By: H. Indrakumar
Social theorists and academicians have now considered religion to be the socializing agent playing a very important role for social unity and harmony even though Karl Marx denied it when he rejected religion to be the opium of the masses in his communist showdown. Some take it as having norm of ideas and action which will help morally and spiritually connected with achieving higher values of the self. Some regard it as a means for salvation through highly spiritual austerity. Others take it as ritualism by means of which peace, security, prosperity etc. can be attained. When religion is explained into action in terms of securing or gaining human desire or lower level of desire, such as lust or craze, by means of using the name of godhead or deity, it is misconceived to the extent that the particular religion is involved in harmful and irreligious activities. What Pamheiha embraced fanaticism at the first instance of its letting loose by some Bengali refugees did not suit well the worthiness of being a benevolent native king. That he was too much accommodative and whimsical as to whether his autocratic decisions deserved any consideration for abrupt change in fovour of sanskritisation or Ramanandi cult would be inconsistent with rulership and kingship tradition in the history of Meetei nationality. Religion must bear a holy concept otherwise it appears to take on malevolent or violent or mischievous acts discarding humanism or human values.
The Meeteis had their own chequered history and got experienced a distinct entity being consistent with a national ethos. They were freedom loving people who could not be accustomed to toleration for imposition and domination. There was no social stratification by birth as seen in caste system in which functional classification into four varnas is strictly regimented. There was no high and low or the pure and the impure by birth. A cohesive social order prevailed discernible through interdining and intermarriage (except inter-clan) being gifted from the homogeneity of culture and tradition. Dynastic rulership and benevolent kingship with certain democratic norms was found recorded prevailing from early times. Faiths and beliefs were in line with ancestor worship which was the oldest pattern of religious system, just like Vishnu was the ancestor of the Vaisnava faith.
The Meeteis possessed keen senses of identity and integration and which was why such native sensation of indigenization and homogenization had brought in all historical times all the inhabitants under one roof of nationalism. The stability and continuity of Meetel system got disturbed badly when casteism or for the most part of it, Hindu fanaticism plus despotism loomed large gradually injecting into the social fabric pollution, untouchability, uneatability and segregation. It all began with Pamheiha’s scheming of religious conversion process under the advice of his guru Shantidas Goswami and that sanskritisation as in the words of Prof. MN. Srinivas, continued unabatedly with royal patronage. Had it been the already sanskritised land of the Mahabharata’s Manipur, King Pamheiha needed not to have taken to religious conversion because a Hindu King would not necessarily take to task with such new devices as he adopted for a Hindu convert. It clearly shows that Pamheiha was utterly desirous of transforming Meetei ‘Leipak’1into a Hindu land called Manipur just like R.C. Majumdar would prefer to write on “Farther India” or “Greater India”while dealing with some Southeast Asian countries. The forthcoming episodes will also tell upon the historical necessity for fallacious tendencies and dialectical contradiction.
The historical connection with the Hindu fanaticism that Pamheiba acclaimed in a volatile manner had created untold misery and loss of Meetei order. The Meetci society as destabilized with de-indigenisation and homogenisation. Since the imposing conversion devices brought in stratitication, discrimination, alienation and pollution, all these struck jnto the kinship and aflinitive pattern of relationship resulting in psychological disturbances and sociological imbalances which the Meetei Yek Salais had never so expereinced in the past. The 18th Century religio-cultural accretion entering into a new deal did bargain for annihilation of Meetei nationality with a bitter taste of consolation and toleration. Eventual moments of conflict situation of an identity crisis broke out orienting towards undue polarization into the pure and the impure and the high and the low being usually practised as Hindu import. King Pamheiba’s conversion to Ramanandi cult followed by a forceful conversion evidently led to dialectical contradiction between two differing ideologies. viz., Meeteism and Hinduism. The Ramanandi cult was an old Hindu faith which was very much popular in Bangali society where Tulsidas’s Ramayan became a household word in Bengal. Pamheiha did not posses subtlety of mind to make distinctions between Meetei Religion (Lichat) and Ramanandi cult or Brahmanism. From the very boyhood he did not learn anything about his own native culture, history, ancestral gloriness, tradition, religion and royal code of conduct and behaviour. His actions and thoughts were always guided by his guru Shantidas who by nature crooked and notorious used to be instrumental in instigating series of contradiction. Lord Pakhangba wished to leave for heavenly abode (Pakhangba Nongkalot) as the sanctity of religion was no more visible. Ii is very interesting to look into all these religious matters to detail a critical analysis by using some available materials and tools so that an attempt has to be made to draw a prospective conclusion from this inference.
