Manipur and the Ningthouja clan origin

The people of the kingdom of Manipur had been in possession of the essentials of organic synthesis of a unified people. As a result of such synthesis, the Manipuris have been carrying on their pride and reverence to their motherland Manipur. Therefore, it is their unavoidable and inevitable task to counteract any sort of interpretations which are contrary to the vindication and encouragement of Manipur and the people of Manipur.

ByMaheshsana Rajkumar

Updated 14 Sept 2023, 4:42 pm

Imphal, Manipur (Photo: IFP)
Imphal, Manipur (Photo: IFP)

The country known as Myanmar (Burma) in Southeast Asia borders Manipur in the north, which was known as “Ava” to the Manipuri in ancient times. It would not be wrong to say that without Manipur's history, the history of Burma is incomplete. At the same time, Manipur's history is incomplete without the history of Myanmar (Burma). To unravel the historical account of ancient Manipur, the study and analysis of Burmese history become essential. 

Manipur was an antique kingdom in the ancient Southeast Asia. It was formed in 33 CE. Before the formation of the kingdom of ancient Manipur, the Kshatriya Solar Sakya kingdom in the Himalayan foothills (Kapilavastu) was incorporated by the mighty Mauryans in their Magadha Empire. It was clearly stated by AL Basham in his book, The Wonder that was India, p. 47.

The two kings of the Solar Sakya kingdom with their large hordes of armies, common men and domestic animals passed Manipur and arrived at the confluence of the Chindwin and Irrawaddy basins and founded the first-ever kingdom of Southeast Asia known as Tagaung kingdom.

The first king of the Sakya dynasty, Abhi Raja founded Tagaung kingdom in 850 BCE. The second king, Dhaja Raja arrived at and settled in the realm of ancient Manipur in 550 BCE and later founded his Maurya kingdom extending through Moirang, Kabaw Valley and Kale region up to the Chindwin River with Rajagraha or Yazagyo as its capital at Kale Township.

The king Dhaja Raja ruled both the kingdoms of Tagaung and Maurya simultaneously and 16 of his descendants were said to have reigned. After the reign of those 16 kings in the two kingdoms, conflicts in the reigning family and eventful invasion of the Shans brought about the dissolution of this realm.

R Bischoff writes, “Some degree of migration from India to the region of Tagaung and Mogok in Upper Myanmar had taken place through Assam and later through Manipur, but the “hinterland” was of course much less attractive to traders than the coastal regions with their easy access by sea. A tradition of Myanmar says that Tagaung was founded by Abhiraja, a prince of the Sakyans (the tribe of the Buddha), who had migrated to upper Myanmar from Nepal in the ninth century BCE. The city was subsequently conquered by the Chinese in approximately 600 BCE, and Pagan and Prome were founded by refugees fleeing southward. In fact, some historians believe that, like the Myanmar, the Sakyans were a Mongolian rather than an Indo-Aryan race, and that the Buddha’s clansmen were derived from Mongolian stock.”

Colonel GE Gerini in his book, Researches on Ptolemy’s Geography of Eastern Asia: Further India and Indo-Malay Archipelago, 1909, p 745, says ‘According to Burmese Royal Chronicle (“Maharajavamsa”) Dhajaraja, a king of the Sakya race, settled at Manipura, about 550 B.C., and later on conquered Tagaung (Old or Upper Pagan)’. The original account was written by Claudius Ptolemy in Greek at Alexandria around AD 150.

According to another source, ‘At about 550 BCE another band of Kshatriya from Manipur, led by Raja Dhwaja conquered Hastinapur, sixteen kings of this second dynasty reigned. Next band of powerful Kshatriyas of Mauriyan dynasty (of Ashoka the great) marched from Manipur to Burma; built a city in upper Irawadi, ruins still exist, now corruptly known as Murera. Before their penetration Mauryans stayed in Manipur; the Moirang principality was named after them; Mauriya+Ang= Mauriyang>Moirang’. The Raja afterwards moved to Male, married Queen Nagashin, wife of Bhinnaka who was the last descendant of Abhi Raja dynasty, and they went northwards to the ancient capital Tagaung, now known as Old Pugan.

John GR Forlong in his Encyclopedia of Religions, Vol. 3, 1906, recorded from the time of Dhaja Raja down to the 11th century successive waves of Indian migration passed into the valley of Irawadi, bringing Sanskrit letters, legends, religions, and civilizations.

Mauryas belonged to Sakyan race. Every subsequent dynasty that reigned in Burma claimed descent from the Mauryas or Mayuras through the princes who founded Tagong and Old Pagan; hence the Burmese kings placed the peacock (Mayura) on their coat-of-arms, and this bird became the national emblem of the country Burma.

