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“BUDDHISM IN MANIPUR”

By: Sanjoo Thangjam

It will be very unanticipated if I say that Buddhism is still a very well developed religion in Manipur  and I, therefore, do not agree with Prof. M.S. Ningombam’s  article on - “Buddhism in Manipur”, stating that “Curiously Buddhism did not flourish in Manipur; perhaps Hinduism of the later period had absorbed it, as the political climate was not favourable and Buddhism in Manipur has never been well developed in spite of its geographical proximity with Myanmar”.

Buddhism got access to Myanmar via sea en route from Sri Lanka so, yet again, I do not see eye to eye when Prof. M.S. Ningombam further marked that Buddhism spread to Myanmar passing through Manipur by successive waves of Buddhists from mainland India.

Buddhism is still a very well developed religion in Manipur as the number of places in the valley where worshipping of the Buddha is clearly seen in Inggawrok Mahaadeba (Shiva), Thongngaam Mondum, Kwaarok Mahaadeba, etc... consciously or inadvertently by the worshippers which thereby  couched by modern historians as statues of BODHISATVAS.

As per my Venerable Master Prof. Yumnam Mohindro Singh’s proclamation, the Meiteis inherited a large number of old manuscripts written in archaic Meitei alphabets in connection with the existence of worshipping the Buddha which are tranquil in the safekeeping of the Manipur State Academy and State Archives, an autonomous body of the State and Government agencies respectively apart from concealed individual curators so far as the number of manuscripts are concerned. Moreover, there are also numerous bare bones of Buddhism found widely in the hills and valley of Manipur long before the advent of Hinduism.

The marble statues of the Buddha collected from different places of Manipur which are well preserved in the State Museum, Imphal and the drawings found in the Subikaa, a book on astrology in archaic Meitei language contained  Buddhist elements  too.

Moreover, Gangmumei Kamei in his history of Manipur stated that- “In Manipur Bodhisattvas are worshipped as Shivas “; and as a testimony to statement, it is well documented in a well-known novel called “Paanthoybi Khonggul” and also in “PAANTHOYBI NAAHEROL” written in archaic Meitei language.

The myth, “ after walking all the way round “ of the throne of Shiva by his off-spring, Ganesh and Kartika has also been adeptly introduced in Manipur in disguise of Sanamahi and Pakhangba, appearing to have nipped the growth of Buddhism in the bud.

So, the system of the religion called the Third Kind of Buddhism is considered as the Sanamahi Laining (li-religion of the Sanamahi) and have been ubiquitous in Manipur prior to the advent of the Hinduism in the State which dealt with the chief god and other gods of the Sanamahi Laining and they are:

Laithak,Leikharol,Pudin,Iyeng Puwari,Leisemlon,Sanamahi Laihui,Sanamahi Naoyom,Sanamahi Fangkhom,Sanamahi Khongoon, Sanamahi Thirel, Pakhangba Naoyom and Nongsaba Leihui.

After critical analysis of the above mentioned manuscripts which are still taken care of as “Holy Books”, it is revealed by some devotees of the Sanamahi Laining that Atingkok, Sanamahi Pakhangba and Nongsaba are the same gods which eventually comes to connote that there is existence of only one God

Because according to “Leisemlon”, Atingkok which literally means “The Sky” where ATING represents STRAIGHT and KOK as CLEAR , and thereby concluded that  “THE SANAMAHI”, is the only son of the Atingkok whose name was specified by Asiba/Awang Phatlou Leimakhomba with the literal meaning of SANA in Manipuri as “GOLD” and MAHI as “Liquid” which eventually signify the fundamental power.

The Royal Tree also known as the Golden Banyan Tree or the Sana khongnaang in Manipuri could convincingly represent the tree under which Prince Siddhartha attained his enlightenment. This Golden Tree or Sana khongnaang is considered sacred to the ancient meiteis as they bowed down to it before they start any journey as a result this could also mean that there is some strong bond that ties together with the worshipping of the Buddha.

