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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