Manipuri Movie: Western Sanskritana: Art or Religious Offence

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By M  C Arun
The recent digital film Western Sanskritana is received well by various sections of the society in Imphal city and the state. The lyrics and tunes of some hymns of Manipuri Vaishnavism are recreated with western musical instruments and dance forms. The costumes are mixed with various western rock outfits. The moot question is why it gives enjoyment to the people. Is it for the simple reason there is no leisure or entertainment in sight in the life of the Imphalites?

Manipuri Movie: Western Sanskritana: Art or Religious Offence – Photo Courtesy: Western Sanskritana: Photo Credit FB Page

Life in Imphal has always been gripped in tension; full of inconveniences yet without any complaints; full of development works yet lacking in direction. So anything that departs from the normal life, whatever you call it, is fun. This is how Western Sanskritana works in the psyche of the people starved of entertainment and leisure. It worked as it takes away from the boredom of routine. Even the restaurants are full of restrictions sometimes getting under the skin of the teenage youth. Life is no fun without entertainment, fairs and festivals. Religious festivals are also restricted in various ways by various agents. The digital film Western Sanskritana targets these people who were generally robbed of fun and leisure in their real lives. But, is it right to use the core elements of Manipuri Vaishnavism in creating funny situations or humor? Are they above religious codes?

The treatment of many cultural elements of Manipuri Vaishnavism in the film Western Sanskritana is objectionable at least from the Vaisnavite angle. Thamna Thambou Thambal, Matam Kaya lelre Angang oina are religious songs, of course, of Manipuri Vaishnavism. These are not popular songs. Manipuri Vaishnavism has evolved out of the religious interactions in 17th and 18th centuries. It is the religion that inspires the people of Manipur to fight the last war of Independence in 1891. This religion dictates every one Manipuri (whomsoever the Manipuri identity covers) to fight with an axiom: Death in battlefield takes you to Heaven. This religion is the identity marker of the Meiteis in Myanmar and Bangladesh. But, why are the Manipuri Hindus keeping mum against attacks on their temples, religious performances (including bomb attack on Ras Lila)? Why have they become so weak and so helpless?

The majority Hindus in Manipur are so powerless that they cannot oppose anything. They are afraid of everything – political or religious. Unlike them, the Meitei Pangal or Manipuri Muslim consisting of 4-5% of total population are able to protest what, they think, inappropriate in text books; they also protested against some performing arts in Manipuri which they thought are unsavory to the Meitei Pangals in Manipur. Can you imagine how Christians in Manipur would react when some jokes are made on Christ or Mary? But, so far the Manipuri Vaishnavites have not protested against anything. Is it because of their religious thought, preaching patience and liberation from worldly maya? Or is it because this largest group of Manipuri is so irresponsible, today, to the history and to the self?

The silence of the Manipuri Vaishnavite is the tragedy of modern Manipur. This silence is the most disturbing. Perhaps it is because of the long humiliation and open attacks on their religion and religious practices. This new attack should not be tolerated. Even if the majority Hindu people has not guts to protest, the Government of Manipur should examine the Western Sanskritana and act accordingly. Let people respect other’s religions too. All the right thinking people on the earth should help the Manipuri Vaishnavites to regain their strength. Let them realize that tolerance without self-assertion is all meaningless.

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