However, one may wonder why Sakya/Mauriya Kshatriyas could not prosper staying in Manipur than Burma? Well, geography played most vital role for prosperity of any kingdom; land locked tiny valley and hills of Manipur had less to offer for ambitious princes in comparison to Burma’s vast fertile plains of Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers; for ages Irrawaddy was a vital trade route connecting the sea ports, international trade ships easily reached up till the heart of Burma. Thus, Burma was easily connected with the outside world for development and prosperity, whereas Manipur has no such geographical advantage.

The Indian settlers no doubt in a few generations, became merged in the mass of Mongoloid tribes whom they found in the country. But later, all who joined them were admitted to brotherhood, with the proud designation of Brahma. Thus, the Burman people many ages ago were formed into a nation by the union of Mongoloid tribes, who then occupied the land which is still the home of their race.

Myanmar research scholar Thin Thin Aye based on the claim of Burmese Chronicle “Hmannan Yazawin Taw Gyi” (The Glass Palace Chronicle), in p. 497, wrote Manipur in ancient times was a village of Mogaung, a territory of Myanmar.

Renowned linguist Randy J LaPolla writes, “In Manipur, there have been Meithei speakers for at least a thousand years, having moved there from Burma. Meithei is written with a Bengali-based Indic orthography and is heavily influenced by Indo-Aryan contact (Chelliah 1997). Aside from being spoken by about one million people, Meithei has become a lingua franca for many other ethnic groups in Manipur, and this has affected the linguistic form that it takes in each area where it is spoken, a situation we see also in the cases of Mandarin Chinese and Burmese.”

According to Lt General Sir Arthur Phayre, the traditions of the Burmese and the present remains and names of ancient cities, render it probable that early communication between Gangetic India and Tagaung existed, and was carried on through Eastern Bengal and Manipur, rather than through Thahtun or Pegu generally.

Most Southeast Asian people were originally animist, engaged in ancestors, nature, and spirits worship. These belief systems were later supplanted by Hinduism and Buddhism after the region, especially coastal areas, came under contacts with Indian subcontinent during the 1st century. Indian Brahmins and traders brought Hinduism to the region and made contacts with local courts.

Local rulers converted to Hinduism or Buddhism and adopted Indian religious traditions to reinforce their legitimacy, elevate ritual status above their fellow chief counterparts and facilitate trade with South Asian states. They periodically invited Indian Brahmins into their realms and began a gradual process of Indianization in the region.

Indian culture was also making its way into the region of Southeast Asia along with these successive waves of migration. The expansion of Indian culture into these areas was given the term Indianization.

The term was coined by French archaeologist, George Coedes in his work, ‘Histoire ancienne des etats hindouises d’Extreme -Orient (The Indianized States of Southeast Asia)’. He defined it as the expansion of an organized culture that was framed upon Indian originations of royalty, Hinduism and Buddhism and the Sanskrit dialect.

There is no doubt that the spread of these two Indian religions had occupied the adherence of Southeast Asian indigenous beliefs covering even the remote island areas and thus the region began a gradual process of Indianization. Indian Brahmins and the Monks were invited by local rulers to live in their realms and have transforming local polities to become more Indianized, blending Indian and indigenous traditions. Sanskrit and Pali became the elite language of the region which effectively made Southeast Asia part of the Indosphere.

Colonel GE Gerini wrote Rajagrha, commonly Yazagyo, village exists also in West Burma in the Kale township and Upper Chindwin district. The “Upper Burma Gazetteer” Part II, vol. III, p. 393, speaks of it as having been “the ancient capital of almost forgotten kings, as it was in more recent years of the Sawbwa.” Rajagrha is a name, however, applied to Kassay (Kaseh, i.e. Manipur). The word “Kaseh” is described as a state, a designation of Manipur.

One should not be in the least surprised at finding so many Sanskrit names of peoples, regions, and cities transplanted here from India, especially from its northern part, and often distributed in a similar topographical order as they originally occurred there. This latter circumstance is peculiarly interesting. It constitutes, perhaps the most striking example of what we may be permitted to term toponymic mimicry that we know of.

For the present, we are concerned only with that stream of emigration which flowed into Northern Indo-China from Northern India. That such a movement occurred is amply proved by the fact that during the three or four centuries preceding the Christian Era, we find Indu dynasties, established by adventurers claiming descent from the Kshatriya potentates of Northern India, ruling in Upper Burma, in Siam and Laos, in Yunnan and Tonkin, and even in most parts of South-Eastern China.

From the Brahmaputra and Manipur to the Tonkin Gulf, we can trace a continuous string of petty States ruled by those scions of the Kshatriya race, using the Sanskrit or the Pali languages in official documents and inscriptions, building temples and other monuments after the Indu style, and employing Brahman priests for the propitiatory ceremonies connected with the Court and State.

