Manipur History - Propagating Controversy

Amid the controversy sparked off by Union home minister on the history of Manipur during his recent visit to the state, one concern is the silence of the defenders of the Meitei faith.

ByRK Nimai

Updated 10 Jan 2023, 2:40 pm

Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Manipur (File photo)
Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Manipur (File photo)

The Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) reacted sharply to a small portion of the speech of Union Home Minister Amit Shah during his recent visit to Manipur on January 6. The MPCC alleged that Amit Shah had distorted the history of Manipur by stating that Arjuna of Mahabharata married a woman from Manipur, and their sons participated in the battle of Kurukshetra.

This is not a new claim as in 2018 at Madhavpur, Porbandar, Gujarat, our chief minister had also mentioned that we came from Northeast bordering China from the girl’s (bride’s) side so please make us feel great as Lord Krishna kidnapped our girl and we had not come to quarrel but for the marriage and during Lord Krishna time there was no Assam, Arunachal Pradesh or Manipur in the northeast and the country was one.

Later on, the country was divided politically and socially and only after Godsend Narendra Modi became the PM was a united India forged. Similarly on January 24, 2022, Dr Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief in Imphal stated, “Manipur has been contributing to India’s history since the time of Mahabharat".

Thus Amit Shah's statement is nothing but a continuation of a false narrative. The only difference was that during the earlier two incidents there was strong condemnation in the attempt to rewrite the history of Manipur while on the most recent one, except for the MPCC, all others including the chauvinistic Meitei groups seem to be keeping quiet. In the second instance, there were demands for the resignation of our CM, while in the last, an apology was demanded from the RSS.

There was even an attempt to deride the objections of the MPCC in the social media referring to the “A Short History of Manipur” by RK Jhalajit Singh focussing on page 7, therein where reference was made to Manipur in the Mahabharat.

The author of the book never mentioned that the present day Manipur is the Manipura of Mahabharata, but in fact stated that all the incidents in the Mahabharat are not historical and were mixed with fiction. If one goes through this page carefully, it was mentioned that Chitrangada returned to Manipura city.

Manipura of Mahabharata is a city not a kingdom or state. The gentleman who brought this reference perhaps just hasn’t gone through the book he was referring to, though he made efforts to ridicule the claim of the MPCC.

It would be in the fitness of things to dwell a bit more on the Mahabharat relating to Manipura. In the Adi Parva of Mahabharat, during the pilgrimage of Arjuna after violating the code of honour for entering the chamber of Draupadi and Yudhishthira to take his weapon, reached Manipura and married Chitrangada, the princess of the kingdom.

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The kingdom was again mentioned in Ashvamedhika Parva of the epic. Like the Ramayana, Mahabharata has many versions and Manipura was not common in all, as in a few it was referred to as Manalura.

In the Mahabharata epic, Adi Parva traditionally has 19 sub-books and 236 chapters (Adhyayas) though the critical versions have 225 chapters only, omitting a few chapters.

Arjunavanavasa is the 16th sub-book and comes in chapter 215-220 of the traditional version.

Sloka 12 and 13 of Chapter 214 of Arjunavanavasa of the Adi Parva of the critical version is pertinent and read as “Crossing the kingdom of the Kalingas, the mighty one (Arjuna) proceeded, seeing on his way diverse countries and sacred spots and diverse delightful mansions and houses.

Beholding the Mahendra Mountain adorned with the ascetics, he went to Manipura proceeding along the sea shore”; which means that the city of Manipura can only be located by the sea shore. From the above, it is clear that as Mahendra ranges in Odisha as also Kalinga, Manipura of Mahabharata can only be located on the eastern seaside of Southern Odisha–Northern Andhra Pradesh.

Adi Parva is a part of an epic fiction as it has many verses adorned with many illogical statements - like a river fish swallowing a man’s sperm and giving birth to a human baby after nine months. Adi Parva of Mahabharata cannot be treated as history as rightly stated by RK Jhalajit in his book, though some events incorporated therein may have historical roots.

