Manipuri Wedding Rituals - LUHONGBA

Marriage dress of Meetei Bride and Groom. Sangai Festival 2014. Pic by S Nayyar.
  • Article explains the Manipuri marriage ritual in some detail.
  • All ceremonies including the wedding are conducted around the Tulsi plant.

The Meetei or Manipuri people, are small in population, have a glorious culture and tradition. Manipur has its own tradition, civilization and history going back over 2,500 years. The Manipuris had their own Tibeto-Burman religion worshiping own Gods and Goddesses besides Hinduism which entered the state in the 18th century. Modern day Manipur has an area of 22,327 square kms.

Manipuris observe the Lai-Harouba ceremony during the summer offering flowers, new vegetables and fruits for peace and prosperity of the land. The Meetei believed the rituals, songs and dances associated with Lai-Harouba are the foundation of modern day Manipuri dance and music.

An oval shaped green valley surrounded by nine hill ranges, rich in tradition has inspired people to call Manipur the “Switzerland of the East” and the “Jewel of India”. The people of Manipur include the Meeteis, Nagas, Kuki-Chin-Mizo, Manipuri Muslims and many others coming from different parts of the country. Geographically, Manipur shares an international border with Myanmar in the East and has state boundaries with North Eastern States.

The forms of marriage prevalent in Meitei society are Marriage by engagement, Marriage by elopement and Court marriage (few in number if necessary). Marriage within the clan or yek is strictly prohibited. This is a long time honoured custom in the Meitei society. The marriage by engagement is the purest and highest form of marriage and the basis of regular Meitei marriage.

Marriage is a social contract for the satisfaction of physical, biological, psychological and spiritual needs of Man and Woman leading to the formation of a family. Thus, the growth and development as well as the stability of human society depend upon this universal and primary institution. On account of this vital importance, the sanctity and permanence of marriage has been emphasized in Meitei Society.

The Meitei concept of marriage implies the sacred and ceremonial union of a man and a woman with due religious rites. The local term for marriage is “Luhongba” which is a combination of two words, “Lu” which means “head” in archaic Manipuri and “Hongba” to solemnize. Hence, Luhongba is the ceremonial union of the “Lu” of the man and the woman implying the oneness of their heart and soul rather than the state of their being a couple.

In Meitei society child marriage was totally unknown. Widow re-marriage is allowed with a restriction that a widow cannot marry her deceased husband’s brother and relatives. No practical ceremony is performed for widow remarriage.

The Manipuri marriage has a two customary system among the Vaishnavites and traditional Meeteis, most of whom reside in the valley areas of Manipur. The parents and guardians select the life partner for their son or daughter. After the parents, of boy and girl, reach a mutual understanding the date is fixed.

Both sides get the horoscope of the bride and groom examined by astrologers who give the final dates for the marriage ceremonies. This type of marriage is known as Gandharva Vivah

Another form of marriage is when the bride and groom fall in love (love marriage).  In this form of marriage the groom elopes with the bride. On the morning of the next day the male elders of the groom informs the bride’s family. By afternoon a team of women escort the bride to her house. Later on, the parents of both side complete other formalities.

The actual process of marriage starts two to three days before with the Heijing Kharai Puba (Heijingpot): This is the most important of all the preliminary stages of marriage. Different types of gifts, fruits, sweets, items for God and clothes for the girl are given by the Groom’s side. Among the fruits, two fruits namely Heikru (ambalica) and Heining (Spondias mangi fera) must necessarily be included.

Unlike other preliminaries, Heijing Kharai Puba has a deeper social and religious significance. On this day both the parties, meaning Groom and Bride, meet in the house of the bride. In the evening the friends of the bride bring gifts and eat together with the bride.

After the Heijingpot ceremony one boy from the bride’s family goes to the house of the Groom and extends an invitation to come for the marriage. This is known as Bor Barton touba (extending of Invitation to the groom). This ritual was normally done in the afternoon. The boy who came to extend an invitation to the groom was given some money, as a token, by the groom’s family.