Among such Indu monarchies, we may mention those of Tagoung, Upper Pugan, Prome and Sen-wi (Theinni), in Burma; of Muang Hang, C’hien Rung, Muang Khwan, and Dasarna (Luang P’hrah Bang), in the Lau country; and of Agranagara (Hanoi) and Campa in Tonkin and Annam.

Manipur Brahmanas were known to Burmese as “Ponnas” and Kshatriyas as “Kathe”. It is striking to note that most of the Manipuri kings belonged to Kshatriya class. The tradition preserved in the Burmese chronicles also affirms the Kshatriyas colonization of Manipur and Burma dating back to several centuries before Christ.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy in his prose article namely, “India-Its Boundary and History”, describes the geographical boundary of India, anciently called “Bharata Varsha” after the name of a monarch called “Bharata” is bounded on its south by the sea; on the east partly by sea, and partly by ranges of mountains separating it from ancient China, or rather the countries now called Assam, Cassay and Arracan; on the north by a lofty and extensive chain of mountains which divide it from Tibet; and on the west partly by ranges of mountains, separating India from ancient Persia and extending towards the Western sea, above the mouth of the Indus, and partly by this sea itself. It lies between the 8th and 35th degrees of north latitude, and the 67th and 93rd degrees of east longitude.

The existence of Brahmanic kingdom in Manipur before Common Era is recorded in Col GE Gerini’s book. He writes, “Since the Kalingas and the Andhras appear to have been, in the 3rd century B.C., masters of the valley of the Ganges from the frontier of Magadha to the sea, it is easy to conceive on the one part that Kalinga could penetrate into Western Burma through Silhet, Manipur, and the Kubo valley, and established thereat a dominion called Mudu-Kalinga or Tri Kalinga.

After the fall of three districts of Tugma, Triglypton and Mareura, the Dravidian power in Manipur continued under Brahmanic rule and Tugma or Tummu (Tamu) in the Chindwin valley represents the chief city of the district of Manipur. Kalinga in ancient times had close commercial and cultural contact with Burma. It is also an admitted fact that Ashoka invaded Kalinga to capture her flourishing ports.

Dr Sai San Aik, a renowned Myanmar researcher and author of the book, “Basic History of Multiracial Burma 1980: Indianization and Burmanization”, 2015, recorded the Hindu account of ancient Myanmar (Burma). It is necessary in today’s context to understand the realm of ancient Southeast Asia, including the Hindu influence felt on her neighbouring kingdom of Manipur. Dr Sai San Aik, citing U Than Tun (Shwe Bo) p. 9, wrote Hindu settlements were established at Irrawaddy Basin before the first century AD. There were many Hindu names given to places in Myanmar (Burma). The Hindi and Burmese names: Vishnu (Beikthano), Sriksetra (Prome)/ (Puru/Pyu)/ Pyay, Suddhama (Thaton), Ramavati (Thaungdwin), Utkala (Yangon), Sravasti (Tharawady), Maurya (Mweyin) and Hansavati (Pe-gu).

The longest river in Burma is called Irrawaddy. Name and power came together. Irrawaddy and Indian (Brahmans and Ksatriyas) came together. Ravi River is in Punjab, its old name was Irrawaddy. First settlers at Irrawaddy Basin could have been Brahmans and Ksatriyas from Punjab, hence the name Irrawaddy was chosen, and the timing could be when the name Irrawaddy was still official in Punjab.

When Indian settlers came, there was already Tai (Shan) town called Ta-kong (Drum-ferry town) on the bank of Nam-kio; therefore the river has two official names, up to today. As more and more Indians moved to Irrawaddy Basin, the place became known as Brahma Desh; this showed that Hindu (Brahmanism) civilization has moved to the Irrawaddy Basin. Although Indian settlers came to Irrawaddy by road, the timing could be the same time as Indians controlling Funan (present Cambodia), according to G Coedes, and beginning of the third century BCE, Maurya Emperors. The relation between Irrawaddy and Punjab of India is worth studying.

Irrawaddy is a Sanskrit Elephant name (Irravat+naddy=Irrawaddy). (Indra Devas’s Elephants= Eairavat and Eairavathi).

Three Pyu (Pru) cities so far excavated were Vishnu, Sriksetra, and Halin. A small lingam has been found in Halin. The so-called Pyu coins (1st century Indian Traders money coins) have svastika, the Sun and the Moon on them. Aung Thaw 1962 called them Pyu coins, but Dr Than Tun (Myanmar History told in Pictures, 2004, p. 111) rejected it, and suggested they were Hindu traders coins either from Funan–Cambodia or India.

The tombstone inscriptions at Halin have Sanskrit names. Pyu (Puru) kings’ names were Surya Vikrama, Hari Vikrama, and Simba Vikrama. At Sriksetra one king’s name was Shri Prabhu Varman. These show that Pyu (Puru) are Indian in origin. Pyus were clearly Hindu. There are two schools of thought; Pyu were local people but used Hindu cultures. Pyu were Puru vanshi, were Indian Hindu origin, but living at Irrawaddy Basin for too long (since BCE 100) were recorded as local people. This is more likely.


