Dr M. Kaoba Singh
It is a fact that Manipur has got geographical nearness to Burma and South China. The earliest reference to Assam-Burma route is found in the accounts of Chang Kieu, on the basis of which Pelliot has shown that from 200 BC onwards there as a regular route of land to China through Assam, Upper Burma and Yunnan. Pelliot has described two routes from Burma through Manipur.1 It is evident that Indian cultural colonisation touched almost in many countries of the South-East Asia particularly in Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Cochin, China, Annam, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Bali and East Indies.2 Since Manipur located as a neighbouring country of the Southeast Asian countries, there is a question of the existence of Hindu influence in Manipur in the early period. In this regard, Saroj Nalini Parratt observes that a different approach to the question of early Hindu influence may be made through the contact, which the early Manipuries had with the neighbouring Hindu peoples. She accounted in her book, Religion of Manipur, with certain amount of reservation of the authenticity of a text called “Chingurembi Khonglup” which claims Hindu influence as early as the second half of the I7th century.3 According to this text the Meitei King Naothingkhong (663-763) married western princes called Chingurembi. The text goes on to list certain persons who are said to be her attendants. They are: Lakhi Naral, Ram Naral, Lokhon Das, ‘Tulasi Ram, Tulasi Ram’4, Han (goldsmith), Han Naral (a groom), Tapa, Akhul Tao and Kathou on the basis of this text. Jhalajit Singh also considers that cultural contact was established with Manipur and Western side of India as early as the 7th century AD.5 However, the date and accuracy of the Chingurembi Khonglup is yet to be established and it is very doubtful, in the absence of confirmatory evidence (particularly the royal chronicles and other archaic sources), that the claim to such Hindu influence can be accepted.
Another account, which claims to be a documentary evidence to prove that Hinduism existed in Manipur long back in the 7th century, is the “Phayeng Copper Plates”. The plates were collected by W.Yumjao Singh, an enthusiastic archaeologist. He translated these plates from archaic Manipur and published in 1935 under the title, “Report on Archaeological Studies in Manipur Bulletin No.1. The plates relate to the reign of King Khongtekcha I763-74A.D.] Yumjao recorded the contents of the plates in full in which there are ample of evidences regarding the worshipping of Siva and Durga in that period. However internal incidence from the Phayeng plates themselves makes a controversy of its authenticity. After examining the character and language written in plates, Saroj Nalini Parratt and Prof Gangumei Kabui suggest that the plates are not more than a century old from the year of publication. W.Yumjao himself also gave its composition, as around 1830 AD.1 Unfortunately, the plates are not available at present, if so, it can be examined through scientific means.
The dawn of the 15th century constituted a significant landmark in the history of Brahmin migration in Manipur. The famous King Kyamba (1467-1508AD) initiated to implant the first influence of Hinduism in Manipur. According to the Bamon Khunthok, which seems to give probably or fairly accurate record of Brahmin migration, maintains that during the period of Kyamba many Brahmins from different parts of India, Gujarat, Kanpur, Nandagrame (Uttar Pradesh), Mathura, Shrihatta, etc. entered to Manipur in successive waves, settled in different parts of Manipur, received royal patronage and married local women whose off springs became the progenitors of many Brahmin families of Manipur to-day. Besides, the Brahmins, Kshetrimayums also began to pour into Manipur. All of them absorbed into and became an integral part of the Manipuri society.2 For the first time in the history of Manipur, a Hindu god, Visnu began to be worshipped when the King of Pong gave the image of Visnu to Kyamba at the time of concluding a friendly treaty after the conquest of Kyang in 1470 AD. The image of Visnu was installed in a brick temple at Lamangdong and started to worship by requisitioning the service of Bhanu Narayana who took shelter in a Manipuri house in Lairik Yengbam Leikai. Since then Lamangdong came to be known as Visnupur and the descendants of Bhanu Narayana as Phurailatpam. Kymaba’s brick Visnu temple is in the state of ruin, but still remains as a protected monument. The cult of Visnu made a strong appeal to the Kings of Manipur from the time of Kyamba. The image is seen riding Garuda and holding a conch, a chakra, a mace and a lotus in four hands.3After Kyamba, Khagemba (1597-1652) also contributed to the progress of’ Vaishnavism. He accompanied the image of Visnu on the back of a white horse on an elephant when the king goes from place to place.4 Though the Kings of Manipur inclined towards the worshipping of Visnu, there was no popular following to this cult. In this regard, Saroj Nalini Parratt boldly stated that before Charairongha there was no clear evidence of Hinduising influence. The Royal chronicle, Cheitharol Kumbaba also does not give us specific mention of Hindu deities during the time of Kyamba and Khagemba. She admitted that the turning point in the religious history of Manipur awaited the reigns of Charairongba and more specially of his son Garibniwaj.5
King Charairongba was the first Manipuri King to be formally initiated into Vaisnavism through a pious Brahman named Krisnacharya alias Rai Vanamali who came from Sweeta-ganga puri
with some of his companions in ‘Mera’1 of the year 1703. The Cheitharol Kumpaba records the initiation ceremony as: In the year 1626 Sak (1704AD). The month of ‘Sajiphu’2 began on a Saturday. On the 5th day, Wednesday, King Charairongba and those who were to take the sacred thread fasted on that very same day. They took sacred thread on the same day.3 Vanamalis descendants were called Guru-Aribam Charairongba presented a village, a hill and 100 acres of rice field to the Guru as Dakshina. He also constructed a brick temple of Krishna at Brahmapur-Guru Aribam Leikai. It remains intact.4 Although the King himself formally took the sacred thread, he did not attempt to establish Hinduism as the state religion, nor did he neglect the worship of traditional deities. Thus, Hinduism concentrated only to the royal families and the nobles.
Following the footsteps of his father, Garibniwaj adopted Vaisnavism through a preacher of the cult called Gopaldas in Mera in the year 1717AD. The form of Vaisnavism he adopted was Chaitanya’s school of Vaisnavism in which the worship of’ Lord Krishna was the main theme.5 While the king was following this cult with much enthusiasm and interest, a slightly different form of Hinduism was slowly making its headway through a great missionary. Santidas who arrived in Manipur on Sunday, the 3rd day of Sajiphu in the year 1716 AD along with two of his disciples, Bhagavandas and Narayandas. He was a resident of Nara Singh Jilla in the Sylhet district. He came through the Ngaprum Changjel road (Tongjei Maril) and entered into the valley of Manipur. When he arrived at the capital, he halted the night at the royal guard hall. Having got the information of his arrival, the king cordially received him. Being satisfied with the behavior of the king, the Gossai started slowly to insist the king to adopt Ramandi as the kings of Manipur were the descendants of the great Pandava hero, Arjun through Babrubahan, the Rama cult fitted well from other faiths. The king at first refused to adopt the new faith on the plea that he had to consult with his countries over the matter.6 Ramandi preached by Santidas including his brother Manshai and his son Shyamshai.7
But Santidas was not a mean preacher. He insisted the king fervently by augmenting various arguments for softening the adamant attitude of the king towards his faith. Santidas’s persuasive manner of argument at last won the heart of the king, and, as such, on the full moon day of Wakching, Wednesday in the year 1729 the king initiated to the Ramandi cult. After a short span
of time he was addicted to the new faith and remained as a puppet into the tip of his Gurus finger point. He accepted to what the Guru said in entirety.
(to be contd.)