The royal fruit or the Sanamahay in Manipuri has always been obscure to the quintessence of the teachings of the Buddha. Over the time, the connotative meaning of it could have been disappeared into thin air owing to the impact of Shaivism though. Therefore, conceivably the term Sanamahi could have been derived from Sanamahay.

Saikyamuni, for the Buddha in China, is known as Kawtumuni (Gautam Muni) in Manipur. It is a term familiar to the common people of Manipur before the advent of Hinduism (C. 17th century)

And as per the record maintained, the circumstances how Sanamahi was given the name to Asiba are narrated in the manuscripts of Sanamahi Laikan and PAKHANGBA to the second son of Ating Kok or Maru where the literal meaning of “PA” is Father and “KHANGBA” to Know which means, the one who knows his father?

After examining the various activities of these gods, a big question that arises is to which system of philosophy this religion belongs to, considering the fact that Manipur lies in the Indian sub-continent of the Asian Continent where the study of the two most ancient civilizations i.e., China and India is called for.

The Indian Civilization contains the complete aspects of the Sanamahi Laining though the early civilization of China does not have any aspects of it nonetheless there were a few at the later part. So coming back with reference to the existence of Buddhism in Manipur, the Third kind of Buddhism which is known as Vajrayana or more properly known as the Tantric Buddhism which is rather self-identified in its nomenclature viz. Tantricism and on the other hand the Buddhism founded by Nagarjuna of South India during the second century A.D. which entered the Mahayana is the second kind of Buddhism thereby producing what we called “The Tantric Buddhism” where it is believed that there is existence of God in contrast to the non-existence of God in the Hinayana, the first kind of Buddhism.

The supreme God of the Tantric Buddhism is known as the Adi-Buddha from whom all subsequent Buddhas descended as He is the origin of all matters and at the same time the origin of the spiritualism. Therefore, the theory of Adi-Buddha satisfies the materialists and the idealists as He evolves the Five Dhyani Buddhas who represent the primordial elements of the Universe.

Taking into consideration the books written by Kanhailal Hazra (Delhi), entitled “Adi-Buddha” a renounced scholar of Kolkata University on the religions of the South-East Asia and Indian Buddhist Iconography by B.Bhattacharja (Kolkata) gives the description of the Dhyani Buddha in connection with the other distinct features of the Tantric Buddhism along with the old manuscripts written in archaic Meitei alphabets which are tranquil in the safekeeping of the Manipur State Academy and State Archives.

Now coming to the point and to simplify the matter in Manipur’s context, it is believed that in 1470, the king of Pong (of Myanmar), Chawphaa Khekkhomba presented a statue (perhaps of Buddha) besides other gifts, keeping it in a silver cascade to king Kiyaamba (1467-1508) of Manipur.

King Kiyaamba is said he was neither a Buddhist nor a Hindu, but a worshipper of Sanamahi by faith. Therefore, when studied comprehensibly, it indubitably could mean that Sanamahi Laining or the Pakhangba Laining could have been none other than Tantric Buddhism or the 3rd Buddhism which King Kiyaamba was worshipping.

Moreover, it is worth mentioning that the first and the most ancient Dhyani Buddha is Amitabha where the predominantly interesting occurrence known as the Meditative has complete similarities with The Sanamahi, God of the Meitei (Manipuri) and the other Dhyani Buddha. For example Akshobhaya has complete testimonial with the Pakhangba of the Meiteis therefore from logical point of view, it can rightfully be said the worshipping of Sanamahi could probably mean worshipping the Buddha or the 3rd kind of Buddhism.

(P.S. I am of the opinion that many people would disagree with my findings about the worshipping of the Buddha which is still prevalent in every household of Manipur therefore/in case if any interested person who wish to know more about the subject better than I would be obliged if you could spare your precious time and meet my Master Prof. Yumnam Mohindro Singh of Yumnam Leikai Lairembi Maning.

But then again, I am in deep pain to know that it is going to take a pretty long time for the people to understand my message which I have thoroughly studied. Moreover, I also know that some people would mull over me as paranoid nonetheless if I happen to hurt the sentiment of any people then please do forgive me moreover I think I have not mentioned anything unscrupulous against or about any religion.)

The writer is a lay Buddhist. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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