Thursday, 9 October 2014

Theravada Buddhist celebrates Sitang Pot-wa

ITANAGAR, Oct 8: Theravada Buddhists residing in Capital Complex observed Sitang Pot-wa (in Tai-Khampti) festival or Retreat Ending Day at Theravada Buddhist Temple in Itanagar today.
Sitang Pot-wa is the last day of the three month Sitang Khao-wa or Rains Retreat which falls on the full moon day of the eleventh lunar month (October). It marks the end of the Buddhist 'Lent 'which is a moral camping period for monks. It is believed that after performing the ‘Sitang Khao-wa or Rainy retreat’ for three months as well as devoting themselves in the practice of Dhamma, the monks comes out with more holiness in soul and body.
Delivering his discourse on the occasion, head monk of Theravada Buddha Temple, Ratna Diip highlighted the importance and significance of Sitang Pot-wa celebration and essence of observing the three months rainy retreat.
The three month period which starts from Sitang Khao-wa is often used by lay and monastic folk alike to make a variety of determinations; to take up a particular devotional or meditation practice, to challenge or renounce some old and bad habits.
Reciting the story and verse of Buddha from the Pali Canon, a standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, as preserved in the Pali language, he called upon all the people to beautifully amalgamate the pre-Buddhist practices and culture with the principles and practices of Theravada School of Buddhism as practiced today, as this merger of two different beliefs and practices can make the religion and culture even more attractive, dynamic and beautiful.
Other highlights of the celebration included illumination of lamps in temple premises besides offering foods to the monks, listening to sermons, praying and observing the Buddhist five and eight Precepts.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Tai people regard the Buddhist shrine

Namsai: Tai people regard the Buddhist shrine as a centre of religion and social activities. In the religious life of the Tai community, the Bhikkhu (Chow Mun)occupies an august and respectable position. In every Tai village, there must be a monastery and a Bhikkhu to perform all the religious activities and Ceremonies of the village.
Namsai Priyatti Sasana Buddhist Vihara.
P.O Namsai
Namsai District (Arunachal Pradesh )

