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Shumang Lila : The Media With A Difference

Shumang Lila : The Media With A Difference

THE ORIGIN of Shumang Lila may be traced from as early as 400 BC or 2400 years back from today, as it is originated from the Lai Haraoba festival, in which the tradition of 'Tangkhul Nurabi Loutaba' is performed on the night of the last day of the festival as an important ritualistic part. In spite of the absence of concrete historical evidences, this is a generally agreed notion among scholars. This dramatic episode has all the elements of a Shumang Lila performance - humour, pantomimic elements with simple and meaningful dialogues from the rites, traditional proverbs, riddles, singing and dancing. Shumang Lila had been known as "Jatra" or "Jatrawali" in the beginning, may be because of the fact that those performers were always leading personalities of the locality and these plays were performed for important occasions. 'Jatra' literally means 'Lead'.

During the reign of Chandrakirti Maharaj (1850-1886), a genre called Phagee Lila came up. In this, the comedians of the time such as Abujamba Saiton and Kharibam Laishuba were summoned to the palace and made to perform to entertain the courtiers particularly the royal women. Later on, comedians like Laithangba, Uritmahum, Heiningmaru etc. became popular artistes. Phagee Lila was also performed during the Durga Puja festival also. Phagee Lila was out and out comedy, cooking up of absurd stories on the spot to entertain the audience.

During the reign of Churachand Maharaj (1891-1941), Moirang Parva, Mandav Lila and Phagi lila such as Phadibi Pala and Kabuli Pala were popular. Present contemporary Shumang Lila may be perceived as a combination born out of Mandav Lila and Phagi Lila as all elements present in them are present in Shumang Lila. According to Manipur State Shumang Lila Council, the Moirang Parva performed at Wahengbam Leikai Panjee Mayum Lampak in 1894/95 was the first Shumang Lila performance. Among the early Shumang Lila performances, mention may be made of Harishchandra (1918), Sabi-tri Seitaban, Meiraba Charan, Thok Lila etc.

During the reign of King Churachand (1891-1941), a gifted artist called Chungkham Ibohal and his troupe performed a satirical play against the water tax levied on people using Imphal River. On hearing this, the King arrested him and made to perform the play in front of the King.

Puya Meithaba was the first scripted play and it was followed by BA Mapa Lamboiba around 1945-46. In the 1970s, Shumang Lila female troupes (Nupi Shumang Lila) were born. 'Epom' was also born by 1970. In 1971, All Manipur Jatra Association was formed and the Manipur State Kala Academy changed the name of the performance to "Shumang Lila" by organizing the Shumang Lila Festival from 1973 onwards. Prior to this, Shumang Lila competitions were conducted by Theatre Centre and later by Publicity Department of Manipur Government.


During the Indian freedom struggle, mass opinion was generated by incorporation of themes of British oppression in the folk art forms such as songs, dance and drama throughout India. Particularly in West Bengal and Maharashtra, where struggle for freedom was at its fiercest, the traditional media were utilized to instill patriotic feelings in the people's mindset.

Today, the state governments are using the very same art forms to convey ideas of family welfare, banking, education, health and prohibition. Besides entertaining people and making them forget their day-to-day tensions and worries, Shumang Lila as a traditional media carries a heavy responsibility to educate people on various issues both local and international. It has three important characteristic motives - entertaining, educative and reformative. After the infamous Hunger Marchers' Day of 27August 1965, the Manipur Peoples' Party produced a Shumang Lila entitled "Chak Tangba" revealing the misdeeds of Congress Party in connection with the incident. It was said to be an effective campaign against the ruling party.

Various government and non-government agencies have been judiciously employing Shumang Lila to carry messages to the people. Playwright Rupachandra Gosh's "Singareina Kenkhrabada" performed by Meitei Leima Jatra cum Drama Association (Cheitei Party) and "Kanagi Maralno" based on Polio Immunization performed by Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union were successful plays towards generating awareness among the people. The Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Government of Manipur also utilized this medium for spreading awareness on sanitation.

Mention can be made of playwright Rupachandra Gosh's "Anouba Mangal" performed by Shining Star Union, "Amambada Meingal" performed by Bir Tikendrajit Artistes Union and "Anouba Lambi" of Kamakhya Sangeet Mandal. The Science and Technology Department also produced play on environment entitled "Anouba Yenning". Chana Lukhoi's street play entitled "Senphu Hangba" performed by Compositional Artistes Association was produced for generating awareness on national savings insurance. This play was translated into Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and English, and performed all over India.

