Rani Gaidinliu and her religious movement – Part 1

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Budha Kamei
“Any nation or country would be proud to have such a gifted woman who sacrificed everything for her people and for the cause she believed was good and true.”

Rani Gaidinliu was born on 26th January 1915 in a Zeliangrong village called Nungkao, which is located between the Barak and Makru rivers in Tamenglong District, Manipur. Gaidinliu literally means a girl who is a harbinger of good news.  From her childhood, she showed her extraordinary qualities and courageous in whatever she did. Her life took a new turn when she met the daughter of God Bisnu in the forest who looked exactly like her. They established a life long friendship. People of the village and her parents thought that Gaidinliu would become a shaman priest. Afterward Mr. J. C. Higgins, the political agent of Manipur described her as a Maibi, medicine woman in Manipuri, however, she was much more than a Maibi (Kamei 2014). Gaidinliu met Jadonang through dreams and she visited Kambiron to meet her future Guru.  Ultimately, she became the most trusted lieutenant of Jadonang. In the study of Rani Gaidinliu and her religious movement, one cannot ignore the chapter of Haipou Jadonang because he was the pioneer in socio-religious and political movement in the 20th century.

Bhuban cave is a holy place of the Zeliangrong people. According to Ramkui Zeliang, Bhuban cave is “one of the Godly pilgrimages for all human beings in the belief that occasionally all heads of Gods came together for meeting and the souls of all kings or rulers used to house after death in this cave” (2010). For the Heraka, Bhuban cave represents the point of reformation began there because in this cave the blessing of Tingwang was bestowed upon Hapou Jadonang and Rani Gaidinlu to introduce a new cult in Zeliangrong society. Therefore, it becomes a pilgrimage site for the devotees of Heraka in the month of February every year.
After the revolt of 1857, the British India government adopted a policy of non-interference in the social affairs of the Hindu and Muslim with the objective of consolidating the British rule in India, but this was not happened in the context of north east. They encouraged active Christian proselytisation work, because they believed that, Christian missionaries would help in consolidating their rule. The primary objective of the missionary is to convert native people through evangelization, education, literary and medical works and those who are trained in these trades were engaged to continue the evangelical works (Dena 1988). The tribal people of North East accepted Christianity. The tribal religion could not oppose the Christian condemnation of their religion as an animism cult which is full of superstitions. The existence of the Supreme God (Tingwang) which is the foundation of the Zeliangrong religion was not used to oppose the attack of Christian missionaries. This is mainly due to poor knowledge of the true essence of their philosophy and religion.  Christian doctrines very easily did overcome them. In addition, poor economic condition of the tribal people narrowed down their world-view. The missionaries employed many welfare programmes and the poor tribal people fell an easy victim to the persuasive strategies adopted by the missionaries. The western culture and civilization which was based on scientific technology had been accepted as a superior race. In addition, “the personal testimonies of the native converts rather than the foreign missionaries appealed to the spiritual problem of the tribes who were told that they would have a millenarian life in Heaven, living in God’s Kingdom” (Kamei 2004).

The traditional Zeliangrong religion was conservative, and had elements of superstitions and taboos. They had become superstitious to such an extent that the worship of Tingwang was submerged in the performance of countless sacrifices from smallest to biggest animals to the spirits for any kind of ailments. In this situation, poor people who could not bear the expenses of the sacrifice attracted to the new religion which had no economic burden in worship of God. This is also one of the important factors for conversion to Christianity. Moreover, there was no unity among the Zeliangrong people and inter-village feud was prevalent.  In the meantime, Christianity entered into the Zeliangrong country and started challenging the traditional religion, its old value and ideals of Zeliangrong people. Jadonang and Gaidinliu wanted to save the religion from the onslaught of the alien religion and reform and revitalized the religion of their people.

By 1920s more and more people began to embrace Christianity and to effect more conversion the Christian missionaries introduced a number of welfare programs such as education, medical works, and even offered white collar job in the state government (Downs 1971).  The new converts began to condemn the forefather’s beliefs, rites and rituals, ceremonies, feasts, festivals something connected with evil spirits (Yunuo 1982). They owed their loyalty more to the missionary and the officials. In this way, many young people came forward and began to embrace the new religion. This was one kind of local response to the external influence. In the process of proselytisation, the traditional religion was loosing its foothold day by day, and this was a serious issue for the people who wanted to preserve and promote the traditional belief and practices of the people. The conflict between the pastors and the village priest was very serious in the 1920’s. The clash was mainly due to the attacks of the Christian missionaries on the traditional tribal belief and way of life. Naturally the traditionalists had to defend against this onslaught (Irene 1989). It is a fact, there was also some kind of conflicts between the “new converts and the traditional elites represented by the Pei (village council) members. The Pei began to feel that their privileges and powers were being undermined by the new converts who had the solid backing of colonial officers and the missionary. F. S Down wrote that “as among the Angamis, the Zeliangrong villages strongly opposed Christianity…. Christians were invariably driven from their village” (1971). The traditional Zeliangrong religion reacted against the conversion, which was condemned by the Christians as persecution, though it was they, who had encroached and violated the traditional religious beliefs and practices. In this situation, Jadonang who wanted to defend his traditional religion on the one hand, and uplift his people on the other, had to take a very careful path. He realized that if the traditional religion was to be revived, the morass of superstitions and irrational taboos that afflicted the religion be removed and new ideas and forms should be injected to suit the changing time and space.

