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Embodiment of Music Among the Hmars

Thursday, June 17, 2021

/ Published by Ralsun Hmar


~Judy R. Joute & Rev. Alan L. Thiek 


The Hmars are known as a “singing community” with well developed musical tradition. Every important occasion in our lives are accompanied by singing.  For instance we sing when we mourn, we sing when we worship, we sing when we work etc. Therefore, our songs can be broadly categorized according to the situations such as love songs, ballads, humorous songs, lamentations, festive songs, war songs etc. Singing, dancing and musical instruments have been an integral part of our community life from time immemorial. Before the Hmar language was reduced to writing our stories, myths, traditions and songs were passed on from one generation to another generation by word of mouth or by oral tradition. Our history is replete with stories of how songs were composed by our poets to mark memorable events of the community, of village heroes, of beautiful maidens, of a bountiful harvest, of a successful hunting expedition, etc.


In spite of our rich cultural heritage, our people, or in fact our ancestors used only relatively few musical instruments. Khoung ( Drum), sielki/seki (mithun horn),  flute, pipe called rawsem and gongs were the few musical instruments used by them. Of these three musical instruments, drum and gong were the most popular and most widely used. Our forefathers were expert drum makers and they would make the drums themselves. Drums of different sizes were made and the drum head were usually rawhide of cows or wild deer. The drums would usually accompany singing and dancing. In fact, there would be no singing or dancing without the accompaniment of drums.


One unique and important culture that was practiced by our people was Butu Khuong Lawm. “Butu” means “Rice planting/rice sowing”, “Khuong” means “drum” and “Lawm” means “fellowship.” Butu Khuong Lawm is the fellowship the youths have during the rice planting as well as  the weeding season, where the youths of the village would form themselves into ‘groups’ or ‘fellowships’ and help each other in the seeding and weeding of the jhum fields. The uniqueness of this practice lies in that the groups work according to the rhythm of the drum, singing, seeding or weeding. The drummer, call the Khuongpuzailak bang the drum, starts the songs, and the members of fellowship will sing along with him, and work together in the rhythm of the drum. This very well tells the role played by songs and music in the life of the Hmar people. 

Our people used to celebrate a number of festivals. Of all the festivals celebrated, Sikpui is the most important festival. Sikpui is a post-harvest winter festival, and is usually celebrated during the winter season after a bountiful harvest. Sikpui too is celebrated by singing and dancing to the rhythm of a drum. A special place called Zawllung is erected for the drummer. Zawllung, in fact is a small platform made of rocks for the drummer to sit and lead the singing. Sikpui celebration can last for days and even weeks, depending on the availability of zu (rice beer) and meat for the community feast. Sikpui is a community festival of singing, dancing and feasting.

When death occurred in the community, the womenfolk from the neighbourhood would gather at the deceased house, they would wail and mourn the dead. The men folk too would come to the deceased house, bring zu (rice beer) and those gathered at the funeral service would drink it. The men folk would usually gather outside the house of the deceased and bang darbu. Darbu is a set of three gongs played by the experts, played during celebrations as well as mourning.


Music is a source not only for the Hmar cultural, traditional practices and customs depicted in the folk songs but is one of the main sources to trace the origin of the Hmars. One Hmar song, Sikpui Hla proposes the theory of Hmar’s Jewish connection. One of the oldest festivals of the Hmars is Sikpui  and the opening song in this festival is called Sikpui Hlapui (the theme Song). The Sikpui Hlapui occupies such a sacred place that the festival can start only after the song was sung with due to solemnity and rapt attention. The song says:

Sikpui inthang kan ur laia,

Chang tuipui aw, sen mahrili kang intan.

Kera lawn a, ka leido aw,

Sunah sum ang, zanah mei lawn invak e;

An tur a sa, thlu a ruol aw,

In phaw siel le in ral feite zuong thaw ro.

Sun razula, ka lei do aw,

Ke ralawna, mei sum ang lawn invak e,

Sun razula, kaleido aw,

Laimi sa ang changtuipuiin lem zova;

A varuol aw la ta che,

Suong lung chunga tui zuongput kha la ta che. 

