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Gaudiya Vaishnavism : An Integrating force in the Amalgamation of Meitei Nation

by Rinku Khumukcham
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By : Manindra Konsam, Editor, Sanathong Monthly

INTROUCTION: The present day Manipur with a geographical area of 22,327 sq. Km. is a land of hills and valley. The hills almost occupied ninth-tenths of its total area. The valley being one-tenths is only about 2,000 Sq. Km. of stretching plains in the centre of surrounding hill ranges in all sides.

The surrounding hill ranges bordered to divide mainland India in the northwest and Myanmar in the southeast. It also lies almost in the halfway between the tri-junctions of India-Burma-China. As such, the valley and the surrounding hill ranges of Manipur naturally became an important station of migration and trade route between South Asia and South East Asia. Alongside, it also became a cradle of civilization for various remarkable groups of people who came in search of land for better living and glory. So, the history of Manipur is the story of evolutionary amalgamation of varied cultures and societies and shaping of an unique cultural tradition for an integrated society which was befittingly essential for a nation building.

Archeological evidences proved that the land of the present day Manipur had experiences of paleothic, neolithic, ancient and medieval cultures which have affinity with the Hoabinhian and are of non-Hindu origin. However, in the courses of amalgamation history of Manipur which started from 33 A. D., by the turns of the 19th c. A. D.; Gaudiya Vaishnavism of the Hindu emerged as the main integrating forceespecially among the groups of people so amalgamated and known under one nomenclature : Meitei, the major communityof Manipur.

Now, this paper, from a journalistic point of views, is trying to overview the evolution courses of history of Manipur where the Gaudiya Vaishnavism of Hindu religion became an integrating force in the amalgamation process of the Meitei Nation : Manipur. For the purpose, the following brief factual accounts of history are taken for a logical conclusion on the topic of this paper. Two-Day National Seminar on CULTRO-RELIGIOUS TRANSITION AMONG THE NATIVE COMMUNITIES OF NORTHEAST INDIA 9the-10th September 2018 at Central Hall, Dhanamanjuri University, Imphal Jointly Organised by : INDIA FOUNDATION, New Delhi; Department of Social Work, Indira Gandhi National Tribal University, Regional Campus, Manipur; & Centre for Manipur Studies, Manipur University.

Gaudiya Vaishnavism:

An Integrating force in the Amalgamation of Meitei Nation – Manindra Konsam, Editor, Sanathong Monthly NOTE: The English in this article is subject to corrections and improvement as the writer is not habitual of writing in English. – The writer.

-2-1. LAND and PEOPLE of MANIPUR: The history of Manipur started from 33 A. D. and according to its history there was no any group of people known as Meitei on the earth till the begining of its history.

Historically it can be concluded that the present days Meiteis are the descendants of the migrating people from the parts of South East Asia which in the course of time intermingled with number of ethnic groups from south Asia like India, China, etc. These ethnic groups on successive migration waves made thier settlements at the different parts of the valley and hills of Manipur and established their independent principalities with distinctive dialects, folk religion, culture and traditions and definite territorial boundaries. Number of such groups and their independent principalities are mentioned in the recorded history of Manipur, viz. Angom, Khaaba, Ngaanba, Luwaang, Khuman, Moiraang, Mangaang, Chenglei, Haorok Konthou, Heirem Khunjaan, Thaanga Kambong, Haokhaa Lokkhaa, Selloi Langmai, Maanting Maraang, Lera Khongnaang, Chakpa, Sektaa, etc.


At the start of the recorded history of Manipur, i.e. in 33 A.D., a group of men comprisingly drawn from different groups, led by one  Nongda Lairen Paakhangba, a man from the  Angom invaded and devastated the group of Khaaba who occupied Kangla and its nearby adjoining areas as their principality. After the  Khaaba,  Nongda Lairen Paakhangba established seat of power at the Kangla for his group which later bacame to be known as the Meitei and started process of amalgamation to build a Meitei nation by subduing different groups with annexational expansion of Meitei power and territory which became to be known as Poirei Meitei Leibaak (the land of Meitei). The amalgamation process so started since the time of  Nongda Lairen Paakhangba continued by his subsequent lineal successors and completed during the reign of Meitei King Chingthangkhomba (1763-1798) by totally bringing the principality of Moirang, a group of people with distinctively rich cultural heritages completely into the Meitei kingdom and Meitei fold.


