Why Meiteis want Schedule Tribe Status under the Indian Constitution ? (Part-1)

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Dr. Khomdon Singh Lisam

Manipur –early history:

The kingdom of Manipur existed as an independent kingdom from 1445 B.C till 27th April, 1891 with Taangja Leelaa Paakhangba as the first king. There were 16 kings before 33 A.D. Manipur continued to exist as a Princely State under the British from 1891 to 14 August, 1947.  Roman empire existed for only 503 years, 7 months, Mongol Empire lasted for only 162 years (1206 -1368), Mughal empire lasted for only 333 years, Gupta empire lasted for only 180 years (320 A.D to 500 A.D), Maurya empire lasted for only 137 years, Nizam of Hyderabad existed for only 234 years (1713-1947), Maratha kingdom lasted for only 144 years (1674 to 1818), Mysore kingdom lasted for only 548 years (1399 -1947). How and why Manipur kingdom lasted for more than 2000 years. What is the secret?

Manipur kings used to say to the hill Khullakpas “I am the king of Manipur. Similarly you are the king of your village. You are free to exercise your full autonomy regarding religion, customs, traditions, customary laws. My responsibility is to protect your kingship and your village from inter village conflicts for which you have to pay annual tributes. If we have to fight with another country, we have to jointly fight with   that country”. Inter-village conflicts and head hunting were very common in those days and the hill Khullakpas were very happy with this arrangement. The king used to say “All the ethnic groups are the flowers in the garland and I am the thread of this garland.” He used to sing “Chingna Koina pansaba, Hauna koina panngakpa” appreciating and showing gratitude for defending the boundary of Manipur. Here the terminology “Hau” was used out of love to denote the Hau origin of Tangkhuls and other hill tribes and their migration from Hau, capital of Zhou dynasty of China to escape from the cruel and oppressive rule of Yin and Shan dynasties in China around 3000 B.C to Burma. After settlement for many centuries in Burma, they arrived at Samjok and to Manipur. It is considered that the Tangkhuls came together with the Maos, Poumeis, Marams and Thangals because all of them have references to their dispersal from Makhel, a Mao village in Senapati district. They had also erected megaliths at Makhel, from where they agreed to separate and went in different directions. Hau was not a derogatory term. There were no social differences between the ethnic groups. All the ethnic groups were happy in the kingdom.

Meitei and Tangkhuls Ties:

There are many legends to suggest that the Meiteis and the Nagas originated from a common ancestor. Col James Johnston (1877-1886) is quoted, “There can be little doubt that some time or other the Naga tribes to the North made one of their chiefs Raja of Manipur” who even after “adopting the civilization of the country, retain some of their old customs”. T.C Hodson said “the origin of Manipuris (Meiteis) from the surrounding hill tribes is the proper and only conclusion to be arrived at “.Some valley people, driven out from the Valley by the Ningthoujas, fled to the Tangkhul Hills merged among the Kabuis and the Tangkhuls carrying with their original Salais of Meiteis. This happened in the first century A.D.

The oral history of the Tangkhuls says that the Meiteis and Tangkhuls were brothers being descendants of the same ancestors in the distant past. The theory that Tangkhuls and Meiteis emerged from the same one ancestor is found in the Sana Puya, the royal chronicles of the Meitei Raja. According to Sana Puya, Ningthou Kangba (1405-1359 B.C) had three sons – Thangal, Hungbum (Hundung), and Meitei. Thangal found their settlement in the present Thangal area. The Hundung Awunga (Village Chief) and his brother Meitei proceeded as far as Hundung village and from there they separated. Hundung is a big Tangkhul village in Ukhrul district. The chief of the Hundung village and the king of Manipur were brothers. The younger brother, who had been fascinated by the fortune of the valley lost contact with the elder brother.  Fearing that he might be in danger of the enemies and ferocious animals, the elder brother went in search of him and at last found him in the valley. But the younger brother refused to accept food and drinks offered by his elder brother because he feared that any acceptance of food would amount to surrendering himself to his elder brother’s wishes. The young brother conveyed his decision to settle down in the valley. The elder brother agreed but said that the mutual relationship between brothers should be maintained and there should be exchange of gifts every year as a sign of brother hood.  The elder brother performed some rituals, offered some sacrifices for the peace, prosperity and success of his younger brother. The younger brother requested his elder brother to give him some cult   so that he might be able to perform the rituals and ceremonies, worship the deity, carry out cultivation without any problem. Accordingly, the elder brother took out leather in which the Tangkhul scripts were written, copied it into a bamboo pulp and gave it to his younger brother. He told his brother that the deity he had to worship was called goddess “Sam Sangba” and   advised his brother to mark the beginning and close of the year by performing certain rituals.  The end of the year might be marked by celebrating a ritual known as “Yu Hongba “. After the harvest, the beginning of year can be marked by invoking sylvan god “Umang Lai”. The elder brother asked his younger brother as to “how could he knew that his younger brother is safe and sound”. The younger brother replied that every year starting from the full moon day of “Mera”,   he would   display a lamp on the top of a bamboo pole from his house for one month so that his elder brother could easily see it from the top of the hill at any time of the month.  If you could see the lamp, please take it for granted that I am safe and sound. So saying, the elder brother departed. The younger brother formed a new clan known as “Songvai” meaning the one who has become or formed a clan.