Friday, 19 September 2014

SANGKEN : Arunachal Pradesh’s Water Festival

If you happen to be in Arunachal Pradesh on the 13th of April, Stay Indoors. Or step out if you love water…. and getting wet! For it’s a given that you won’t escape the water balloons and buckets of water as the Tai Khamptis, Singphoos and Tangsas (Tikhaks) communities celebrate the Sangken, the New Year Water festival.
Sangken festival is celebrated with fervor and zeal in the Tai Khamptis, Singphoos and Tangsas (Tikhaks) inhabited districts. It marks the advent of the New Year and is celebrated in April.  A festival or gala is an event, usually and ordinarily staged by a local community, which centers on and celebrates some unique aspect of that community or a festival. This three day festival is celebrated with tremendous gusto with people throwing water at each other. Festivals, of many types, serve to meet specific needs, as well as to provide entertainment. These times of celebration offer a sense of belonging to religious, social, or geographical groups. Modern festivals that focus on cultural or ethnic topics seek to inform members of their traditions.
Sangken is akin to the festival of Holi and Thailand festival of Songkran. Though it is celebrated all over the Tai Khamptis, Singphoos and Tangsas (Tikhaks) inhabited districts with great enthusiasm, it is in The Land of the Golden Pagoda Namsai and Chongkham, Empong, Phaneng and Karoni (Assam) that these communities hold the very important ritual of bathing the Buddha and people from all over come to witness this event. The pouring of water is symbolic of the cleansing of the spirit, mind and body.
Sangken the New Year Water Festival that usually falls around the month of April (Noun Ha) is the first month of the year. It is a Theravada Buddhist festival celebrated over a period of three days culminating in the New Year. The dates of the festival are observed as the most important public holiday throughout the Tai Khamptis, Singphoos and Tangsas (Tikhak) inhabited districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Water throwing or dousing one another from any shape or form of vessel or device that delivers water is the distinguishing feature of this festival and may be done on all days of the festival.
 During the festival, statues of Lord Buddha are brought out of the Chong (temple) and placed in a chapel (temporary shrine) in the premises then ceremoniously washed with clean water on all days. Buddhist scriptures (Lik), Peepal tree (toun Puthi) and monks are given a symbolic wash with clean and scented water.
Before the festival officially begins, homes are cleaned and sweet aromas fill the air from the preparation of sweets like khau-tek, khaomun sen (fried biscuit), khaomun tong tep (biscuit wrapped in leaf) etc. All preparations like plucking of flowers and procuring of candles and incense sticks for prayer are done well in advance and everyone eagerly awaits the sound of the drum beats and gongs from the temple which herald the beginning of the festival with the removing of the idols from inside the Chong to the chapel in the premises. People stream towards the Chong and offer their prayers and sweets and sprinkle holy water over each of these. Only after this is done are the sweets distributed to different houses and consumed.
Every Khampti village has a temple which is the centre of the community’s activities and during the Sangken festival, this is where the people of the village go to first, to offer their prayers and for Son- Fra (to pour water over the idols, peepal tree, scriptures etc) to cleanse their soul and pour clean water/holy water over others to enjoy and bond and also as an expression of happiness over the good year gone by.
Some places like Empong (Chongkham circle), Phaneng (Piyong circle) and Karuni (Assam) are considered holy places (Ti Met) where people specially go to pray to be blessed with good luck and to have their wishes fulfilled.
People go to the temple in the morning and evening during the two-three days of Sangken to offer prayers and for Son-Fra. The reinstalling of the idols inside the temple at the designated time marks the end of the festival celebrations.
With time comes change and changes can be seen even in the celebration of the festivals while adhering to the true spirit of the festival. Change can also be seen in the perception of the reasons for the celebration of the festivals. Earlier it was a religious festival during which the people would go to the village temple to offer their prayers together. Now each and every preparation for and during the celebration has a different significance for different people. On being asked, a sister of mine said that the best part about Sangken was the anticipation of the exact time for the festival to begin and the preparation and distribution of sweets to families/ houses in the village. The distribution of sweets for her meant the sharing of joy and happiness to all and also means a visit to friends and relatives and enjoying the treats they had prepared. Another said that the best part was the sense of calm and quiet that prevails during Sangken with the slowing of the pace of life. Everyone is in a happy mood, smiles are everywhere and fewer vehicles and crowds are seen on the roads. In the morning and evening mothers with enthusiastic children, young girls in groups in traditional attire, old and young men, all holding small buckets and baskets filled with flowers, candles and incense sticks can be seen proceeding towards the Chong.
For a friend, going to the temple for prayers and Son-Fra, drenching friends with water and visiting the temples of the holy places is not only a means of enjoying the spirit of celebration and a way of bonding with family and friends, but is also a way of atonement and washing away of sins committed, in the process, cleansing the soul so that the new year can be started with a fresh perspective.
Buddhism, for the Tai- Khampti people, is not just a religion but a way of life. Although it is difficult to follow all the teachings of Lord Buddha to the letter in day to day lives, it is done during the festival time. The Five Precepts constitute the basic Buddhist code of ethics, undertaken by lay followers of the Buddha Gautama in the Theravada as well as in Mahayana traditions. The precepts in both traditions are essentially identical and are commitments to abstain from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. Undertaking the five precepts is part of both lay Buddhist initiation and regular lay Buddhist devotional practices. They are not formulated as imperatives, but as training rules that laypeople undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice. It is during Sangken (from the time of Long-Fra to Fra- Khun) that all the people maintain and follow the Five Precepts of Buddha during which people maintain a strict abstinence from killing and hurting animals and plants, imbibing in intoxicants and spending money besides trying to stay away from the lure of worldly temptations.
So the Sangken is not just a festival to mark the end of the old and the beginning of the New Year, but it is a celebration of the end of old wounds, hurt and bad feelings and the start of friendships, relationships and life anew with a pure mind, heart and soul.
The water is supposed to wash away bad luck - so consider yourself blessed if you get drenched!

By:- Chow Bilaseng Namchoom

Folklore from North East India: A Singpho tribe tale

The Land of Rising Sun-Arunachal Pradesh just like its unexplored beauties and hidden paradise has many myths and folktale. There are numerous tribes inhabiting the state and each tribe has their enchanting folktales which are mysterious and unheard of and have beauty hidden in them to be foretold again and again.  Most of tribes’ folktales are stories passed down through generations, mainly by telling. Different kinds of folktales found in each tribe of the state include fairy tale, tall tales, trickster tales, myths and legends. Some of these tribal tales will make one wonder, think, laugh but almost all of them have hidden wisdom to discover and explore!

