Hinduism in Manipur

By :  Dr. Chirom Rajketan Singh

Assistant Professor,
Department of Manipuri
Kha Manipur College, Kakching


Manipur is a state in the north eastern part of India with a population comprising of hill people and valley people. It became a part of India in October 1949. It was once an independent princely state. The history of Manipur can be traced back to very early times. There is history of small tribes ruling independently both in the hills and the valley. These small tribes used to fight with one another for supremacy. The powerful ones usually rule over the others. 

In 33 A.D. king Nongda Lairen Pakhangba ascended the throne at kangla as the first king of Ningthouja Clan. He started the unification of the various tribes of the hills and the valley making way for a larger and united nation. The unification process was completed by the time of Meidingu Charairongba (1697 -1709). All these are recorded well in the old Manipuri Manuscripts (Puyas). All the small communities shared many common things in common such as religion, costumes, oral narratives relating to their settlement, house style etc. There was inter – marriage among the various communities and they used to live peacefully in the past. Geographically Manipur is divided into two  regions – the hills and the valley. The people settling in the valley are called Tam-mee (Valley people) while the people settling in the hills are called Ching-mee( Hill people ). There is history of hill people coming down to the valley and settling there while valley people went up to the hill and become hill people by settling there. During the time of the kings hill people and valley people was categorized according to the place of settlement. The various social categories like scheduled tribe, scheduled caste and general were made only after Manipur merged with India.

In the very olden times Manipur valley was inhabited by the people belonging to seven clans who were commonly called Meitei or Meeteis. Besides them, there were other smaller communities also. With the passage of time these small communities merged with the bigger groups and become more powerful groups. On the other hand different tribes having common origin settled in the hills.These groups of people settling in the valley as well as the hills were brought together as one united nation under the rule ofthe kings of Ningthouja clan. The different communities may be small in size but they have many things in common like religion and worship, language, costumes and many other things. The Meiteis who form the major community have their own Creation Myth. Their creation Myth clearly shows how the various plants, living things including humanbeings were created. The Gods who took part in the Creation were considered as powerful Gods and they are worshipped till today. Every Meitei household keeps a sacred place for Lainingthou Sanamahi who played a major role in creation. Along with this a sacred place for Universal Mother Goddess”Ema Leimarel Sidabi” is also kept separately. The Meiteis worshipped them both. Above this the Meiteis also worship Pakhangba as God of the world outside the household (lamlai). It is believed that Pakhangba is protecting the different lands by assuming different forms like Serpent, Python or dragon. The different forms of Pakhangba are called Paphal. Lainingthou Pakhangba is the younger brother of Lainingthou Sanamahi – the God who created the Universe and both are the sons of Atiya Kuru Sidaba (Supreme God). Other lesser Gods who helped in creation are worshipped as Umang Lai and Gods who are the guardians of the various directions. Such creation Myth is the root of Meitei religion. Lai Haraoba which is performed till today is a very important festival which depicts everything from creation till stage by stage development of Meitei Civilization. The reaql identity of Meiteis can be established from Lai Haraoba only. The religions, customs, beliefs of the Meiteis are all based on Creation Myth. Rules for religious practices, stories of origin exist both in written form as well as in oral form. The Meiteis are fortunate to have all these records as they have their own scripts.

Advent of Hinduism :

