Manipur showcasing traditional lifestyle and food for tourists

Imphal, March 13 (IANS) In a bid to dispel the image of a state in permanent conflict situations, several individuals and NGOs in Manipur are trying to showcase the northeastern border state to tourists by preserving and promoting its traditional culture and lifestyle.

The state government is preserving the traditional houses of the major communities and tribes which were constructed in Imphal as a part of the tourist festival annually held in November. Due to rapid urbanisation and craze for modern houses, the traditional thatched wood and bamboo houses are now not seen anywhere in Manipur. In the tribal society, people adorn the front walls with skulls and horns of the wild animals killed by them. Such traditional houses will be preserved in the festival site for posterity, officials said.

The Trinamool Congress lawmaker of Andro constituency, Thounaojam Shyamkumar, has announced that he will develop the religious site Chingoi Baruni as a tourist spot, after the state government failed to live up to its promise of developing the place.

“The government has not sanctioned any fund. People from all walks of life have assured assistance and it will be easy to develop it to a tourist spot,” Shyamkumar said.

Also, Motua Bahadur, 55, has opened a small private museum in Imphal showcasing unique materials from the state and it has become popular with tourists.

UKAL, a non-governmental organisation which acts as a watchdog of the traditional religious affairs, has come down heavily on a section of valley dwellers alleging they were “corrupting and polluting” society by introducing “cheap dances and songs” in their worship.

It has argued that the ‘despicable gyrations” would put off serious-minded tourists who want to know the culture and traditional religious practices of the state.

Though the majority of valley dwellers had been forced to become Vaishnavites in the 18th century, they still worship the sylvan gods.

After becoming Vaishnavites, Manipuris had turned vegetarians, refusing to touch egg or chicken even in the privacy of their homes, though many of them still relish fish.

The innovative housewives had developed unmatched culinary skills using various aromatic and delicious herbs, roots and other plants for preparing the unique Manipuri dishes. Modern spices, condiments and other ingredients sold in the shops are still new to most of the housewives.

Manipuris also eat black rice not found anywhere else in the world. It is used to prepare kheer and other items as a special treat for tourists.

About 30 years ago all hotels used to serve purely vegetarian dishes in the state and the cooks were Brahmins since the Vaishnavites would not touch food prepared by non-Brahmins.

Much to the chagrin of the devout Vaishnavites, the younger generation which is exposed to the outside world, no longer strictly follows the Vaishnava codes of conduct like taking bath before meals.

Vaishnavite girls and women are now seen thronging meat shops while elderly women sell eggs in the market. This is a far cry from the scenario a few decades ago, when children had to prepare omelettes far away from home and they could return only after taking a bath.

Because of the changed food habit and loosening grip of Vaishnavism, there is not a single hotel now which serves purely vegetarian dishes in its restaurants. Most of the mushrooming eateries have only non-vegetarian items.

Fifty years ago some hotels run by Brahmins were doing thriving business at Mao, a border town adjacent to Nagaland. Because of extortions and the changed business environment, the hotels at Mao and Dimapur in Nagaland have shut down. Instead roadside cafes serving non-vegetarian items have mushroomed at Chumukedina areas of Dimapur and Sekmai in Manipur.

To cater to the needs of tourists,The ISKCON temple in Imphal and temples of Narsingh, Vijay Govind and other deities now allow visitors and their guides to attend religious functions like traditional Manipuri weddings and post-death rituals and savour the taste of the age-old dishes cooked on the occasion.

At the temple, with a seating capacity of 1,500 persons, tourists can savour a 25-course vegetarian lunch.

(Iboyaima Laithangbam can be contacted at imphalreport@gmail.com)

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