The Tempter in the Guise
Pamheiha was born on Saturday of ‘Poinu’2 22, 1690 and ascended the throne at the age of 20 in 1709. ‘Cheitharol Kumpaba’3 and ‘Ningthourol’4 differ his date of coronation in that the former recorded on 23rd of ‘Thawan’5 whereas the latter on 23rd of ‘Langban’6. He was also known as Mayamba at the time of coronation. The few Hindu immigrants who came intermittenly a little earlier in successive rulers did never pose a menace against the native system. There were any records of neither by the Hindus nor by the Muslims to have plotted against the rulers with subversive activities in the pre-Pamheiba era. The tempest blew along with the appearance of Shantidas Goswami or Mahanta who came a long way from Sylhet and took refuge under the hospitality of king Pamheiba. Chingu Khognangthaba predicted that seven Saturns (Thangja) would be coming during his period. It means that Pamheiba could not protect himself and his kingdom from the forthcoming misfortunes. Shantidas was very much jealous of Chingu Khongnangthaba who was the Chief Priest and so the former began to tempt the young king to take pride in becoming an autocratic ruler. He treated Pamheiba just like his own son pretending or assuming filial affection. Pamheiba changed his mind so abruptly that he could not make up his mind to be worthy of being a Meetei king as his ancestors were all the more worthy of sustaining Meetei values and tradition. The closeness of relationship between the two and its very outcome being contradicted against Meetei norms would be foolproof to a proverbial verse which was known to few scholars only. This verse applied to Pamheiba:
“Paonam hiten mapanda, feita hitang masumangda, taret shelpung yeibadi, wanglel pungjao fubadi, Sana liklai marugi Tupi maru thabadi houdedo, senpi mukaklei maruna thabadi houredo.”
Shantidas posed himself before the king as monk (Sanyasin) who renounced the worldly
pleasure for the sake of salvation. He told Pamheiba that Lord Sanamahi brought him in Poirei Meetei Leipak which was a land of deities, a difficult land to deal with. He requested the king to keep him employed in the palace so as to perform rituals as a priest for better controlling the shrines of deities and spirits, He further demanded that Pamheiha could become a shining sun amongst other counterparts of the world and hence he could alone be the happiest king with ten consorts to be served.
Shantidas grew envious of aesthetic principles of traditional Meetei faith and belief system. He always sought after royal hospitality in order to gain royal favour. He began to think of turning the kingdom into a Hindu Kingdom. He advised his two disciples, Narandas and Bhagavandas to manage the cause of indulging in royal romance and hence sentimentalizing the whole palace affairs especially amongst the king’s consorts. It was in this juncture that he had committed to deliberately criminalize a forbidden dogma. He demanded the king to take the whole kingdom to Ramanandi faith so that the old pattern of ancestor worship should be replaced h’ this new faith. However Ramanandi cult might be new to the Meeteis yet it was the oldest faith of the Hindus. This fact was not known to the king as he ran short of wisdom and foresight while yielding to Shantidas’s temptation.
Stern steps had been taken up in terms of mass arrest and imposing punishment in order to accomplish religious conversion. Chingu Khongnangthaba could not remain a spectator to all such untoward change in religious ethics. Chingu had revealed for the future without any reservation, he was the principal priest of Priest Council (Maru Shanglel) and all other priests gathered around him to take his advice. He was ever accompanied by supernatural beings each and every hour. There was no place where he could not reach and there was nothing which he could not do. He was a holy man, a Saint, a Supernatural Being in human form. This was the reason why he was known to be Chingu reverently to all, he came out publicly and made known to the people that the religion which was not acceptable to the Meetei people themselves and should not be given forcefully.
