Monday, 10 December 2007

A short history of the Bishnupriya Manipuri and their religio-cultural consciousness

Undoubtedly, the accurate period of the emergence or the development of religious consciousness of the Bishnupriya Manipuri is difficult to ascertain, but it is an old one that is undoubted, writes Rini Sinha, Guwahati.

Religious beliefs are found virtually in every human society. Religious beliefs usually relates to the existence and worship of a deity or deities and divine involvement in the universe and human life. Religious knowledge according to religious practitioners may be gained from religious leaders, sacred texts or personal revelation. The development of religion has taken many forms in various cultural communities.

The accurate period of emergence or development of religious consciousness of the Bishnupriya Manipuries is difficult to ascertain, but it is an old one that is undoubted. However, on the basis of the views of different scholars, pre-historic and historical remain whatsoever is available and from the logic of personal observations, we may put forward some view-points that are relavent.

There is enough historical evidence that Bishnupriya Manipuri were the first ruling race belonging to Indo-Aryan group in Manipur. According to Jyotirmoy Roy,

"The Bishnupriyas are supposed to have been the first ruling race and the Meities are supposed to have been the next immigrants. Their language is distinctly different, the Khalachais (The Bishnupriya Manipuri Language) is more akin to the Kamrupi tongue and the Meitie language is more akin to the Bodo-Chinese group.Their head-quarters were Bishnupur, so named after tutelary deity Vishnu.Their language developed into a mixed dialect separate name Bishnupurias (now pronounced as Bishnupriyas) to distinguish than from the Meities who came afterwards".(History of Manipur). The Kshamuls and Moirangs were the ancestors of the present Bishnupriya Manipuri. According to L.Iboonghohal Singh, the author of Introduction to Manipur, "The rule of Kshamuls/Khumals extinguished in about 12th century AD and Moirang in 18th century AD. At last they became the title holders having seats in the court of Mitaya Kings".



The history of religious consciousness of Bishnupriya Manipuri may preferably be brought under three stages: Pre-Vaisnavite, Vaisnavite and Gaudiya Vaisnavism.The Bishnupriya Manipuri from the hoary past were the worshiper of Vishnu is revealed from the Chinese records of the 2nd century AD.

But Vishnu image had been in Manipur as the family god of the ruling Kshamul prince from pre-history case. These indicate that the Bishnupriya Manipuri were the followers of Hinduism; and which is long before the advent of the Meities in Manipur. Lord Vishnu was worshiped in the 14th century AD.i.e. in the time of king Sripati and Kiyamba or Chintamani who were the descendents of Kshamul dynasty.

In the pre-vaisnavite period like the Meities, the Bishnupriya Manipuri worshiped Apokpa, Pakhangba or Pahampa, Lamordou or Lamlai in Meitie, Kachakhouri or vampires (Hingchabi in Meitie) which is prominent among them till today. Next came the stage of Bhagavatism as religious consciousness. The Bhagavatism is synonymous with vaisnavism which came to the foreground to Bishnupriya Manipuri.

Most of the Bishnupriya Manipuri in that period were familiar with the incarnatory names of Vishnu which is clear from the Rain-Invoking songs in which names like Hari-Rama-Laxman etc. have been mentioned. The stage may be called precursor of vaisnavism which was mixed up with the indigenous practice of religion to some extent.The people of Manipur began to study the Mahabharata, the Ramayan and other stories from that period onward.

The geographical isolation of Manipur on the one hand seems to be the major factor to resist the immediate indigenous transformation from the animism to any sect of Hinduism and vaisnavism, and even Buddhism. On the other hand the migration that continued no doubt was with its modification due to addition of new religious fold and practices.

The B Manipuri were initiated to the religion of Sri Chaitanya during the middle of 18th century AD. But even before that time, these people follow some other form of vaisnavism as is known from the Khumal Purana and other sources. It seems that early form of vaisnavism followed by Bishnupriya Manipuri had some relation with the vaisnavism of Sri Sankardeva; and the religio-cultural affinities between the Assamese and the Bishnupriya Manipuries are due to that religious impact. Thus we may say that B Manipuri were traditionally vaisnavites but, their conversion during the 18th century was only from Sri Sankardeva school of thought to Chaitanya school of thought.

With the adoption of Gaudiya Vaisnavism the life style of Bengali vaisnava society of 18 th century AD gained acceptence to this society as an integral part of vaisnavic way of life. Rasa Leela and Nata Sankirtana became the important features of religious function. The impact of Chaitanya vaisnavism was very deep in all sphere of the Bishnupriyas. In all rituals non-vegetarian foods is completely prohibited. It has no exception even in the case of disposal/ cremation of dead bodies.

