What is KUT festival all about?
By Donn Morgan Kipgen
The much-awaited Chin-Kuki-Mizo (CHIKIM) KUT in the state of Manipur (India) is but just a week away, i.e., 1st day of November. This colourful, entertaining and post-harvest cross-cultural event has been successfully conducted by the Manipur State Level Kut Committee (SLKC) annually, sans 1993, under the aegis of prominent Kuki officers, social-workers, professionals and political leaders since 1979.
In the beginning, a rather small two-piece event as it was, the multi-event CHIKIM KUT was Thadou-Kuki orientedly known as the CHAVANG KUT with very meagre resources with a restricted-holiday status, and then a half-holiday state festival event. But since the late 1980s, things opened up grandly with an extra financial resources from the state government; courtesy, the Tribal & Development Department, and a state holiday status and spiced up by day & night multi-cultural events.
Apart from the grandeous cultural show pieces, folk songs and western music, the ultimate all-round attraction is that of the enchanting beauty pageant contest for the final selection of Miss Kut – the heart & soul of the highly spirited night-time Kut programme. No other open beauty contest like Miss Kut has higher attraction, honour, and professional significance of such promising height in the state of Manipur; apart from the captivating beauty contestants, free of cost at that, you get to see and meet vast array beautiful young ladies amongst the sea of Kutters. Well and truly, I would not want to miss them young ladies for the world. Besides, you never know as to when, where or how you could find a young lady for future partner as a young gentleman. That’s the beauty of it all.
In the past, the CHIKIM observed this post-harvest festivity, i.e., the Chavang Kut, to enjoy the rich yielding of nature’s bounties after a year’s ardous planting, protection and a Kibbutz-type harvesting, both village and area-wise open festivities which, at times, lasted more than 24 hours period. Since they earned it all, even women and children were allowed to consume wine and rice-beer as they pleased like the village elders and youths who pumped into their hearts desire. Apart from traditional games and sports, there was an open competition amongst able-bodied youths to ceremonially win the hands of the most beautiful young lady for the night’s KUT.
There was no hard-feeling amongst the youths. Yes, indeed, there was, is, and will never be any room for enmity during KUT celebration; all are equal, irrespective of caste, creed and faith. Hence, all Kutters, participants, artistes, honourable guests and special invitees, even some Kut organisers, etc, are from all sections of our society and regularly attended by foreigners since it is in the exalted map of worldwide tourism.
The CHIKIM Kut is now annually celebrated in the United States of America under the aegis of the Washington, D.C.-based Kuki International Forum (KIF) with traditional beauty contest. It is actually the same as the U.S. Thanksgiving Day and the Israeli Yom-Kippur Kut.
Organising the Manipur State-level Kut with meagre financial resources, overly high expectations and challenging stage-expenditures, plus logistical problems, have thanklessly pushed the SLKC to their damndest limits from time to time, with nothing to gain and everything to lose if the problems are not well-addressed. Poor chaps, these non-profitable SLKC members. It is highly desirable that the freedom of speech and expression should not cross the line of constructive and positive criticisms. Most of the executive members are government officials and professionals working overtime appreciably with limited government issued fund, much less than 50 percent of the overall required expenditures and for other contingency purposes; and as such many of them have been naturally forced to silently contribute from their own pockets, plus their precious time.
As a sign of multi-ethnic post-harvest open extravagant event, all Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of Manipur are now designated as ex-officio advisors of the SLKC. All the prize monies of the Miss Kut (Rs. 75,000 this year) and other beauty queens have been exclusively sponsored and voluntarily donated for the bigger cause of the CHIKIM Kut. The enormous workloads and onerous non-profitable tasks successfully done by the SLKC have been memorable achievements by itself, though unheralded most of the times. Bounden duty is bountiful duty if taken in positive sense by the KUT organisers as a whole.
The CHIKIM Kut is observed in two sessions with different show-pieces. The morning session to be opened and graced by the governor of Manipur is socio-cultural and traditional oriented. Cultural programme is the colourful and captivating prime time exhibitions to be performed by all artistes of CHIKIM society and each cultural troupe is allotted a sum of Rs. 11000 this year, plus special transportations and luncheon. Free transportations have been arranged for die-hard Kutters from all parts of the state. The much exciting night session is graced by the state chief minister or a senior cabinet minister as the chief guest and enviably has the honour to give away the Miss Kut certificate and cheque on stage under the spot light.
The Miss Kut contest is undeniably the main side attraction, with the Kut music band punctuating the lull change-over periods during the contest with western songs. The honourable judges are selected from guests of honours and special invitees. This usually caused some ripples amongst the dignified Kutters when their proud personal expert views were not in consistent with the collective views of the selected judges. Beauty is not everything. Miss Kut is selected by the distinguished judges amongst the well-screened contestants walking graciously on the ramp on good Kut’s night. It is all about first among equals and there is always element of luck in all hard fought contests, Miss Kut contest notwithstanding.
It is also all about beauty and charm with purpose and substance laced by intelligence, knowledge and physical fitness. As one officer would have it: “Beauty without brain is simply plain dumbhead. Brain without beauty or grace can occupy all the space in the universe but not Miss Kut title”. It might sound rather harsh but he does have a pretty good point therein. Well, we can all see about that on 1st November, free of cost, since the very concept and essence of physical beauty have changed a lot in this space age. But facial beauty is not the thing of the past by any means.
This year’s Kut (2009) festivity will yet again for the fifth consecutive time to be held at the 1st Manipur Rifles Battalion headquarters ground in Imphal, the state capital. The main reasons being the prevailing law and order situation and logistics. With tight security arrangements and ultra-close proximity, the honourable chief guests, guests of honour and other Very Important Persons (VIPs) would definitely grace the CHIKIM KUT right on time. All these very VIPs & VIPs contribute resources in some way or the other for the greater glory of the ever improving state-level Kut festival, much to the relief of the ever hard-pressed SLKC.
Being a big event, the SLKC would do well to avoid any window of opportunity for negative criticism to creep in from any corner. Play it safe and sure is the watch-word. Let’s hope both the organisers, participants and the Kutters make this KUT-2009 an excitingly serene and successful cross-culture event to be worthy of emulation, by other similar open socio-cultural events.
The writer is a Manipur (India)-based freelancer.