On Wednesday of ‘Wakching’7 15, both Shantidas and Pamheiba took bath in the Lilong Irong and after this holy dip Pamheiba was initiated into Ramanandi faith by giving him diksha and wearing threads as per Hindu ritualism. According to Cheitharol Kumpaba, it was on Thursday of Hiyangei 1, 1737 the king, then called Maharaja Pamheiba and 300 other persons including officers initiated into the faith with rituals of wearing threads. All those converted persons who had a holy dip in Lilong were all ordered to dip again into the Kangla Nungcheng on the midnight of this day. This holy bath came to be known as Nungkhrung Iruppa. The crisis deepened and grew graver. Those who resisted were tortured to take dip and hence Nungkhrung Dip. Those converts had been compelled to take a pledge that they should die in bloodbath ii they abandoned the new faith.
Chingu Khongnangthaba reminded the king whom he called Ningthem that it ought to be prohibited to abolish Meetei traditional faith and belief by using force and coercion. The king could not be escaped from its dire consequences. Chingu was quite right and true to the conception of modern democratic principles. His ideas carry democratic message in today’s state of affairs. He warned Pambeiba that the religious conversion promulgated oppressively and despotically would stay for a short period only, because massive appeasement for all would be quite impossible. The king ought not to get self-satisfied. The moment Chingu reminded Pamheiba of the popular verse of Paonam Hiten, Shantidas all of a sudden fell unconscious at Nungcheng. Chingu said that the alien monks were no more than the refugees begging for alms and, he wondered why such refugees and beggars were allowed to occupy positions of responsible and respectable status like capable of entering into forbidden palatial compartments, such as bedroom. He regretted that the king did not come to his senses hence the alien monk enticed him to the extent of his self-satiation, and which was why the kingdom entered into a sad state during his tenure. It is for the first time in Meetei history that the Pamheiba era remains to be the most remarkable one in which the Hindu connection paid its heaviest price ever to push Meeteism to the background and get lost in the guise. Aristotle long ago in the 13th century BC predicted that foreigners and immigrants should not be given any responsible or favourable position in the echelon of government and his conception was very much related to laying down of certain causes of revolution or change or attack against the authority. Any new corner should not be patronized or be neglected.
The conversion process continued. Many more were taking a dip in Kangla Nungcheng just after the Lilong dip. Oinam Sarei and Sembang Khutlei were reported to have absented themselves from the dip. They were brought before the king and asked why they did not obey his order beating them with scores of lashes. They replied that they did not like to live dependently on alien culture destroying Meetei wisdom and conscience. It was also made known to the king that Meetei spirit and wisdom would be weakening if the alien religion was adopted. Pointing to Pamheiha, Chingu declared that Nongkhrung Pledge should be valid only for seven generations and Meeteiism must return just a day after the completion of seven generations. The king and Shantidas also agreed and promised with an undertaking. In an earlier event Shantidas prostrated before Chingu requesting him for allowing the king to fulfill whatever he desired. Chingu knew everything to be happening in future. He advised the king to expel the wicked whoever might be a monk or so. He foresaw a catastrophe coming as the Saturn, known to be Satan to the natives, cast his evil eyes to demolish a lively civilization by inflicting misfortune for seven generations as well.