One such tribe that has many mesmerizing tale is the Singpho tribe inhabiting the Changlang district and scattered in some pockets of Lohit and the newly created Namsai district. Some Singphos are also found living in Assam. They are known for their fierce independence, disciplined martial art skills, and for their lifestyle where nature parts an important role. The Singphos are a hilly tribe of mongoloid origin. They had even played an important role in shaping the history of Northeast Frontier Region. They have no written history of their own. As such their life history more or less depends upon legends. The Singpho tribe is divided into a number of clans or groups each under a chief. Their clan organization is based on lineage or sub-lineage group. Their houses are built with bamboo, wooden planks and post and the roof are thatched with Takaw leaves. The traditional dress of the Singpho tribe also bears significance. They wear ornaments or enameled beads, etc. Married women tattoo on both legs from the ankle to the knee and the man tattoo their limbs slightly. The Singphos are Theravada Buddhist by religion.  According to their mythology they enjoyed immortality and unsullied happiness in the land of their origin; fall from grace resulted from the original sin of having bathed in forbidden water. On coming down to the plains, they have become mortal, and fallen from their pristine belief in one Supreme Being. The Singpho bear the faith that after the creation of the Sun and the Moon by Mathun Mathia (the creator of this Universe) the earth bloomed up flowers and fruits became a pasture ground for all creatures.
Each myths and folktales of the state, once read is sure to mesmerize the mind of those who rarely find time out of their busy schedule of life.
Here is a Singpho folktale reproduced from the book “Myths of the North-East Frontier of India” by Verrier Elwin and reprinted by the Director of Research, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar.

A Singpho Folktale
There was once a very great Raja who had seven wives. One year they all became pregnant at the same time. The six elder wives had human children but the seventh and youngest gave birth to a tortoise. When the raja saw the tortoise baby he was angry and drove the mother, though she was most beautiful, out of his house and made a little hut for her outside the village. Gradually the six elder boys grew up and when they were old enough, they prepared to go down river to trade. When the tortoise boy heard about it he said to his mother, ‘My brothers are going to trade; let me go as well.’ The mother said, ‘your brothers can walk about, for they have hands and feet, but you have none. What do you want to go trading for?’ ‘All the same,’ said the tortoise boy, ‘even if I have no hands and feet, I’d like to go.’ So the mother prepared the tortoise-boy for his journey and put him in the boat with his brothers. When they came into mid-stream the tortoise-boy brought a flute from under his shell and played it. The trees of the forest heard the music and came to the bank to listen and this is why to this day there are many trees along the banks of rivers. The boat went down the river and the tortoise played his flute. After a time he said to the six brothers, ‘Leave me here; you go on and when you return, call me and I will join you.’ He jumped into the water and sank to the bottom. There he found a great store of gold and silver and precious stones and hid them under his shell. He went on a little further and found many different musical instruments. When their brothers had finished their trading they returned and called their tortoise-brother, and he came up from the bottom of the river and clambered into the boat. Then he brought out the instruments from beneath his shell and played them. He gave some of them to his brothers and they all played together very happily. When the boat neared home and the raja heard the music he supposed that his sons must have made a great deal of money and were celebrating their success. He went down to the bank to welcome them with honour and took them home. But he took no notice of the tortoise-boy and left him in the bottom of the boat. But soon his mother came for him.
Presently the Raja made arrangements for the marriage of his sons. The tortoise-boy said to his mother, ‘My brothers are getting married; find a wife for me too.’ The mother said, ‘But you are tortoise, you are not a human being. What sort of girl will you get to marry you?’ The tortoise-boy said, ‘There is a Raja’s daughter in a village not far away and I want to marry her.’ The mother said, ‘But she is the daughter of a Raja and you are a tortoise.’ The tortoise-boy said, ‘that may be so, but what does it matter? Go and ask the girl’s father.’ So the mother went to the Raja and said, ‘Give your daughter to my son.’ The Raja replied, ‘Very well, I will give him my daughter on this condition, that within two days, before the sun rises for the second time, your son must make a boat of gold and  diamonds and bring it to my palace.’ The mother went home and told her son. Now the tortoise had great wealth hidden beneath his shell and he brought it out and called a craftsman who made a boat of gold and diamonds and they took it to the Raja’s palace before the sun rose for the second time. The Raja came down to see it and there the tortoise-boy was sitting in the boat shining like the sun. When the tortoise saw the Raja he changed his shape and became a handsome youth, and the Raja willingly gave him his daughter in marriage.

