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     Volume 8 Issue 79 | July 24, 2009 |

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Beauty in Diversity

Tithi Farhana

Manipuri dance.

The Manipuris migrated to Bangladesh during the reign of Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (1764-1789) and the process was accelerated at the time of the Manipuri-Burmese war. By the time the war with Burma ended, Manipur was colonised by the Burmese invaders for about seven years. King Chourajit Singh, along with a large number of his Manipuri subjects, moved to Bangladesh at that time. At present they live in different places of Sylhet such as Kamalganj, Sreemongal, Kulaura and Baralekha thanas of Moulvi Bazar district; Chunarughat Thana of Habiganj district and Chhatak thana of Sunamganj district. Manipuris are classified into two distinct races--the Bishnupriya and the Meiteis. The former group of the people is of Indo-Aryans origin and the later identifies themselves as a Kuki-Chin branch of the Mongolian stock.

The Meiteis came in Manipur from the east, on the other hand the Bishnupriyas entered Manipur from the west. There is a legend prevalent in a purana or puya called "Khumal Purana" on the origin of the name Meitei and Bishnupriya. According to the purana, the conversion of Meiteis to Hinduism was initiated by Shri Santidas Babaji in 18th century at the instance of the king Shri Pamhaiba who wanted to link his subjects with the Aryan culture. The Aryans, the followers of Lord Vishnu, however refused to acknowledge the initiation.

Bishnupriyas who live in the political boundary of Assam, Tripura, Myanmar and Bangladesh are a fraction of the people who migrated from Manipur during 18th and 19th century due to the Burmese attack. After seven years of devastation (1819-1826), some went back to their land and those who couldn't, settled in their new places. The major settlements are in Silchar in Assam, Komolpur in Tripura and Sylhet in Bangladesh.

The Meitei society has shared some similarities with the Nagas and Kukis. The Meiteis had a feudal Kingdom since 33 AD under the Ningthouja Dynasty, which still exist now. The term Meitei now refers to four social groups-- the Meitei marup (which believes in only Meitei culture and God), Meitei goura (which believes in both Meitei and Hindu gods), the Meitei Brahmins (locally called Bamons) and the Meitei Muslims (called Meitei Pangal or just Pangal). All of them have Meiteilon as their mother tongue.

The social order of the Manipuris is patriarchal. The father is the chief of the family and is the sole authority over his possessions; after his death, the responsibility of the family falls on the shoulder of the eldest son. The women are treated at the same level with their male counterpart. The traditional house of the Manipuris is called Inchau, which is made of wood and bamboo fenced by Khapak, a kind of hemp plant with the fibres of the hemp at the top. Corrugated iron is also used to build houses. Traditional Bishnupriyas are proud to build their houses in the traditional way, although modern buildings are also found in the Bishnupriya Manipuri locality.


A Manipuri boy in traditional attire. Maharas. Joydev.


Even though the Manipuris were converted to Hinduism in the sixteenth century, elements of their pre-Hindu religion have survived. Bishnupriya Manipuri thought is identical with Hinduism in the form of Vaishnvism, which is associated with the School of Sri-Chaytanya.

A meitei manipuri woman.

Almost half of the Meiteis follow Sanamahism. There are some individuals who follow religions like Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith. Sanamahism is still followed and worshiped by people even though they are partially converted to Christianity and Hinduism in the 17 and 18 the centuries. In the later part of their history, when Manipur fell into the hands of the British, missionaries were brought to the hills. The first such conversion took place at Ukhrul in the eastern hills of manipur in 1894. The Manipuri Muslims or "Meitei Pangals" settled in the Manipur Valley during the 17th century. They are called "Pangans" as derived from Bengal (Bangan then Pangan), the place from where they migrated.

Historical evidence suggests that at the beginning of eighteen century an alteration in the diet of the Manipuris took place, mainly due to Hinduism. The favoured food among the Meiteis is rice, fish and a lot of vegetables. A popular Manipuri cuisine is "Ngari", fermented preserved fish. Due to the fermentation involved, Ngari has a sharp smell and taste, and is principally used in a dish called 'Eromba'.

The Meitei Diaspora around the world love Ngari and Nga Ayaiba. Partly due to the lack of any oil in its preparation, and partly due to it being sun-dried, Nga ayaiba has a distinct pungent smell and taste. It is used in low quantities in many Meitei dishes and is primarily used as a flavour enhancer. Another item contains "Hawaizar" or preserved soya-beans. Soya-bean is boiled in low heat for a time, washed, packed in leaves and is left to cool down for several days where it ferments. It is distributed wrapped in banana leaves.

Since the mid-nineteenth century when the Manipuri Bishnupriyas and Manipuri Meiteis settled in Bangladesh, Raslila festival has been observed in Madhabpur Juramandav in Kamalganj upaziala of Moulvibazar. According to Vaishnavite scriptures, Raslila means the amorous play of Radha and Krishna with milkmaids of Vrindaban. It reveals the metaphysical love of Radha and Krishna and of the Gopis' devotion to Krishna, the incarnation of God. According to Manipuri pundits, it is celebrated at the full-moon Kartik (November-December).

A Manipuri woman in traditional dress.

The "Sarit -Sarak" is a form of martial art, which is very important among the Meetei people. The Sarit Sarak is quite distinct from other martial art forms. It is simply flawless in its evasive and offensive action, as compared to any other existing martial art of the same school. The history of Thang-ta and Sarit-Sarak can be traced to the 17th century. Thang-ta involves using a sword or spear against one or more opponents. Sarit-Sarak is the technique of fighting against armed or unarmed opponents, but on many occasions there is a combined approach to the training of these martial arts. It was used with great success by the Manipuri kings to fight against the British for a long time. After the British occupation of the region, martial arts were banned, but post-1950s saw the resurgence of these arts. Horse-Polo was originated from the Manipur Valley of Northeast India almost more than 1000 years ago. The original name of the game was Sagol Kangjei; sagol stands for horse and kangjei stands for hockey stick.

The earliest pearl of Manipuri literature is Ougri, a lyrical verse, which is believed to have been sung in the honour of the sun god in 33 AD on the coronation ceremony of the Manipuri king Pakhangba. But the first written Manipuri literature was found in a copper plate, which is though of the 8th century The history of Manipuri literature took a new turn in 1975 with the formation of 'Bangladesh Manipuri Sahitya Sangsad' and the publication of Manipuri literary magazine 'Dipanvita'. Bangladesh Manipuri Sahitya Sangsad publishes an irregular journal named 'Meira' (flame). Many other Manipuri organisations have also been publishing literary journals such as 'Epom', 'Shajibu', 'Mitkapthokpa' and 'Khollao'.

In 1982, Bangladesh Manipuri Sahitya Sangsad published a book of Manipuri poems 'Basanta Kunnipalaji Leibang', which is the first of its kind in Bangladesh. In 1990, it published another book 'Bangladesher Manipuri Kabita' containing 20 Manipuri poems of 10 selected Manipuri poets living in Bangladesh. Subsequently, two other books of Manipuri poems 'Myang Mapei Marakta' and 'Wakhalji Nachom' were published. Some books on Manipuri culture have also been published in Bangla. At present, Manipuri literature is growing very fast. But Manipur and the Manipuri people who are living in Bangladesh are facing a growing threat to their very existence because of the Tipaimukh dam that Indian government has planned to build. The Manipuri people need increased attention from the government to save their lives from the clutches of unplanned development.



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