The Meiteis continued to perform the “Mera Houchongba”, “Umang Lai-Haraoba” and “Mera Thangmei thanba”, “Tangkhul Nurabi” even to this day every year. In this Umang Lai Haraoba, a number of  war dances  like Thang hainaba, Ta –khousaba  (dancing with  Tangkhul swords and spear ) , Ten  Kappa (  archery or arrow shooting ) were  performed and displayed , which were  the folk art of the Tankhuls. Umang Lai Haraoba illustrates the intimate connection between Tankhuls and Meiteis.  The Meiteis enact Tangkhul customs and Tangkhul Saba (Imitating Tankhul), which means acting like a Tangkhul or representing a Tangkhul. The actors and actresses have to appear in Tangkhul costume   and act the Tangkhul way of talking and living. Without Tangkhul costume, the Lai Haraoba is never complete. The Meiteis believed that failure to perform that rituals will bring disease, disaster to the village and its people.

At the time of coronation of the Manipuri Kings and Queens, they had to appear in Tangkhul costume to validate the ceremony. Once in a year, the kings and queens were required to sit on the throne in Tangkhul costume even for a short while. In early days, they were escorted by two or three Meitei armed guards in Tangkhul war dress and weapons. This practice was continued even after conversion of the Meiteis into Hinduism. The younger brother used to send his due share of “Loipot” (Tribute) to his elder brother, the Chief of Hundung village Awunga (Khullakpa).

The names of Manipuri kings like Taothingmang (264-364 A.D), Naothingkhong (663-763 A.D), Naofangba (428-518 A.D), Naokhamba (411-428 A.D) Sameirang (518-568 A.D) tend to suggest that they may not be Meiteis but Khongjais or Kukis.  Many smaller hill tribes were absorbed into Meitei community. Even during the time of Garib Niwaj, many Burmese were brought and settled at Kabo Leikai (Imphal) and they were assimilated into Meiteis.  We were one people with common ancestors and common origin.

The people of Manipur first inhabited only in the hills –the valley being flooded with water, comprising of numerous lakes. The inhabitation must have shown gradual shift from the hills towards the valley by the gradual shrinking of the lake, increase in the size of the valley, better prospects for human habitation and better chances for cultivation.

Arrival of Hinduism

Before the arrival of Hinduism, the valley people of Manipur (Meiteis) were practicing “Sanamahism”. They worship Sanamahi as God. There was no caste system. There was no Schedule Tribe and all the ethnic groups enjoyed equality in all aspects. Hinduism came to Manipur in different stages. King Kyaamba (1467-1508) installed an image of Vishnu which he received as a gift from Choupha Khek Khomba, the king of Pong. He requisitioned the services of Brahmins for the worship of Vishnu and Kirtana Songs were sung.  Later, King Charairongba (1697-1709) and his family were initiated first into Nimandi. Brahmins from Nabadwip, Krishnanagar, Kanchan Nagar of Bengal adorned the courts of Charairongba The Brahmins started arriving from this period and were given shelter and patronage by the Kings. In 1703 A.D. a Brahman preacher named Krishnacharya Das alias Rai Vanamali from Shweta Ganga, Puri arrived in Manipur. He was accompanied by his wife, Krishnamayi, two Shudras and a Brahmin named Balabhadra Brahmachari. On Wednesday, the 5th Sajibu (April), 1704, Krishnacharya formally initiated the king into Nirmandi cult of Vaisnavism.  In 1717 A.D. King Garib Niwaz (1709 – 48) got himself initiated into Vaishnavism in Mera (Sept/Oct) by appointing Gopal Dass as his Guru.  During 1728 A.D. Santi Dass, a Hindu preacher from Sylhet, arrived in Manipur and started his mission to preach Ramanandi cult of Vaishnavism. On the 17th Mera (Sunday), 1732 all the sacred Puyas of Meteis written by Maichous (Scholars/Prophets/Sakei Pibas) were got collected and burnt down to ashes.  This episode was known as “Puya Meithaba” (Burning of old scriptures). King Garib Niwaz declared Hindusim as the State Religion and those Meteis who refused to accept Hindusim were banished and termed as untouchables following the Hindu caste system. This sowed the seed of ethnic conflict in Manipur. At the insistence of the mayang guru, the hill people were also treated as untouchables because of their food habits.

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