After his journey to Bhuban cave, Jadonang constructed Rah Kai, House of God with the help of his followers as a place of worship and religious discourse. In the temple, there was a shrine and pulpits and aisles of bamboo. He built two different temples at Kambiron; such houses for religious purpose were not a feature of Zeliangrong culture except abodes of deities. A large number of people came to the Rah Kai of Jadonang and worshipped Tingwang through prayer-hymns, songs and dance. Jadonang erected his temple facing to the east. East is vital for two factors: it signifies the direction of Bhubon cave, as well as that of the sunrise. Jadonang advocated adoption of Tingwang as the only God (monotheistic cult), encouraging the abandonment of the minor, local gods. In other words, he has shown that sacrifice of animals was not the only way to worship of Tingwang. The introduction of this new cult was a great landmark in the religious history of the Zeliangrong people. His new cult gave two important things: first, it was an answer to the silent religious aggression of the Christian religion and secondly, it made a basis for the solidarity of the people.  In each temple, there were two bath rooms, one for male and other for female; the devotees had to purify by taking bath in these places before entering into the temple (Kamei 2009; Yunuo 1982). He also introduced new prayer-hymns, devotional songs and dances to be sung and performed during the worship of Tingkao Ragwang. (Mahadevan 1974) Rani Gaidinlu also with the initiation of her Guru built a Rah Kai in her village, Nungkao.

After having achieved the status of a successful man, a prophet in the society, Jadonang abolished the innumerable taboos and gennas(social evils) in the name of Tingwang with an iron hoe (a symbol of sanctity of God) in his hands as no longer taboo.(Dena 2008).  Abolition of superstitious practices and liberalization of elaborate and expensive rites and rituals such as bride price and feasts had completely reduced the economic burden on the common people. Here, it may be noted that the new cult of Jadonang did not have any kind of anti-Christian teachings. But, some writers and historians led by F. S. Downs condemned the Naga Raj movement of Haipou Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu as an anti-Christian movement.(1971) It is a wrong criticism of Haipou Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu.

Like her Guru, Rani Gaidinliu also constructed a Taraang Kai, the ceremonial house at her native village. She actively took part in the above act of reformation of the Zeliangrong religion, abolition of irrational taboos and gennas, organization of religious congregations, performance of dances and singing songs and hymns as performed by her Guru. She did come into contact with large number of people because of her association with Haipou Jadonang.

Jadonang and Gaidinliu reached the apex of the religious and spiritual achievements in their last pilgrimage to Bhuban Hills in 1931. It was during their last pilgrimage, Tingwang through God Bisnu revealed a new cult to Haipou Jadonang and Rani Gaidinlu. Jadonang did not live to see its culmination, on his return journey Jadonang was arrested on 19th February, 1931 at Lakhipur by Assam police for declaring a Naga Raj at Kambiron. Jadonang was hanged on 29th August 1931 in Imphal on the wrong charge of murder.  But, the new cult was organized by Rani Gaidinlu and it came to be known as Heraka, Pure religion (Yunuo 1982).
Heraka means pure; Hera means smaller deities; Ka means give up. No blood sacrifices and only worship of Tingwang, so it is monotheism. In fact Heraka is not a departure from the traditional Zeliangrong people, but a rational improvement on it. Those who can obey the authentic principle of Heraka religion will be blessed good fortune in their life and also the immortal souls of good doers will go to God’s kingdom(Heaven) is the main philosophy of Heraka religion. They use an earring as a symbol of Heraka believer.

The Zeliangrong people believe in the existence of one supreme God locally recognized as Tingwang who is the creator of the Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, Water, Air, Human, Animals and all living things.( Ramkhui Newme 1991) Tingwang means the Heavenly God, or God of the sky or Lord of the Universe. He is eternal, no beginning and no end, source of life, giver of the soul and the ultimate goal of the human soul. Thus, Heraka people believe in Him only.
Rani Gaidinliu gave the following instructions/teachings to her people in the course of her religious reform movement.

In her first phase of teaching, Rani Gaidinlu told her people to offer sacrifices only to Tingwang. In this phase blood sacrifice was allowed.   (To be contd)

Source: The Sangai Express

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