Manipur Co-artist Association's Shumang Lila "Makhong Taragi Cheingak" was also produced under the State Veterinary and Animal Husbandry Department, Manipur for awareness generation on animal husbandry services. Manaobi MM's play "Naitom Satpi" was a successful Shumang Lila based on leprosy disease and performed by the Peacemaker Artistes Association.


Tribal Shumang Lila appeared for a short period in the history of Shumang Lila in Manipur. In the absence of any further encouragement and support, it lost its way. In the year 2002, a few interested people initiated an experiment by introducing Shumang Lila among the selected tribal artistes groups and made them display at villages in hills to spread useful messages for their life. The taste was very good and unexpected. There was active involvement and participation among the artistes - there was hectic enthusiasm among the audience.

Interestingly, when the premier show of Tangkhul Shumang Lila "Ajawui Tuishot" was first displayed at Dewlaland sometime in 2002, the 1000-packed audience was enthralled by the artistes of C.R Film Industry based in Phun- greithang, Ukhrul. The play was full of comedies. Even Meities who did not know Tangkhul dialect fell made in laughter.

Thereafter, these plays were shown in different villages of Ukhrul district on demand by the public. The experiment was successful indeed. Likewise, the Paites also developed their Shumang lila "Khangban Sham Doh Ei" and performed for the first time at Paite Veng Imphal in the same year. The Thadous under the banner of United Rural Youth Artistes Manipur produced and played "Heo Neingad- amin" and the All Zeliangrong Art and Cultural Organisation of Kubuis performed "Phai- kan Kathan".

The Thadou play was displayed at Tuibong for the first time and Kabui play was shown at Pandon, North AOC. All these plays were the same as the 'Shumang Lila' performed by the Meiteis. The only differences were - it was in their own dialects and the females played female roles and males as males. There was no tradition of "Nupi Sabi" among them. A short span after production and display in remote villages of hill districts of the state, the Tribal Shumang Lilas unfortunately discontinued for there was none to encourage and support.

Actually, these plays were produced by the Manipur State AIDS Control Society for spreading AIDS awareness in tribal populated areas. The popularity of Shumang Lila among the Meitei community and its being a highly effective messenger for HIV/AIDS prompted the then Project Director of Manipur AIDS Control Society - Dr. Khomdon Singh Lisam. He put extra effort to introduce and experiment the age-old Shumang Lila tradition among the different tribal communities.

On 19 and 20 July, 2002, the Manipur State AIDS Control Society organised a workshop for scriptwriters and Directors at Mass Hotel Imphal where around thirty playwright, artistes and Director belonging to tribal communities attended. The project was to organize plays in tribal dialects with a dual-objective - to spread awareness on HIV/AIDS in nook and corner of the states and also to enrich the tradition and culture of the hill people with the addition of Shumang Lila.

Those who took active part at the initial stage were renowned playwright Chana Lukhoi, Shumang Lila Personality Narendra Ningomba, Artist Rai Khan Assurance (Tangkhul), writer Lanboi Kabui (All Zeliangrong Art and Cultural Organisation), artist Th. Angam (Thadou community) and so on. Chana Lukhoi and Dr. Khomdon Lisam took the pains in translating the scripts of these Shumang Lilas. The late Shumang Lila Gurus Laikangbam Ibotombi (Mama Ibotombi), Mangsidam Binod (Heingang) and Thokchom Ibema Leima took the responsibility to train the tribal artistes by going from one hill district to another and staying there for a long period. It was a herculean task to teach Shumang Lila to the tribal people as there was a language barrier between the trainers and the trainees.

The development of Shumang Lila in tribal dialects was a very difficult mission which became possible due to the enthusiasm of tribal artistes groups coupled with the commitment and quality leadership of the then Project Director of Manipur AIDS Control Society Dr. Khomdon Singh Lisam.

The scripts were their own. The tribal brethrens have their own stories related to HIV and AIDS - which they penned and dramatized. A committee comprising Oja Dr. Nogn- maithem Tombi, Meghachandra Kongbam, Chana Lukhoi, Dr. Khomdon Lisam and one other from the concerned community observed the plays and moulded to its presentable shape. In fact, the popularity of Shumang Lila among the tribal people is no less than that of Meiteis. When they saw their own people playing in their own dialect, their enthusiasm grew more and more - as if the tradition is of their own origin. Indeed, sharing of this tradition among the different communities of Manipur will bring a closer tie among the people of the state.

However, it is unfortunate that the tribal Shumang Lilas met an immature end due to lack of nourishment. Neither its creator nor the government department of Art and Culture seem to take its responsibility. In the valley, people used to invite Shumang Lila for festival entertainments thereby sustaining the artistes groups. However, such is not the case with tribal Shumang Lila artistes. Until their play reaches upto the status and standard of Meitei performers, we need to nourish them. Who will take up this Endeavour?

