By- Rinku Khumukcham
The arrival of Hinduism to the Manipuri Society during the 17th Century is the root of all this confused state of my mind. Various Manipuri scholars, historians and social activists had interpreted the entry of the Hinduism in their own views and perspectives. Some said it was the beginning of a new Manipuri civilization but some said it was an invasion. As found at some of the writings of social scientists – the arrival of Hinduism during the reign of Miedingu Pamheiba (1709–1748) had brought tremendous change in the religious practices of Manipur.
I am neither a scholar nor a social scientists, I am simply an insignificant person who always look forward to perform the rituals of being born to my parents. And I am more in touch with my parents and my grandparents rather than those great great grandparents.
In his letter to his daughter Indira Gandhi, the first prime Minister of India wrote – Gods comes as a product of the fear of mankind. If scientists have succeeded in making a time travel machine, where we could go back to the prehistoric days, all sorts of confusions would have been solved. Even though we don’t have the opportunity to go back to the pass we could still culled the series of events that might have happened during the days.
Scholars say – early people had to struggle hard for their survival. Professor Ratan Kumar Singh of the Manipur University while presenting his famous paper –”God in Manipuri Literature” in the Oxford Round Table Conference during April month in 2011 vividly explain the life our ancestors. As according to his presentation the early people were surrounded by hostile forces of nature and the environment. Their living conditions, to a great extend were influenced by the forces beyond their control. And they had a need to provide some explanations and accounts for the good and the bad things which happened to them along with those of the favourable and the adversaries. It is a very interesting fact that many of the forces were often personified and given name and personalities. This phenomenon was perhaps the first step for having beliefs and religious rituals. And consequently a number of gods and goddess representing the various elemental forces and qualities appeared.
The reason for bringing up this piece of write up is to remind that religions and rituals are the product of human civilization. Be it metiesm Sanamahi or the Hinduism or the Christianity – they are product of the human civilization.
To my perception my foremost ancestors might not have a god or a religion as they were yet to begin a civilization. The great grandparents of my great grandparents who were survived before the reign of Meidingu Pamheiba might have been following a religion which was counterproductive of their ancestors. May be after force conversions or willy-nilly adoption, my ancestors, who were born after the reign of Meidingu Pamheiba have become Hindu. In course of time the Hindu rituals finds its way to the veins of the Manipuri society and become a part of it. The rich culture of the region which were flourished since Meitei civilization became into existence began to establish in a new outlook. These new traditions, along with the ancient indigenous traditions, were in existence simultaneously in Manipuri Culture. To the words of Professor Ratan – It was in some aspects we find a beautiful amalgamation of pre-Hinduism and Hinduism element in Manipuri Culture.
The rich heritage of Manipuri Culture and its recognition to the world community is the product of the ancient indigenous traditions streams through the newly invaded religion called Hindu. The Hindu that has been flourishing to the society this erstwhile kingdom is in no way a curse but rather a boon.
Somewhat I feel that traditional meiteism culture and the newly entered Hinduism adopted by our ancestors as the two sides of the same coin. I see beauty and respect to the rituals of Hindus and I find pride to the rituals of my Sanamahi religion.
But it will be definitely wrong to connect the region with “Dwarka era” as the Hinduism came only some century back.
The adoption of Hinduism by the Meitei people may have been due to political necessities of the time. The political scenario of that time – that is during the reigns of Meidingu Charairongba (1697-1709), Meidingu Pamheiba (1709-1748) and Meidingu Chingthangkhomba or Bhagyachandra (1749-1798) was described by historians as – at the most critical junctures. And it was also during the reign of these three successors that the social live of Meitei people was transformed to a momentous changed.
They played very significant roles in the history of Kangleipak. After the death of Paikhomba, his nephew Charairongba, the son of his younger brother Tonsenngamba, ascended the throne in 1697. His reign was a transition period from traditional Meetei social situation to a Hindu Meetei Society. He constructed several temples for Meitei deities like Panthoibi, Sanamahi and Hindu deities after his espousal with Vaishnavism. The relation with Burma was deteriorated and more strengthened with India after conversion into Vaishnavism.
The compulsion for strengthening of Hinduism to the Meitei society was well debated by Professor MC Arun of the Manipur University at one of his play “Rajarshi Bhagyachandra”. The play was performed by artists of Banian Repertory Theater under the directorship of MC Thoiba. According to former news editor of the AIR, BB Sharma, Professor MC Arun was trying to depict the reality of the 18th Century, which was a crucial period in the history of Manipur. The problem arises out of animosity and disunity among the Meitei people of the time was well depicted in the play. Prof. M C Arun regarded Rajarshi Bhagyachandra as an icon for cultural Nationalism. He, as a keen observer of the society, culture, ethnicity and contemporary conflicts found a suitable character in none other than Rajarshi Bhagyachandra to depict his dream of social engineering in present Manipur.
In his play MC Arun asked himself a few questions; firstly, can the people of Manipur sideline Govindajee, who was so dear to their forefathers ?; secondly, can we continue the same Vaishnavite faith which is often criticised by the younger generation for creating a rift between the valley and the hill people? thirdly, is there any alternative to the present crisis in Manipur by way of a synthesis between transcending thesis and its antithetical distractions?
In the play, MC Arun successfully attempted to depict Govindajee through the eyes of a Tangkhul woman. By doing so he made a genuine effort to show a cultural affinity with the west rather as a political compulsion than as a religious one. Admittedly, Manipur’s threat then came from the East and not from the West. And as such the Vaishnavite cult in Manipur is an indigenous one and an ingenious product of our soil. Hence, there should not be any conflict among Vaishnavism, indigenous faith and tribal culture in Manipur.
Can we the new generations Meitei skip the reign of Rajarshi Bhagyachandra? Are we – the new generation feed enough to throw away the amalgamated culture called Meitei Veishnavite – for the hate of its origin being from the mainland Indian people ?
Before we go ahead with any hard decision we need to think on whether a single mistake committed would sink the whole society of ours – which is famous for its rich cultural authenticity.