The Land of Manipur
Manipur boasts of an exotic landscape with gently undulating hills, emerald green valleys, blue lakes and dense forests. It is the sheer tranquility enveloping it, interrupted only by a soft breeze that sets it apart from the other northeastern states, and makes it the ideal getaway. Manipur, literally meaning the land of jewel, is a paradise on earth when Mother Nature has been extra generous in her beauty. And from the very inception, this princely state of Manipur has always been a shinning outpost of the country in the sparse of the eastern Himalayas. It never lost its basic link with the mainstream of the Indian culture
The present state of Manipur geographically by Nagaland in the North, Mizoram in the South, Cachar district of Assam in the West and bordering Myanmer in the East. The land surface of Manipur is 22,347 sq. kms. And about 90% of the land is mountainous. Its rain varies between 2,600 to 3, 350 meters.
In 1826, Manipur was brought into India by the treaty of Yandavo by Raja Jai Singh with the British at the end of the Indo-Burmese war. This followed a dispute in accession to the throne. With the intervention of the British the dispute was settled. In 1891 Churachand was nominated the Raja and it came under British rule as a princely state. During World War II Imphal was occupied by the Japanese. After Indian independence Manipur became a Union Territory and subsequently achieved statehood in January 21,1972.
The people of Present Manipur include Meitei, Bishnupriyas, Naga, Meitei Pangal and other colourful communities which have lived together in complete harmony for centuries. Theses are the people whose folklore, myths & legends, dances, indigenous games and martial arts, exotic handlooms & handicrafts are infested with the mystique of nature.
The origin Meitei lies with the term Meitei itself. The term Meitei is most probably derived from "Mai" ( Mai =people, comp. Burmese "mai" =man) + "Tai"(=Thai), meaning the Thai people. Shri R. M. Nath states " Mei-theis is clearly - people of Theis land meaning people coming from central China". Another theory holds that Meitei is derived from Mi (=men) and Thei(=sperate) that men from different tribes merged together. The sven tribes or clan of meiteis are Moirang, Ningthouja, Angom, Chenglei, Ngangba, Looang and Khuman (or Khumal).
The Meteis are related to the present Naga race of the hills also in respect of many customs still in existence in both groups. The distribution of Kiratas in north-eastern region is one of the evidences to support this school of thought. Another school of thought considers Manipuris to be descended from the stock of Dravidians who migrated from south India to Manipur and Naga hills through Burma.
The term Bishnupriya is derived from Vishnupurika or Bishnupriya. It is said that these people were the followers of the Vishnu cult from the very ancient times. They installed the image of lord Vishnu at a place in Manipur, which was given the name Bishnupur.
Sir G. A. Grierson recorded the people "Bishnupuriya Manipuris" and Dr. Suniti kumar Catterji calls them simply "Bishnupriya" or "Mayang". But "Mayang" is a misnomer for this language. The Bishnupriya Manipuris never called themselves as "Mayang". It is term used by the Meiteis in a degrading sense. In Meitei, the "Mayang" means foreigner, westerner.
Like the meiteis, Bishnupriya Manipuri community also divided into five sub-clans viz.; The Khumals, the Moirangs, The Angoms, The Luwangs and the Mangang. The calls them Lokeis and collectively as "Pancha Bishnupriyas". Besides there are 70 Lokei( Ningthou Khongya or members of Royel Family), Lempa Lokei (Thakcham), Moirango Lokei (Moirang them) are the dominating groups. Each of the Lokei have their distinct ethnic identity( Gotros).
The origin of Manipuris
There is not much of historical evidence available on the origin of the people of Manipur. There are different opinions regarding the origin. Some believe that Manipuris are a fine stalwart race descended from an Indo-Chinese stock, with some admixture of Aryan blood. Some scholars consider that the Manipuris are Indo-aryan Kshatriyas as mentioned in the Epic, 'Mahabharatha'. Another school of thought consider Manipuris the descendants of Kiratas.
The concept of "Manipur" and "Manipuri"
The inhabitants of Manipur did identify them as "Manipuris" since past centuries. The land Manipur was formerly divided into small territories occupied by different clans, namely, the Khumals, the Moirangs, The Angoms, The Luwangs, the Ningthoujas, etc. The territories were after the names of the respective clans. Some of the clans are of Aryan branches and some are of of kuki-chin branch.
So different clans of the Aryan and Mongoloid people lived side by side in Manipur for centuries. In course of time the Meiteis ( the Ningtauja clan) occupied all the territories towards 15th century AD and established a sovereign kingdom known as ‘ Meitei Leipak’ ( the land of Meiteis).
Historians without any prejudice will agree that the Bishnupriyas were living in the Valley of Manipur from centuries before the establishment of that "Meitei- Laipak" (Sometimes refers as to be Senalaipak, Kongleipak, Metrabak etc.). The Meiteis called the Bishnupriyas as ‘Mayangs’ and the history Manipur goes back the 7th century AD, if not still earlier.
As regards the name Meitei and Bishnupriya, there is a story prevalent and found in a Meitei purana or puya called " Khumal Purana". This purana states that conversion of Meiteis in Hinduism by Shri Santidas Babaji in 19th century at the instance of the king Shri Pamhaiba was aimed at linking the with the Aryans, the mainstream of people of Manipur and their language too with Sanskrit. The Aryans, the followers of Lord Vishnu denied to accept the initiation by Shri Santadas Babaji and the others(accepted). And thus the Manipuri people Aryan and Kuki-chin group have been classified and renamed as Bishnupriya and Meiteis.
Therefore, the term ‘Manipur’ and ‘Manipuris’ have been in use by both the Meiteis and the Bishnupriyas commonly with equal right to them; and practically, people of both these clans used these two terms ‘Manipur’ and ‘Manipuris’ without any reservation to identify their land and themselves respectively.
Culturally, the Meiteis and Bishnupriyas cannot be distinguished from each other. Both these two clans developed a homogeneous culture, and the concept of the one community grew among them. Mutual social intercourse between the two exists in practice.
Compiled by Ashim Kumar Singha on November 12, 2002
- Tribals and their culture in Manipur and Nagaland, Vol 3 by G. K. Ghosh
- Religion and Culture of Manipur By Dr. M. Kiti Singh
- Khumal Purana by Pandit Navakhendra Sharma
- Manipur Itihas by R.K. Sanahal Singha, Imphal 1947
- The Bishnupriya Manipuris By Dr. K.P. Sinha
- Manipur and the Mainstream, by Prof. N. Tombi Singh, 1975