Likon-sanaba: This is how they used to confess their love | Milaap

Likon-sanaba: This is how they used to confess their love during olden-golden days

A woman: At what time are you planning to go to Rajen’s for ‘likon-sanaba’?

B woman: Most probably after 10 pm. I will put Abungo to sleep and make his father look after him. I will see you directly at Rajen’s.


{I overheard the conversation in a shop while getting diabetic biscuits for my father}


I was never much of an out-door person during school days. Unfortunately, I have not attended much of any cultural events or festivals for that matter. The reason being, I have never got the inner instinct of being present in a place where I have to be around many people. Then, I realized I was claustrophobic; my father got it too, a severe one. However, with time I have realized that I need to be prepared before I am part of such a place, it works in some length. Keeping this in mind, I asked my mother to take me to ‘likon-sanaba’ at Rajen’s house. My mom asked me twice to confirm if I was asking what she is hearing. I made a sarcastic face and she responded with a laugh.

‘Likon-sanaba’ is a fading old traditional board-game of Manipur played in the night of ‘Krishna-Janmastami’. ‘Likon’ can be translates into beads, and ‘sanaba’ translates into playing. As ‘Krishna-Janmastami’ is about celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna, in Manipur adolescents of both the gender participate in ‘likon-sanaba’ to celebrate his birth, his mischief, and his love towards Radha (beloved of Lord Krishna). It was and is a game of finding suitors. It portrays the similar environment of a card game such as in Jane Austin’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, where characters interact during the game, or something like the dice game in Mahabharata, where Pandavas lost everything including Draupadi. Unlike, card games of Jane Austin or Vyasa’s dice-game; there is no limit to the participants. It is a game of celebration, where more the participants more the merrier. The only constant of the same is its six beads, usually, shells, are used for the game.

Fig: one of the participants rolled the shells for his luck

One of the grandmothers in my neighbourhood told me that it was way different from now. According to her, there was innocence and respect towards the game. ‘Now I see just chaos in these games’, she complained. Another neighbour told me different types of challenges they used to keep. All the challenges are performed with reference to the turnabouts of beads/shells. Most of the challenges are kept under the brim of romantic gestures, such as if one fails she/he has to give a flower to the person she /he likes in the group, or take the spot near their admirer and so on. Another grandmother told me that they used to have riddles for challenges. Such as,

‘ Leirang maagi ongphamdi hairaga, nunggai marakta ongba leirang

(a flower that adorns among the pebbles)

Leirang maagi mawu taabadi hairaga, Sri-Govindgi kang-gi thouri maanba leirang

(stems whose bark resembles the rope of Lord Govind’s wheels)

Mana tabu hairaga, katina kupjatnagumbi, leirang mana pomlingeida puknunggi tharo maanbi leirang,

(leaf seems like shredded by scissors and buds like a water lily inside the stomach)

Leirang mana phugaina shaatpada, benjagum mawong maanba leirang

(when it blooms it resembles trumpet)

Kari singgel leirangno

(name the flower)’ (loosely translated)

Answer to the riddle: Nunggarei (local name)

The game is played in a designated courtyard, which is taken prior permission from the owner of the house. It usually happens that the girl who is a participant organizes the game in her courtyard. The game is supervised by village elders and goes all night long. Earlier the participants used to wear the traditional attire, whereas in present games boys will be in pants instead of ‘pheijom’ (a kind of dhoti). But girls still wear traditional attire like olden days.

Fig: thinking through their challenges

Man’s decency and sincerity were judged by the length and texture of their hair’, a 60-year-old Landhoni giggled.

Fig: losers accepting their challenges in different stages of the game

Sadly, this game of celebrating love and affection is now only witnessed in particular places, mostly in villages and semi-town. I am elated that I was able to witness the game of such veracity. Courtyard of Rajen was well lighted and people of all ages were observing the game. One of the girls lost her game and she was supposed to give a cap to the boy she admires. She took several rounds of the group and finally gave the cape to a boy with the brightest smile. Everyone cheered.

I took the opportunity and took a seat amongst the group of grandmothers; I got to know that during the early 90’s ‘likon-sanaba’ was rigidly objected by the insurgent groups. They opposed the over-friendly environment of the game. However, in recent times, there has been the regularity of the game during ‘Krishna-Jarma’ (Krishna-Janmastami).

Fig: a food stall in profit-making during the game

‘I get overwhelmed when I see the game. In our times, we used to play under pudon (kerosene lamps). There used to be sound of breeze rather than these ears-cracking sounds which teenagers called music, presence of soothing moonlight rather than these lights and calmness of the game rather than these obnoxious comments these teenagers are celebrating’, an almost 75-year-old Ibemhal lamented.


As per Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory, ‘likon-sanaba’ can be considered as one of those survivors which survived after layers of transition. It has survived a transition from Manipuri Kings to the British Empire to Insurgency to the Indian government. At present, Manipur is in a crux of revivalism. Natives are heading towards religion-cultural-traditional revivalism. It seems like a wake-up call from unconsciousness in solidarity. ‘Likon-sanaba’ is also one of the aspects of revivalism in Manipur society.