Balihang Tongnam is a festival celebrated by the Limbu (Limboo) community. Since childhood, I was fascinated by religious mythologies and stories. Hence, after a nice cup of evening tea, we sat with Mr. Suk Bir Limbu, a local teacher of the Limbu culture and he told us stories about the first Limbus and how Balihang Tongnam started!
According to their mythology, Balihang was a powerful king who was loved by all his subjects. People believed that Balihang had the power to control all the elements of Earth. They asked for his blessing before all their ventures. One day, he had a vision that he would die on the night of the new moon (Amavasya) in the month of Mansir. When he told his people about this vision, they unanimously decided they will ensure there will be no darkness that night.
They lighted oil lamps and candles and the darkness was engulfed by light. They prayed to the moon to set early (Laringek) and to the Sun to rise early (Namlingek). The God of Death (Yamraj), mistaking the night for a day, did not come to take Balihang’s soul. Since Balihang’s life was spared that night, the next day was celebrated as his rebirth. Ever since, Balihang Tongnam is celebrated in two parts – a play by sunset (Laringek) and a play by sunrise (Namlingek).
We were then invited to be a part of their festivities the next day. A traditional Limbu house had been constructed. It housed all the things used by the early Limbus. We were told more stories about how the early Limbus started farming and how fire was introduced to them by their goddess, Tagera Ningwaphuma Mang. She taught them how to cook rice and yam before eating so that diseases could be prevented.
Balihang Tongnam starts with a beautiful display of traditional dance forms like Kaylang and playing of traditional musical instruments like Kay and Hangmungla. I was fascinated by small kids performing traditional dance forms wonderfully and their knowledge about their culture was equally intriguing. Oil lamps are lit. Then the play of Laringek starts with the permission and participation of the women in the community.
On the second day, after another display of several Limbu dance forms and musical instruments, Namlingek starts. This play is to celebrate the rebirth of Balihang and hence the entire Limbu community (men and women) sing the prayer sentences of Namlingek.
Balihang Tongnam is also a social gathering of various communities from different parts of Sikkim. These communities showcase their own dance-forms and music. They talk about their own tradition and culture. All these communities differ from one another in their language, festivals, customs and practices. Despite all these differences, they have not failed to promote how to live together peacefully and in harmony.
For me, a festival is all about good food and great stories revolving around the celebration and the culture it portrays. Thanks to the merry men of Yuksom, I also got to taste their local Thongba. Balihang Tongnam, for me, was two nights well spent talking to new people, learning about new cultures, and most importantly, having a good time.
We thank Ejam Residency for having invited us to cover the event Balihang Tongnam on behalf of dada. We thank them for hosting us in the beautiful resort. We insist, if you are in Yuksom you should check them out here.