In the history of Manipur the strength and valour of the kings determined the boundaries of this land. The kings had good and bad relations with the neighboring lands. There was constant fighting, inter-marriages, trade relations with the neighbouring lands from early times. Some of the neighbouring lands include Takhel(Tripura), Mayang (Cachar), Tekhao (Assam), Khasia Jaintia (Meghalaya), Sylhet (now in Bangladesh) and eastern lands like Khaki (China), Pong (San), Samsok/Awa etc. Such relations influenced the culture of Manipur and brought about changes from time totime. This is clearly indicated by history. But the deep rooted religion of this land could not be totally changed. As for example in 1389 in Saka era (1467 A.D) Meitei king Meidingu Kyamba ascended the throne. Then in 1392 he invaded and conquered Kabo Kyang along with Pong King Khekhomba. The land was divided between Pong King and Meitei King. The Meitei king got vast areas of land on the west of Ningthi river ( Chindwin river). The Pong King also gifted the Meitei King a golden idol placed in a golden Kwagok (Container for betelnut, betel leaves etc.). A temple was constructed at Lamangdong and the golden idol was placed there and worshipped. During the time of Meidingu Kyamba Brahmin priests (18 in number) from Takhel, Tekhao, Sylhet, Bengal, Nepal and Gujarat came to Minipur and settled here. However they could not bring any remarkable change in the religious beliefs of the people. Slowly there was an influx of other Brahmins. The number of Brahmins who entered Manipur according to the ManuscriptBamon Khunthoklon are as follows: Meidingu Kyamba (1467-1508) – 18 in number ; Meidingu Nonginphaba (1523-24) – 4; Meidingu Chalamba(1645-62) – 3 : Meidingu Mungyamba (1562-97) – 1; Meidingu Khagemba (1597 – 1652) – 10; MeidinguPaikhomba (1666 – 97) – 6; Meidingu Charairongba ( 1697 – 1709) – 13 ; Meidingu Pamheiba (1709-49) – 10 ; Meidingu Chingthangkhomba (1763-98) – 2 ; Meidingu Gambhir Singh (1825 -34) – 6 ; MeidinguChandrakiti (1835-44) – 2 ; Meidingu Nara Singh (1844-1850) -1 Meidingu Churachand (1891-1941) -5 . These Brahmins either came alone or with their families. Those who came alone were given women (Meitei/Tribal/Muslim) and they were allowed to settle after giving Meitei surnames. Those who came with their families were also given Meitei surnames and givenpermission to settle here. The surnames were specially created for the Brahmins. Of the 49 Brahmin surnames 7 had no longer existed as there was no heir left to continue the generation. Some others have also changed their surnames.

From time to time the Brahmins entered and settled in Manipur. It was only during the time of king Pamheiba that the Brahmins were recognized as high class of people who were assigned with the task of performing religious duties.

During the time of Meidingu Khagemba, Subika – the book on Astrology which was solely based on Hindu religion was even written in Meitei script.

Meidingu Charairongba was a king who reigned for 13 years from 1697 to 1709 A.D. He died at the early age of 37. His reign first marked the dawn of Hinduism in this land. He was an ardent follower of Meitei religion in his early years. He made the artisans to cast the statues of Panthoibi and Lainingthou Sanamahi on Wednesday the 11th of Poinu in 1621 in the Shaka era (1699 A.D.) and on Friday the 4th of Enga in 1700 A.D. respectively. On Wednesday 16th of Engen(1700 A.D.) king Charairongba consecrated the temple of Panthoibi and on 21st of Enga in 1624 in the Shaka era(1702 A.D.) he constructed the temple of Sanamahi and consecrated it on Friday 16th of Hiyangei 1704 A.D. The statue of Lainingthou sanamahi was placed in the newly constructed temple at Apong Ingkhol. From 1707 A.D. the king turned towards Hinduism. Heconstructed a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna from Friday 19th of Kalen in 1707. During his time a Brahmin named Banamali came to Manipur from Jaganath Kshetra. The king readied himself to get baptized by this Brahmin to Sakhya religion. The Brahmin was given the surname Guruaribam. The Krishna temple stands till today at Bamon Leikai and is known by the name Guruaribam Mandop. But the king could not spread Sakhya religion. Meidingu Charairongba died on Sunday 7th of Engen in 17609 A.D at the age of 37.

Meidingu Pamheiba ascended the throne on Wednesday 23rd of Thawan in 1709 A.D. He wanted to fulfill his father’s wish of spreading Sakhya religion. So he got himself baptized into the religion. Shakhya religion was also called Nimandi Relidion and they were the worshippers of Lord Vishnu and his incarnation Lord Krishna.Vishnu Upasana is also calledVaishnavism. In the manuscript called Sanamahi Laikal it is written that Meidingu Pamheiba who ruled Manipur, was baptized by Gangadher, the son of Brahmin Banamali. In 1716 A.D a Brahmin named Shantidas came to Manipur with two followers Bhagawan Das and Narayan Das to spread Ramandi religion. Shantidas was a native of Narasing Tilla of Shrihatta District (now called Sylhet). Pamheiba abandoned Sakhya religion and turned towards the new religion called Ramandi. He was baptized into this religion by Guru Gopal Das in 1639 Shaka era (1717 A.D) in the month of Mera. Ramandi religion was the religion of Lord Rama worshippers. Shantidas enlightened the mind of king Pamheiba about the difference between these two Hindu religions. i.e.Nimandi and Ramandi. He explained thus – Nimandi religion is the religion of an ascetic. Its follower has to renounce all worldly pleasures and wealth. This religion belongs to the pious and the saintly people. Such religion is inappropriate for a Kshetriya warrior ie the king. Instead the king should worship the Lord of Ayodhya – Ramachandra. Such exposition is clearly written in Sanamahi Laikal.