The Meeties did not worship idols or deities. During the reign of King Khagemba an idol of Sanamahi was put inside the Wangoi Shrine. The next step after the Nongkhrung dip was the construction of temples and putting idols of deities inside them. The idols of Ram and Laksman and Kalika were made and worshipped. The idol of Hanuman was made from a stone erected at Sanakeithel. The Meeteis did not even look back to the monkey because they took it nothing. The idol was put in a temple at Mongba Hanba forest and its name came to be known as Hanuman Thakur Panchamukhi and hence the name of Mongba Hanba was changed into Mahabali. Pamheiba ordered his officers to break into pieces the Sanamahi idol worshipped inside the Wangoi Temple. He committed such a measurable crime that his name is still now remembered with notoriety because criminalization of religion is the original brainchild of his for the first time in the native history. Since Pamheiba ignored deities, the result was no more than the self-infliction of God’s anger. Eight sons of Pamheiba were facing death. Pamheiba, his consorts and Shantidas became injured. It was questionable why Shantidas and Pamheiba did not go to the Ram Temple to seek boon for healing. Rather they worshipped Lord Pakhangba and Godhead Sanamahi. Even then there were no signs of recovery from their decaying state. At the last moment they knelt down before Chingu and sought his blessing. When Khongnangthaba performed the ritual properly Lainingthou (Godhead) had already blessed and hence cured. The broken idol of Lord Sanamahi was again reconstructed and brought to Uphongpat Temple one Harinaran Thakur was entrusted to worship with authorized custodian. Behind the scene of idol worship there was a hidden technique that many people especially the Meetie irrespetive of devoted or not would throng into the temple with offerings which would be the sources of income or earning without any labour. Idols in the temples earned income for their custodians and spent easy livelihood. I mean to say that idols are not religion itself and there is something above idols and worship.
Burning the Puyas
Shantidas never stopped thiking about various devices to harm the Meeteis. He told the king that the native religion was so unique that the Ramanandi cult could not be accomplished as well as the idol worship in the temple failed to attrack the kingdom massively. So the next step was to destroy all the Meetei scriptures including its literature in order to introduce the devnagari script for the victory of Shri Ram. Pamheiba’s harsh order was not easily forgotten by the people that those who disobeyed his order could not be escaped without getting punished heavily. He ordered to collect all the books and scriptures and pile up at Kangla Uttra. All the collected Puyas were placed on the pyre and Pamheiba lit the pyre. Most of the Puyas dealing with Meetei religion, culture, tradition, custom etc. had been blown along the pyre. Shantidas and Pamheiba whispered that the Meetei religion must surely return to their original place as most of the Puyas had been blown to different directions. The ‘Maichous’1 passionately smiled with tears for a while.
Throwing Skull Bonus into the Ningthi
Shantidas knew that his religion could never last long. Though some books were burnt down, most of the important and valuable Puyas had already been borne out of the pyre From the next day of the ceremonial burning of the Puyas it was ordered that any dead person should he cremated in the crematorium just like in the same manner as the Puyas were burnt down which has still now been in vogue. The Meeteis had three forms of disposal of the dead body, disposal by water, by air or space and by land or surface. Cremeation was for the first time introduced after the Puyas. All the dead bodies were not allowed to perform in Meteei tradition. All the graves were exhumed and the bones were taken out of the grave and throw into the Ningthi River. In these circumstances, Chingu Khongnangthaba, who had been tak in charge of the Priest successively from the period of pamheiba’s grandfathers came to the palace and revealed.
“Now all the people would be subjected. If the skull bones are thrown into the Ningthi River the Meetei will be subjected under the Avas. It is not to do under the enemy’s order. If you dig the skull bones up opening the burial, you will be getting the same return. I will tell one thing. The kingdom will be plunged into deep sorrow as all the Meetei scriptures are being burnt down. O King Ningthem, little child! Even though a few nominally small books are burnt yet Meetei scripture dealing with history and tradition has not been burnt. All has been blown away to different directions. You have got things done at your own discretion for sometime since dipping pledge was taken before you by holding valuable nongkhrung branch. You continue your devices for some period of time in accordance with your own whim. O Ningthem! Do listen! For your cause Ningthem, the holy Scriptures (Puyas) will have to be preserved throughout almost Meetei lane and passages. O Ningthem today I do speak! The journey of a time has arrived. All the Meetei lumlitaries are quite bowed and all of them have avoided the Nongkhrung Pledge not to eradicate Meetei tradition. I am also to negotiate for some time. Look wide open your eyes! O Ningthem if you are crazy about the alien cult you won’t live long.”
Chingu Khongnangthaba’s Revelation
Thus when Chingu Khonnanuthaba revealed prophecy Shantidas became confused raising his eyebrows. He taught discipline and demeanour but Pamheiba being thoughtless and childish glared angrily. He said that the guru’s order must not be breached. Saying this Pamheiba collapsed just jumping over Shantidas. The tried their level best but did not get any idea. Shantidas chanted various occult mantras but his condition became more and more diflicult and serious. The colour of skin turned odder whether he would die or not was unknown. Shantidas knelt down and bowed in front of Chingu Maichou requesting him to only once save his laithiul Ningihem Pamheiba as he had no means at all.
