TODAY -

Hinduism in Manipur
- Part 1 -

Dr. Chirom Rajketan Singh *

 Ras Leela : 64th Foundation Day of Jawaharal Nehru, Manipur Dance Academy (JNMDA) :: April 01 2018
Ras Leela : 64th Foundation Day of Jawaharal Nehru, Manipur Dance Academy (JNMDA) in April 2018 :: Pix - Oken Luwang



Manipur is a state in the north eastern part of India with a population comprising of hill people and valley people. It became a part of India in October 1949. It was once an independent princely state. The history of Manipur can be traced back to very early times. There is history of small tribes ruling independently both in the hills and the valley. These small tribes used to fight with one another for supremacy. The powerful ones usually rule over the others.

In 33 A.D. king Nongda Lairen Pakhangba ascended the throne at kangla as the first king of Ningthouja Clan. He started the unification of the various tribes of the hills and the valley making way for a larger and united nation. The unification process was completed by the time of Meidingu Charairongba (1697 -1709). All these are recorded well in the old Manipuri Manuscripts (Puyas).

All the small communities shared many common things in common such as religion, costumes, oral narratives relating to their settlement, house style etc. There was inter marriage among the various communities and they used to live peacefully in the past.

Geographically Manipur is divided into two regions the hills and the valley. The people settling in the valley are called Tam-mee (Valley people) while the people settling in the hills are called Ching-mee( Hill people ). There is history of hill people coming down to the valley and settling there while valley people went up to the hill and become hill people by settling there.

During the time of the kings hill people and valley people was categorized according to the place of settlement. The various social categories like scheduled tribe, scheduled caste and general were made only after Manipur merged with India.

In the very olden times Manipur valley was inhabited by the people belonging to seven clans who were commonly called Meitei or Meeteis. Besides them, there were other smaller communities also. With the passage of time these small communities merged with the bigger groups and become more powerful groups.

On the other hand different tribes having common origin settled in the hills. These groups of people settling in the valley as well as the hills were brought together as one united nation under the rule ofthe kings of Ningthouja clan. The different communities may be small in size but they have many things in common like religion and worship, language, costumes and many other things.

The Meiteis who form the major community have their own Creation Myth. Their creation Myth clearly shows how the various plants, living things including human beings were created. The Gods who took part in the Creation were considered as powerful Gods and they are worshipped till today. Every Meitei household keeps a sacred place for Lainingthou Sanamahi who played a major role in creation.

Along with this a sacred place for Universal Mother Goddess "Ema Leimarel Sidabi" is also kept separately. The Meiteis worshipped them both. Above this the Meiteis also worship Pakhangba as God of the world outside the household (lamlai). It is believed that Pakhangba is protecting the different lands by assuming different forms like Serpent, Python or dragon.

The different forms of Pakhangba are called Paphal. Lainingthou Pakhangba is the younger brother of Lainingthou Sanamahi the God who created the Universe and both are the sons of Atiya Kuru Sidaba (Supreme God). Other lesser Gods who helped in creation are worshipped as Umang Lai and Gods who are the guardians of the various directions. Such creation Myth is the root of Meitei religion.

Lai Haraoba which is performed till today is a very important festival which depicts everything from creation till stage by stage development of Meitei Civilization. The reaql identity of Meiteis can be established from Lai Haraoba only.

The religions, customs, beliefs of the Meiteis are all based on Creation Myth. Rules for religious practices, stories of origin exist both in written form as well as in oral form. The Meiteis are fortunate to have all these records as they have their own scripts.

Advent of Hinduism :

In the history of Manipur the strength and valour of the kings determined the boundaries of this land. The kings had good and bad relations with the neighboring lands. There was constant fighting, inter-marriages, trade relations with the neighbouring lands from early times.

Some of the neighbouring lands include Takhel(Tripura), Mayang (Cachar), Tekhao (Assam), Khasia Jaintia (Meghalaya), Sylhet (now in Bangladesh) and eastern lands like Khaki (China), Pong (San), Samsok/Awa etc.

Such relations influenced the culture of Manipur and brought about changes from time totime. This is clearly indicated by history. But the deep rooted religion of this land could not be totally changed. As for example in 1389 in Saka era (1467 A.D) Meitei king Meidingu Kyamba ascended the throne. Then in 1392 he invaded and conquered Kabo Kyang along with Pong King Khekhomba.

The land was divided between Pong King and Meitei King. The Meitei king got vast areas of land on the west of Ningthi river ( Chindwin river). The Pong King also gifted the Meitei King a golden idol placed in a golden Kwagok (Container for betelnut, betel leaves etc.). A temple was constructed at Lamangdong and the golden idol was placed there and worshipped.

During the time of Meidingu Kyamba Brahmin priests (18 in number) from Takhel, Tekhao, Sylhet, Bengal, Nepal and Gujarat came to Minipur and settled here. However they could not bring any remarkable change in the religious beliefs of the people. Slowly there was an influx of other Brahmins.

