Charairongba - Manipur’s First Hindu ruler and ”Meitei Reima” Nongthil Chaibi

Charairongba - Manipur’s First Hindu ruler and ”Meitei Reima” Nongthil Chaibi

/ Guest Column / Thursday, 19 November 2020 17:30

By- Phanjoubam Chingkhei Ng


The reign of Meidingu Charairongba (1697-1709), marked the first ever formal adoption of Hindusim by any ruler of the erstwhile tiny kingdom paving way for the widening base of one of the oldest and largest religion in history, contradictory to Pamheiba who is generally presumed to be the first Meitei ruler to have adopted the religion, respected throughout the world.

Hinduism in Manipur has been prevalent since Kiyamba’s reign in small circles, and not an immediate affair, as often projected but nevertheless the religion passed through an evolutionary process into a larger frame as it stands today, and became more influential process over a period of centuries though formalities began with Charairongba.

Assimilation of Brahmin and non-Brahmin preachers from various parts (mostly the Eastern Region) of mainland India had already been initiated, since the reign of Meidingu Kiyamba (1467-1508), in recorded history, similarly to the absorption of ethnicities from the East, mostly Kabaw valley. In fact, Hinduism already had been in practice much before Charairongba by the Brahmins in their personal capacities and in the opinion of non-biased historian G Kamei, says “since the beginning of the 15th century, Vishnu worship was patronised” by Manipur chiefs.

Meidingu Khagemba (1597-1652), whose reign is considered as a period when the tiny kingdom, achieved a certain level of progress in literature, arts, architecture and in fact, as per Lt. Col John Shakespeare, had “appointed five gurus to reduce to writing all that was known” concerning” deities and other supernatural beings” then prevalent.

Shakespeare, who served as Political Officer twice in early 20th century, had taken a keen interest in Manipur’s religion which is a syncretism of Hinduism and the traditional faith, and wrote his observations in the early part of the 20th century, shortly after the first ever translation of Cheitharol Kumbaba (CK) was affected after the war of 1891.

Nephew of Paikhomba, Charairongba, formerly known as Senbi Tekhao Lanthaba, as per Ningthourol Lambubab (NL) ascended the throne at the age of 25, aperiod which coincided with Hindu proselytising movement in North Eastern region which already had great impact on Assam as well.Prior to his ascension, he served as Yaiskul Rakpa and married Nungthil-Chaibi giving birth to two sons Pamheiba and Loiyumba and Cheitharol Kumbabamentions “Satpam Chanu NungthinChaibi” died in 1696 CE.

Medieval text Bamon Khunthoklon mentions of establishment of almost 40 new surnames (Meitei Bamon) before Charairongba became the ruler in 1698 CE. Infact, highest number of surname (14) was established during Kiyamba’s reign, while during the reign of Mungyamba, the surname of Gurumayum was established and 9 established during Khagemba’s reign. Contrary to popular beliefs, only four new surnames were established during Pamheiba’s reign. Interestingly, the recordings of the vague reconstruction of the state’s history is based from recorded texts, and even though Kiyamba’s reign marked the formal establishment of Meitei Bamon surnames, it is reasonable to assume that the Brahmins who came from various parts of mainland India including Assam and Tripura, married local Meitei woman, and accepted Manipur as their own homeland, may certainly be in existence though their formalities, ‘for whatever reasons’ might not have been recorded.