During this time there were constant wars. Meidingu Pamheiba was also planning to attack on Awa (Burma) as revenge for the injustice done to his sister Chakpa Makhao Ngambi according to the wish of his late father. With such thoughts he preferred to choose Ramandi religion over Nimandi religion. Later on he waged war on Awa (Burma) and Takhel (Tripura). In these wars he emerged victorious. With his victory his faith in Ramandi religion became much stronger.

King Pamheiba felt that his subjects should also follow him in embracing Ramandi religion as it was the duty of all the subjects to follow their king’s footsteps. So he tried to forcibly convert his people into the new religion by leaving their old Manipuri religion. But the people had deep rooted sentiment for the old Manipuri religion. So the conversion was not completely successful, even though there were some changes. Shantidas knew that the mentality of the people would not be easily changed so he tried different ways to deal with the situation. He even destroyed many valuable treasures. Some of the changes he introduced were

–               In the month of Langban, 1723 A.D he destroyed the shrines of Umang Lai. On the full moon day of Hiyangei Friday, Brahmins were allowed to enter the Meitei temples of Lainingthou Nongsaba, Yumthei Lai,Panthoibi and Taibangkhaiba to perform the various religious rites.

–               On Sunday 20th of Lamta 1724 A.D the king gave the order to dug out the buried bodies of the dead and the skeletal remains were collected and burnt and the ashes were thrown to Ningthi river. From this day onwards the Meiteis started cremating their dead.

Before this the Meiteis did not cremated their dead. Instead there was practice of burial of dead bodies. In the next year the grave would be dug out again to collect the bones. The bones were thoroughly washed and then put in a pot to perform the last rites. This was called Mang Chanba or secondary burial. For the kings and the noblemen the skull was covered with gold or silver and buried again. There is written record about such practices in the book called Thawan Thaba Hiran. Moreover, gold covered human skulls were dug out from Pidonu Ching and Cheirao Ching of Thangmeiband. Burial sites at Sekta were excavated and preserved till today. Nowadays cremation replaces burial. Then on the completion of one year instead of secondary burial a death anniversary called Kumon Phiroi is being observed.

–     Another significant change was that the title given to the Meitei king i.e. Meidingu was replaced by Maharaja. (During the time of Meidingu Khagemba the king was even addressed as Lainingthou.)

–     Then rearing of pigs and fowls in the household was prohibited. People were fined if they did so.

–     On Wednesday 11th of Phairel 1725 A.D Ningthem Pukhri (Royal Pond) at Wangkhei was dug.

–     Ningthem Pukhri was opened on Sunday 2nd of Kalen 1726 A.D.

–     Near this big pond, temples of Krishna and Kalika were placed. Till today the temple of Kalika stands on the northern side of this pond and is being looked after and worshipped by the Sairem clan. On the western side of this pond a temple dedicated to Lord Rama was constructed and it still stands today as Temple of Ramji Prabhu.

–     In the month of Enga all the Umang Lai (Ancestral Gods ) were collected and buried at Mongba Hanba.

–     On Monday 23rd of Engen seven temples belonging  to Lainingthou, Panthoibi, Laiwa haiba, 2 Lamnapi, Soraren and Huidonpokpi were destroyed along with the images or forms which were worshipped.

–     On Sunday 18th of Enga 1729 A.D the stone placed at sana Keithel was moved toMongba hanbafor sculpting a Hanuman statue.

(This stone was believed to possess special powers and was being worshipped at the market.Meidingu Chalamba who ruled from 1545 A.D – 1562 A.D brought and kept two possessed stones at the market place. Out of these two one was used to make Hanuman Thakur statue which was worshipped later on as Hanuman Thakur.)

