Muslims in the history of Manipur

Muslims in the history of Manipur

Muslims in the history of Manipur

Written By: / Articles / Tuesday, 05 January 2016 16:29


Muslims (Pangal/Meitei-Pangal) constitute almost 9% (2 lakh) of the total population of the State. Manipuri speaking Muslims are also found scattered in parts of Assam (Barak Valley), Tripura, Bangladesh and Myanmar. They found their way to these places in the wake of the Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (1819-26) or Seven Years of Devastation.
Muslims became a significant part of the Manipuri society from the early part of the 17th century during the reign of King Khagemba (1597-1652) when one thousand Muslim soldiers, led by a General Muhammad Shani, from Taraf in Sylhet were captured and later settled in the valley of Manipur. The events of the Muslim invasion are recorded extensively in Nongsamei Puya and Pangal Thorakpa. However, there are evidences and records which suggest presence of few Muslim families before the reign of King Khagemba. It is believed that the progenitors of the Aribam sagei were the earliest Muslim inhabitants in Manipur. Muslims in small number continued to come and settle down in the valley of Manipur even after the reign of King Khagemba. 
As most of the Muslim captives were endowed with skills in different trades and vocations, the secular and forward-looking King Khagemba possibly realized the advantage of settling them in his kingdom. The indigenous sources (esp. Nongsamei and Pangal Thorakpa) are replete with instances of rewarding the Muslims with local women as wives and land in appreciation for their skills in different trades. Interestingly, many of the Muslim families were given family titles, which later became the name of their sagei (clan or lineage group), on the basis of their vocations. For instance, Phu-sam-mayum: pot maker, Phundrei-mayum: carpenters who used phundrei/lathe, Che-sam: paper maker, Khut-hei-bam: skilled in handicraft and designing, Kori-mayum: those who made copper utensils, Hawai-igkhol-mayum: lentil cultivators, Phisa-bam-mayum: weavers, Hidak-ingkhol-mayum: tobacco cultivators, Mansam-mayum: acrobats, Sangom-sum-pham: those who produce milk and its products, etc.
The process of the settlement of Muslims in Manipur was made complete by King Khagemba with the establishment of an administrative office (loishang) exclusively for the Muslims called Pangal Sanglen, also referred to as Mangal (Mughal) shang at Kangla. The principal head of the Sanglen was designated as Kazi, who was authorized to take up the general administration of the Muslims, including judicial matters. 
Gradually the Muslims were integrated into the local culture. They absorbed a number of local customs and traditions, which were seen in their language, dress, food habits, habitation pattern, social organization, life-cycle rituals, past-times, festivities, beliefs, etc. They started using Meiteilon as their mother-tongue. Their womenfolk adopted phanek, khudei, khwangnam (a piece of cloth tied around the waists of married women), etc. as their traditional dress. They started to relish themselves with the local food-items (esp. uti, eromba, kangsoi, ngari, etc.). They started constructing their houses just like that of the Meities. Their marriage custom was a striking amalgamation of the Islamic (nikah) and Meitei traditions. The traditional games and sports of Manipur (mukna, mukna kangjei, sagol kangjei, yubi lakpi, etc.) became the favourite past-time for the Muslims. Surprisingly, the Muslim community made all these adjustments without loosing their Islamic identity. 
Muslims soon became useful and productive subjects of the kingdom. They rendered their military services and offered their skills in different trades and vocations, which helped in enhancing and enriching the economy of the kingdom.
Muslims served military and economic duties under the lallup system (military organization). They took part in many of the military campaigns made by kings of Manipur. King Khagemba for the first time inducted Muslims in his army during his campaign against Maring tribes. They took part in the Battle of Wangjing fought between Garib Niwaz and the Burmese in 1718. Many Muslims, then settled in Barak Valley, also rendered their services in the Manipur Levy, formed in 1824 to drive the Burmese from the valley of Manipur. Muslims stood along with the other Manipuris to face the British attack in 1891. Many Muslims fought at the historic battle of Khongjom in 1891. A royal photographer and a close associate of Tikendrajit, Dasu Sardar and his family members were brutally murdered by the British.
Not only Muslim men, but Muslim women too showed their courage. Muslim women vendors of Khwairamband Kheithel, took part in the women uprising of 1939 (Second Nupi Lal) against the British and the Indian business community.
In the time of peace, Pangal Khutheiba or those Muslims skilled in various trades like carpentry, black-smithy, pottery, weaving, boat-making etc. were engaged in various production units (Pangal Phundrei-shang, Pangal Fisa-shang, Pangal Hisa-sang, etc.) of the kingdom. Other Muslims rendered their services as Ingkhol Sangba or those who manage the vegetable farms of the kingdom.
During the British rule (1891-1947), there was a group of departments (loishang) which were in charge of affairs relating to the Muslims (Pangan Sanglen, Pangan Inkhol, Pangan Singa Loisang, Pangan Phundrei Loisang, Pangan Kumar, Pangan Mall and Pangan Likli). Muslims were seen in many other departments. Almost all the buglers and drummers attached to the royal army were Muslims.
The Muslims, according to Political Agent R. Brown (1867-75), had the reputation of being honest and hard-working. Political Agent W. Mc Culloch (1863-67) observed that the Muslims were the most industrious sections of the population of Manipur. 
 Muslims continued to take active part in the political development that took place in Manipur after 1947. Two Muslims - Md. Qazi Waliulla and Md. Basiruddin Ahmed - represented the committee formed to draft a constitution for Manipur in 1947.
Md. Basiruddin Ahmed was inducted in the Interim Council (Aug. 1947 to Oct. 1948) constituted after King Budhachandra (1941-1955) abolished the Manipur State Darbar in July 1947. He held the portfolios of Medical, PWD and Jail.
Four Muslims were elected to the first general election held in 1948 for the State Legislative Assembly. Md. Alimuddin was inducted in the first Council of Ministers. Muslims continued to represent the Territorial Council/Electoral College/Legislative Assembly elections held after Manipur was officially merged to India in Oct. 15, 1949 as a Part-C State.
Muslims took active part in the statehood movement. Md. Alimuddin, who was one of the prominent leaders of the movement, became the Chief Minister of Manipur (March 1972-March 1973) after it got its statehood in 1972. 

By : Dr. Syed Ahmed

About the Author

Maheshwar Gurumayum

Maheshwar Gurumayum

Maheshwar Gurumayum, Sub-Editor of Imphal Times is a resident of Sagolband Salam Leikai. He has been with Imphal Times since 2013. An avid adventure lover, writes mostly travelogue. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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