Historically and logically, it can be concluded that the group of people led by Nongdaa Lairen Paakhangba who devastated the Khaabas from Kangla and established seat of power for his group had no any compact cultural tradition for a common bonding amongst themselves as they were comprised with men from different groups (whose descendants became to be known as the Ningthoujaa group in the seven clan lineage system developed in later period). As such, the group started blending of different culture in the proximity to suite for the amalgamated Meitei power and society to come. For such conclusion, the followings may be cited as example-i. Paanthoibi the daughter of  Lairen Tauroinai of  Mangaang and his wife Lainaamung Naamungbi was betrothed and married off to Taram Khoinuchaa, the son of  Khaaba king  Shokchromba.But -3-Paanthoibi eloped from her husband’s house and stayed with her lover Angouba Khongjaamba Nongpok Ningthou, the king of Langmai Cheeng. After Paanthoibi left the house of  Khaaba, her father in-law Khaaba Shokchronba became aware of her extraordinary spiritual qualities and started worshipping  Panthoibi’s belongings which were left by her in Khaaba’s house. Later he invited his ex daughter in-law with her husband Nongpok Ningthou and for the first time celebrated Lai Haraoba. II. Yielding to instigation from a queen, Hongnem Punshiba, the king of Luwaang divorced and sent off the youngest of his nine queens, Khayoirol Ngaanu Thumbi of Khuman with her infant son  Senba Mimaaba to her paternal house. With turns of events, after attaining manhood, the son obliging his mother’s wish and advice brought Imoinu, the Goddess of Luwaang to the Khuman. Then after, during the reign of Meitei king Meidingu Chalaamba (1545-1562 A.D.), obliging his mother Nongbaallon Haochongambi’s suggestion brought Goddess Imoinu to the  Poirei Meitei Leipaak. From the above two episodes, it is known that both the Goddess Panthoibi and Imoinu was not concern as of the Meitei before. Goddess Panthoibi had been the only concern of the Khaabas till the time Nongdaa Lairen Paakhangba devastated and brought the Khaabas under the Meitei power. But after the Khaabas becoming a part of the Meitei power, Goddess Panthoibi became a common Goddess of the amalgamated Meitei power. Likewise, Goddess Imoinu was also the only concern of the Luwaang and Khuman till the reign of Meidingu  Chalaamba and thus became a common bonding Goddess for the entire amalgamated Meitei power. As such, an initiation of an evolution of a common bonding of cultural tradition for the integrated Meitei power can be seen since the beginning of the amalgamation of the Meitei Nation. However, in the process of the common cultural evolution for the amalgamated Meitei power, there are historical evidences that shows: the Meitei also developed their own distictive culture different from the other groups they subdued and amalgamated to their own power. For such insertion, the followings may be considered:-I. Meidingu Ningthoukhomba (1432-1467 A.D.) wanted to attack and subdue the Moiraang but hasitated as both the powerful Khuman and Kabo were allies of  Moirang. Whereas the  Kabo was friendly with the Meitei but the Khuman remaind a great adversary. So, the Meitei king planned a conspiracy with the Chief of Andro to make alleis with the Kabo to attack Moirang. The Chief of Andro was sent to Kabo for requesting help for Meitei to attack  Moirang. Meanwhile a night, Meitei secretly attacked Kabo and beheaded Kabo queen and placed the head atop the palace gate of the  Kabo. The Meitei attackers on their return left scattering meal leftovers wrapped in lotus leaves to mislead them as Moirang as it was a customary tradition of the Moirang of wrapping their meal packages (Chayom) -4-in lotus leaves, whereas the Meitei wrapped their’s in  Leihouraa (plantain leaves of edible banana) and the Khuman in Changbi Laa (leaves of wild plantain).

  1. Meidingu Nongyin Phaaba (1523-1524 A.D.) ascended at the tender age of 10 yr. after his father Meidingu Lamkyamba (1512-1523 A.D.). Taking advantage of the Meitei king’s young age, Angom King Angoupaamba Kyamba forcibly married the young king’s queen mother Chaningphaabi. One day the Angom king came to the royal court adoring Urekshek Chaashangba (painted feather of white Heron) on his head which was a customary to the Meitei but not of the Angom. So the Meitei queen mother protested the nature of the Angom king and consequently got killed along with her young king son.