Shumang Lila : The Media With A Difference


"To the Meiteis, Shumang (Courtyard) is an important platform for learning and games. It is an institution unavoidably utilized from birth to death. Shumang Lila was born and brought up in the courtyard. Still the Manipuris love Shumang Lila, which continuously discusses various issues from time to time. It informs, educates, entertains and motivates the audience. It is being performed on various occasions such as Chakcha Hei- janaba (feasting), Naa Hutpa, Lugun Thangba, Ming Thonba, marriage and even death ceremonies in Manipur society."(Narendra Ningomba: Traditional Media &AIDS September 8&9, 2005).

Shumang Lila is the most popular traditional media in Manipur. The artistic skills and intelligence needed for a Shumang Lila artist have no parallel with the other performing art forms. In terms of effectiveness and artistic values, it is highly superior to the Bengal's Jatra, Gujarat's Bhavai, Maharastra's Tamasha, Karnataka's Yakshagana and Nautan-kee of northern Indian states. For years, Shumang Lila has been serving as society's mirror and educating native peoples with useful messages pertaining to a variety of themes. Shumang Lila can educate the contemporary people. It remains the only indigenous medium that can counter the negative impacts of new media like the satellite cable networks and bollywood films.

As we have observed, famous film stars of Manipur act in the Shumang Lila - may be to extract and train themselves with the rich artistic intelligence and values. It is a totally LIVE media, the artist used to perform at the centre of hundreds of spectators sitting around him. There cannot be a cheating in acting and no chance of rewind or recast. What has happened on stage is always the message. Right from the moment the artist comes out on the stage to the moment he leaves it- every movement is the message.

The audience is always active and alert in Shumang Lila. It is the only media which maintains a uniform emotion for its heterogeneous audience. The audience in Shumang Lila ranges from the most learned to the most illiterate, the richest to the poorest, and the most foolish to the wisest. It is the performance which can entertain people of all sections, all age-groups and all occupations. Its popularity as a very effective medium lies in its local touch. The story, the language, the artistes - all is ours.

The messages given in Shumang Lilas can go deep in our hearts. There is no dearth of scholars, intellectuals, directors, playwrights and artistes who are constantly working hard to preserve this beautiful art form and maintaining its popular character for an immortal service to the society. As Plato in ancient times opined in his 'The Republic' that 'music and drama as art forms can be either used or misused', the costumes of some of the female role artistes need to be checked in time so as to preserve the unique character of Shumang Lila as a popular media among the people irrespective of age, literacy level, profession etc. It is different from other art forms because all members of a family from the youngest to the eldest are its audience. The mature audience feels uncomfortable in the costumes of some of the female-roles.

Moreover, there is tendency that young girls may imitate these dresses and styles. So, makers of Shumang Lila need to work for inculcating decent lifestyles and costumes in the minds of young viewers. Secondly, besides the routine annual shows in Imphal, Shumang Lila festivals may also be organised at other district headquarters at least in the valley districts for a few days in a year to gain wider popularity in the nook and corner of the state. Thirdly, the state government may establish an academy solely for conducting research and training on Shumang Lila. The retired Shumang Lila personalities (artistes, directors etc.) may well be accommodated as professors of the proposed institution, where many young talented artistes of the state can be trained in the same manner as National School of Drama (NSD) trains artistes at the national level. Lastly, the Shumang Lilas in tribal dialects may also be encouraged.


Shumang Lila : The Media With A Difference

The hill and valley peoples of Manipur had their common origin, harmonious relationship, supportive economy and co-operative defense system long before the intrusion of alien faiths and subversive political-econ-omy into this land. Although frequent infightings among the various indigenous clans and also with outside invaders disturbed the balanced existence of these groups at various points of time, the inherent intimacy could well be regained in the system. However, with the coming of alien faiths and peoples from outside, irrevocable wedge appeared between the inhabitants of the hills and the valley.

Political compulsions, religious bigotries and consequent social disparities steadily became wounds in the harmonious existence of the groups. Thus, the present chaos in the state is the gradual outcome of historical realities which happened in the long beleaguered history of Manipur nation. It is now time for all the communities residing in the state to forget the erring past and come together to regain the harmony of the glorious ancient days. This probably is the overall message conveyed by the plays displayed at the 9th Shumang Lila Ningtham Kummei 2012 organized by Manipur State Shumang Lila Council.