Chingu Khongnangthaba said “O alien monk! I will tell on one reason. I know what you request with tears since, our Meetei tradition of taking charge between old and new arrives. As the Lord Almighty‘s will proves to suffer from some time now on, I’ll save your life. As the God disposes, Pamheiba’s life will also be spared.” Immediately Pamheiha stood up like waking up from a deep slumber.
In the midnight while Shantidas narrated the Ramayana to Pamheiba. All of a sudden, a thunderous explosion like heavy lightning was fallen. All were panicky. The guru also frightened. All used to enter to witness and that all were found weeping. Pamheiha’s two sons, Shyamsai and Anantasai were inflicted with dementia. Priests and priestesses from all corners of the kingdom tried their level best but in vain. As though flowers, fruits, lights were offered and worshipped propitiating Salailel Sidaba Mapu, whose omen was in evidence. All attempts were useless. Shantidas was also unaware of what to do. All remained frustrated and helplessly baffled. Thus everybody spent the whole night with heavy burden of deep sorrow and grief.
Whenever suffered from worry, illness and infliction the alien monk surrendered to nobody except Chingu Khongnangthaba. When Pamheiha and Shantidas politely requested him for mercy, he advised Moirang Lalhamba, his younger Maichou to heal. Accordingly Lalhamba went to the palace where he chanted prayer and worshipped Ima Leimalel Shidabi and Lainingthou Shidaba and sprinkled with prayer the holy water on the ailing princes and they were cured in no time.
Danger often comes in battalion. It came to be the turn of Shantidas the deceiver who had loaded more than enough faults. He collapsed while he was alone in his room and began to utter demented words. Within a short while sorts of divine infliction inflicted all over his body. Foul smell lingered. Nobody wanted to be near him. The king became more anxious. The king’s guru was pushed through the foothill of the Nongmaiching Hills. There he took an Andro widow as his wife and spent a family life. Pamheiba called him back from the foothill as he was seen in the dream of the former. He was not yet recovering from the infliction, Intensive and extensive search began for curing this. None could be found out. At last he went to Chingu and requested him to shower blessings upon him by disclosing the means of curing his innumerable inflictions. He sought politely the blessings of the divine scholar. Chingu Khongnangthaba told Shantidas to go to dip into Purup Soubi Pond. Hc went alone to dip but Iputhou Pakhangba appearing in the form of Taoloiloi with golden horns emerged like a thunderbolt from the pond. Shuntidas ran off with fright and collapsed before Chingu. Taking the cue politely from the kind and generous Chingu, Shantidus came back to Purup Shoubi Pond and bowed down with folded hands! “Meetei elder Khongnangthaha has taught me and, as your servant, know nothing and save me.” As he politely submitted in a fit of trembling and shivering voice, all his inflictions vanished. His life was saved many times by Meetei religion but he did not leave his religion though this could not saved him from the jaws of death.
Shantidas proposed to give a new name to Meetei Kingdom. He told the king that the Godhead of the kingdom was adorned with diamonds and jewels, and that not an ordinary land being ruled by diamond-studded godhead would he proper1y named as Manipur (Mani means Diamond, pur means place). Pamheiba agreed happily. From that day onward the name of Meetei Kingdom or Meetei Leipak had been changed into Manipur which was declared under Shantidas’s order. He was very happy to name a land and became fruitful of his expectation. What he desired was also to change the name of the birth place of the Meeteis. As the motherland Meetei Leipak was named in an alien tongue like Manipur (Bengali), the alien culture was to be followed. When the sanskritiscd name Manipur was adopted, later in the subsequent periods, Hindu School of thought composed of Hindu and Hinduiscd elites, like the Drahma Sabha became gradually active whereas no such parallel elite group belonging to Meetei School of thought came into existence till 1930 and 1945 when the Apokpa Marup and the Meetei Marup were formed at Cachar and Manipur respectively.