It can be conclusively said that the formation of Bishnupriya language and development of religious concept, culture, heritage etc. definitely took place in the soil of Manipur. Great majority of Bishnupriya Manipuri people fled away from Manipur and took refuge in Assam, Tripua, Sylhet (Bangladesh), and in Cachar during the 18 th and 19th century due to internal conflicts / turmoil and repeated Burmese attacks. During the mass exodus that the Bishnupriya manipuri carried their culture and heritage with them at their new settlements.

In Manipur, their culture being gulped by non-Bishnupriya Manipuri culture, in Cachar and Bangladesh it is by Bengali culture while in Assam by Assamese culture. Moreover, the present hi-tech and IT civilization are in onslaught to the young members to the B Manipuri society which is of grave concern and ominous today. It is difficult to find the existence of Bishnupriya language and culture, gradually a time will come if this trend continues it will be difficult to locate any Bishnupriya. There is still time to save this culture from complete destruction and inhalation

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6 comments:

  1. This write up needed repeated reading in order to enlighten my knowledge about the history of the community.It is highly informative.The work is highly commendable and added the value to the blog.
    The "R" trio .. Rishikesh, Ranita & now Rini are definitely setting a standard by adding significant value to the blog with their articles.
    Great going Rishi....

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  2. I loved this write up, it was just amazing....Thanks to you we got to know so many things about our history.
    I really didn't even want to be associated with a BLOG like this which doesn't want to correct the wrong facts and whose Moderator is partial to certain set of people.
    Anyways this write up of mine will be deleted soon.

    @Rini, you have almost covered all the things about our history so nicely, i just couldnt stop myself from commenting on it.

    I will like to add a small writeup adding up with your beautiful write up.
    Do you guys know about Tigendra Jeet Rajkumar, he was the senapati to the last King of Bisnupur (Kulodijya Rajkumar)he is been called by tons of names....please bear with me with the spelling.

    Tigendra Jeet Rajkumar (Senapati) was a very brave and powerful man, he killed 27 British soldiers all alone in a conference in 1850's.

    And the Britishers had to call infantry from all parts of the country. And thus the King with his family and followers had to flee to Cachar.

    The Meitei's cited with the Britishers, so one leader was picked from the Meitei community to replace the King. And thus we lost our Existence.

    Metei's came from the Northern Part of Thailand.

    You guys must be wondering how do i know this things, our Family has a book which is being passed onto generations. I didnt had the time to look into it, my father was thing of scanning all the pages to me so that i could share with you.

    And for your Knowledge.....
    My father is the Direct decendent to Kulodijya Rajkumar...the last King of Bishnupur. In villages he being called the Pipa, i dont know what you mean by that.

    Anyways i have this much o share with you right now, once i get hold of that book i can share some interesting facts about our history...........

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  3. First of all I would like to thank Mr. B.N.Sinha for his boosting comment and Mr. Sandy for giving us more valuable information about our community.
    It is just an humble effort of presenting some matters related to our history and religio-cultural consciousness.I have freely drawn from the works of acknowledged authorities on the topic concerned and would like to express my gratitude to those scholars.It would not be out of place to tender my apologies if this topic is not found up to the mark as wide coverage has left to be cited.Suggestions for improvement in it will receive a cordial welcome.

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  4. If possible I would like to suggest Mr. Sandy to jot down the history from the book.I'm looking forward to reading it.

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  5. To sandy:

    Tikendrajit Singh was a member of Meitei Royal family, neither he was from Bishnupur nor he had any relation with Bishnupriya Manipuri. He was the son of Maharaja Chandrakirti Singh and his mother’s name was Chongtham Chanu Kouseswari Devi. After the death of maharaja Chandrakirti Singh, his eldest son Surchandra succeeded to the throne in the year 1886. Since the ascendence of Surchandra Singh, the royal family of Manipur divided into two factions viz., on one side Jubaraj Kullachandra, Tikendrajit, Angousana and Zillanamba joined against the king. His played his rule in the Anglo- Manipur War 1891 and later hanged by the British.

    Bishnuprrya Manipuris has left Manipur 250 or more years ago so I don’t think Bishnupriya Manipuri history has anything to do with Tikendrajit Singh or Anglo- Manipur War which happened just in 1891.