During this time, with the falling of misfortune in the land and instability in the mindsof the people for their unwillingness to leave old religion and accept new religion, there was utter confusion.

So in order to pacify the minds of the people Guru Shantidas advised the king to revive Sanamahi worship saying that God was one and Sanamahi was the incarnation of Shri Krishna and Rama was also the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. With these on Thursday 2nd of Thawan 1729 A.D. a sacred place for Lainingthou Sanamahi was maintained and worshipping started. On the day 11th of Wakching the temple of Lainingthou Sanamahi was consecrated and worshipped.

But the efforts for conversion to Ramandi religion never ceases. Shantidas thought that until and unless the priceless old manuscripts called Puyas were destroyed people would not accept his religion. So on Sunday 17th of Mera 1732 A.D all the Puyas were collected and put to flames in front of Kangla Utra. This incident is called Puya Meithaba in the history of Manipur. In this fire around 120 different Puyas were burnt but it was presumed that the actual number of manuscripts were much more than this. The names of the 120 destroyedPuyas were written in the Puya called Miyat. But it can be said that these 120 Puyas were not totally lost. Some puyas which were copied and some others which were kept secretly remained. Some puyas are still there which need to be read only at night with no one around.Some Puyas which were considered to be destroyed in the fire are still found today. They may be considered to have been written again after Pamheiba was no longer the king. This is possible because most of the Meitei Puyas are related withreligiouschantings which are used frequently by the Meitei Priest or Maichous. So they learn everything by heart. Be it puya or Lai – Haraoba the priests / Priestesses always say the chantings without looking at a book or manuscript. The PuyaNumit Kappa and Tutenglon were used as chantings for Chupsaba and the Priest would recite everything without looking at the puyas.

The long Epic Khamba Thoibi which took many days to sing by pena or Khongjom Parbasingers did not require a book or script to look at. Local storytellers called wari liba would learn the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata by heart and they could tell it continuously.

However hard Shantidas and the king tried Meitei religion could not be totally replaced by the new religion. This forcible conversion led to a great rift between the king and his people. Seeing the situation Shantidas adopted new measures to appease the people.

                The statue of Lainingthou Sanamahi which was destroyed in the month of Thawan 1733 A.D was made again by casting in bronze. (Lainingthou Sanamahi is still worshipped today at Haying Khongban near 1st Manipur Rifles). People were then allowed to worship Sanamahi at their homes as before. Worshipping of Umang lai was again revived. By doing so the minds of the people got pacified. At the same time many Hindu Religious festivals were introduced to the land. The festivals were happily accepted by the people and they became a part of the people’s lives. A book called Sanamahi Laikal was written tocommemorate the revival of Sanamahi religion.

 How Manipur was named:

 With the introduction of Hinduism this land had seen many changes. On the advice of Shantidas this land was named Manipur. Before this the land was given different names by its neighbours as for example Kashe by Awa (Samshok) and Kate by Sans; Mekhali by Takhel and Tekhaos;Mogali by Mayang Cachhar; Meckley by the British (in their maps) etc. In the old Manuscripts names like Poirei, Poirei Meitei, Poirei Sana Pungmayon were used as names for this land.

 In the manuscript called Sakok Lamlal it was mentioned that in the ancient age called Hayichak the land was called Tilli Koktong Ahanba. In the age called Khunungchak it was called Mira Pongthok Lam. In the Langpa Chak the land was called Hanna semba konna loiba. In the Konna Chak it was called it was Muwa palli. In the manuscript called Sading it was written that between two sacred places in Kangla viz, Nungkoibi and Taipongthong a precious stone (Maniyai) was believed to be found. So the land was called Mani Sana Leimayon. Not only this the land was also called Mayai Koirenthak Namthak Saron Pung. With the coming of Poireiton the land came to be known as Poirei Meitei. The reason why Shantidas called the land Manipur was written in Sanamahi Laikal.

