Halloween party ideas 2015

By Pu L.Keivom* Inpui.com columnist.

keivom God said of Paul, “He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name.” Paul’s life was a living testimony to the truth of this divine declaration and he continues to bear till this day and beyond the name of his Mentor in the four corners of the world through his writings which formed more than half of the books of the New Testament.

Likewise, the world has seen men and women who, by their noble and selfless contributions to the enrichment of human lives, have clearly demonstrated that they, in their respective fields, belonged to the category adumbrated by the famous Scottish historian, essayist and sage Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) in his collected lectures entitled On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History (1841). Thangngura undoubtedly belongs to these chosen few. Preordained to be the chosen one, his name given at birth means a Famous (Thang) King or Chief (Ngur). Famous king or chief he definitely was not. He is much more than that: the author of more than 80 popular spiritual hymns in Hmar.

Thangngur was born at Lailen, a small village in Mizoram then called Lushai Hills in the eventful year of 1891 which ushered in the British rule in the region to stop the ferocious hillmen from further head hunting expeditions into the British-held tea gardens. Later, Thangngur’s family migrated to Senvon, the gateway to the first entry of Christianity in the region and the biggest village in Manipur lying in the south-west on the border of Mizoram. Thangngur was already 19 when the village received an unusual visitor, a white man named Watkin Roberts who came on foot all the way from Lushai Hill’s capital Aizawl to preach a new religion. A ‘pale face’ carrying a foreign religion.

Roberts came to the village at the invitation of the then Chief Kamkhawlun. It was in early February, 1910 when the region was on the verge of being hit by a cyclical flowering and dying of bamboos called Mautam that caused sudden explosion of rat population which invaded jhums and devoured all the standing rice crops at harvest time, thereby leaving little grain or nothing for the villagers. Mautam normally takes place every 48-50 years. It is perhaps nature’s way of rejuvenating the soil where bamboos are grown. But the word ‘mautam’ is associated with famine and death as it inevitably leads to a severe famine and starvation death.

Roberts however did not come to fight the rat menace. He came to save the people from the bondage of sin and the menace of the Devil. He carried nothing with him except his Bible and his unrelenting faith in the power of the Gospel to make the impossible possible. Though his faith did not physically move mountains, it moved the hearts of some who listened to his sermon, perhaps the shortest and simplest sermon on earth in broken Lushai: FROM NOW ON, BELIEVE IN THE WORDS OF GOD (Tun atrang chuan Pathian Thu lo awi tawh rawh u).

I could visualize Thangngur watching and listening the sermon of the white man with a glimmer of hope in his sunken eyes. The degree and intensity of his curiosity could be seen from his gaping mouth. Soon after Roberts returned to Aizawl, he sent three teacher-evangelists to Senvon to start a school and preach the Good News. Thangngur was one among the first three converts. He then joined the basic school started by the evangelists and soon learnt reading and writing. But he could not attend regular classes, as he had to work in the jhum from sunrise to sunset. Undaunted, he continued to pursue his studies, toiling hard till dead of night in the glow of the dying embers. Lanterns and candles were then unheard of in the village and electricity was many unknown cosmic miles away.

Roberts’ maverick escapade into Senvon paid rich dividends. Soon converts grew by leaps and bounds and churches came to be planted in and around Senvon necessitating the establishment of a Mission in 1913-14 which he called Thado-Kuki Pioneer Mission (TKPM) with Senvon as its headquarters headed by R. Dala from Aizawl, the first-ever full-fledged missionary among the Mizo people. R. Dala organised an impromptu Bible training school to cater to the urgent needs of the local converts and young teacher-evangelists. Thangngur was one of its first products. After he got married in 1917, Thangngur passed what was then called Middle School Certificate examination roughly equivalent to Class VI. It was then the ultimate qualification one could dream of achieving through a Mission School in the area.

Later, Thangngur was employed as teacher-evangelist at Senvon for two years at a monthly salary of Rs. 10 and then transferred to Tinsuong in 1920 when the Mission moved its headquarters from Senvon. As the Mission grew bigger across the neighbouring States, the name was also changed into North-East India General Mission (NEIGM) with Lakhipur in Cachar District of Assam as its headquarters and Tinsuong as sub-headquarters for Manipur. By then Thangngur’s poetic talent and spiritual gift had become widely known and recognised.

