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Explained: Manipur’s tradition of flag-hoisting by candidates

Before setting off on the campaign trail for the Manipur elections, candidates are holding a special ‘flag-hoisting ceremony’ in their respective constituencies. What is this ceremony, and why is it significant?

Written by Tora Agarwala | Imphal |
Updated: February 22, 2022 8:19:35 am
Flag-hoisting ceremony of Sh Yuh Jonathan Tao, candidate from Karong, in the presence of state BJP President Sharda Devi. (Source: Twitter/BJP Manipur)

Before setting off on the campaign trail for the Manipur elections, being held on February 27 and March 3, candidates are holding a special ‘flag-hoisting ceremony’ in their respective constituencies. The practice, unique to Manipur, cuts across parties, ethnicities, religions and communities.

The ceremony

The ceremony is usually held in the courtyard of the candidate’s home on an auspicious date in the calendar. While the event simply involves the candidate hoisting the party flag, followed by a prayer by a priest and blessings by community elders, its scale and ceremony vary from candidate to candidate.

In the Meitei-dominated Imphal valley, a practice called the Athenpot Thinba is a key part of the flag-hoisting ceremony. In it, women from the community carry a variety of fruits and vegetables, rice, traditional snacks and flowers, and deposit them at the base of the party flagpole. Other gifts are also given to the candidate to wish him/her luck for the elections.

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Dr Bedavati Laishram, Assistant Professor of history at Manipur University, said Athenpot Thinba is a ritualistic procession that marks the auspicious beginning of any event. “Athenpot usually refers to an offering, which includes a mix of items, such as food and flowers, and Thinba means to present/drop things,” she said. The giving of Athenpot is common practice, and found in other traditional festivals such as Lai Haraoba, and even weddings.

In religious ceremonies, Athenpot is presented to appease the gods; in elections, it is done to show support to the candidate.

Following that, the candidate can interact with the people, or deliver a speech. Central leaders or star campaigners too attend flag hoisting ceremonies of some candidates. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who was in Manipur last week, attended the flag hoisting ceremony for BJP’s Y Khemchand Singh, contesting from Singjamei.

The date of the ceremony is selected on the basis of astrological predictions in some areas. For example, a number of candidates held their flag-hoisting ceremony on February 14, as it was considered an auspicious day.

While the ceremony cuts across religions and faiths, there are variations on how it is done. The Meiteis, who follow Vaishnavism and Sanamahism, may have a puja in the ceremony. In the predominantly Christian hill districts, the ceremony is usually presided by a pastor who delivers a sermon, with blessings by elders, and may be followed up with singing of hymns.

The significance

Observers say the flag-hoisting ceremony, apart from being a public declaration that a candidate is standing from a particular constituency, is also an indicator of how strong or popular he/she is. “It is like a show of strength… if a lot of people show up at your flag hoisting, it means you are very popular, and have a better chance of winning,” said a senior Congress leader from Manipur.

The ceremony is also a way to seek blessings from the voters before the campaigning starts.

It is not clear when the tradition started to become an important part of elections in Manipur. Observers say it has been happening for quite a while.

Imphal-based historian Wangam Somorjit points out that flags in general hold a place of importance in the political and religious life of Manipur’s history, and this practice could be linked to that. “For Meiteis, before that go into the temple and pray to a deity/god, they first pray to a religious flag,” he said, adding that the belief was that those who seek power, must especially keep the flag in reverence.

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