By Chabungbam Amuba Singh
In this age of the Internet, retirement is a boon for those `who wanted to read but could not find the time`. I am talking not of any serious academic pursuit but of simple pleasurable reading. Respectfully curious of the Royal Court Chronicle of Manipur, the Cheitharol Kumbaba, I longed to read it and practiced `reading the Meitei Mayek` during my days in office. I was disappointed at the slow progress of my proficiency in Meitei Mayek. So I was really elated when I was given by Shri M Biren Singh a copy of the Cheitharol Kumbaba in the Bengali script edited by Shri L Ibungohal Singh and Shri N Khelachandra Singh and published by the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad (second print, 1989).
I got the shock of my life when I found that this sacred book/compilation of the records of the reigns of the `Meidingus` starts with the Sanskrit word `Shri` (“Shri Taibangpanbagee mapu ….”) and the very next sentence refers to the Kalyabda—an era system connected with Hindu mythology and not at all followed in the writing of history in any part of the world. This tell-tale evidence of the sacred book having been re-written or re-compiled at a later date when the Manipur royal court had been completely Hinduised notwithstanding, I derived immense pleasure of fleeting through the world unfolding out of the pages of this sacred book. Of course, the book written in old Meiteilon does not provide easy reading to a novice like me. Supplementing my endeavour with occasional reference to Saroj Nalini A Parratt`s English transliteration of the Chronicle (available on the Internet) opened up another woe for me: the occasional inconsistencies in the two versions of the Chronicle—the Sahitya Parishad`s and Saroj Nalini`s.
Saroj Nalini A Parratt says that for the pre-British period, the Cheitharol Kumbaba is the only source of Manipur’s history that we have which is of any substantial historical value. This bold observation endows the Chronicle with a unique place of importance and reverence. It is my intention here to establish its chronological authenticity beyond any shadow of doubt and provide the basis for an error-free Gregorian dating of the events recorded in the Chronicle.
It is a fact that we the Manipuris adopted the Saka system of counting the solar sidereal years – but we have never followed the Saka calendar (even in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries). Throughout the Chronicle, the entry of a date always refers to the phase of the moon and a month always refers to the lunar month – a system contrary to the system of the Saka calendar which is a solar calendar. It is not at all surprising, rather it is natural, that such a luni- solar system was followed in Manipur, because such a system was followed in east and northeast India and also in Southeast Asia. However, the astronomical foundation of a luni-solar system is quite complicated. In comparison, the solar Gregorian system has a straightforward astronomical basis. That is why all historical recordings are done in or transliterated into the Gregorian system which is now called the Common Era (CE) system.
In the Internet space, I have come across quite a few write-ups about the history of Manipur in which wrong dates in CE have been given to important events. For example, in the history of Manipur uploaded by IIT Guwahati, the date of birth of Pitambar Charairongba is given as 20 May 1673 CE and that of the crowning of Pamheiba as 28 August 1708 CE – both of which are incorrect according to the recordings in the Cheitharol Kumbaba (the correct dates are 17 June 1673 CE Saturday and 14 August 1709 CE Wednesday respectively). Marjit’s (Nongpok Wairang Pamheiba) ascension to the throne of Manipur is often reported to have taken place in the year 1813, while the true date of the event recorded in the Cheitharol Kumbaba is the 17th day of Shajibu (later) in Saka 1735 which is the 6th April 1814 CE. Even in the Appendix to the Cheitharol Kumbaba published by the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, the editors had given the reign of Meidingu Marjit as 1813-1819. The fact as per records in the Cheitharol Kumbaba is that Meidingu Marjit reigned from Wednesday 6 April 1814 to Tuesday 9 December 1819. It is important here to respect the authenticity and accuracy of the entries in the Chronicle.
Eclipses of the sun and the moon are God-given chronometer to determine the precise dates of historical events. Records of the eclipses can be conveniently used to translate any date in a lunisolar calendar into a date in the proleptic Gregorian calendar or the CE system provided the week-day of the date is also given. Here it is understood that the seven-day week is universally adopted. (For example, the assertion that the week-day `langmaiching` or `nongmaijing` in the Manipuri system is the week-day `Sunday` in the western system is never to be disputed.)
Solar and lunar eclipses are regular astronomical events occurring at least four times a year (a maximum of seven eclipses may occur in a calendar year). Very precise and detailed records of solar eclipses for 7000 years and lunar eclipses for 5000 years in the proleptic Gregorian calendar have been computer-generated and are now available on the Internet for ready reference.
The Cheitharol Kumbaba contains records of 189 eclipses (58 solar and 131 lunar) sighted in Manipur (a few are `reported` but not ‘sighted’) – starting with the partial lunar eclipse of 1666 December 11 (Saturday)