a celebration of Meitei culture and often the evening programs consist of performances of traditional dance and martial arts by members of the locality.

The throwing of color, the aspect most commonly associated with the Indian holiday of Holi, is also a key part of Yaoshang.  Colored powder and water is thrown both in the street and during dances performed at Shri Govindajee Temple.  Though the degree of courtesy is in which color is thrown is much higher than the celebrations of Holi have witnessed elsewhere in India.

Both Sarah and Robin had to leave after the first evening of the festival returning to their respective countries, leaving me alone to explore the festival with Deepak, my Meitei friend.  Deepak was my guide to Yaoshang, graciously taking me around to the various events held through out the city.

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