By:- Chow Bilaseng Namchoom

Delectable delights: The Spirit of Tai Khampti Cooking

Like many cuisines of different tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, Tai Khampti cooking is a “throw-together” style of cooking that allows much room for creativity. One of the delights of eating Tai Khampti delicacies is the tremendous varieties offered and the enormous variations of the same dishes, giving consumers a great number of choices to satisfy differing taste preferences and varying moods. The variations in the way same dishes are made reflect not only the creative talents of the  Tai Khampti people behind the food, but also regional as well as individual taste preferences and the Tai love and tolerance for variety. A very large percentage of people especially those people who are in North East state of India or those outsiders who happen to be amidst the Tai Khampti people in Arunachal Pradesh are aware that Tai Khampti cuisines are the best in the whole region of Arunachal Pradesh. Yet, have you ever wondered what is it that makes them so good and mouth savouring?
Our State of Arunachal Pradesh is made up of many ethnic peoples who are settled in the various regions, blended with their unique cultural and family traditions. Among the tribes occupying what is known as the central belt there is rice, and there is meat, if it is available. Contrary to popular belief traditional communities are not a race of meat eaters. The life of a hunter-gatherer is arduous and not always fruitful. Meat and fish are generally smoke dried and preserved to tide over lean periods. The energy of the village is concentrated on the cultivation of rice for which vast clearings are made on the hillsides. In the foothills belt every fertile plot of land is given over to wet rice cultivation.

A variety of green leafy vegetables are eaten, preferably boiled. An Arunachal cuisine does away almost entirely with cooking oils and spices. The popular spices are more on the form of hot chilly pastes, herbs (like watercress, white basil etc), powders, garlic and ginger and of course bamboo shoots. Certain flavorings and condiments used in local cuisine involve a preparation time of hours, or days. There are ways of cooking rice that requires a great deal of labour and attention, like the khaulam rice steamed in bamboo tubes. An area of potential popularity that is an unexplored realm is the realm of Tai Khampti food. Like its diverse and colourful traditions, the Tai Khampti food is a heady mix of various ingredients, preparations and esoteric items.
It is therefore better that you rely on your intuition and senses (taste, smell, sight, etc.) to guide you to relish the delectable delights of the Tai Khamptis. The vast majority of good Tai Khampti cooks, if not all, did not learn to cook by using recipes or from culinary schools. They learned by experience, by a process of osmosis watching others in their family cook since they were an early age, by experimentation, and by what is fresh and looks good at the market as opposed to what a recipe dictates. In fact, the greatest chefs are those who deliberately add their own “secret” ingredients to give their product a unique personality. That secret ingredient of the Tai Khamptis is more on the form of herbs available in the natural surroundings of their homes like the makat, po-hoi-hom, pi- chim-khim, plo-ching, mau-plo-mo, pi-ki. Some Tai Khampti herbs are not available at all where you live, but that does not mean that you cannot make the Tai dishes that call for them. This requires ingenuity in making substitutions that can most closely approximate the results you are after. With an intimate knowledge of ingredients and the different forms they are available where you live and a good grasp of the art of creating Tai flavor harmonies, you can cook Tai delectable delights. When you have liberated yourself from dependence on recipes and learned the principles of creatively working with flavor ingredients, the food you make will not only satisfy your tongue, but nourish your soul and spirit as well. You will be cooking with the free-spirited and easy-going nature of the Tai Khampti people and understand the “Spirit of Tai Khampti Cooking.”

