The Poi Lieng festival or the chariot pulling festival is one of the most important religious occasion among the Tai Buddhists and Singpho community of North East India. It is a monk's funeral rite where people come to pay the last homage and prayer for the departed soul. There is no fixed day for the performance of 'Poi Lieng'. It is generally held for two to three days and performed according to the comfortability of the villagers. The people fix the day at a particular meeting. 

In the Tai society, the status of monks are kept on the highest plane. Monks are treated as teachers, guides and priests who set disciplines and examples for the lay people and help them in the areas such as education, organization, welfare and counseling in addition to religious services. Consequently, when a monk of a monastery passes away, the whole community mourns, takes part in his funeral rites, and celebrates on a grand scale in his honour.

The origin of this festival can be traced back to the Tai custom of Myanmar. In fact, all the Tai Buddhists monks and laities of North East India follow the culture of Tai state or Shan state in Myanmar even after living apart from their original homeland.
In this typical Tai funeral ceremony, when a monk pass away, the body is usually embalmed so as to extend the time for final tribute while preparation are made for the funeral. As a ritual, the coffin is covered with a piece of red robes (Civãra or Sangkan) or with a decorative and richly embroide piece of velvets. On the first day of ceremony, the coffin is placed on the chariot with necessary rituals and performances. The chariot is beautifully designed in a figure of a mythological bird and decorated with proper religious spirit. Two strong ropes in both side (front and back) of the chariot is tied in it. It is desirable to note here that the chariot should must have six wheels. As funeral rites on the wheels signifies the wheel of the Dhamma and of life.
People from far and near throng to attend the festival and pray for the departed holy soul by offering incense sticks and candles at the feet of chariot. After this ceremony the people gathered around the chariot to pull it by clutching at the ropes. During such process, the whole scene becomes so crowded that even some persons usually comes under the wheel of the chariot and lose their lives. According to the Tai belief, the soul of such persons who lose their lives in this manner usually go to the heaven.
In the final day of the festival, the coffin in the chariot is filled with combustibles and sandalwood. Finally, the pyre is ignited from a distance by means of rockets, creating a spectacular fiery experience for the mournful experience.
Author: Administrator
Poi Lieng Ceremony Namsai, Arunachal Pradesh. (08, 09 & 10 Feb. 2016)