Then came a split in the NEIG Mission when its Pasadena-based General Secretary H. H. Coleman staged a kind of coup and dislodged the founding father Watkin Roberts on some flimsy but calculated charges. Coleman tried to inveigle Thangngur into joining him and accepting the post of Field Superintendent. It was a very tempting offer with a big responsibility and an assured comfortable income. After much praying and inner debates, Thangngur listened to his inner voice and declined the offer. Instead, he backed Watkin Roberts and with few others remaining loyal to the pioneer of the wounded church, they subsequently formed an Independent Church.

Coleman was furious. He did everything humanly possible, apparently with an official backing, to discredit Watkin Roberts and his followers. Waves after waves of trials and tribulations followed. Coleman obtained official sanction to incarcerate the Independent Church. Roberts’s men were not allowed to build and own church or conduct any Church activities. Their leaders were expelled from Manipur. Roberts himself was banished not only from India but also from the United States. Some of the shepherds and their flocks who had earlier professed allegiance to Roberts soon deserted him for greener pastures. The Independent Church dwindled to a mere skeletal seven workers by October 1930. Thangngur had more than his share of the burden of the conflict. He lost his teaching job and virtually became a pauper. But he never flinched an inch from his resolution. He would not lay down his cross, whatever the cost. Many of his hymns were born out of this travail.

Deprived of his teaching position, Thangngur migrated to Phulpui village in Vangai Range in 1932. There, he had a daily rendezvous with God in a cave about a furlong from the village where he prayed regularly. It was here in Phulpui that angels reportedly visited him several times and introduced him the spiritual world beyond the realm of material consciousness. He vividly depicted some of his enthralling experiences in his crystal choral piece JORDAN RAL (BEYOND JORDAN) which we will deal in greater detail later. Major bulk of his works flowed out from here making this insignificant village a preponderant place in the Church history. He achieved his spiritual as well as poetic heights from this humble place.

In 1935, the Independent Church, in defiance of the temporal ban on its activities, started again building churches and in May of that year even had a Conference at Parbung to elect its leaders. Taisen became Superintendent with Thangngur as Assistant Superintendent. As Taisen was soon banished from Manipur for violating the official ban, Manipur area had come under the direct charge of Thangngur. Finally, in 1942, the unholy sword of Damocles hanging on the neck of the Independent Church was removed and the day of freedom had dawned. The following year, Thangngur was elected Field Superintendent to be based at Senvon, the original home of the Mission. Before he could move to his new headquarters, he left for his permanent home on December 20, 1943. Mother Hmar lost her great son!

But Thangngur never dies. He left behind an imperishable monument built not on bricks and stones but by the tip of his spiritually inspired and powerful pen. Any soul capable of delving deep into the meanings of his hymns will find that every of his 80-odd hymns is a classic by itself. Once General Wolfe, the famous hero of Quebec said he would rather have written Thomas Gray’s ELEGY than taking Quebec. I have no doubt he would have said the same thing if he had come across any of Thangngur’s powerful and majestic hymns.

Thangngur’s works tell you about the meaning of life with or without Christ and life after life. His own life was a true testimony of what he preached and practised. Storms of life, he braved through many. Extreme poverty remained his constant companion all through his service life. He knew the true meaning of thirst and hunger, elation and depression, suppression and deception, hopes and fears, aspirations and despairs, successes and failures, physical and mental agonies, hate and love; he had experienced them all in real life drama. The thorns of life mercilessly pricked him like Paul. He bled from head to foot like his fellow traveler poet P. B. Shelley. These experiences however enriched his life. He learnt the secret of contentment in extreme want; faith when nothing is left to hope for; love where deception and ill-will concentrate.

Once George Bernard Shaw rightly said, “Very few people can afford to be poor.” Thangngur belongs to that category: materially poor but spiritually rich. Though materially a pauper, Thangngur never stopped counting the blessings of God while the earthly rich bathing in the comforts of their opulence completely not only ceased to count but instead murmured for having less than their heart’s desire. For he knew he was spiritually a multi billionaire, an inheritor of God’s immensities.