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  6. “The Bishnupriyas are supposed to have been the first ruling race and the Meities are supposed to have been the next immigrants” The lines quoted by Jytirmoy Roy was actually taken from the book The Background of Assamese Culture by R M Nath, I have gone through the book and unfortunately for all, there was no explanations, evidence, historical records or any testifying documents to justify his claim. Even if we assuming that all written history or documents destroyed by meiteis, but there must be some form of record in the neighboring kingdoms of Assam or Bengal or Burma etc of such a group called Bishnupriya ruled the geographical areas of present Manipur, from the grand. Do any such records exist – no,,, as far as I know. “Supposed to”, ”probably “,”likely” etc cant be historical facts.

    Its not a question of considering true/false/real Manipuri as a son of the soil or not. Manipur is a multicultural polyglot land. Every person of all ethnic group can claim to belong to this land be it meitei or bishnupriya. Even a few years back, a Bisnupriya /Meitei would identify himself not as Bisnupriya /Meitei, but as Manipuri. Unfortunately in the early past bitter enmity ensued between the two and both of these two groups started a competition of drilling the History and Historical Books in their favour. A huge number of Self-promoted History writers are invented in these times who did so many distortion and concoction of history to suit their evil purpose.

    All of them used Mahabharata the epic Indian hindu mythology and wanted to be related themselves with hindu ancestry. But in reality the ancient Bisnupriya /Meitei literature or folklore there is no mention any hindu elements or gods. Almost all the original inhabitants in North-East India (Ahoms, Bishnupriyas, Karbis, Nagas, Meiteis, Khasis, Garos etc.) have mongoloid features and can not classified under Aryan race. You can check it by visiting the rural areas where 90% of Bishnupriya people approaching Mongoloid or mixed-mongoloid faces.

    In fact, the present days Manipur, the land of Angom, Moirang, Khuman, Luwang, Mangang, and other 29 or so tribes, came to exist in the later part of the 19th century after the British entered Manipur. Previously, the name of the land (sovereign nation) was known as Kangleipak or Mackeley or Cassey to the Assamese and outside people. By the 17th century, the kings of Manipur came in contact with Hindu Brahmins who ran towards east from the conquering Muslims in Bangladesh, and camped in Cachar. That is when the Manipuri kings came to know of them after the Manipuri Kings defeated the Mayangs or the Cacharis.

    From 33 AD to the present, Manipur has a historical chronicle, which gives the name of the kings and their descendants very vividly. None of the names of the Kings like Ningthou Kangba ~1405 BC, Pakhangba 33 AD, Khuyoi Tompok 153 AD, Charairongba 1609 etc well up to 1700s King Pamheiba (given the Hindu Name Garibniwaz, not even a Hindu name) were Hindu names but were all ancient Manipuri names. Only after that era (1700s) Hindu names are found in the chronicle after Pamheiba converted his Kingdom (Kangleipak) from ancient religion to Ramanandi (Ram Worshippers) Branch of Hinduism. Mahabharata was not even a text during this period. Mahabharata came only after King Chingthang Khomba (Bhagyachandra, 1754 AD), who accepted Gouriya Hindhuism from a Brahmin preacher from Sylhet, Shanti das Goswami and invented the Ras Dance of Radha and Krishna. Fortunately, the only thing Manipur does not have yet is the hindu Caste system.

    Manipur of Mahabharata is in Orissa. Still the people of the village in Orrisa considers themselves as the descendants of Arjuna and Chittrangada. But in case of the present day Manipur it is a way of forceful subjugation of culture by the Brahmins, who were patronized by the Kings in order to assimilate his people to Hinduism. It is also an stupid idea to conceive that a whole nation could be the descendant of a single couple like Arjuna and Chittrangada (only if you belief that idea of Adam and Eve in the Bible).

    Do not buy in to the concocted stories without evidence from any fundamentalist Meitei or fundamentalist Bishnupriya history writer. Look for books and research papers, not propaganda stories written by wanna-be historians, if you are an educated person in the modern education system. The Some Bishnupriya and some Meitei Politicians in Assam, Tripura and Manipur may still be clinging to these Mahabharata stories to gain favor from the Government of India in New Delhi or Hindu Mahasavas. But, religion is not politics in the modern society though it happened to be in the ancient times, and still in some fanatic societies e.g. RSS, Bajrang, Al-Qaeda, Taliban etc.

    History needs a very very difficult and depth steps of study, research and findings, our society yet to produce a historian in true sense. Only Dr K P Sinha has done few researches and findings in scientific way. You can check one of his articles here –

    http://www.kanglaonline.com/index.php?template=kshow&kid=130

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