The Tai Khamptis have varied cuisine whose some of the names of the food for the visitors might be nonplussed but are delectable delights and mouth savouring such as Khau ho a rice cooked in steam rice cooker and made into balls wrapped in a leaf known locally as tong and people of Assam called it Ko-pat,  Tongtepwhich is a steamed pancake wrapped in leaf, Khautek is roasted sticky rice mixed with molasses and made into balls, Khaupuk a steamed sticky rice pounded with sesame and fried in oil,Khautoum is a sticky rice roll, Khaumouning is a steamed rice cookie, Paa-Ping fish roasted using bamboo skewer, Paa-Laamfish cooked in bamboo with traditional spices, Paa-Chawfermented fish freid in mustard oil, Paa-Saa fish soup traditionally served cold, Paa-Pho fish blended with traditional spices wrapped in a leaf known locally as tong and roasted,  Thoneenboiled lentils (mug dal), Munkala Sen dry fried baby potatoes, Munkala Phun mashed potato, Muokhuo Phunmashed eggplants(brinjal) Muokhuo Toum boiled eggplant soup, Phak Kho mixed green leafy vegetable.

The Tai Khampti most popular fish soup, Paa-Saa is of a fresh green colour and in taste the soup is a masterpiece of subtle flavours and elegant seasoning. This soup is laboriously prepared using all parts of the fish and seasoning the stock with a variety of special herbs. It is also interesting in that it is generally prepared by men and involves all hands a bustle of activity that highlights the tribal’s inclination for community activity.
The fish is raw, so it is imperative that the freshest river fish is used. Sometimes dried fish is used following the same laborious method. A key ingredient of the fish soup is the uriam’ leaf (khum-phat). Uriam leaves are pounded and steeped in water to produce an extract that cancels out the raw taste of the fish. Salt added to the fish is also steeped in water first and carefully added to the soup is required. The cooking time for paa Saa is approximately one hour. It is served with rice and Paa-Saa chutney.

The Khau-Laam or bamboo rice steamed in bamboo tubes is another popular mouth watering delight of the Tai Khampti people. Ingredients required to prepare this dish are only rice and water. It is difficult to give absolute measures for the preparation of bamboo rice. The rice used is of the sticky, local variety and the amount of rice depends on the size and quantity of bamboo tubes in which the rice is cooked. The variety of bamboo used is known locally as khaulam-ba. It is soft bamboo with a thin membrane that coats the rice during cooking allowing the cooked rice to be removed easily in one cylindrical piece.  The rice is soaked overnight and filled into bamboo tubes allowing enough space for expansion. A little water is poured in and the bamboo is sealed with ko-pat leaf. The rice filled tubes is than placed on an open fire. Great care and good deal of attention are required to ensure that the rice is thoroughly cooked and not burnt. Bamboo rice can be eaten by simply pulling back the soft bamboo or sliced by cutting the bamboo into pieces. It has unique flavor and offers a clean, convenient, hygienic way of packaging cooked rice that can be carried easily.
A journalist and former civil servant based in Itanagar, Mamang Dai has written extensively about the culture and history of Arunachal Pradesh. In her book, The Mountain Harvest-The food of Arunachal Pradesh she has mentioned and written on the different culinary of the Tai Khamptis. The book also offers the first comprehensive introduction to the food habits, ingredients, and methods of preparation of what constitutes Arunachal tribal food.
Fresh Fish – 2kgUriam Leaves (Bischofolia javanica)-3 kgHerbs, spices, seasoning ( Corriander, chilly, garlic, watercress, whitebasil)Serves 5
Clean, scale and prepare fish by removing all bones and chopping finely. Set the scales and bones aside. Mix crushed garlic and finely chopped herbs and chilly with the fish. Set aside. In a large vessel pound the uriam leaves and steep in water. Extract the juice by squeezing out the excess water to yield a litre (4-5 mugs) of uraim juice. Meanwhile use the dry roasted fish scales and finely pounded bones of fish to make the stock by mixing it with water and filtering the whole through a fine sieve. This stock is used for as long as the fine layer of fish oil is visible.
Mix the uriam juice with the chopped raw fish and herbs and pour in enough stock to make up a thick soup. Depending on the number of people more of the fish oil stock may be added.
PAA-SAA Chutney
This is the traditional spicy accompaniment to paa-saa. The favoured fish used is silgoria whose innards are edible. The roe and innards are stir fried in a little oil with chopped garlic, scallions, salt and chilly. The result is a dark, rich paste that is perfect combination with paa-saa and steamed rice.

By:- Chow Bilaseng Namchoom