On the other hand, it is also a well known fact that all the different groups of people (regardless of smaller groups that merged to one or another bigger group) amalgamated to the Meitei power and integrated through common cultural bondings in many ways, still continued to enjoyed their own distinctive ways of folk culture and traditions. Each group had their own distinctive paterns and colours of costumes and ornaments that could show the identity of the group they belongs. They had day to day habits and ritualistic practices different from one another. For example:-I. Meidingu  Yaanglou Keiphaaba  (969-984 A.D.) introduced the pattern of embroidering Khoi (a curve design) in the border of the Meetei womens’  Phanek Mayek Naibi (stripe-sarong) which was adopted by all the groups amalgamated to the Meitei power. However that was done in different colours of distinctive stripe-sarong to identify the women wearer of the respective group she belongs. Such as :

  1. Ningthoujaa (Meitei) : Thambal machu phanek (indigo and red stripe).
  2. Khaaba-Ngaanba : Chigonglei phanek (golden and black stripe).
  3. Angom : Langhou phanek (black and white stripe).
  4. Chenglei (sharaang Leishaang and Haorok Konthou) : Loirang phanek (reddish and white stripe).
  5. Luwang : Higok phanek (sky-blue and black strip).
  6. Khuman : Kumjingbi phanek (dark blue and whitish stripe).
  7. Moirang : Hangampal phanek (yellow and reddish stripe).

(Those trend of wearing distinctive colours stripe-sarong by the Meitei women conforming to their respective groups continued till the Great World War II. But after the War, Meetei women started trendsetting to wear any kind of stripe-sarong as they like and continues to be still in vogue.

  1. The Chakpas of Manipur is a strong group of people who came and settled in this land since early days.Their main settlement areas with their religious practices which had affinity to the Tantric culture of Mahayana Buddhist were in and around the present day Bishnupur (Lamaangdong). They were defeated and -5-brought within the Meitei power during the reign of Meidingu Kongyaamba (1324-1335 A.D.). But they continued to remain with their customary practices and distinctive dialect. As such, The Chairen, subdued and brought within the Meitei power during the reign of Meidingu Telheiba  (1335-1355 A.D) also remained retaining their customary practices; whereas the Heirem Khunjaan, subdued at the same time with the Chairen got completely merged to the Meitei fold.

In addition to the above circumstances, alien groups with their distinctive cultural traditions started settling within the amalgamated Meitei power  either by means of forced exlusive settlements as war captives or by migration from both the east and west. So, by the turns of the early 18th c. A.D., it may easily be concieved the the hard earned amalgamated Meitei Power and Nation might surely had faced a chaotic social order. By the turn of the 18th c. A.D., the small valley of Manipur, though it housed the seat of power of the amalgamated Meitei Nation, had numbers of different cultural colours which were not rightly befitted for a nation. Other than the amalgamated groups of the Meitei Power and Nation, the valley had housed- Takhel (Tripuri) Vaishnav Hindu village (later to be mingled with Chinese), Mayaang (Cachari) Vaishnav Hindu village, Mayaang Kaalishaa (later Bishnupriya) Shaakta Hindu villages, Khraamran (Burmese) Buddhist village, Kameng (Burmese Karen) Buddhist village, Muslim villages and in between Brahmans from different parts of India with their different Hindu school of thoughts. In such chaotic combinations of different cultures in a small land like Manipur valley where the seat of power for the amalgamated Meitei power and Nation leis, why a Meitei king would not  like to adopt a state religion to bring  common cultural traditions for his amalgamated subjects for integration as one?

Therefore, during the reign of King Pamheiba @  Garibaniwaz  (1709-1748), there came a real time for the Meitei nation to have one common religion to shape one complete entity for the amalgamated Meitei power and its nation. So the king had to choose one from the three emerging religion of the world: – 1. Buddhism, a flourished religion of the south-east Asia including neighboring Burma, the then greatest enemy of the Meitei; 2. Islam, an alien but worldwide religion but then emerging forcefully in the eastern part of India; 3. Vaishnava Hinduism of India, the religion of the then friendly neighbouring kingdom of Ahom and Cachar. The king rightly decided for Vaishnava Hinduism the religion, his father Meidingu Charairongba  (1697-1709 A.D.) fondly embraced and patronised. But, adoptation of Vaishnava Hinduism by Meidingu Garibaniwaz for his amalgamated Meitei power brought more chaotic altercations than to bring common bonding among his amalgamated subjects as Hinduism in the valley of Manipur started reaching in varied forms with different colour and outlooks. -6-3. HINDUISM IN MANIPUR:

Regardless of the following facts:

(a). There florished a Hindu kingdom of Tagaung in Upper Burma which was founded by King Abhiraja of the Sakya Clan from Kapilavastu in 800 B.C. and remained till the Chinese Buddhist devastated in 600 B.C.

(b). The Ahom kingdom established in Upper Assam by Sukampha, a Shan prince in 1228 A.D. florished in whole of the Brahmapura valley as a Hindu kingdom till 1826 A.D. was a friendly kingdom of Meitei  LeipaaK with matrimonial alliances.

