By: Dr. L. Basanti Devi
Standard College, Imphal
In every society, whether primitive or civilized, marriage in much aspect is the most important social institution. Marriage is a socio-religious institution. It is a social contract for the satisfaction of physical, biological, psychological and spiritual needs of Man and Woman leading to the formation of a family. Thus the growth and development as well as the stability of human society depend upon this universal and primary institution. On account of this vital importance, the sanctity and permanence of marriage has been emphasized in most societies and the Meitei Society is not an exception in this regard. The paper tries to present the rules and forms of the marriage system which has been prevailed in Manipur from the very early times.
The Meitei concept of marriage implies the sacred and ceremonial union of a man and a woman with due religious rites. The vernacular term for marriage is “Luhongba” which is a combination of two words, “Lu” which means “head” in archaic Manipuri and “Hongba” to solemnize. Hence Luhongba is the ceremonial union of the “Lu” of the man and the woman implying the oneness of their heart and soul rather than the state of their being double. In the long journey of life the Meiteis believed that woman is called oigilamdang (left way) and man Yet Ki lamdang (rightway). Thus Meitei marriage is primarily conceived as lifelong physical and spiritual companionship between the wife and the husband.
The Meiteis are generally exogamous but endogamy was found in the early times. Khaba Shokchremba alias Leirenhan the father in law of Panthoibi (now worshipped as the goddess of Meitei) married a Women of his own clan (Panthoibi Khongul, M. Chandrasing, P.70, 1973). Actually this endogamous system is prohibited in Meitei society but his practice is prevalent among the members of the hill tribes (T.C. Hodson, The Meitheis, Page 75). Politically, the introduction of the practice of exogamy can broaden and strengthen the power of the clans. Polygamy was also very popular. It was also prevailing custom among the Meitei that as a symbol of success in the war, the victor took the wife of the vanquished, weak rules or chiefs used to offer their daughter to the powerful king. Thus powerful kings had many wives or queens. Their example was followed by the nobles and well-to-do families and lastly to common people.
In Meitei society both in early and present days there are certain taboos and rules connected with the institution of marriage. If anybody breaking the rules was expelled from the common society to Haochongpal or Samupal which were known as loi areas (socially boycotted areas). The important rules to be strictly prohibited in marriage are 1. Yekthoknaba or Putinnaba (belonging to the same clan/kinship) 2) Shairuk tinnaba, 3) Pentinaba and 4) Mugnaba.
Marriage within the cIan or yek is strictly prohibited. This is a long time honoured custom in the Meitei society. Meitei are socially divided into seven clans known as salais or yeks viz, Ningthouja, Angom Khuman, Luwang, Moirang, Khaba Nganba and Chenglei. Marriage within the same yek is forbidden as it is descended from a common ancestor. So yek thoknaba also known as Pu-tinnaba ( Pu-forefather, tinnaba-same origin ).
This rule is especially based on blood relationship. Those who neglected the rules were banished and ex-communicated. Intermarriage between two different clans is also forbidden e.g. Khuman and Luwang do not intermarry as both of them are descended from a common ancestor
Shairuk tinnaba is another patrilineal marriage rule. It may be divided into two a) Shairuk Achouba ( big relation ) b) Shairuk Macha ( small relation ). The shairuk Achouba is applied to the royal family and the Shairuk macha to be common people.
Along with the patrilineal form of Kinship, Meitei also followed the rule of matrilineal consanguineal Kinship. Such kinship relation traced from the matrimonial side is known as Pen-tinnaba. Pen-tinnaba literally means the progenies of the same grandmother but ofdifferent grand fathers. Thus people belonging to two-different clans who are the offsprings of the same mother but of different fathers are prohibited to intermarry as they are uterine brothers and sisters.
Mungnaba is another proscriptive marriage rule.lt is also, a custom that prohibits intermarriage between the offsprings of two sisters who were married to two persons, each belonging to two different sageis and clan. Thus the offsprings of two sisters though belonging to different clans are forbidden to intermarry. In the same way though in a lesser degree, intermarriage between the offsprings of the daughters of to brother who were married to men belonging to different clan are also forbidden. The forbidden degrees of the two consanguineous instancesduring pre-Hindu days are not exactly known. But according to Sambandhi Nirnay enacted in the year 1790 A.D. during the reign of Rajashree Bheigyachandra incorporating the earlier customs, the forbidden degrees were five and three years respectively. It is also believed that a man may not marry a girl who has the same name as his mother. The “Piba” the man who is socially head of the clan is not permitted to marry a woman who is a tuman (widow or divorcee). But intermarriage within the same clan is permissible if they belong to different origin. Thus a member of the Nongchup haram ( People who migrated from the west) may marry with the Nongpok haram ( people who migrated from the east) even though they may belong to the same group or clan.