This can be translated into English as:

While we are preparing for the Sikpui Festival,

The big red sea dried up and was divided

As we march forward fighting our foes,

We are being led by a cloud during the day

And by a pillar of fire during night.

Our enemies, O ye folks, are thick with fury,

Come out with your shields and spears.

Fighting our foes all day, we march along

As cloud-fire goes afore.

The enemies we fight all day, the big sea

Swallowed them like beasts.

Collect the quails, and fetch the water

That springs out of the rock

The Sikpui Hla is interpreted by some Hmar historian as referring to the liberation of the Israelites from the bondage of the Egyptians and the events that followed before they crossed the Red Sea. The Sikpui is widely celebrated even today and the Hmars very fondly sing this song reminding one another of what our ancestors experienced in the past. Although this theory does not have any significant evidence and hence is widely challenged nevertheless, this song provides a wider possibility when speculating the origin of the Hmars.

On the other hand, one other song depicts the original home of the Hmars  as a place called Sinlung. Sinlung is mentioned frequently in the traditional songs such as this one, that says:

           Khaw Sinlungah kawt 

           Siel ang ka zuong suoka,

           Mi le nel lo tam e, 

           Hriemmi hraiah

Which can be translated as:

            Like a mithun, 

            I jumped out of Sinlung,             

            Innumerable were our encounters 

            The children of men.

Though we do not know the exact location of Sinlung, the majority of Hmar historians are of the opinion that Sinlung is located somewhere in Southern China. Therefore, one can speculate the origin of the Hmar could be from Southern China according to this narrative.


With the coming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the beginning of the last century, February 5th 1910, and with it western education, our old ways of life were slowly laid to rest. As the light of the Gospel dawn on the hearts of our people, many of our old culture and traditions, which were in one way or the other intertwined with our old animistic way of worship were laid to rest. However, this is does not mean that all our ways of life, prior to the coming of the gospels were completely discarded by our people. This was not the case with us. Our traditional way of celebration, lengkhawm or singing and dancing to the accompaniment of the khuong or the drum were incorporated into our new way of worship.

Many great Christian songwriters (poets) sprung up from the Hmar first generation Christians. Rev. Thangngur (1891-1943), Rev. Thangler (1886-1981), Pu VT Kappu (1890-1982) and Pastor S. Lienrum (1898-1980) were the first generation Hmar Christian song writers who wrote many great Christian songs. The uniqueness of the songs written by these song writers is that, they used our traditional tune or music as means of expressing their theological beliefs and understandings. Therefore, the songs written by them became very popular within no time. They were collected, made in to a song book in the year 1923, which later on came to be known as Independent Kohran Hlabu (Independent Church Songbook).

The publication of the Independent Kohran Hlabu (IKHB), had a deep and lasting impact upon the Hmar Christians. This publication was an important milestone in the history of our literature. In fact, it would almost be impossible to over emphasize the impact it had on our people. The songs can be divided into four main groups: 

The songs that speak about the incarnation, the birth of Christ, popularly known as “Christmas songs.” 

The second group of songs popularly known as “Good Friday Songs” talk about the suffering, the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. 

The third group of songs talks about Christian life, reflecting the struggles and hardships faced by the songwriters.

And the last group of songs called “Lusun Hla” are songs for mourning the dead and comforting the bereaved families.

As the saying “Songs are a book of ‘grass-roots theology’,” this song book became our grass –root theology book. Back then, only a handful could read and write and the Holy Bible was not yet translated into our dialect. As such, the Independent Kohran Hlabu became a very useful instrument  in spreading the Gospel as well as in quenching the spiritual thirst of the people. Singing became a medium through which the gospel was preached, evangelism done, the bereaved comforted, the week encouraged and exhorted. This applies even today. 

Dr. Lalnghawrlien, a renowned Hmar Scholar, describing the importance and impact of the Independent Kohran Hlabu writes:

The Songs in the Independent Church Songbook are God’s revelation through our culture (Hmar nun fethlenga Pathien hung inlarna). 

