Kao (bull)

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Khamba and Thoibi (The Capture of the Wild Bull).jpg
Kao being captured by Khuman Khamba
GroupingLegendary creature
Sub groupingMeitei legendary creatures
FolkloreMeitei folklore (Manipuri folklore)
Other name(s)Kau, Kaw, Cao, Cau, Caw, Cow
RegionMoirang, Manipur

Kao (/káo/) is a legendary bull captured by Khuman Khamba in Meitei mythology and folklore of Ancient Moirang. It appears in the legend of Kao Phaba (Old Manipuri: Kau Phaapa), also known as Khambana Kao Phaba (Old Manipuri: Khampana Kao Phaapa) of the Khamba Thoibi epic.[1][2][3][4]

Manmohan Singh, the then prime minister of India, being presented a memento of a painting depicting Khuman Khamba capturing the "Kao" bull, by Dr. Shivinder Singh Sidhu, the then Governor of Manipur and Okram Ibobi Singh, the then Chief Minister of Manipur, on the occasion of the foundation stone laying ceremony of three projects, National Academy of Sports, Convention Center and Manipur Institute of Technology, in the Kangla in Manipur on the 2nd of December, 2006

Etymology[change | change source]

In Meitei (Manipuri), the word "Kao" has many meanings. It may mean (1) to forget, (2) a sacrifice bull or (3) to kick. Here, it means bull. As a noun, it means a stray bull that roams freely instead of living on a ranch or farm. In verbal form, it means to offer a bull as a living sacrifice to God. People also say "Kaoren" or "Kaorel" to talk about the bull. "Kaoren" is made up of two parts, "Kao" and "-ren". "-ren" refers to excellence. So, "Kaoren" or "Kaorel" means "an extraordinary bull", "a powerful bull", "a super bull" or "a supernatural bull".[5]

Mythology[change | change source]

The false oracle[change | change source]

Once Angom Nongban Kongyamba met fisher women from the Khuman kingdom in a place called Moirang. Both the Khuman kingdom and the Moirang kingdom were on the shores of the Loktak lake. The women came to Moirang besides having their own fishing area. So, Kongyamba asked them the reason for coming to Moirang.[6] The women said that a dangerous bull had killed many people near the water, so they could not fish:

"There is a great bull that lurks among the reeds of the shores of the lake, and it had claimed life of many. So, we dare not to fish there."[7]

Suddenly, an idea came to Kongyamba's mind. He went to the king. He acted as a person possessed by a divine spirit.[7] Kongyamba told the King,

"God Thangjing had spoken in my ears and I have his behest upon me. Verily said the God, I am sated with offerings of flesh and fish, but this year, my heart longs for the sweet savour of the flesh of the mighty bull that lurks in the reeds that border the water of the lake. My servant Khamba vows that he will bring it for my honor and for the welfare of the State."[7]

The king called and asked Khamba about his promise. Khamba denied it. There resulted a great conflict between Khamba and Kongyamba. Later, Khamba told the king he would catch the bull if it was the God’s will. The king was happy with Khamba. So, he promised him he could marry Princess Thoibi if he did catch the bull. Minister Thonglen put seven marks on the lintel post of the capital city. It was the record of the King's promise.[7][8]

Embassy to Khuman kingdom[change | change source]

The king of Moirang sent an embassy to the king of Khuman. The embassy proposed to organize the great sport of capturing the wild bull. The Khuman king agreed. A grand Colosseum was built for the event. The Colosseum could hold a capacity of the audiences from both the two kingdoms.[7][8]

Capture by Khamba[change | change source]

Khamba capturing the Kao

Khamnu revealed a secret to Khamba. She said that the bull had once belonged to their father. She told him that if Khamba told the bull their father's name, it would be tame and gentle:

"This great bull was once the Lord of your father's herd. Go to him, speak your father's name in his ear, and show him this Rope of silk."[7][9]