In Meitei society child marriage was totally unknown. Widow remarriage was allowed. The Royal Edict of King Naophangba who reigned in the 5th century A.D. commands that - “Widows should get married and no widow should remain single” ( MS Masil). But the widow could not marry her deceased husband’s brother and relatives. No practical ceremony is performed for widow remarriage.
Courtship or Koiba, the act of wooing had been in vogue among the Meitei’s since ancient days. In the traditional system of courtship the young man usually accompanied by one or two of his friends appeared in the house of the girl a little after sunset. When they were seated, the girl presented a long tobacco - pipe made by banana leaf if she loves the suitor, but if she did not love a short tobacco pipe was offered. Courtship or Koiba may lead either to their engagement or to their elopement in case the marriage negotiation was unsuccessful. This customary form has now been replaced by various modern made of courtship.
The forms of marriage prevailed in Meitei society are the following: i) Marriage by engagement ii) Marriage by elopement iii) Marriage by capture ivi) Keinya Katpa v) Loukhatpa vi) Court marriage ( few in number if necessary).
Marriage by engagement:- This marriage by engagement is the purest and highest form of marriage and is the basis of regular Meitei marriage. This form is invariably performed with usual preliminaries and other accompanying rites.
Marriage by capture:-In early days when internecine warfare among the various tribes in and outside Manipur was the order of those days, marriage of women captured in war usually by the captors was one of the normal modes of obtaining a wife, details of which were abundantly found in the chronicles and other literary accounts of Manipur. These women were married forcibly against their will. It is indeed marriage by rape where the woman out of fear or helplessness may ultimately agree to be the wife of her captor or abductor.
Keinya Katpa : It is a simple form of marriage ceremony in which the father or the parent of the girl wishes to give their daughter after elopement. What were done in this ceremony were the exchange of garlands by the bride and the bridegroom and the recitation of some hymns by the priest. It is a very less expensive form of marriage. The articles which were brought by the groom’s family were offered to the deities ( Sanamahi, Leimarel, Lam Lai ancestral gods).
Loukhatpa: Loukhatpa is a very simple form of recognition ceremony of the unsolemnised union of the husband & the wife. A couple might become husband and wife without performing either Luhongba or keinya katpa. When the parents of the girl wish to recognised the union, the Loukhatpa Ceremony was performed. Failing this Loukhatpa function the bride is excommunicated by her parents and some orthodox in laws refused to take food cooked by her. She is also forbidden to enter the house of her parents.
The preliminaries to be observed before the marriage ceremony are given below:
i) Hainaba or Haina Singnaba (G0 between )
ii) Yathang thanaba ( formal order for the marriage)
iii) Wairoipot Puba ( final decision for the marriage)
iv) Heijing Kharai Puba ( impending marriage known to all).
Hainaba of Haina-Singnaba ( go between): It is the initial approach of the parents of the boy to the girls’ family. A mission headed by the mother of the boy usually accompanied, by two other female friends or relatives go to the house of the girl with fruits and articles of food. If the latter regards the union as unsuitable then negotiation stop forthwith and if the response is favourable a date was fixed for the next stage in which the men folk of the boy’s family go to the girl’s house to finalise the negotiation.
Yathang Thaba: After the initial negotiation is completed a formal agreement is to be reached between the two parties. This is called Yathang Thanaba in which elderly man including the father of the boy go to the house of the girl. This stage of negotiation among the males shows their agreement to the union by prostrating themselves before each other.
Waroipot Puba: The third step in the preparation of marriage is waroipot Puba. At this stage the contract is scaled by the groom’s family approaching the girl’s house with their relatives. In this ceremony the family of bridegroom goes to the house of the bride accompanied by a limited member of close relatives, friends and neighbours with sweetmeats, betal nuts and leaves and various kind of fruits.