(c). Takhel (Tripura), the kingdom where locally produced Ramayana was translated in Sanskrit during the reign of Maharaja Dharma Manikya  (1431-1462 A.D.) also had established both martial and matrimonial relationship with the Meitei kingdom since the time of Meidingu Kabomba (1524-1542 A.D.).

(d). Just across the bordering hills of Manipur in the north-west of Imphal at presen day Dimapur, the Hindu kingdom of Dimasa (later Cachari) florished till the Ahoms devastated in 1536 A.D. This

kingdom of the Dimasas had also both martial conflicts and matrimonial alliances with the Meitei since the time of Meidingu Kongyaamba (1324-1335 A.D.). The presence of the Brahmins from the mainland India in the valley of Manipur is recorded since the time of Meidingu Kiyamba (1437-1508 A.D.). The king with the help from a Brahmin who was found settled in a village nearby the Kangla in the north east (present Lairikyengbam Leikai), initiated worshipping of Lord Vishnu by establishing a sanctum at the present day Bishnupur. After that, there are records of Brahmins arriving in Manipur from different parts of India. Out of those records, the followings may be taken into account as to concieve a roundabout of the chaotic scenarios by the Hinduism and its culture in Manipur during those days:-I. During the time of Meidingu Charairongba (1697-1709 A.D.), in 1703, a Brahmin, Rai Vanamali from Puri, Orrisa, arrived in Manipur with his wife. The king was impressed by the talk of the Brahmin on Radha-Krishna cult. In the following year (1704) King Charairongba embraced Nimandi Vaishnava of Hinduism happily along with many of his subjects from the Brahmin Rai Vanamali as their  Diksha Guru. After that the king built many temples of Radha-Krishna. Before the arrival of the Brahmin Rai Vanimali, another Brahmin, Purushottam with wife Lakshmipyari also from Puri arrived with the idols of Balarama-Krishna

and Subhadra in the royal court of king Charairongba. Since then, with the royal patronage, the Bhrahmins in Manipur started celebrating Ratha Yatra annually. On the other hand, Meitei King

Charairongba also built temples of Kalika (Durga) which shows the presence of Shakta cult of Hinduism in Manipur since his time.

  1. During the reign of Meidingu Garibaniwaz (1709-1748 A.D.), in 1715, a group of 39 Brahmins led by one Guru Gopal Das from the royal court of Ahom arrived in the royal court of Manipur. In 1717 the Meitei king (Garibaniwaza) along with many of his subjects were initiated into Vaishnavism (of Sankardeva school of thought) of Hindu. But soon after Guru Gopaldas left Manipur and arrival of a

Goshai : Shantidas from Srihatta (Sylhet) in 1719, the king shifted his allegiance from the  Vaishnavism of Sankardeva school to the Ramandi Vaishnavism. On the other side,  Smrata, another sect of Hindu Vaishnavism also sprang up in the valley of Manipur. Under the above chaotic scenarios of different Hindu cultures, the king himself must had faced much troubles in controlling the situation. Records of punishing and fining of non Ramandi Vaishnavas are found during the time of Meidingu Garibaniwaza.

However, amidst those chaotic cultural transition periods of the amalgamated Meitei Power and Nation, Meidingu Chingthangkhomba @ Bhagyachandra (1763-1798 A.D.) emerged and stood firmly equipped

with Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a Vaishnav cult based on love and devotion with equality for all without any distinction of caste and creed and also with open venues for embracing everything of humanity. In no time, the amalgamated groups of the Meitei Power and Nation accepted the new Vaishnavism as of

their own. The Gaudiya Vaishnavism introduced by the King Bhagyachandra started a new evolution of culture common for all the amalgamated groups of the Meitei Power and Nation in an unique form as an integrating force. In that course of new cultural evolution, all differences amongst the amalgamated groups waned and brought a complete shape of oneness with a nomenclature: Meitei and Meitei Culture. The Gaudiya Vaishnavism introduced by the Meidingu  Bhagyachandra has so uniquely shaped the culture and traditions of the amalgamated Meitei with total exclusiveness that, the Gaudiya Vaishnavism of the Meitei has become rightly to be known as the Meitei (Manipuri) Gaudiya Vaishnavism with its unique form.


We have histories of uniting peoples for a nation and for an exclusively common cultural traditions. We know groups of people trying hard for integration through common cultural tradition to gain an unified

Identity with glory. Whereas, the Meiteis are integrated with a hard earned long history. Why Meiteis should not stand united to safeguard its integrated identity with glory? ! -7-PS:  The English in the above article is subject to correction and improvement as the writer is not habitual of writing in English. – The writer.


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