On the day of the adventure, Khamba stood face to face with the bull. The bull ran towards him with its dangerous horns. Khamba bent a little to the side. The people watching asked him if he was afraid. Khamba answered that he was waiting for a good position. Then, he stood on firm ground and caught the bull. The strong bull carried him away into the thick woods.[9] Khamba did everything as his sister had told him to do. Immediately, the wild bull became tame and gentle. Khamba brought the bull back.[9][8]

On the way back, Kongyamba came to him before anyone saw them. Kongyamba pretended to help Khamba to hold the bull. Kongyamba held the rope. When everyone saw, Kongyamba claimed that he had captured the bull. He added that he even rescued Khamba who had fallen into the ditch. Once again, there was a great conflict between Khamba and Kongyamba over the claim. The two kings could not find out who was right. So, Kongyamba was asked to fight the bull within an enclosure. But Kongyamba was afraid of the bull. He climbed up on the heights to save himself. Khamba faced the bull bravely. He once again captured the bull.[9][8]

In popular culture[change | change source]

In popular culture, Kao appears in arts, books, movies, theatres and many others.

Painting[change | change source]

Khambana Kao Phaba[change | change source]

In 2001, Khambana Kao Phaba (painting) was kept in the permanent collection of the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (IGRMS) Museum, Bhopal, India. In July 2019, the painting was selected as the "Exhibit of the Month" in the same museum.[10]

Theatre[change | change source]

Kao, the sacred bull[change | change source]

In 2011, "Kao, the sacred bull" was produced by the Laihui Ensemble. This theatrical show was based on the story of the bull Kao. According to the story, an Oracle said that the King of Moirang will soon die and his people will lead miserable life. The only solution told was to offer the powerful bull roaming in the Khuman kingdom to God Thangjing. Orphan Khuman Khamba was chosen to capture the bull. He was known for his bravery and goodness. To capture the bull with no harm to it was not easy. Khamba's motherly sister Khamnu disclosed to him the secrecy of the bull. The bull was once domesticated and treated as a family member during the good days of their parents.[11][12]

Kao Faba[change | change source]

In 2020, a Shumang Kumhei named "Kao Faba" was produced by Western Cultural Association in Manipur. It was sponsored by the Sangeet Natak Akedemi of New Delhi, India. The play was released in the Iboyaima Shumang Leela Shanglen, Palace Compound, Imphal. The play is based on the legend of capturing the bull in Ancient Moirang.[13][14][15]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. E. Ishwarjit (2005). Manipur, a Tourist Paradise. B.R. Publishing Corporation. ISBN 978-81-7646-506-9.
  2. Singh, Arambam Sanatomba (2021-06-18). Ecotourism Development Ventures in Manipur: Green Skill Development and Livelihood Mission. Walnut Publication. ISBN 978-93-91145-59-0.
  3. DeMarco, Michael (2020-10-15). Martial and Healing Traditions of India: An Anthology from the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. Via Media Publishing. ISBN 979-8-6942-6317-7.
  4. Kaushal, Molly; Arts, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the (2001). Chanted Narratives: The Living "katha-vachana" Tradition. Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. ISBN 978-81-246-0182-2.
  5. "Learners' Manipuri-English dictionary.Kao". uchicago.edu. 2006.
  6. Hodson, T. C. (Thomas Callan) (1908). The Meitheis. Duke University Libraries. London, D. Nutt. p. 142.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Hodson, T. C. (Thomas Callan) (1908). The Meitheis. Duke University Libraries. London, D. Nutt. p. 192.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Indian Antiquary. Popular Prakashan. 1877. p. 222.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Hodson, T. C. (Thomas Callan) (1908). The Meitheis. Duke University Libraries. London, D. Nutt. p. 144.
  10. "Traditional Manipuri painting 'Khambana Kao Phaba' on display - Times of India". The Times of India.
  11. "KAO - A Glimpse of Manipuri Opera". e-pao.net.
  12. ""Kao - the sacred bull" by Laihui on 6th March, 2011". e-pao.net.
  13. "Kao Faba displayed". e-pao.net.
  14. "Kao Faba displayed". www.thesangaiexpress.com.
  15. "Kao Faba displayed". thesangaiexpress.com.

Other websites[change | change source]