Emphasizing the importance of the Independent Church Song Book, he further states that, “The Independent Church Song Book is next to the Bible.” Therefore, the  Independent Kohran Hlabu became more or less the theological book of the common people. 


Theology is the reflection upon the God whom we worship. It is making sense of our faith and our context influences the way we theologized. Needleless to say, music for the Hmars became instrumental in enriching our theology which appealed even to the common man. The first generation Hmar Song writers, especially the Independent Church song writers underwent great challenges.  They faced many trials and temptations stepping out as pioneers in preaching the Gospel. However, it was these harsh realities they faced which became the source of inspiration and confidence for their theological convictions. 

For the Independent Church song writers, God is the Almighty and the sovereign God whom they called Pathien or Khuo who created the universe and everything in it. In the theological understanding of the Independent Church Song writers, God created humankind to have eternal fellowship with them. One Independent Church song expresses the state of humankind before the fall as  “Hmangai kul sunga mi”  (IKHB 159). This song delivers an important theological teaching on how God created humankind to have eternal fellowship with them. It sets the tone for the captivating love of God for humankind and the eschatological hope hereafter. Another song  Eden huona thlatu inmawl leiin, Suol le thina’n ro an rela ( IKHB No. 23) takes us back to the Fall in the garden and how generations that follow are doomed due to the sins of our ancestors. One original and interesting theological thinking of the Independent Church songwriters, worthy of note was their use of the word “Ignorance (inmawl)” for the cause of the fall.

One important Christological title often used by Independent song writers is Van Lalnau which can be translated as “The Heavenly Prince.” This Christological title was, most probably, coined by the pioneer in Hmar gospel songs, and arguably the greatest song writer among the Chin-Kuki-Hmar-Mizo group, Pastor Thangngur.  Pastor Thangngur, contextualizing the incarnation and redemptive work of Jesus Christ, describes Jesus Christ as the Heavenly Prince, a brave patriot, who came from a land far off, clad nothing but in blood, storming the citadel of Satan to rescue humankind from sin and death (IKHB No.9). There are other songs which talks about the great redemptive work on the cross. All these songs are widely sung on different occasions which explains and express who and what God is to the Hmars.


Music in its different forms of expression for the Hmars became as indispensable as the air we breathe to survive. Music was intertwined with every occasion in the life of the Hmars both the good and bad times. The interrelationship between music and the Hmars did not cease even after 1910 when Christianity came to the people. However, a significant change that occurred was that music which was only cultural, now became an important medium through which people heard and experienced the Gospel and expressed their theology. Music became a powerful tool. True to our identity like that of the past, even today music plays a tremendous role for the Christians in all our cultural, traditional and religious life.  


Darliensung. The Hmars (Imphal:  L&R Printing Press, 1988).

Dena, Lal. “Independent Hlahai: A Pawimawna le hutnahai” in Vanglai Meiser (2020): 27-29.

Dena, Lal. In Search of Identity- Hmars of North East India.  (New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House, 2019).

Faihriem, Darthangluoi. Sikpui Ruoi (Winter Festival of the Hmars). (Diphu: Printwell, 2002).

Keivom, L. Hmar Hla Suina. ( Nairobi: L&R Printing Press, 1980).

Ruolngul, Darsanglien, Chanchintha Kalchawi Part I ( Sielmat: ICI Press, 1982)

Songate Hranglien, L. Hmar History. (Sielmat: NP, 1977). 

Thiek, Alan L. “A Study on the Theological Thinking of Thangngur Through His Songs.” BD Thesis., Union Biblical Seminary, Senate of Serampore College (University), 2011

Vara, H.V. Hmar HlaHlui, The Hmar Folk Song, Lyrics and Chants. (Churachandpur: NP,1895).Infimate , Simon L. “Hmar History” in accessed on 04/-5/2021.

Keivom, L. “Pastor Thangngur: A Poet with a Thousand Tongues,” in  accessed on 08/05/2021.

About the authors: Judy R. Joute is a teaching faculty in the Department of the Old Testament in Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur, M.P.

Alan L. Thiek is an ordained pastor of the Independent Church of India, he teaches New Testament in Sielmat Bible College, Churachandpur, Manipur.

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