Revitalizing History: Naoria Phulo

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By M C Arun

History writings of the 20th century Manipur were full of contradictions, full of controversies and full of conflicting views. It was the first half of the century when the British colonial rule (princely state) gave birth to a new breed of ideas that contradict with the age-old feudal ideology. It was a time when the kings – once called Lainingthou – became powerless in their own State. The Maichous and Mainous of the then political system were replaced by new class of intellectuals who got higher education outside the State. Some of them were the native vanguards of the British colonial rule; some were influenced by Indian Freedom Struggle in a way or another. Still some of them were much more concerned with Manipur’s identity in a situation of powerlessness. They started looking for every possible way to find a difference from India and westernization.  In search of a new identity, some found a point of time when the Meiteis became Hinduized. Some found a future state of affairs in which Manipuris are free and liberated from British colonialism. Still some liked to integrate with the Indian freedom movement under MK Gandhi. Yet they were all out to negate the then existing system of feudalism and colonialism. That sense of negation to the then existing system in which the King is powerless helped create a double burden on the people of two masters – king and his master.

On the other hand, there were close contact between the Meiteis and the Bengalis in a colonial setting. The peasantry based Meiteis of Cachar felt alienated when the Bengalis played an upper hand in the colonial administration in Cachar after the Kingdom of Cachar was defeated.  Further the Bengali chauvinism of linguistic and religious superiority compelled some Meiteis to reevaluate Hinduization which occurred in Manipur. The two points of time are, however, different. When the Meitei society embraced Hinduism, the King of Manipur could defeat internal and external forces and could make the State to emerge as a Stronger Manipur consisting of various religious, ethnic groups. The King did not force other ethnic groups to merge into the Meitei caste system which was newly created. The King had a strong sense of self-confidence and was a true sovereign power. When some of the Meiteis tried to re-assess the historical moment of religious synthesis to give birth to Manipuri Vaishnavism, the king of Manipur was a king with limited powers in the Indirect British Colonial framework; it occured when the people of Manipur was in confusion to choose ways to move out of the colonial yoke.

The responses to colonial rule are of different colors in Manipur. Political responses are loud and clear, though there is much confusion among the newly emerged middle class.  The cultural responses that had been more discussed are of two kinds – one originated in Manipur mainly against the king’s atrocities in the name of religious practices; and another originated from Cachar where the Meiteis developed a sense of hatred to Bengali chauvinism. These two responses are confined only in the religious domain. There is another dimension of cultural response targeting westernization. This third dimension of cultural response is less paid attention by the people as well as the historians.

The historians pay much attention to what they term as Revivalism, Revitalization. The history of revivalist writings shows that such writings deal mainly with the one, founded by Naoria Phulo. There are only a few detailed and systematic works on the movement, which originated in Manipur as a response to the direct atrocities of the kings and his men. Like many other historians, Professor Naorem Joykumar, in his recently published book, Religious Revitalisation Movement in Manipur, enquires into the issue of this cultural challenge. And he dissects the history and society of the colonial period to the tune of Antony Wallace and his idea of Revitalization.  Naorem Joykumar assumes (a) the historical event in early 18th century of Hinduization was part of Indian colonialism;

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