In 1704, Charairongba was formally initiated into Vaishnavism (Nimandi Sect) by a Brahmin named Krishnacharya who came to Manipur, accompanied by his wife from Puri and later on became the ruler’s religious preceptor. (G. Kamei)

Charairongba was more liberal in his approach compared to his blood son, Pamheiba and did not exercise any pressure on the common people. Prior to his conversion, he observed fasting in April 1704, aftermath which adopted the new name of Pitambar Singh and his reign was marked was turbulent feuds including one in which his half-brother Loyamba rose into failed coup torching six houses in the ‘palace’ so as to dethrone him, later leading to the capture and execution of 31 accomplices. (G Kamei)

Though Charairongba’s Nimandi or Nimbarka school focussing on worship of Vishnu would decline after his demise and supplanted by Ramandi cult of his predecessor son Pamheiba, the Manipur Chief who is recorded in the Burmese chronicles for having reached the banks of Irrawady in Central Myanmar, with a large number of soldiers comprising both hill and plain men, at a time when the then prevailing Burmese ruling dynasty Tongoo, plagued by insurrections was in final phase.

Charairongba after taking Hinduism’s sacred thread went on building brick-temples dedicated to both the new faith as well as to the traditional deities as well, most notable of which is the Krishna Temple built at Brahmapur Guru Aribam Leikai (locality) in ‘Imphal city.’

Not just a patron of Hinduism, Charairongba also engaged in musical and literary pursuit and as per RK Jhaljit opines it was probably during his reign, that the first formal Hindu ruler devotional music of Bangadesh, a form of Kirtan, necessary during the worshipping of the Lord came into forth. Jhaljit also maintained the medieval texts of Charairongba Khongun and Panthoibi Khongun “eulogising” the “goddess of war” was penned during his period.

Still then, Charairongba’ reign like his predecessors by multiple expeditions throughout the erstwhile kingdom but a serious rebellion came about when the Tushuk, a “Kharam tribal village” that had been suppressed many times earlier yet again raised their banner of revolt in 1709 CE. Dealing with the Tushuk’s serious rebellion would lead to his ultimate fatality.

Often, coerced into fictional event that Charairongba was killed by his own son with the assistance of his mother Nungthil Chaibi, who had already died when Pamheiba was just six years old, the 18th century work Samsok Ngamba, a text dealing with the occupation of Samsok principality in Kabaw Valley, maintains Charairongba breathed his last in 1709 CE after he felt ill.

The viewpoint was supported was by Political Agent Dr. R Brown, in 1873, based on the then prevailing popular Manipur oral tradition recorded an interesting revelation that Charairongba was “killed by a poisoned arrow in fighting a tribe to the south, called Tusuk.”

Historian G Kamei ‘opines’ Charairongba while taking rest near a peepul tree on banks of Nambul River was stuck by lighting and fainted and “at that time” the father-in-law of Mayamba or Pamheiba, “perhaps with the connivance of Pamheiba, speared Charairongba to death.” Unfortunately, the historian did not attribute, cited any works to make this claim which today is widely believed so.

Born in December 1690, Pamheiba also had a younger brother Loiyumba born in 1696 and both of them lost their mother Nongthin Chaibi at the age of six in 1696, and contradictory to “certain allegations” against the future Manipur ruler, a retired Manipur Civil Servant in an article “Obfuscating History” says had Pamheiba been born during Charairongba’s reign, Pamheiba would be just 10 years old when he ascended the throne and at that age he would be having his first child.

However, Brown’s predecessor W McCulloch in 1859, based on an assumption, did cite that Charairongba was accidently shot by Pamheiba while hunting. Be that as it may, both the political officers whose work is of extreme value at that period of time had no access to medieval texts. In fact, it should be a matter of thought provoking that British officials report on Manipur prior to their direct connection is mostly based on assumption for they themselves are new to the culture, the people and the land itself.

The daring Sir James Johnstone also made claims about a Chinese invasion in 1250 CE, which today based on comparative historical account of neighbouring countries and the state’s own native account proved to be erroneous.

Charairongba had four consorts that included Satpam Nungthil Chaibi, Heiwam Chanu, Hicham Nongthonpam Chanu Sengoirempi and Thangcham Chanu Thapa Ngambi, of which Nungthil Chaibi has been unjustly tarnished as an immoral woman who was a war captive and portrayed in a negative light without taking into account chronological historical events and available texts.