Burning of Kangla
While Pamheiha, Shantidas and other courtiers and officers were visiting the Loktak Lake and Fubala, a horseman messenger from the palace rushed to the spot and reported that the Kangla palace was burning. The moment Pamheiba arrived not a single sound of weeping was heard. The king’s palatial residence had been burnt to ashes. Kangla being burnt alongwith the ground emitting glaring heat, all the royal glamours including the queen spent the whole night at Sana Keithel. The alien guru spinkled water from his jug but the fire began to burn like wildfire. Shantidas being shameful used to barricade with mud around Kangla. Water was poured fully but the tempo of fire had increased. All the people there were broken up. Shantidas became confused and helpless and finally ran to Chingu. Both Pamheiba and Shantidas shamelessly requested surrendering to Khongnangthaba to kindly extinguish the fire. As the King’s guru was known to have been defeated Chingu Khongnangthaba said: “‘the Kingdom cannot be allowed to lose, this naked fire will be extinguished now. The barrier was broken open. Khongnangthaba penetrated his hand into the burning fire and put the fire out.
“O great fire burning up! All the seven Satans coming from the west had been kept expelled beyond the Maklang Khong in the Kangla Passage. The fire I see through my eyes has been extinguished. The fire which is burning inside will be burning without making it known to anybody else. The time for putting the internal fire out is not a matter of just present day. A time will come when the Meetei progenitor reconciles Kangla with the knowledge of’ the origin of Yek-Salais, and when the foreigners are expelled from the Kangla region, the fire internal will be extinguished. As though it can be extinguished it will not be allowed to do so since the western culture is being adopted during your time.
Lest I am compelled to do as such you should die and your jewel chain should be broken into pieces.”
Pamheiba with his guru requested kindly to abstain from raking up internal fire.
Religion is a factor for overthrowing the whole superstructure of Meetei society. The Ramanandi faith has made Pamheiba and Shantidas funatics and emerged to be a cult figure under his despotic regime. If both of them know the Ramayana values properly, the fatal journey of Meetei towards a negative direction must not have been taken off. The Sanskritisation process continues till today and it can be easily evident from the following facts:
1.Nongkhrung Dip is performed as per holy dip like in the Ganges.
2.Brahmanical practice of wearing sacred thread with diksha (God’s name).
3.Conversion of Yek-Salais into gotras means Meetei origin goes to Brahman ancestor.
4.Idolatry, construction of temples and idol worship patronized by Hinduised king.
5.Stamping mud (chanden) on the forehead and other parts of the body
6.Meetei names are changed into Hindu names.
7.Meetei scriptures called the Puyas, like the Hindu Puranas are destroyed so as to erase Meetei origin.
8.Throwing of skull bone into the river is practiced as a mark of submissivenes.
9.Burning of dead body is introduced with the ritual arrangements as as done in the burning of the Puyas.
- Krishna cult, Vaishnava cult, Gauriya cult and several other cults follow successively.
- Brahmanism is more predominant than Hinduism.
From these historical facts it can easily be understood that a despotic character can take religion in his own hands and do whatever he likes in the name of religion without considering its merits and values. Chingu Khongnangthaba perceived the situation all and prophesised an apocalypse during which the Meeteis would regain the lost vigour and vitality. He kept all these in time capsule. Langtailol, Ngamtailol. Kaipilol and a few other treatises deal with the future. Few other scholars (Maichous) also wrote such treatises for future generation. The Nongkhrung Pledge for seven generations was over and hence regeneration and reconciliation took place. Chingu Khongnangthaba is still with us because his predictions come true. He was the most prominent scholar with divinity who saved Meetei Leipak from the complete ruin in the hands of the fanatics and despots. He is guarding Kangla, the holiest of the holy abode of Lord Sidaba. A stature of about six feet with bright and fair complexion wearing white turban and white clothes covering the whole body Chingu Khongnagthaha stands vigilant at the foot of Uttra tairen tree in guarding and commanding gesture. All the crises and problems can be resolved if we go by the sayings of Chingu and there is nothing to disbelieve in this proposition
(To be continued)