Once Thangngur faced one of the severest challenges in life: sharing when almost nothing is left to share. On arrival from a long preaching tour, he found that his family was left with only a tinful of paddy which, when husked, would provide hardly a day’s supply. He had no money and nobody to turn to. He looked around the empty house. Hunger and silence reigned supreme within its four-corners. Even the normally playful and mischievous house rats had deserted it, as there were no more leftovers to hang on.

Thangngur’s neighbour was in no better position. In fact, he was even worse. He came to Thangngur with a begging bowl to ask if he had any food provision to share with. Thangngur gave him half of what he had and praised God for lifting him up to a position where he could help others in need. What a test and a victory! Even in much less extreme circumstance, most people choose not to share especially when it hurts. It takes more than an ordinary heart and faith to face such a situation as this incidence with magnanimity. Thangngur literally hangs on the words of Jesus Christ that above everything else one should first seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. He reflects this position in one of his works thus-

I aw Lalpa i malsawmna hi chu,

Nang nekin tam tak chun an ngaihlu lem;

Tlaksam leia mitthli a hnâi lai khom,

I ram le i felna min hlat naw la.

O Lord, thy blessings, rich and bountiful,

Many attach more importance than Thou;

Even when poverty drives me to tears,

Deny not Thy kingdom and righteousness.

Thangngur’s spiritual experiences read like an epic poem. His first piece was written in a state of trance. It was immediately after the great revival of 1917 which hit the area like a hurricane. Thangngur was on his way to Tinsuong from Senvon on a preaching tour and had to pass through three big villages on the way. On nearing the outskirts of the first village Lungthulien, he stopped by to pray at Vompalung, a rocky precipice which one has to negotiate precariously through a narrow cut. Any misstep means a kilometer fall down under. While praying here, Thangngur saw Jesus Christ standing before him with a loving smile. When he finished praying, he looked up but the apparition had vanished. On the spot, he wrote in Lushai his first piece entitled ‘Nunna thianghlim siamtu, an duhlo Zaiawnah’ (Creator of life divine, they despised Him at Zion). The hymn is an emotional parade on the sufferings of Christ on the night of his arrest till his crucifixion and the tune is strikingly direful. It has become one the most sung hymns on sacramental occasions.

On another occasion, Thangngura was on his way to attend a conference in Mizoram. The Tuivai river was in spate and there was no way he could cross the raging current. Even good swimmers and rafters by this time would scarcely dare to try to cross it. Thangngura was no swimmer. But go he must. Helplessly but confidently, he kneeled down and prayed. When he finished praying, he looked around in wonder and found himself on the other side of the bank! It was definitely faster than the speed at which Israelites crossed the Red Sea.

To a rational mind, such a story as this sounds weird belonging to a realm beyond the grasp of human logic. Those who were very close to him however, held that his experiences were not the product of a flight of his imaginations. Thangngur himself was never shy of relating his spiritual encounters. He used to be in a trance many times during which he would forget his daily chores. On such occasions, when his wife entrusted him to cooking while she was out working, he would burn his cooking because, as he himself said, he had visitors from the other world. In JORDAN RAL (BEYOND JORDAN), he describes the beauty of the world beyond Jordan which reads like a faithful re-run of the book of Revelation. He begins this choral with the most unorthodox lines:

I long for the land beyond Jordan,

Look at the land beyond Jordan;

Once men of paradise came to visit me,

And told me about how holy, beautiful

And peaceful is the land beyond Jordan.

Jordan ralin lung a mi’n lên,

Jordan ral tieng hei thlir ta u;

Voi khat ka inah pielral mi an hung leng;

Jordan ral chanchin, a mawizie, a thienghlimzie le

A thlamuongumzie an mi hung hril.

