New Chingsa is a village of 80-odd Tangsa tribal families in Changlang district, Arunachal Pradesh, bordering Myanmar. It is all the more incredible because Tangsa people have traditionally been animists, with their supreme spirit, the Rangfraa, not bound to temples, idols or any form.
The tribal communities of North-East believe in Nature worship because they hold that Nature and its Creations and Creatures are nothing but various manifestations of the Self-effulgent and Self-actuating formless all-Pervading Substance in different modes and designs.
Unlike the western religions especially of Semitic origin, the tribal communities of North-East and the Hindus of the plains especially the Advaita Vedantists believed in Manifestation. With Evangelism spreading like wildfire all across Northeast and proselytising millions of tribal populace, the indigenous faiths which had strong roots in and links to Dharmic religion died an unnatural death.
Khimun has played a key role in rejuvenating Rangrafaasim, a faith of the indigenous Tangsa tribal populace in Arunachal Pradesh. Initially animists, many of the tribal populace were converted to Christianity with the advent of missionaries. With Rangrafaasim becoming a movement, many proselytised tribal people have returned back to their indigenous faith
The Tangsa, migrants from the Indo-Tibetan plateau, number about 21,000 today and are classified as “other Naga tribes”. Initially animists, many of them were converted to Christianity with the advent of missionaries–mostly Baptists. The rest remained true to the animist Rangfraa beliefs.
In the late 1990s, inspired by various nationalist movements, some Tangsa leaders, including L Khimun, an engineer, held a painting competition at Changlang. Khimun says he and others were
working to set up a society for reforms but realised it needed a religious tenor. The painting competition was held to give a form to the god, Rangfraa. “More than 100 people participated. The winning painting just happened to look like Shiva with some traditional imagery. The painting was sent to Jodhpur. From there came the first 300-kg marble sculpture of the Rangfraa in 1997,” tells the soft-spoken Khimun, now the secretary-general of the Rangfraa Faith Promotion Society. Now on Sunday mornings, the ambiance in the temple in the New Chingsa is
frenetic. “Jai Rangfraa, Jai Rangfraa, Jai Rangfraa” prayers resound the atmosphere around the temple. The devotees’ incantations pick up a feverish pace as the half a dozen priests standing near the idol slip into a trance, shaking and shivering. The Rangfraa idol looks like a Mongoloid white Shiva.
Codifying Tribal Cult
Khimun has written several holy books codifying the religion. They seem to pick ideas and moral lessons from all over but affirm that Rangfraaism is a part of the Hindu fold.
“As per our definition, all those who are willing to die and live for Hindustan are Hindus. Those who are anti-Hindu
or anti-national, they criticise Rangfraaites. Especially the Christians, I shall say openly,” says Khimun. His holy books speak of the need to reconvert proselytised Christians. There has been violence on occasions in the state between Christian tribals and the revivalist groups. But now the movement has brought in a radical change in lives of tribal people that enabled them to reconnect with their cultural roots.
Khimung says about 100 Christian tribals have been reconverted to Rangfraa so far. The Rangfraa movement keeps politics and political interests on the bay. “No,
people won’t accept our involvement in electoral politics yet,” says Kampa Taisam.
Rangfraa movement is not an isolated phenomenon. Donyi Polo, a syncretic new religion, has already spread through the Abotani central belt of the state and Intayism similarly has been established in the Idu Mishmi tribe.
Shivlings keep propping up across the state, marking new
territory for the project. The cult or religion now has about 1,000 members from the Tangsa, Tutsa and Nocte communities spread across Tirap and Changlang districts. That is still only two to three per cent of the total population of the three tribes put together. Many villages have Rangfraa temples now and village-level convenors. n