Lai Haraoba Festival

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Apr 25, 2022, 13:40

Manipur's Meitei people celebrate the religious Lai Haraoba Festival. They also celebrate it in Tripura, Assam, Myanmar, and Bangladesh settlements. The literal meaning of Lai Haraoba is the merrymaking of the deities. Special prayers are held in the shrines of Umanglai gods. The Meitei calendar doesn't have particular dates for Lai Haraoba, and the festival is usually celebrated anytime between February to June. The local shrine management committees fix the celebration dates, which can span from 3 days to almost a month.

Lai Haraoba Festival - History and Significance

According to the Meitei myth, the celebration of the Lai Haraoba Festival had started in pre-historic times to commemorate the creation of the universe by Lord Guru Atiya Sidaba or Tengbanba Mapu. Scriptures say that Sidaba resided in stark emptiness, which once was inundated by the divine light that commanded him to create the world. The festival gradually started paying homage to other deities and ancestors (collectively known as Umanglai) who had contributed to the preservation and protraction of the universe.

Interesting Facts about the Lai Haraoba Festival

You will find below some interesting information about the Lai Haraoba Festival.

  • The Umanglai pantheon has 300+ lineal, ancestral, and other deities and towering forefathers.
  • Prominent Umanglai deities are Leimarel, Nongpok Ningthou, Pkhangba, and Sanamahi.
  • The celebration usually revolves around the ruling gods of respective regions (refer to the table).
  • The presiding deities for which the rituals are observed are Lainingthou (Male God) and Lairembi/Lairemma (Female deity).
  • During the rituals, ladies of the laibou class dance in circumambulatory manner (Jagoi or Chat-koi)
  • The ritual practices are categorized as maiba, asheiba (observed only by men), and maibi (women can observe too), where indigenous music is played for spirit mediums.
  • Lai eekouba ritual signifies the descent of the Lai god, whereas Lairoi rites celebrate the ascension.
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Primary Traditions of the Lai Haraoba Festival

The below table sheds light on the primary traditions of the Lai Haraoba Festival.

Lai Haraoba Tradition

Celebration Location


Kanglei Haraoba


· Kanglei originates from the Kangla area in central Imphal

· Presiding deity is Pakhangba

· The main ritual revolves around the search for a bride of Umanglai Khoriphaba by the spirit maibi

· Spirit is offered langthreis evergreen leaves

· Nongarol, the concluding function, signifies the ascension of the divine spirit

Moirang Haraoba

Southern Manipur area of Moirang

· Presiding deity is Thangjing

· God is offered langthrei and leisang leaves

· Duet dance Khamba-Thoibi is performed

· Ceremonial conclusion occurs with lamentation song tengtharol

Chakpa Haraoba

Various villages of Chakpa people

· Focus is on sacrificial practices followed in Phayeng and Andro villages

· Rituals include numit kappa and lai phagi tounaba

Kakching Haraoba

East Imphal Kakching area

· Eel is hunted (ngaprum tanba ritual) on a concluding day

During the Lai Haraoba Festival, people recite spiritual hymns, dance to the tune of indigenous music, observe social rituals, and follow other traditional practices to appease the deities. Through the Lai eekouba ritual, the spirit is invoked for installation in the shrine, which is closed throughout the year but is opened before the festival through the lai thong hangba ritual.

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Spiritual invocation occurs near a water source after a religious procession proceeds from the shrine. Maibi lady, in a trance, recites the incantation and rings her handbells to draw forth the umanglai spirit. The spirit descends in sacred objects or utensils, which are taken back by the procession to the shrine for installation. During the night, gods are put to sleep by Pena, who plays his fiddle (instrument) and sings.

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FAQs on Lai Haraoba Festival

Q 1. Who celebrates the Lai Haraoba Festival?

The Meitei people having their origin in Manipur, celebrate the Lai Haraoba Festival.

Q 2. Why is the Lai Haraoba Festival celebrated?

The Lai Haraoba Festival is celebrated to commemorate the creation of the universe by the god of the Meitei people, Tengbanba Mapu or Atiya Sidaba.

Q 3. For how many days is the Lai Haraoba Festival celebrated?

The Lai Haraoba Festival celebrations can range from 3 days to 3+ weeks depending upon the specific tradition.

Q 4. How many deities are invoked and worshipped during the Lai Haraoba Festival?

Almost 364 umanglais are invoked and worshipped during the Lai Haraoba Festival.

Q 5. Which rite celebrates the ascension of spirit and conclusion of the Lai Haraoba Festival?

The Lairoi ritual celebrates the ascension of spirit and the conclusion of the Lal Haraoba festival.