Delhi exhibition showcases Manipur’s mythical giant snake Poubi Lai

New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) If the Chinese people believe in the myth of the dragon, the Scots in the Loch Ness monster and the Hindus in the Naga serpent, then the Meitei people of the northeast Indian state of Manipur have their own myth of a giant snake.

In a one of its kind one-piece show, the National Museum here, in collaboration with the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (IGRMS), has mounted an exhibition showcasing a sculpture of Manipur’s mythical 21-foot giant python Poubi Lai.

The exhibition, which started on Tuesday evening in Exhibition Hall 2 of the National Museum, will run till August 31.

According to Meitei mythology, Poubi Lai is a huge python that lives under Manipur’s famous tourist attraction, the Loktak lake.

The snake was awakened by the collective fishing activities held under the patronage of the nearby king of Moirang.

The angry giant snake began to destroy the habitat of the fishermen and started killing people.

It threatened the king of Moirang to provide one basket of rice and a person for its daily meal. With the people living in terror, a handsome young lad of Moirang named Chauhi Leirong Apanba visited Kabui Salang Baji, the most famous shaman who lived at a place called Salangthel in the hill ranges west of Loktak lake.

Salang Baji promised to save the Moirang kingdom from Poubi Lal and transformed a “tou”, an aquatic plant, into a nine-headed javelin, the weapon destined to destroy the angry python.

Several lores on human interaction with a species of python are articulated into the cultural fabric of Manipur from early times.

Multiform and diverse expressions of the python cult in this land covers not only cosmological views and Vaishnavite religious beliefs but also entail a high degree of expressions on social values, political power, art and aesthetics of the people of the region.

Conceived and chiselled by wood-carver Karam Dineshwar Singh, who was one of the successors of the royal family-associated craftspeople, the 663-cm-long (21.752 feet) artwork found expression in 2002 from a dream he had of Poubi Lai one night.

Owing to the divine instruction of the deity, Dineshwar left his home to sculpt the structure of Poubi Lai.

He could locate one root of a big tree near the bank of the Leimatak river as forecast in his dream. The root looked exactly the same character of the image he had dreamt.

It took him six months to finish the sculpture and it had its inaugural exhibition the same year at Manipur State Museum in state capital Imphal.

Art historians note that this sculpture was the first of its kind that drew the attention of a large audience to console themselves with the live presentations of Poubi Lai about which they have ever heard only in stories. The work has travelled to France for an exhibition.

The ongoing exhibition at the National Museum here is supported by nearly 30 illustrations of the story of Poubi Lai by Meitei artists.

Inaugurating the exhibition on Tuesday, K.K. Mittal, additional secretary in the culture ministry, said that the exhibition is part of the central government’s bid to promote the cultures of India’s eight northeastern states.

The inaugural ceremony was marked by a dance recital by a troupe of artistes from Manipur reprising the legend of Poubi Lai, yet another manifestation of global cultural syncretism.

Located in Bhopal, IGRMS is an autonomous organisation under the ministry of culture. It works on the depiction of the story of humankind in time and space.

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