The family of the bride arrange house hall materials, bed, cupboard, sopha, television, ornaments, clothes, utensils for the bride and her husband. These materials are transported, in advance, to the house of the Groom on the day of the marriage or earlier.

The marriage invite is sent to friends and relatives well in advance before the marriage ceremony. On the day of the marriage the Groom leaves his house around 2 to 2.30 pm, actual time depends upon how far his home is from the bride’s home. Before leaving the Brahmin performs a ritual, the groom bows to his parents and elders and leaves for the home of the bridge in a white decorated Dhoti, Kurta and Turban as you see in cover pic.

The Groom, accompanied by his friends, carrying Mirror and Umbrella proceed towards the home of the bride with a supervisor (male guide of the groom) and colour full Band party. Normally the band party play modern musical instruments and drums. In traditional styles, the traditional musical instruments like pena (oldest string instrument of Manipur) and langden drum are played.

Before the Groom party reaches the bride’s home a group of women carrying religious items go to the house of the bride.

The groom is received at the main gate of the house of the bride with sacred fire from the side of the bride. The groom and his party are made to sit in an enclosed area. Here the girl’s side arrange for Sankirtana music during which suitable religious lyrics are sung by male and female singers in the courtyard of the bride’s house. Before Vaishnavism entered Manipur the wedding ceremony was not accompanied by Sankirtan as is done now.

In every Meitei house the Tulsi or Tairen Plant is grown over a raised rostrum. All ceremonies including the wedding are conducted around this plant. The bride circumnutates the groom seven times and on completion of each round she throws flowers over the head of the Groom.  On the seventh round she places two garland of white flowers (Kundo) around the neck of the Groom. The Groom then removes one of the garlands and places the same around the neck of the bride.

Bride puts garland of white flowers on groom. 

Groom puts garland of white flowers on bride.

The main item of the ceremony is to solemnise the tie by sacrificial
ritual, either by the kindling of fire or installation of water pot. Kujaba Punba (tying of brides’ palm with that of the groom) is an important ritual. The Groom with the help of the supervisor/guide enter the Mandap. After bowing he sits on a well decorated bench covered with red velvet/carpet cloth. He joins the ritual that would soon be conducted by a Purohit/Brahmin – this ritual also involves the father or elder brother of the bride.

The bride wearing beautiful embroidered well decorated stiff skirt (Potloi) and ornaments is brought out of her home accompanied by her sister (see cover pic for her dress). She bows to her father and then enters the middle of the Mandap where the Groom is sitting.

Both hands of the bride and Groom are tied by a lady from the bride’s family who also puts a beautiful coconut over their tied hands. The girl’s father places currency notes, normally as a gift to the two, which will followed by other members of the family, friends and relatives of the bride.

Girl and boy hands below a container in which is coconut and placed money as gifts.

Wedding ceremony is usually accompanied by Kirtans at which suitable religious lyrics are sung. Before Vaishnavism entered Manipur the wedding ceremony was not accompanied by Sankirtan as in done now. 

The family members, relatives and friends of the bride see her off by going together to the house of the Groom.

The marriage ceremony ends with Mangani Chakouba (five days feast) i.e. five days from marriage date. The family of the bride invite the bride, Groom, groom family, relatives and friends to a grand feast-lunch at the house of the bride. However, the bride cannot come to her parental home before the completion of one month from the date of wedding. On completion of the stipulated one month she comes accompanied by her mother-in-law.

Author is based in Imphal and runs a very popular music group Rhythms of Manipur.  His phone number s 91 89740 05015. Pictures that are shown in article are courtesy and copyright Babul Khuman. 

Here are video links to some of their performances.

1 Official Video

2 Dancing Drummers Rhythms of Manipur, Sangai Festival 2015

Fusion Music Sangai Festival 2018 

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