Sangai Festival is an annual cultural festival of Manipur. It is organized from 21st Nov to 30th Nov every year. This festival has been celebrated over the past few years with the name of Tourism Festival since 2010 this has been renamed as the Sangai Festival to stage the uniqueness of the shy and gentle brow-antlered deer popularly known as the Sangai Deer, which is the state animal of Manipur.
Truthfully speaking even I didn’t know about this festival before going to Manipur. For that matter, I didn’t even know much about Manipur. Just like most of the Indian’s don’t know about it (I really hope someday this fact changes and Northeast India gets all the love it deserves). If you are like me then I’m sure even you didn’t know about this festival of Manipur. But I’m sure you all must have heard about the famous Hornbill festival from Manipur’s sister state of Nagaland. And right now you still might be thinking that
During this festival, you really get to see the state’s contributions to art and culture, handlooms, handicrafts, fine arts, indigenous sports, cuisine, music, eco and adventure sports, as well as the natural environment up close.
Not one but 3 locations to see Sangai festival unfold
During the Sangai festival in Imphal there are three locations where there are events organised over the period of these 10 days which go on simultaneously. So a bonus of visiting Imphal for Sangai festival is that you get to see the major tourist locations in there full glory.
- Hapta Kangjeibung and Bheigyachandra Open Air Theatre (BOAT)
Its the main venue for the 10-day extravaganza. All the cultural programmes are presented at BOAT.
- Loktak Lake
The principal attraction of the state is the Loktak Lake in Bishnupur District which is 48 km from Imphal City and it is the largest freshwater lake in the North–East India. Boating and other water sports are organized here at Takmu Water Sports Complex.
- Keibul Lamjao National Park
The only floating National Park in the world, the Keibul Lamjao National Park located on the Loktak Lake is the last natural habitat of the “Sangai”, the dancing deer of Manipur.
Each one of these locations organizes an opening ceremony and also the closing ceremony. So basically, you have an opportunity to watch the opening ceremony at one location and the closing ceremony at the other.
Watch the performances at BOAT
This is where all the exciting things come to life. It’s here where you can enjoy the performances unique to Manipur. One of the main highlights during the Sangai Festival is the dance performances. You can witness classic folk dance performances, namely, Kabui Naga dance, Bamboo dance, Maibi dance, Lai Haraoba dance, Khamba Thoibi dance, and more.
These were dances I really hadn’t seen before. My favorite would be the Khamba Thoibi in which they perform a tug of war between the men and the women and ultimately the women won! showing how strong the women of Manipur are. That really conveys a strong message that women should not be underestimated in any way. That became even more evident when you visit the Ima market of Imphal (One of the places to see when in Imphal), it’s solely a women-run market where every shop or stall is put up by a lady. Read more about it here.
Ever seen the bamboo dance and felt that energy, adrenaline and that smile getting transferred from the dancers to you and wondered where is this dance actually from? If you said Manipur, then you are absolutely right.
Then they had the best-co-ordinated performance by the Women Dancing Drummers by Rhythms of Manipur. Beautiful women laden in blue
I was lucky enough to go on the day the chief guest was the princess of Thailand, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. What made it even more special was the unique dance of Thailand was performed. Again a first for me to see. To tell you the truth the movements were super slow, but I would have to give them for the rhythm and the smile of the dancers was just beautiful , no other word to explain it (was like it was plastered on their faces but in a natural way) made up for the slow speed. I guess that would be for the princess of Thailand who was right in front of them.
Enjoy some souvenir shopping at the fair opposite BOAT
After a good dose of art and cultural performances for your visual senses and being fully entertained you can indulge yourself a little more by exploring the huge fair that’s just opposite the open theatre. Here you’ll find four rows of stalls starting from :
- Handloom shops
- If you’ve been fascinated by the Manipuri attire that every lady is wearing around you, then this is the place to buy some for yourself.andloom shops
- Some cute woolen clothes – sweaters, gloves, cardigans, coats. You’ll get it all here.
- I bought this yellow beanie from one of the stalls
- Black stone pottery – crockery, cutlery, and utensils. It is indigenous to Ukhrul in Manipur.
- The black stone its made of is only found in Ukhrul and most families of Ukhrul are self-employed in the making of these black pottery items
- Dozen of bamboo artifact stalls
- Even an exhibition stall by Assam Rifles.
- Which is the oldest of paramilitary force of India.
- A whole stall of knives
- Now coming to the food( the most important part of a festival)
- To relieve you from the hunger pangs there is a whole row dedicated to the food stalls. Pick and chose what you feel like having or have something from each stall!
- Finally when I thought that we are done with the entertainment factor on the way out of the stalls area to the heritage park, is when I heard loud music playing and a crowd starting to form around a stage and that’s when I realized that there is a live concert too happening in the ground. Although it was Manipuri language the enthusiasm of the crowd was a sight to see.
There’s more to the fair then just the stalls. There is a whole area enclosed by fences all around inside the fair itself, dedicated to the replicas of the traditional huts of the different tribes residing in Manipur just like the ones in the Heritage village of Kohima during Hornbill festival.
Every hut had a local artisan put up a stall inside these huts or turn it into a food stall. Inside them there were even traditional costumes to try on at a very cheap fee of Rs 10 or 20 and get some pictures clicked.
Loktak Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India and is famous for the phumdis (heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil and organic matter at various stages of decomposition) floating over it. The lake is located near Moirang in Manipur state, India.
We took a boat ride into the lake and then had a pit stop at one of the fisherman’s hut for tea and some prawn pakodas. Read more about it here.
Keibul Lamjao National Park
It is an extension to the Loktak lake where there is a thicker green cover over the lake. Keibul Lamjao National Park is the only floating national park in the world. The natural refuge of the endangered Manipur brow-antlered deer or Sangai also called the dancing deer, listed as an endangered species by IUCN. It has pride of place in the folklore and culture of the Manipur state and is the state animal of Manipur.
Presently there are around 250 Sangai’s alive in the park. It here that you witness more of Manipuri traditions during the simultaneous closing ceremony being organized in the national park itself.
During the chief guest’s addressal, groups of 10 -10 ladies from each surrounding village go up the stage to present the chief guest with whatever their village could contribute or afford. All the offerings are later on distributed within the villagers itself.
And that was wrap to everything that Sangai festival had to offer but that’s not even 20 % of all the things you can do and experiences you can have in Manipur. Want to know more about how you can perfectly cover Manipur and tick it off your bucket list, then click on the links below to know everything there is to know.
- 13 astonishing insider facts about Manipur.
- 10 Amazing things you need to do when in Imphal, Manipur.
- 10 Awesome things you have to do on the India, Myanmar border in Manipur.
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