It is often said, poets are born and not made. This is an over-simplification. To just born is definitely not enough. A person blessed with poetic imagination and power of concentration may lack in the art and means of delivery. He needs an effective instrument to translate his thoughts into some concrete form. One most needed tool is vocabulary. Next is how effectively he can handle the medium, arrange word blocks in sequential order to express innermost thoughts with verve and beauty. Thangngur possesses a treasure house of vocabulary and uses them with such finesse that he turns every word into a magic wand. His powerful lines enchant you, penetrate you, capture you and imprison you. The beauty and subtlety of his expressions oust the crude, the ugly, the banal and the commonplace. Casts on the cultural setting, his works bring home the new religion to the doorsteps of the hill people and they readily could accept it as their own. The tunes are also typically traditional laced with a thin dash of Welsh’s.

I have rarely come across a poet who could deliver with such panache the message of the nativity, crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ as Thangngur does. For instance, his depiction of the episode leading to the crucifixion of Christ is so dramatic and moving that you sob with him unawares. But you shout with joy when he tells you the victory on the cross. The height of his poetic talent could be seen in KA HRENGKOL BUN (THE CHAIN I BEAR), and KANAAN PHAI ZAWL SARON PAR MAWI (THE BEAUTIFUL SHARON IN THE VALLEY OF CANAAN). In the two hymns, he describes the sufferings of Christ and the victory on the cross and over death by his resurrection. But his treatment of the cross of one from the other is so different that many people do not even realize that he talks of the same thing.

In the first hymn, he depicts the episode in the context of the society of the head hunting days and likens Jesus as the hunted victim whose chopped head is celebrated with barbaric abandon. The scene is so shuddering and his presentation so heart-rending that your hair stands, your stomach crams with repulsion and your body shrivels at the thought of the gruesomeness until you are overcome by tearful feelings for the hunted. But that is not yet the finale. And when it comes, you dry up your tears and shout with the hunter’s cry

He conquered death’s deep and dark grave,

And rose again in triumph;

For the hero Saviour’s victory

Death’s condemned miserable souls

Celebrated new life,

And gained the beautiful city of life.

Thina khurpui, thina khur thim,

Hnein a tho nawk tah;

Thina leia an rienghai chun,

Hringna thar par angin an lawm,

Mihrâng Tlantu zarin;

Hringna khawpui ra mawi an hluo ta ie.

Thangngur dwells on the same theme in the second hymn but his treatment is completely different. Here, the hunted victim becomes the rose of Sharon and the lily in the Canaan valley deflowered by the Romans. The rugged cross turns into a Pole of Truce (Inremna Thing) between God and man. Listen how he begins:

The Sharon in Canaan Valley

Maimed by the Romans in days of old;

Earth in mourning garb for the broken Sharon,

The hapless kindreds bereft of protection,

For they deflowered the life-giving Sharon.

Kanaan phai zawl, saron par mawi,

Tiena Romhaiin an lo sukthliek;

Tlângkhuo a ngûi ie, saron an thliekna chu,

Nunau an inrieng, hliekhutu nei lovin,

An damna saron par an thliek leiin.

His presentation is so romantic that the element of horror in the first hymn has completely disappeared and instead sentimental feeling for the deflowered Sharon overwhelms you. In the same tone, he describes the risen Saviour and the joys of those who have received him thus:

In the hearts of those who love Him,

The bruised, broken, beautiful Sharon

Comes to bloom again like beautiful lily,

And shines over their heads as a morning star:

The smells of joy pervade all around them.

Saron par mawi an thliek hnung kha,

Ama lungkhamtuhai kuoma chun,

Lili’n a hung par, an lungril inthimah,

An lu chung zawnah zing arsi’n a hung var,

An sirah lawmna rimtui an zâm vel.

Thangngur’s relationship with God as reflected from his works is a classic story of love and affection, confidence and faith, and doubts and assurances. Like Job, he is put to severe trials to test the strength of his faith. There are times when he would cry out like the tormented Christ on the cross: My God, why has thou forsaken me! Derided and mocked by those who turned against him, deserted by his friends and consumed by utter poverty, he many a time had no one but God to turn to for shelter. He never ceased praying. But there were times when his prayers seemed to melt away in thin air like a vapour. No answer. No relief to his agonies. Doubts engulfed him. Temptations stalked him. No silver lining on the horizon. Still, he kept trusting, hoping, and praying. At last, the soft, loving whisper of God would lift up his sagging spirit with eternal assurance and he would cry out,

Heavenly sunshine has dawned on my darkened life:

Walking now with peace in my soul,

My sorrows turn into joyfulness

As I overcame my Father’s chastening trial.

