Manipuri Culture: Customs and Traditions

The religious customs and traditions of Manipur are unique. They are organized in such a manner that in temple institutions those reveal the real festivity and reflect the curious character of socio-religious life of the valley. Mass propagation of Hindu customs and traditions in Manipuri society is the indicator of their reverence towards the Hindu deities and temples.

Almost all the elements of Bishnupriya Manipuri culture, excepting a very few, are identical to those of Meitei culture. Religious performances, fine arts, Festivals, marriage, dress, ornaments - all these are common to both Bishnupriyas and Meiteis.

Sannamahi and Leimarel are worshiped in every house of the Meiteis. The other gods and the three hundred and sixty four deities are worshipped in the "Umanglai Laisangs" (temple of gods in the reserved woods with spacious grounds) in the villages. The performances are absent in BPM Culture. On the other hand Tulsipung and Githanipung are worshiped in every house of the Bishnupriyas and the "Kartika -festival" and "pali" , which are performed gorgeously by the Bishnupriyas has little importance in the Meitei culture.

Fine Arts: During the reign of king Bhagya Chandra, towards the 18th century, Vaishnavism became very popular in Manipur . As result Vaishnav Palakirtan with Mridanga and Kartalaa became the most prominent factor in manipuri fine arts. Rasleela is another most important aspect of manipuri culture. Here in Ras-dance the philosophy of the manipuris is the basis on which the philosophy of the Vaisnavism is the body and plot of the dances with the essence of the Bhagavata philosophy.

Religions and beleifs: The Bishnupriya Manipuris are said to be the followers of Vishnu from the ancient times, as before the reign of King Garib Nawaj. On the other hand, Meiteis are followers of Atiya Shidaba, Apanba and Asheeba, who are according to them are the three manifestations or incarnations of God as the creator, the preserver and the annihilator of this universe respectively. At the end of the 17th century and at the advent of the 18th century, great force of the Neo-Vaisnavism came and spread in this land. Later on, the Meiteis adopted Gouriya Vaisnavism.
Meitei pangons are muslims and the observe Islam.

Festivals: To the Manipuris, festivals are the symbols of their cultural, social and religious aspirations which, besides removing the monotony of life by providing physical diversions, mental recreation and emotional outlet, help them lead a better and fuller life. Bishu, Rathyatra or Kang-Festival, Kartika festival, Maharas Purnima, Phaguwa or Holi festival ,Lai-Harouba, Thabol Chongba etc. are major manipuri festivals.

Marriage: Marriage in society is based on the Hindu pattern and mostly Aryan and non-Aryan elements having certain traditional customs. Out of the eight kind of marriage as referred in the Monu Songhita only Brahma and Kanya or Prajapatya are prevalent in the Society. There is the practice of Gandharva (secret union) system . the secret marriage
of Arjuna with Chitrangoda, the princes of Manipur, suggests as the Gandharva style of marriage. Marriage is restricted within the sub-clans or gutros in BM community.

Class System: The Bishnupriya Manipuris are reputed to be a highly conservative race devoted to strict vedic culture. there is no Vaisya or Sudra people in this community excepting Ksatriyas and Brahmins. On the other hand the Meiteis are divided into seven yek's or Shalais. The Meitei Pangons have no class system.

Food: Rice, vegetable and fish are principle foodstuffs of both the Bishnupriyas and Meiteis. Meat and Drinking is strictly prohibited in the society. In religious and social feats even, fish is never used.

Dress and Ornaments: The dresses and Garments uses by the Manipuri Bishnupriya's and Meiteis are identical. The traditional dress used by the males is called Pachhati - a about five feet long cloth manufactured by themselves which worn round the waist. Females usually wares blouses with traditional Lahing/Fanek/Chakshabi (a coarse cloth with length wise stripes and embroidered on both sides length wise) with an Enaphi ( Single or multicolor coarse cloth with laces on both ends) and a Angei or blouse. The extreme beauty of women dress is the design of Moirang, a special and artistic type of embroidery which is done by the weavers.
Compiled by Ashim Kumar Singha on  November 12, 2002