By: Dr. N. Birachandra
There was the trace of Hinduism in Manipur long before the reign of King Pamheiba alias Garibniwaz in the 18th century AD. Hindu Gods and Goddesses began to worship in the country from the time of King Kyamba (15th century AD) though there was no case of formal initiation into Hinduism. In the 17th century AD, King Khagemba took more initiative in the worship of Vishnu and in his last stage he was leaning toward Hinduism and began to neglect traditional faith. But we are not getting any information of his formal initiation into Hinduism.
The first quarter of the 18th century AD was a turning point in the history of the Manipuri culture. King Charairongba, the father of King Pamheiba commonly known as Garibniwaz took formal initiation into Hinduism. He was baptised by one Rai Banamali, a Brahmin from Orissa to Rudra Sampradaya or Vallabha chairs. His example was followed by other 300 person. Formal initiation of the king along with 300 persons took place on 6th Jesta 1704 A.D. His attempt to convert the whole population was brought to a halt by his sudden death in 1709 AD. Even though the attempt was fruitless, he was the first king of Manipur who brought Hinduism and planted on the soil of Manipur.
After Charairongba his son and successor Pamheiba was initiated by Rai Gangadhor, a son of Rai Banamali. Thus in the early part of his reign Garibniwaz followed the cult of Rudra. But the king soon changed his faith to another cult i.e. Goudya Vaisnavism (Sanak). He was baptized to the new faith-by one Gopal Das on the 10lh day of Mera (Aswin)1717 AD along with some of his followers (Cheitharol Kumbaba & Sanamahi Laikan).The king was a wonderful man having fickle mind that, after following the Goudya Vaisnavism for seven years, he changed his faith once more and adopted Ramandism or Ramayet cult.
Arrival of Santadas Gossai and Introduction of Ramandism in Manipur
Hinduism entered Manipur peacefully without any hue and cry in its early days. But arrival of Santadas Gossai and attempt to make Ramandism as state religion by uprooting the traditional faith and acts of persecution left an unforgettable episode in our history.
Pamheiba took formal initiation to Ramandism from Santadas in 1724 AD. But his subjects including his own son Chitshai and local priests led by Lourembam Khongnangthaba strongly opposed the new religion. Although the king was very eager to spread the new faith, he was aware of the great Maichous of the country-specially, Lourembam Khongnangthaba. So, the king sent messengers to seek the opinion of the Maichou. Accordingly, Khongnangthaba send one Moirang Lanhanba to communicate to the king his denial to accept the new faith. The king was so angry while receiving the reply of Khongnangthaba. He ordered to hang Moirang Lanhanba to death. It is said that, Khongnangthaba saved his disciple-through some miracle.
In this way Ramandism became state religion of Manipur. But his subjects refused to utter the name of Rama and took meat secretly. So, the king and Santadas devised a way to bring the Meiteis in the new faith by means of a promise called ‘Nongkhrang Iruppa’ on the 1st day of Wakching (Magha) l729 AD. The king forced his subjects to perform the Nongkhrang Iruppa at Lilong and Nungjeng Pukhri simultaneously using the threat of punishment and torture (CK-and Khagemba Langjei). Thus the innocent peoples were bound by the promise to the new faith i.e. Ramandism. Then the Gossai started the work of investing the sacred thread (Lugun) stage by stage and the Meiteis were converted into Hindu Kshetriya.
Throwing aboard of the ashes of the skulk at Irravati River
The Gossai then started a series of works to Hinduise the Meiteis through and through. The traditional practice of the burial of the death body was ordered to stop and the skull of the deceased persons were dug out and cremated and thrown its ashes to Irravati River. Since then the Meiteis used to perform cremation in the disposal of the death. There also Khongnangthaba advised the king not to do so, as it might lead to the discompsture of the Meiteis. But the king did not pay any attention (Miyat & Cok)
To uproot the traditional faith and to complete the work of Sanskritisation Santadas with the permission of the king, collected all the manuscripts of the Meiteis locally called ‘Puya’ and burnt them into ashes. It is said that about 115 books of different aspects were destroyed by the foolishness of the king.
Destruction of the Idols of the Traditional Deities and its Consequences
King Pamheiba ordered to destroy all the idols (Umanglai) of the old faith. All the idols of the Umanglais were collected, destroyed and were buried at Mongbahanba in 1726(C.K.). Then the two disciples of Santadas viz. Bhagavandas and Narayandas destroyed the bronze idol of Sanamahi made by and buried the same at Mongbahanba in 1732 AD.
The destruction of the image of Sanamahi was followed by some events of miracles in the state and in the royal family. The king’s son Siva Shai and his queen Paikhulanthabi got seriously ill and the diagnosis of their illness was not possible. But they were saved by Moirang Lanhanba when the king promises to reinstall the idol of Sanamahi. The same was done in 1733 AD on the initiative of Santadas. The two disciples of Santadas were turned out from the state.
The priests and protagonists of the old faith who were not converted into Ramandism led by Lourembam Khongnangthaba firmly stood against all acts of highhandedness of the king and his Guru. In the meantime bad omens and events of miracles started occurring frequently in the state. The king’s Guru could not boldly face all such events. Not only did he fail in saving many such cases, he also had to beg the Meitei Maichou for help (Sanamahi Laikan & Garibniwaz Laiming Louba). Above all his false stories to induce the king to accept the Ramayet cult automatically bound him to respect the traditional God like Sanamahi. Its effects had far reaching causes which led to the revival of traditional deities and worship of Sanamahi even by the Manipuri Brahmin. This led to the co-existence of the Hindu Gods with the traditional deities. Santadas realized the strong ritual potency of the traditional faith. Not only did he retreat on many occasions of removing traditional faith, but once his life was saved by Lourembam Khongnangthaba.
Thus his attempt to Hinduise the Meitei society could not be completed. He retreated from his earlier stand and decided to make a compromise. Thus he brought a compromise with the priests of the traditional faiths and decided to form a new taste of Hinduism, having elements of 50 per cent each from both the faiths. Traditional rituals, ceremonies, festivals etc. were all sanskritised. It included elements of both the faiths. But in some aspects, what was beyond the knowledge of Santadas were left unsolved with sanskritisation.
In the end, worship of the traditional deities was permitted and revived once more. Sanamahi and other Umanglais were reinstalled. Puyas were collected and rewritten. In the attempt to rewrite the destroyed Puyas, new elements might have been added by the enthusiastic scholars of the time.
In this way Ramayet cult brought a renaissance in the socio-religious life of the Meiteis. To make it known in future generation, Khongnangthaba advised the Meiteis to tear apart in the middle all the cloths to be worn as lower garment and stitch them again (Khongdai-taiba) to show that, Meitei culture has composite elements of two distinct theism and way of life viz. Hinduism and Meiteism. The new practice since then is continuing till date. So, Hinduism in Manipur is an interesting field for study.
During the long reign of 40 years, Pamheiba changed his faith so frequently. From 1709-1717 the king followed Rudra Sampradaya,from 1717-1724, he felled to Goudya Vaisnavism. Then he changed to Ramayet cult from 1724 and continued it upto l736AD.Then he got baptised to Nimandi cult and professed the same from 1736- 1739. In the fag end of his life, the king adopted Goudya Vaisnavism once again till he breathe his last but he could not influenced his subjects much.
Thus, Manipur became an arena for testing different religious cults from 1709- 1748 under Pamheiba alias Garibniwaz which made untold misery to his subjects.