Pielral nisa ka lungrilah a hung var tah,

Ka thla muongleia kal chawiin,

Ka rinumna lawmna’n a hung par,

Pa thununna ka tuor muolsuo zovin.

Not only that. He found the source of the fountain of blessings and happiness at the rugged Calvary’s mountain. He discovered the infinite message of Christ on the cross: self sacrifice for loved ones. He says,

Never had I been happy to live for my own:

The moment I answered Christ’s call

And sacrificed on Isaac’s altar,

Streams of blessings and joy flowed mingled down.

Ka ta dinga ka hring laiin ka lawm ngai nawh:

Ka Lal Krista kona anga,

Isaak maichama ka inhlan chun,

Malsawmna tuikhur lawmnan a hung luong.

Sadly, Thangngur did not live long. The year 1943 came with the Japanese penetration of Burma and into Chin Hills. The lethal and noisy big birds and their deafening roars rent through the enchanting blue and tranquil skies of the north-east India. Smokes of gunpowder filled the air with putrified bodies strewn all over the muddy combat areas, much to the delight of the already overfed vultures. It was a year of death that also claimed the life of Thangngur. Apparently, he had foreknowledge of the coming final call for him. Towards the close of the year, he visited all the churches under his charge to bid them the last farewell. To everyone he shook hands with to bid goodbye, he would say he would not meet him or her again. And to all that he wrote on return from tour, he would unfailingly insert the following lines:

O Time, roll on; Zion’s children

Long to see the Great Land;

This barren land, my earthly home,

I’m soon leaving behind.

Huna, kal rawh, Zaiawn faten

Ram ropui kan nghakhlel;

Ka lenna ram thlaler a ni,

Ka kalsan thuai dawn e.

His rendezvous with death came on the night of December 20, 1943. On that evening, though too weak to stand up, he dragged himself to the church building and circumambulated it by humming in Lushai

The chain of time is holding me back

To see Zion I’ve gained through the blood,

Where my Saviour reigns, sun never sets;

Oh, how I long I would soon be there!

Hun engin nge maw tunah min dâl,

Thisen zara ka tan Zaiawn tlang;

Aw engtikah nge ka han hmu ang,

Chhandamtu leh ram ni tla ngai lo.

Returning to the house completely exhausted, he lay on the wooden frame of the hearth overcame by thirst. He asked for water and when they gave him a cupful he was not satisfied and asked for more. They gave him in a bamboo container and he drank straight from it with a great gusto. Though the ‘chain of time’ had not yet released him, no more sinews of life were left with him. His wife, unable to bear any longer the sight of her husband’s plight, finally gave him an eternal sent-off by commending him to Abraham’s bosom. Thangngur peacefully passed away as the last words from the trembling lips of his wife vanished into thin air to mingle with the departed soul in the ocean of eternal bliss.

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

Thangngur died but ever lives. In death he continues to serve God through his powerful hymns as he did during his lifetime. His works have been translated in many other dialects; they transcend all geographical and communal barriers as the love of the Master he served faithfully till his last breath. On important occasions like Christmas, Good Friday, congregational singing sessions, in the house of the bereaved and also of celebrations, Thangngur ever presents. For he is a poet with a thousand tongues.

Note: I offer due apologies to Thangngura for massacring the beauty and depth of his works by my translation of a few of his lines from Hmar into English. Because of cultural barrier, I am sure that no matter how much one knows the English language, it is never possible to give a translation that meets the original meaning and beauty of his works

[*Editor's Note: INPUI columnist Pu Keivom is a retired Indian Foreign Service officer, respected Hmar Mizo litterateur and author of 'Zoram Khawvel' series. This article is dated June 13, 1985, Wellington, New Zealand, and mostly written aboard an aircraft between between Auckland and Apia, the capital of Western Samoa and revised version].

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