In the nineteenth century, Sir Monier Monier-Williams, Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University in his “A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European languages first published in 1899, at Page 775 of the 2005 Edition defines “Manipura” as “name of a town in Kalinga situated on the seashore” giving reference to both Mahabharata and Kalhana’s Rajatarangini.

With the explanation given in the foregoing paras, only a bhakta will continue to harp that the present Manipur is the Manipura of Mahabharata. Manipur as a name for Meitrabak came into usage only from the time of Pamheiba (1709-1751). Before that this land was never known by the name Manipur, so linking this place with the Manipura of Mahabharata is stretching it a bit too far. It is only those who try to be near the present powers to either harp on it or support such arbitrary and illogical statements. To be fair, Hindu preachers as per their practice try to propagate Hinduism by taking in the original local deities of a place into the Hindu pantheon.

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In Manipur, Atiya Sidaba was referred to as an incarnation of Mahadeva, Pakhangba and Sanamahi as that of Ganesha and Kartikeya, Nongpok Ningthou as that of Mahadeva, Panthoibi of Durga, etc. Even in Myanmar on the east of the old capital Prome, the peak in the hill range is called Mount Meru, the abode of Shiva. That is the difference between Hinduism and the other religions like Christianity or Islam, where the new religion totally uproots the old belief systems while in Hinduism it literally integrates the old Gods and belief with the Hindu pantheons and beliefs. This system perhaps makes proselytise without much bloodshed not like the West Asian religions.

It would not be out of place to mention that in the history of Manipur reference to Vishnu was made only during the reign of Meidingu Kyamba (1467-1508) when after the conquest of Kyaang or Kyaang Khambat, a Shan Principality, in a joint expedition with his ally Choupha Khek Khomba, King of Pong another Principality of the Shan; when the latter gifted a golden idol of Lord Vishnu on Garuda, sometime in 1470. As everyone in Manipur knows, the statue was installed in Lamangdong which later on came to be known as Bishnupur and the service of a Brahmin was requisitioned and worship started.

The King and his subjects did not worship the idol but was worshipped by the Brahmins who migrated in numbers during that period due to Muslim domination in north India. It was much later that Meidingu Charairongba (1697-1709) was formally initiated to Vaishnavism in 1704 by a Brahmin named Krishnacharya alias Rai Vanamali. His son Meidingu Pamheiba was also formally initiated to Hinduism in 1737 and he made it the state religion despite opposition from various sections.

However, the form of Vaishnavism is either Nimandi or Ramandi. It was only during the reign of Rajrishi Bhagyachandra (1764-1798) that the Chaitainya school of Vaishnavism was adopted in which Lord Govinda or Krishna was worshipped after the installation of the idol in 1780 and the performance of the Maharas.

There is an effort to propagate a false narrative that Bharatvarsa was a kingdom in the olden Vedic days which covers the entire present day India now lovingly called “Akhand Bharat” by its proponents, which is a historical fallacy. Bharat or the land of the Bharata is in fact then a small region where the Bharata tribe settled which is by the side of the Ganga River the boundaries which change with time and the kingdom becoming bigger due to conquest by the kings but it never encompasses the whole of the present India.

Thus, the statement that the present day Manipur is the Manipura of Mahabharata, though without any historical basis has a political agenda and these leaders will continue to harp though no sane person will believe or treat it seriously. The joke is on those who try to justify the statement without even understanding the issue. People who do not know the principles of historiography or even the difference between history and myths or for that matter pre-history, proto-history or history are trying to justify the illogical statement trying to muddle the issue..

Despite objections with proof as in the foregoing paragraphs, these leaders will continue to state repeatedly that the present Manipur corresponds to the Manipura of Mahabharata with the hope that repeated lies will make it feel as truth and for them political expediency is more important than truth. With followers who never question their leaders, they will be encouraged. One concern is the silence of the defenders of the Meitei faith. Have they become the “inmates of dead air” or as Prof Rajendra called “Prisoners of Silence”?

(The views expressed are personal)

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First published:

Tags:

manipur historyamit shahmanipur congressmeiteimpccmahabharatmanipura

RK Nimai

RK Nimai

The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur

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