The brief meaning goes like this – The land is blessed with six seasons. It is no ordinary land. The king of the land belongs to the clan of the Sun – Surya Vans. A cave lies within the Kangla. So let this land be named Manipur. If people ask how then the answer lies in the story of the Mahabharata. After the Mahabharata War Arjuna was killed by his son Babrubahana while he was performing Arshamedha Yagya. Babrubahana was the son of Arjuna and Chitrangada the daughter of king Chitrabahan whom Arjuna married during the 12 years exile. When Babrubahana came to know that Arjuna was his father, he went to Patal, the nether world to seek the powerful Gem (Mani) from Ananta the many headed Snake king. With the help of the Gem Arjuna came back to life. It was believed that this powerful Gem lies in this land. So this land should be named as Manipur (Mani – Gem).

Like this the name of the land got changed. Not only this King Pamheiba also got a new Hindu name ie Garibniwaz. The Queen’s name changed to Gomti. Many of the King’s noblemen changed their names to Hindu names. Maharaja, Maharani, Jubaraj, Mantri were the new names for King, Queen, Wangol Ningthou and Mathang khanba respectively. Many Hindu, Sanskrit, Bangla words were introduced. A very sacred place for the Meiteiscalled Mongba Hanba was replaced with Mahabali after the placing and worshipping of Hanuman Thakur. In the place of Hiyangthang Lairembi Kamakhya was placed and worshipped.

According to Sanamahi Laikal, the seven clans (yek salai) of the Meiteis changed to Hindu Gotras. Such as

Meeitei Clan                                                                         Hindu Gotra

Ningthouja                                                                            Sandilat

Angom                                                                   Kaushik

Thangyi Chengleibam (Kha Nganba)                             Bharadwaz

Luwang                                                                 Kashyap

Khuman                                                                                Madhugalya

Moirang                                                                 Atreya

Phantek (Sarang Leishang)                                               Gautam

The above clans and gotras have some differences with those of today. As for example Moirang clan is divided as old Moirang and New Moirang. Old Moirang corresponds to gotra Atreya while New Moirang corresponds to Angiras Gotra. Bharadwaj Gotra is for Khaba and Neimisa Gotra is for Nganba. Vashishta Gotra is for Chenglei Salai and Angiras Gotra for Leishangthem.

During this time the traditional festivals of the Meiteis got mixed with Hindu festivals thereby losing its original form.

–               Kongba Leithong Phatpa of Sajibu got mixed with Vishnu Sankranti.

–               Ahong Khong Chingba of Engen got replaced by Rathayatra.

–               Langban Chara Tamba – the ritual of making offerings of food to our ancestors held in the month of Langban get replaced by Tarpan.

–               Mera Sanduba and Nungoibi Lalu Chanba got replaced by Kwak Tanba. This event takes place on 10th of Mera.

–               Chanou Tangba ceremony ie offering of newly harvested paddy of the year got replaced by Govardhan Pujah.

–               Jaljatra Wakyei Hitongba ceremony replaced Hiyangei Hitongba of Hiyangei.

–               Ukai kappa of Phairen was replaced by Dussehra.

–               Ougri Chongba of Lamta got mixed with Holi of the Hindus.

Introduction of Hindu Books :

The adoption of Hindu religion by Garibniwaj led to the writing of Hindu religious books like Vedas and Puranas in Manipuri language. As Ramandi was the main religion at that time, Ramayana was considered the main priority. So all the seven kandas of Ramayana were written in Manipuri. The Ramayana written by Sage Valmiki was in Sanskrit language. The Manipuri Ramayana was based on the Ramayana written by Kritibas in Bengali. During that time there were many scholars who were well versed in Sanskrit and Bengali. On the royal order of Garibniwaj the seven kandas of Ramayana was written by Khema Singh Taret Selungba with the assistance of Pramanada, Mukundaram, Lakshmi Narayan Irom, Ramcharan and Lakshmi Narayan Saikhuba. Another Pandit named Angom Gopi also wrote the Ramayana Kandas in Manipuri. He also wrote a small episode called Parikshit from Gangadas Sen’s Mahabharata. On the order of Garibniwaj Maharaja Murari and Angom Gopi wrote an episode from Kritibas’s Ramayana called Veerbahu Tuba. The book mentioned the date and year of writing as Wednesday 12th of Sajibu in 1635. The seven Ramayana Kandaswhich were written during the time of Garibniwaj Maharaja were lost in the turmoil of Awa invasion. But during the reign of Labanyachandra, Shridam Thoudamcha wrote again two Kandas Adi and Ayodha Kanda. The books written during this time were all in Meitei script and not in Bengali script. They were not the exact translation but adaptations of the original ones. They were written just like the old Manipuri literature work. The language was old Manipuri. There was usage of Hindi, Sanskrit and Bengali words according to the story.