Heijing Kharai Puba (Heijingpot): This function is the last and most important of all the preliminary stages of marriage. Many kinds of gifts of fruits, sweets, items for God and clothes for the girl will be presented. Among the fruits two particulars fruits Heikru (ambalica) and Heining ( Spondias mangi fera ) must necessary be included unlike other preliminaries, Heijing Kharai Puba has a deeper social and religious significance. As in the previous case the articles were offered to their ancestral God Viz ancestor of the clan and sub clan, Sanamahi (family God) etc. The articles were distributed and consumed. After this ceremony, it is presumed that the girl no longer belongs to her parents but to the family of the boy. All this implies that the girl formally becomes the wife of the boy even before the performance of the final wedding ceremony. Such a tradition also exists among the Hindus. Betrothed girls were also regarded as married, even though they did not necessarily live with their husband. In most cases even a girl betrothed verbally wasregarded as a widow if her betrothed died ( Hindu world, walker Page 601 Vol-II)
Wedding Ceremony: - When all the preliminaries were over, the date of the marriage is fixed on an auspicious day. The day before the wedding the groom himself is formally invited to the wedding. This is done by a younger brother or other suitable male relative of the bride. The groom is garlanded and offered betal nut and leaf. While all the preliminaries of marriage with or without rites have been performed in pre Meitei traditional form, the wedding ceremony as it is now performed is an admixture of both Hindu and non Hindu elements. After their conversion into Hinduism in the 181h century Meitei marriage has been performed in basic Hindu pattern while at the same time retaining most of their pre Hindu elements. Wedding ceremony is usually accompanied by Kirtans at which suitable religious lyrics are sung. But in pre Hindu days the wedding ceremony was not accompanied by Sankirtan as in done now.
In each Meitei house the Tulsi or Tairen Plant is grown over a raised rostrum. All ceremonies including the wedding are conducted around this plant. The bride circumbulates the groom seven times and on completion of each round she throws flowers over the head of the groom. But on the seventh round she places two garland of flowers over the neck of the groom. The groom then removed one of the garland and places the same over the neck of the bride. The main item of the ceremony was to solemnise the tie by sacrificial ritual either by the kindling of fire or installation of water pot. Kujaba Punba (tying of brides’ palm with that of the groom) is an important item before going round the groom. Along with it, Omen was also sought through Chiruk Nungshang (basket containing rice, salt coin, Ginger, tabacco and cotton etc) and Ngamu thaba (setting free of the fish in the water) At the end of the ceremony sweets are distributed to the guest with Dakshina ( about Rs. 2 or Rs. 5 or Rs. 10 ) Bridal dress is different according to the faith of the family. If, Hindu Meitei, she should wear the Potloi (round embroidery skirt) and of Non Hindu, Phanek Mayek Naiba ( garment with stripe) but for bride grooms’s dress white dhoti, Kurta and turban is the same. The ceremony came to be close with families exchanged betal nuts and bowed down to each other. When the bride reaches the gate of the bridegroom’s house she is received by the mother-in-law and another lady of the family who conduct her into the house in embrace covering the backside of her with their own innaphis (sheets). This custom has been in vogue among the traditional Meiteis is evident from old texts like Panthoibi Khongul ( M. Chandra Singh P.41 Panthoibi khongul)
On the morning and evening of the fifth day of the marriage Phiruk Kaiba or Chiruk Nungshak Kaiba (opening of the basket which were brought on the day of the marriage kept in both families) is performed. This predicted the omens of the newly married couple. The marriage ceremony is ended by a grand feast known as Mapam Chakouba on the sixth day of the ceremony. The quantity of the giving of dowry is not compulsory. It depends upon the familystatus. There is no hard and first rule to deal with divorce.
Conclusion: After the adoption of Hinduism in the 18th century, many changes were brought on the traditional Meitei Society. The prohibited degrees of marriages like Yekthoknaba , Shairuk tinnaba, Pentinnaba and Mungnaba existed from very early times till date. Many preliminaries of marriage as stated above are pure Meitei traditional forms. But the actual wedding ceremony as it is now performed is an admixture of both Hindu and traditional elements.
William Gurumayum, Sub-Editor of Imphal Times is a resident of Sagolband Salam Leikai. He has been with Imphal Times since beginning. He also looks after the website and application of Imphal Times. An avid adventure lover, writes mostly travelogue.
Rakhesh Sunday, 19 August 2018 11:25 Comment Link
Ei esana moirangthemne aduga nupina ngasam ne aduga animk moirang ngaktane? Macd lounab kari kaibge
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Mutum ga loitongbam ga lownaba da Kari akaiba leibage yek ti animak manganni mannei...
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Sanathoibi Tuesday, 13 February 2018 18:46 Comment Link
Ei Sanathoibi kaojai ei esamk bhamon ni adubu ei meitei nupa amaga nungsinajai ado laominaba da kri akaiba lenge khngjaningi leiminba yabra yadabra khngjangi wahng sigi paokhum ngaijari
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RAJ KUMAR ga Thoudam ga lounaba da kari akaiba leibage, yek t ningthouja ngak tani, panji khara na d RK da d loina yai haina takpi, akhanba yaoraba d amta haibirak o.