Imphal: Manipur is a state rich in culture and traditions. So it’s no wonder that even the electoral process in the state has a tradition attached to it.
Before hitting the intensive campaign trail, every candidate in the fray organises a flag hoisting ceremony in his constituency and invites all the people of his or her constituency and party workers. The ceremony has become an inalienable part of the poll campaign process in Manipur.
Called Athenpot Thinba, the ceremony involves hoisting of the party flag at the candidate’s courtyard followed by blessings from religious leaders or elders of the community. However, the rituals performed during the ceremony vary from candidate to candidate.
In Imphal Valley, dominated by the Meitei community, the traditional ritual is called Athenpot Thinba that marks the auspicious beginning of the event.
In the hills of Manipur, where the majority populace are tribals who practice Christianity, the ceremony is presided over by a pastor or a priest and followed by blessings from the elders. The highlight of the ceremony is welcoming of the candidate by the local well-wishers and supporters in complete traditional attire.
“During the ceremony, one of the elders from my village performed a traditional chanting, also known ‘Hokharai’ in Tangkhul dialect, for ceremonial blessing. Later, our village headman put on a traditional headgear known as ‘pashi’ on my head as a sign of acceptance and blessing,” said Ningam Chamroy, NPP candidate from Chingai constituency in the hills.
During the recent flag hoisting ceremony or ‘firal chingkhatpa’ of Minister Th Biswajit Singh at his residence at Ningomthong Bazar in Imphal East district, scores of women marched towards his home to pray for him while carrying the Athenpot or offerings comprising rice, vegetables, flowers and fruits placed in bamboo baskets or steel plates.
“It is a traditional ritual to show love, affection and give blessings to the people or person whom we love. The offering items are simply grown in our home gardens, some local self-help groups bring home-made items, and the youngsters brings handicraft items,” said Dr Th Singh, a local resident and BJP worker.
Th Singh shared that at least 2,500 women from 45 booths under the Thongju assembly constituency, the traditional home seat of minister Biswajit, participated in the procession.
Later, the gifts were placed at the base of the pole where the party flag is hoisted.
Seeing the huge turnout of people during his flag hoisting ceremony, minister Biswajit had said, “I am grateful to have represented the people of my constituency Thongju; they have always stood by me in all my decisions. Their blessings are my true strength.”
“The people are the strength, not the money. And the people are with me and I am in awe of the number of supporters who attended my flag hoisting ceremony. I will get the highest vote percentage in the state,” said Th Biswajit, who is running for the fourth term as an MLA.
The gifts that the locals and voters leave behind are later distributed among the party workers and needy people.
“We are going to give some of the items to the needy people and some will be utilised for the workers,” said the minister.
According to historian Prof Naorem Joykumar Singh, the concept of Athenpot Thinba is directly related to religious festivals like Lai Haoraba and other festivals.
“In order to get God’s blessings, local people came to worship the deities with certain goods. And we called such rituals Athenpot Thinba,” informed Prof Joykumar Singh.
It is very interesting how the concept of Athenpot Thinba is applied in the context of the flag hoisting functions before the elections. Nowadays, it has become such an integral part that without Athenpot Thinba perhaps they may think that the flag ceremony is incomplete, the historian added.
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