The number of Brahmins who entered Manipur according to the Manuscript Bamon Khunthoklon are as follows:
Meidingu Kyamba (1467-1508) 18 in number ;
Meidingu Nonginphaba (1523-24) 4;
Meidingu Chalamba(1645-62) 3 :
Meidingu Mungyamba (1562-97) 1;
Meidingu Khagemba (1597 1652) 10;
Meidingu Paikhomba (1666 97) 6;
Meidingu Charairongba ( 1697 1709) 13 ;
Meidingu Pamheiba (1709-49) 10 ;
Meidingu Chingthangkhomba (1763-98) 2 ;
Meidingu Gambhir Singh (1825 -34) 6 ;
Meidingu Chandrakiti (1835-44) 2 ;
Meidingu Nara Singh (1844-1850) -1
Meidingu Churachand (1891-1941) -5 .

These Brahmins either came alone or with their families. Those who came alone were given women (Meitei/Tribal/Muslim) and they were allowed to settle after giving Meitei surnames. Those who came with their families were also given Meitei surnames and given permission to settle here.

The surnames were specially created for the Brahmins. Of the 49 Brahmin surnames 7 had no longer existed as there was no heir left to continue the generation. Some others have also changed their surnames.

From time to time the Brahmins entered and settled in Manipur. It was only during the time of king Pamheiba that the Brahmins were recognized as high class of people who were assigned with the task of performing religious duties.

During the time of Meidingu Khagemba, Subika the book on Astrology which was solely based on Hindu religion was even written in Meitei script. Meidingu Charairongba was a king who reigned for 13 years from 1697 to 1709 A.D. He died at the early age of 37. His reign first marked the dawn of Hinduism in this land. He was an ardent follower of Meitei religion in his early years.

He made the artisans to cast the statues of Panthoibi and Lainingthou Sanamahi on Wednesday the 11th of Poinu in 1621 in the Shaka era (1699 A.D.) and on Friday the 4th of Enga in 1700 A.D. respectively. On Wednesday 16th of Engen(1700 A.D.) king Charairongba consecrated the temple of Panthoibi and on 21st of Enga in 1624 in the Shaka era(1702 A.D.) he constructed the temple of Sanamahi and consecrated it on Friday 16th of Hiyangei 1704 A.D.

The statue of Lainingthou Sanamahi was placed in the newly constructed temple at Apong Ingkhol. From 1707 A.D. the king turned towards Hinduism. Heconstructed a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna from Friday 19th of Kalen in 1707. During his time a Brahmin named Banamali came to Manipur from Jaganath Kshetra. The king readied himself to get baptized by this Brahmin to Sakhya religion.

The Brahmin was given the surname Guruaribam. The Krishna temple stands till today at Bamon Leikai and is known by the name Guruaribam Mandop. But the king could not spread Sakhya religion. Meidingu Charairongba died on Sunday 7th of Engen in 17609 A.D at the age of 37.

Meidingu Pamheiba ascended the throne on Wednesday 23rd of Thawan in 1709 A.D. He wanted to fulfill his father's wish of spreading Sakhya religion. So he got himself baptized into the religion. Shakhya religion was also called Nimandi Relidion and they were the worshippers of Lord Vishnu and his incarnation Lord Krishna. Vishnu Upasana is also called Vaishnavism.

In the manuscript called Sanamahi Laikal it is written that Meidingu Pamheiba who ruled Manipur, was baptized by Gangadher, the son of Brahmin Banamali. In 1716 A.D a Brahmin named Shantidas came to Manipur with two followers Bhagawan Das and Narayan Das to spread Ramandi religion. Shantidas was a native of Narasing Tilla of Shrihatta District (now called Sylhet).

Pamheiba abandoned Sakhya religion and turned towards the new religion called Ramandi. He was baptized into this religion by Guru Gopal Das in 1639 Shaka era (1717 A.D) in the month of Mera. Ramandi religion was the religion of Lord Rama worshippers. Shantidas enlightened the mind of king Pamheiba about the difference between these two Hindu religions. i.e.Nimandi and Ramandi.

He explained thus Nimandi religion is the religion of an ascetic. Its follower has to renounce all worldly pleasures and wealth. This religion belongs to the pious and the saintly people. Such religion is inappropriate for a Kshetriya warrior ie the king. Instead the king should worship the Lord of Ayodhya Ramachandra. Such exposition is clearly written in Sanamahi Laikal.

During this time there were constant wars. Meidingu Pamheiba was also planning to attack on Awa (Burma) as revenge for the injustice done to his sister Chakpa Makhao Ngambi according to the wish of his late father.

With such thoughts he preferred to choose Ramandi religion over Nimandi religion. Later on he waged war on Awa (Burma) and Takhel (Tripura). In these wars he emerged victorious. With his victory his faith in Ramandi religion became much stronger.

To be continued ....


* Dr. Chirom Rajketan Singh wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Manipuri at Kha Manipur College, Kakching
This article was webcasted on August 23, 2019.



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