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Sankirtan: the Origin of Cholom

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Sankirtan: the origin of Cholom

Sankirtan, by virtue of its spiritual embodiment, is the chanting or singing of the glories of the supreme Lord, establishing the relation between the soul and the Supersoul. It is an exhibition of the gratitude of the human beings to the creator, and is the established truth for all the religions practiced by humans irrespective of caste, creed and colour. Sankirtan, as mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam, the highest authority of Indian culture, is the religion of the Kali Yuga i.e. the present age of quarrel.

The home of the Cholom in the field of Manipuri performing arts, specifically dance, is Kirtana or Sankirtan. Cholom is an authentic and self-reliant form of performing art. To trace the origin of it, we have to find out among which of the Kirtans it is used most widely and perfectly. Kirtan forms a prominent background in any ceremony, from the day of birth up to the last breath, in this land.

In Manipur, we can first divide Kirtan in three categories for better knowledge, viz.

  • Nat Sankirtan,
  • Kirtan in sitting form or arrangement, and
  • Kirtan on the move or while roaming.

Objectives: The present study aims at studying what is the nature of Manipuri Nat Sankirtan and what are its types and forms. It will also look at the role of Sankirtan in the Manipuri society and their socio-religious practices. Further, the paper will try to connect the Manipuri traditional Lai Haraoba with this Sankirtan form and to explore the instruments and the role played by them in order to understand the representations of the Manipuri Nat Sankirtan.


The main source of data is secondary comprised of books, journals, research articles, published Thesis, magazines, websites, etc. The method of historical analysis is employed for the present study. Moreover interview with the knowledgeable person in this area of study has also made a contribution in the finding of the research.

Nat Sankirtan: a part of Mahayajna

Nat Sankirtan by its constitutional nature is the biggest and the most classic form of all the Sankirtans. It is by itself the most visible or practical performance oriented form of Mahayajna, with all the rituals. Hence, Nat Sankirtan is a very high profile activity which is part of a universal Yajna. The people of Manipur are very fortunate and divinely blessed as an elevated devotee like Rajarshi Bhagyachandra was born here, who fully established and left behind a rare form of Sankirtan Mahayajna called Nat Sankirtan, which is found nowhere else in the whole world.

It is clearly written in the royal chronicle of Manipur, ‘Cheitharol Kumbaba’, that king Kyamba was in the throne of Manipur during the years 1467-1508 CE when Vishnu was first worshipped in Manipur. Kyamba was already a worshiper of Vishnu at the time precisely when Bhakti or Kirtan of the Vaishnav philosophy had reached Manipur, before the birth of Mahaprabhu. It is sometimes presumed that following the king’s desire the people of this land totally converted to Hindu faith.

Now, we have to consider the kinds of Kirtan. There are the following numbers of Kirtans which have their own proper place and are prevalent in Manipur.

  • Nam Kirtan: Without Nam Kirtan any auspicious ritual relating to the glories of Krishna, like Bhagavat Kirtan, and of the demigods and goddesses cannot be performed. Being mainly based on singing and chanting, this form is only for ‘shravanam’ (hearing), which is the first of the nine processes of Bhakti described in the Srimad Bhagavatam.
  • Katha Kirtan or Guna Kirtan: The season to celebrate this Kirtan is in the month of Mera correspomding to October/November or Ashwin/Kartik in the original Indian calendar. Complying with the idea that the season is unfavourable, the common people in relation to their religious faith organize religious events like Bhagavat Katha (Lord Krishna’s tales from the Bhagavad) and Bhagavat Kirtan (chanting the glories of Krishna in musical interludes) and celebrate in the localities of the land. This is the design of the Katha Kirtan in Manipur.
  • Episode of Damodar Lila: The most prominent tale related during the Katha Kirtan is that of the episode of Damodar lila that leads to the liberation of Nalakuvara and Manigriva, the two sons of the demigods’ treasurer Kuvera. Contemplating in sympathy, Narada Muni exhibited his causeless mercy and cursed the two to remain as trees in Nanda’s (Krishna’s father) courtyard for a period of the demigods’ one hundred years. However, Narada Muni with his special causeless mercy blessed them that they would be freed generously by Krishna himself.

However, the celebration around the above tale is not necessarily limited to Manipur as it is commonly celebrated in Mathura, Vrindavan and other places. But the spirit of the celebration remains one. The singing or chanting is in the mood of the Manipuri style, and the songs pronounce the different glories of Krishna only.

Nobo Kirtan

Generally we have a type of Kirtan which starts from one place and ends at another place. The process depends on the need of the occasion. Whenever a deity is carried for a specific celebration it is the custom to lead the procession with Nobo Kirtan.

Musical Instruments in Kirtan

On the whole Manipuri drummer artistes use both Pung and Khol in these forms of Kirtans. But regarding Khol, the artistes do not use the Bengali Matikhol but rather their own wooden Khol which is more convenient in the display of Cholom etc. Among other instruments the Kartals are held in the hands. Singga and Benu are the two instruments commonly found mentioned and used in such Kirtans. Singga is the long blowing instrument shaped like an elephant trunk, whereas Benu is one of the names of Krishna’s flute. In the present day, such lovely musical instruments of original character have been substituted by the loud brass bands of western origin.

Cultural Assimilation

Bangdesh pala which is presently performed in the devotional service of Sri Govindaji, it is commonly known to be a piece of Kirtan originating somewhere from Bengal. During the reign of king Garibniwas, a Bengali person who was converted to Manipuri under the surname of Konthoujam innovated and taught the Bangdesh Pala. And since that period it has developed continuously through the ages to reach the present existing form. It is now fully assumed as a designated old form of Manipuri Kirtan.

This is true in the case of Manoharsai also. This form of Kirtan is undisputedly from Nabadweep in Bengal. King Chandrakirti had sent some singers to Nabadweep to learn Manoharsai and thus the king was its founder in Manipur. But the form has become rooted here in Manipur up to the extent of becoming one of the important parts of the society with regard to social ceremonies etc.

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