Two persons from Thanga area were arrested for reportedly killing and butchering the 'Sangai' by the beginning of 2013. Had they witnessed the Shumang Lila "Ee Mari" of Sana Leibak Nachom Artistes'Association, they would not have killed the precious animal. Rather they would have worshipped the endangered creature as their forefather.

The news of 'Sangai' slaughter surely shocked many Manipuris, particularly those natural conservationists of the state. The more painful and terrifying would be those who had witnessed the Shumang Lila 'Ee Mari' of the Sana Leibak Nachom Artistes' Association during the 9th Shumang Lila Ningtham Kummei at Iboyaima Shumang Lila Sanglen. Had the two persons seen the said Shumang Lila, they would not have killed the precious animal. Rather they would worship the endangered creature as their forefather. When such valuable plays reach the nook and corner of the state, Manipur can save its precious fauna. This is the potential of Shumang Lila, the best localized mass medium of Manipuris.

The ancient civilization of Manipuris had all the elements of an advanced social environment with an inherent political acumen, a self-reliance economy, technological and warfare skills, and a dignified existence. Peace, harmony, coordination and cooperation amidst the frequent enmities and fights in between were the features of the composite nation. Just like the other ancient world civilizations, Manipur has a big treasure of myths and legends that speak volumes of evolution of the universe, philosophies surrounding creation of human beings, inseparable relations between nature and mankind, ancient scientific discoveries and technological inventions, patriotism and sacrifices etc. they contribute significantly to the art, literature, sports and culture of the native Manipuris.

The play "E Mari" skillfully depicted the invention of the floating boat by Luwang King Pun- shiba for facilitating conveyance on water. The play scripted by Maipaksana Haorong- bam and directed by O. Prafullochandra proficiently revealed 'Sangai', the unique fauna of the state as an incarnation from the person of Luwang Putangkoi (the eldest son of Luwang king Punsiba). It also well illustrated how Manipur's state tree 'Uningihou' was mythically transformed from 'Khoiren Naha Saphaba'.

As nature in the form of trees, animals, rivers, mountains and stars were depicted as having blood relations with mankind, these legends definitely insisted the audience members to stick to conservation of nature as their forefathers. Naharol Khongthang Artistes 'Association's 'Nungshibagidamak' narrated the story of evolution of mankind in Meitei mythology.

The rich heritage of the Meiteis was superbly imaged in the play scripted by Y. Mani and directed by L. Ibotombi Sharma. While depicting the indelible relations between God and human beings, the play tried to instill the sense of unparallel superiority of God over mankind, and also the loyalty to God necessary for every human being. The cordial relations between the Meiteis and the hill tribal communities in the times of yore were beautifully depicted in Tomthin Artistes' Association's 'Nasunglang Gi' directed by Birjit Ngangomba.

Kamakhya Sangeet Mandal's play 'Eikhoi Amattani' written and directed by S. Birkumar narrated how king Chingthangkhomba endeavored to unite the hill and valley peoples during the 1760s. Ningthemcha Wairokpa's 'Tampha Wangamlon' performed by Chumthang Creative Artistes'Association and Playwright Cnana Lukhoi's 'Khullakpa' performed by Poklen Pokpa Artistes'Association were plays which trace the origin and identity of the Meiteis. Brilliant Mass Theatre's 'Mee Otpa Nonglei' written by Kiran Meitei and directed by Arapti Iboyaima portrayed the ideal of equal treatment of all sects and religions.

Lamjingba Artistes' Union played Arun Laishram's 'Surel Singkakngamba' and North Imphal Manipur Jatra Mandal performed Sanaton Nongthomba's 'Hangkoksana'. Peacemaker Artistes'Association's 'Nupigi Thamoi' written by Manaobi MM depicted the ideal character of women in Meitei tradition. The ever famous romantic tales of hill lass 'Engallei' was played by Dedicated World Artistes' Association on the story of Ch Tejkumar. Sangai Artistes' Association's play 'Nungshiba Mapum Puwari machet' written by Imo Heisnamba narrated the story of legendary 'Sanongba Higaiwaa' and the subsequent establishment of Meitei Pangals in Manipur.

Imphal Jatra cum Drama Association acted on Ranjit Ningthouja's script 'Nachom' based on the story of legendary 'Naothingkhong' and 'Petanga'. Shumang Lila was able to skillfully unlock a variety of momentous historical episodes, meaningful legends and evocative myths for the posterity. This experimentation of the state Shumang Lila parties was somewhat successful in rebuilding a composite Manipur.

** Posted on july 28 2013

Read article: : Akashvani Imphal

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