Korou Nongthin Chaibi- The “Meitei Reima”

Ningthourol Lambuba (NL) a chronicle which deals with the military conquest of the Kings and aetiological myths provides account of Nongthil Chaibi contradictory to modern day popular imagination.

Familiar to the style of medieval Manipur literary content, Nongthil Chaibi, the consort of Charairongba as per Ningthourol Lambuba is a “Meitei Reima”from “Uchiwa Khoitongpan” and her name given as “Korou Nongthil Chaibi Makok Loikhombi” and is the daughter of a powerful chief.

Ningthourol Lambuba believed to be older than Cheitharol Kumbaba portrays her as a powerful “Meitei Reima” who fought in several battles against villages in Manipur hills, plains and in Kabaw Valley wherein she emerged victorious.

The chronicle, which suffers from dating, speaks in length of NongthinChaibi as a “Meitei Reima” who defeated the Loi village of Langteh, engaged in battle with Anal tribe in Southern Manipur, attacked a Chakpa village in the Eastern Frontier, capturing one Thamung Laseng and invading the Mungyang town in Kabaw Valley. She is further described as “nabendhou” (Grandmother) who also participated in battle in the northern part of Manipur and the southern part where she defeated the “Sakang” chief following which NongthinChaibi was referred to as “Loibi Sakangngambi Huyen Lamkapungphabi.”

Severalallegations have been unjustly levelled against such “Meitei Reima Nongthin Chaibi” without acknowledging her contributions and the unfounded claim of having been part of assassination of her husband Charairongba with the “connivance of Pamheiba.”

Interestingly, enough, Cheitharol Kumbaba, mentions about the death of “Moirang Nongthin Chaibi” in the year 1698. Curiously enough, Kainou Chalamba who reigned in mid-16th century was also known as “Korou Nongthinchaiba.” Yet again, the first Manipur ruler Meidingu Ningthoukhomba (1432-1467 CE), in recorded history, had forayed in Tamu principality, defeating its ruler, was previously known as “Khoimom Laimingnaba Charairongba” as per Ningthourol Lambuba.

Concerning the authenticity of Cheitharol Kumbaba, Lt Col John Shakespeare based on “two striking proofs” opines that after 1700 CE, more credit should be given to the book.

Dr. R Brown based on then prevailing oral traditions of Manipur Meiteis recorded “the father of Pamheiba himself was, they say, Raja Churai Romba himself; the name of his mother was Nungtil Chaibi, one of the raja’s wives, but not the head wife or rani.”

When Pamheiba was 4 years old, the head queen, having heard that an anxious Nongthil Chaibi had the future king kept in hiding at Leishang Khong, she secretly sent her emissaries to have him killed. However, the boy’s grandfather escaped with him, to Thangal village located in the northern hills, occupied by the Koireng tribe. Prof. John Parrat, taking cue from ancient Manipur texts, says that Charairongba unaware of Pamheiba’s existence later brought the boy brought up in the palace and had the villagers who sheltered him awarded.

Pamheiba who ascended the throne at a young age of 20, in 1709 CE, in pursuance of the traditional Meitei custom later erected a memorial mound in honour of Charairongba six months later.

Ningthourol Lambuba also gives a description on why Pamheiba was named Nongpok Wairang Pamheiba, who was conceived after her mother NongthinChaibi worshipped the Sun god for a child.

Continuing the practice of adopting the names of earlier generations, Manipur chief Chourajit (1804-1814) also had adopted the title of Nongchup Phalok Wairang Pamheiba.

The Bishnupur (Lamangdong Temple)

Located at modern-day Bishnupur district, the Bishnu temple is the oldest standing brick structure in Manipur and possessed a unique blend of Hindu and Buddhist architectural style. Contradictory to the earlier believe that the temple was built during Kiyamba’s reign, when bricks were not available, Historian Archaeologist Prof. L Kunjeshwori does not hesitate to conclude the reign of Charairongba marked the beginning of temple construction.

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