Debanjali Biswas


Raas Vignettes

Personal notes from ritual spaces

I

Ensconced within the ramparts of the Manipur University at Canchipur is Langthabal hill, the location of the raasmandop where it is believed the first Raaslila was danced in 1779. The ruins once stood as Chingthangkhomba’s palace. As an archaeological site, the ruins are protected under Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (1976, Sec:4:1). Perhaps due to a panoptic view, Langthabal hill has been the Company Operating Base of the Assam Rifles for many years, making it an impassable zone. I had narrated the historicity of the site to a high-ranking officer in the summer. Within a few days I had received a text from him informing that the commanding officer of the base would be happy to host me for an hour under his supervision. At Langthabal, a junior officer from Bihar was instructed to walk me around. He twice requested me not to photograph any part of the army base, but the old ruins. Walking through the tightly packed quarters of the soldiers, I find a clearing where a temple stands. The small, bulbous spire and four minarets are reflective of the eighteenth-century Bengal style. Leaving those intact, the rest of the structure had been white-washed peach sometime in the recent past. The crevices which carry motifs and gods in temples from the same time, lie bare. The interior walls however were plastered with posters of Hindu gods.

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the autumn breeze
came crawling into the valley,
writhing in music
that is haunting to some ears,
passed through every pore of the shekpin
stored in corners from past festivities,
darting from alley to alley
mangol to mangol
often bowing in front of the holy basil
often ignoring the pleas of the living
and non-living spirits.
but it said, light one more for mera
because the stars have vanished
above my brothers’ roofs,
choked by smoke from the new cities
and old mistakes made in rage.
it said, light one more for mera,
for when the fervent footsteps of chali
will rise with the hunter’s moon,
their tremors will reach the hills
taut at mid-day, blue at dusk,
promising the birth
of another star.

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