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Incarnations of Goddess Nongthang Leima

James Oinam *

An illustration for 'Incarnations of Goddess Nongthang Leima '
An illustration for 'Incarnations of Goddess Nongthang Leima '



In this essay, we will look into incarnations of goddess Nongthang Leima (Lairemma Panthoibi and Changning Leima) and see if some conclusions might be drawn about how the notion of ‘incarnation’ was constructed in Meitei mythology. (According to N. Khagendra, Land of Gods and Goddesses, goddess Phouoibi is second-generation incarnation of Nongthang Leima. First, she was born as daughter of Sorarel and then incarnated into Charei Phishabee and Phouoibi. I think Thoibi is also considered to be an incarnation of Panthoibi.)

Lai Amamba was the wife of Atingkok Sidaba who was responsible for creation of universe and the earth. Their union produced Atiya Sidaba, Atinga Sidaba, Ashiba and Konchin Tingthokpa Pakhangba. Nongthang Leima was ‘brought forth’ by Atingkok Sidaba. Goddess Nongthang Leima enchanted her nephew Harapa with her beauty and had conjugal relationship with him to stop him from destroying the earth further. (Harapa was an offspring of Atiya Sidaba.)

Apparently, some gods became destructive when they were not given the newly made earth to rule. For example, when Atiya Sidaba gave the newly created earth to Apanba, Ashiba exiled himself to the moon and sent flying horse called Samuton Ayanba to cause destruction (source: T. Caesar, S. Chaningkhombee and R. Sanasam, ‘Study of Myths in Manipuri Literature and Socio-Religious Rituals’, Pratidhwani (journal), 2012, vol. 1, issue 2).

Coming to the second incarnation of this goddess (Panthoibi), we find the goddess Panthoibi in the middle of a love triangle. She was married to Khaba prince Khoinucha. But when she met Nongpok, they fell in love. She deliberately got into trouble with her mother in law to distance herself from the family she was married into. One day when she returned from fishing, the mother in law put her hands inside the fishing basket to see what Panthoibi had caught and found body parts of infants (heads and fingers) in it.

Panthoibi is said to have supernatural powers. During her marriage to Khaba prince, the father-in-law realized there was not enough food to feed all the guests. Panthoibi requested him to serve all the guests from a particular vessel. When food was served from the vessel, it refilled itself, and all the guests were served. Eventually, Panthoibi eloped with her lover Nongpok. Khaba chased them everywhere they went. Only when they reached the Langmai Hill, they were finally united. This union was celebrated by gods as Lai Haraoba.

The Lai Haraoba was attended by a young god Khoriphaba. He was the son of Soraren. He had come to earth to find her mother who was exiled to earth. (Her mother had eaten [defiled] food on earth while visiting her parents on earth.) He met Changning Leima here and they got married. On Changning Leima’'s insistence, they lived on the top of Phoijing Hill of Nambol. It was here on the hill top that Khoriphaba heard the Lai Haraoba celebration and went to take part in it.

In all the three incarnations, we see the goddess has a distinctly recognizable personality. This may also be seen in the name Panthoibi itself. It is said the goddess gave this name to herself because she was beyond the control of her father or brother (source: N. Khagendra, Land of Gods and Goddesses). Also, Lairemma Panthoibi and Changning Leima seem to have existed at around the same time (if Khoriphaba attended the union of Panthoibi and Nongpok, not it later celebrations)!

We see from the stories that the ‘personality’ seemed to have played a major role in ‘identifying’ the incarnations of this goddess. In all the incarnations of Nongthang Leima, she is a strong woman beyond the control (or destined to be above) the societal norms. It is said that one physics professor in our neighbourhood raised one question in his thesis paper: ‘If you cut an earthworm into two and the two walk away in separate directions, what happened to the soul? Did the soul split into two?' Our ancestors saw no problem in having more than one incarnation of the same god living at the same time.

Gautama Buddha achieved nirvana. Nirvana means to get out of the cycle of birth and death. Then why do we talk about incarnations of Buddha? Buddha means enlightenment. If you are enlightened, you become a Buddha (Osho). Technically, more than one Buddha can exist at a time on earth (hence some scholars freely use the name in plurals also).

Is incarnation appearance of a personality type/consciousness type in different generations? The life force that drives us (soul) cannot be one indivisible entity. Otherwise only one part of the earthworm ought to have survived in our above-mentioned thought experiment which our ancestors might have also noted. Our understanding of what they called reincarnation needs looking into.


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 23, 2017.



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