Who is this man? He seems to have provoked the anger and fury of Meiteis both Vaishnavites and of indigenous faith. He looks like a much sought-after speaker in Bible sessions mostly in the hill areas. He is a Meitei turned Christian pastor with some oratorical skills and he simply loves to ridicule the traditional rituals and culture of certain communities, including the Meitei to press home his Christian message. Given the religious divide in the state, many people like it when a Meitei pastor ridicules his own community’s rituals and cultural practices.
Likewise, it is not uncommon among people who convert either to Christianity or newer faiths to forget their roots, culture and traditional practices. Yet in recent times, the realisation of the need of projecting a unique identity in its own right for every community has compelled most communities to relive and revive the age-old cultural tradition inherent in the yearly festivals.
In the hills today, we are witnessing an explosion of traditional festivals among the various communities. Many in the hills have begun to realise wherever they go they need to show their unique culture to the world. Yet, the new converts, including some Meiteis, do not seem to understand that it is their roots with which they are going to identify themselves.
Christianity has become a major faith in the state. Reverend William Pettigrew was the first foreign missionary to arrive in Manipur on February 6, 1894. After six months of working among the Meitei people, he was not allowed to continue his work in the valley. This happened when the then Political Agent Major Maxwell returned from a furlough.
As he found the Hindu Meiteis were alarmed by Pettigrew's work, he immediately ordered the missionary to stop working and leave Imphal. Having wandered through some of the neighbouring villages, he finally came back to Ukhrul and decided that it was the most suitable place for his missionary work. In 1901, the two communities of the Kukis and the Nagas were the first to have received Christianity. Today, most of the hill tribes have converted to Christianity.
A sizable number of Meiteis, mostly among the poorer sections of the society have converted to Christianity, while the majority remains Vaishnavite Hindus. But, the latest craze is towards the indigenous faith. Yet, one must realise that the particular brand of Hinduism being followed and practiced here is much too different from that of North India.
The ancient culture and value system of the Meiteis are deeply rooted in the Hindu Vaishnavism which is practised here. Pluralism is inherent in the Meitei society and it is evident in its culture and religious practices. Anyone who tries to negate this pluralistic tradition and culture would be at peril.
In such a backdrop, Meiteis have every right to take offence to the ridiculing of a traditional ritual that too with a spit by the said person. If the person has a problem with the practice of cleasing oneself by sprinkling water using Tairen leaves and with fire after returning from a cremation, it is his problem. It is a community’s tradition and culture and he has no business ridiculing it. But, what we are worried about is the level of outrage from the Meiteis and the radical response from the Christian community. The pastor is nobody and he will fade with time.