Books were all written in Meitei script till the reign of Churachand Maharaj. But the book Sangai Phamang which was written during the time of Chandrakirti was in Bengali script in Manipuri language. From 1890 A.D Haodaijamba Cheiteinya started writing books in Bengali script. The original Meitei books like Samsok Ngamba, Takhel Ngamba, Chothe Thangwai Pakhangba were also written during the time of Garibniwaj Maharaj.

AfterMaharaj Garibniwaj a strong wave of Vaishnavism arose during the reign of Maharaj Bhagyachandra. By then Hinduism had rooted deeply in the soil of Manipur. Statue of Shri Shri Govind was erected and Ras Leela played. The belief became so strong during the time of Chandrakirti and Churachand Maharaj that speaking without Sanskrit or Bengali words was considered a sign of uncivilized nature. A form of social division called Amang – Aseng (somewhat similar tountouchability) began to flourished. People who did not follow Hindu religion were considered as inferior people.

Mixed Culture:

Even though Hinduism became the main religion of Manipur the traditional religious beliefs and customs were not totally lost. The religion followed by the Meiteis is a combination of both Meitei and Hindu religion. It is a syncretic form. In every household a sacred place each for Lainingthou Sanamahi, Leimarel and Emoinu is maintained. Even the Brahmins who came and settled in Manipur also worshipped Sanamahi in their homes. Umang Lai Haraoba still remains as a purely Meitei festival. It remains unaffected by Hindu religion. But the festivals, various rituals from birth till death all exhibit a mixed form of Meitei religion and Hindu religion.

While making houses the Meiteis still follow the traditional manner and practices. Whenever it comes to selection of proper site the Meitei tradition is followed while laying of foundation and consecration are done in Hindu style by consulting Brahmins. Inside the houses Sanamahi and Leimarel are worship, outside the houses the Meiteis worship the Tulasi (Sacred basil) planted in their courtyards. Images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses like Saraswati (Goddess of learning), Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth), Durga ( Goddess of war/valour), Vishwakarma ( God of skill) are worship from tome to time. Shiv – ratri, Govardhan Puja are being performed. In the temples of Hindu Brahmins offerings of vegetables called Sidha Thinba and offering of Kheer to Lord Vishnu are made and a purifying ritual called Shanti Haidokpa is also done. Along with these the Meiteis also offer vegetables or fruits to Sanamahi everyday or from time to time. Whenever misfortune befall on any person ancestor worship is carried out. There is no Hindu influence here. The Meiteis also carried out worship of Emoinu who is the Goddess of wealth.

The Manipuri Ras Leela is a world renowned classical dance form of India. The main theme is based on the story of Krishna (Hindu God)  and Radha. But the art form, costumes and inner concept all belong to this land.

Rath Jatra is a part of Hindu religion. This is done in Manipur also. In Manipur a big Rath (Chariot) is drawn from the palace and this is called Konung Kang Chingba. Besides these many smaller raths are drawn in different localities. The tradition followed in Manipur is different from other places. The palace rath should be drawn first before the rathas of the localities. During night a song and dance ritual called Choitep Chongba is performed and khichdi is prepared as prasad. Choitep Chongba is actually singing the songs of Geet Gobind, Das Avtar of the Poet Jaydeva which is accompanied by dancing. Men, Women, Old and young all can take part in this dance which is usually performed in the Mandap (a big space in front of the temple). The Meiteis cannot pronounce ‘J’ and ‘D’ as them is no such letter in their script. So they pronounce ‘J’ as ‘Ch’ and ‘D’ as ‘T’. As a result Jaydeva changes to Choitep. Even though the songs originally belong to Jayadeva they are sung in the tune of the Meitei folk song – Khutlang Eshei / Khunung Eshei. The dance which accompany the song  is also in Manipuri style. Indeed it is in a mixed form.

The Hindu festival Holi is performed in Manipur as Yaoshang. It is a big festival which is celebrated for five days. The Manipuri Holi is quite different from the original Holi, it shows a mixed nature. On one day ahead of Holi Nong Laoba and Yaoshang Meijao are done.

(To be Contd.)


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