From 1962 to date, the Bamar government official policy has been to intensify and upgrade Bamar nationalism. Therefore, all literature and history books have been nationalistic in nature and clearly biased towards majority Bamar race.

Censorship was rigid, not to honour Hinduism or Hindu lineage. Earlier Bamar history stated that “Bamar race started at Takong”. Later it changed, “Bamar race started at Kyaukse.” It changed again. Now, ‘Bamar race’s ancestors were Pyu, or Pyu were proto-Bamar”. Wordings are confusing because Pyu and Bamar were two different races.

Either Pyu (Puru) were local who took up Hindu culture or Pyu (Puru) were Indian origin, but clearly today Hindu and Buddhism (both are Indian cultures) were widely practiced in Burma; Indian culture is Myanmar’s heritage. Honouring the truth, the fact, is better than ignoring it. I for one believe that, it is time to honour and we should even be thankful to our Hindu and Buddhist heritage.

Because of the Bamar Government official nationalism policy, the same author in the same book, wrote about Pyu were Hindu, mentioned Pyu coins (omitting the coins’ Indian origin), and at the same time supports the saying of “Pyu were Proto-Bamar”. He went even further, to write: “Myanmar country has a long history beginning with the anthropoids (Myanmar Man) of 40 million years ago.”

Bamar became most numerous and got the power of the state. He went on to say “the civilization and culture of these early races (Pyu, Mon, Rakhine, and Bamar) were much indebted to India.

Indianization of Irrawaddy Basin started in BCE 100 to 1829, as recorded in Glass Palace Chronicles. Burmanization (removing Indianization) started from 1829 Glass Palace Chronicles, and thrived up to 2011. It’s time to have a wider scope, compare our notes to Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Mon people’.

Today, which one is Bamar race, where is Bamar race, it is practically a mixed race, (Chinese, Indian, Pyu, Bamar, Shan, Mon, Karen and many more) which can be identified by their DNA.

It’s time to reduce importance of the pureness of a race, to reduce Bamar nationalism, to reduce Burmanization, so that other ethnic groups will reduce their nationalism too, this will lead to the formation of a good Union, based on land, not on race. Union formed on basis of races has failed.

Indian Hinduism, Indian Buddhism, Indian migrations, all had much cultural influence on Irrawaddy Basin and the present Union of Myanmar. Indian cultures were brought to Burma, but Irrawaddy was not a colony of India politically. Irrawaddy Pyu (Puru) kinglets were small but independent.

It is a well established fact that Southeast Asia was culturally Hinduized or Brahmanized, Burma included. From Sanskrit, Mon script was born in the fifth century, Tai Yuan script existed in 7th century. Mon Buddhist monks and scripts were brought to Pu-gam in 11th century. Bamar script was a direct descendant of Mon script, but Bamar pronunciation is different, even though most words originated in Hindi or Sanskrit. Scholars need to know deeper than official presentations. Fama (Bamar) pronounces Sanskrit (Sa) & (Ra) as (Tha, Ta) & (Ya). When Fama word (Tha) is put back to (Sa), one will get back its Sanskrit origin (Thatana=Sasana), (Rangoon=Yangon). Some nationalist Bamar writers claimed that Bamar people have had written characters before 11th century, but they were Brahmi, not present Mon characters.

Similarly, the word Kathe for Manipur is derived from Pali word Khattiya meaning Kshatriya. The Bamars pronounced Sanskrit Sa for Ta and called Manipuri people “Kathe”, the Shans “Kassay” and the Chinese “Kie-sie”. The people of Manipur and the kingdom name were equally called Kassay/Kathe. The kingdom name “Manipur” was coined only in 1742. There were three major waves of Tai/Shan migration in Upper Myanmar and Manipur not to forget Yazagyo/Rajgriha located at Kabaw Valley (Maurya) in present Chin State of Upper Myanmar was the ancient capital of Kassay (Manipur) from 550 BCE onwards from the time of Sakya/Maurya ruler Dhaja Raja.

Firstly, the Tai migration in the region took place before Common Era (BCE) which is established from the account of GER Grant Brown in “Burma Gazetteer Upper Chindwin District Vol. A”, 1913, recorded Yazagyo or Kale chronicle is of unknown origin, embodying this legend, is in the district office. It contains a list of princes in which Indian names give way to Shan as early as 210 BC, when the kingdom is said to have been united by marriage with that of Mohnyin (Katha district) in the person of Saw Kan Twe, son of Kumonda Raja by the daughter of the Shan Mohnyin prince. This is the first instance of assimilation process by marriage of Tai/Shan with the Sakya/Maurya in Upper Myanmar before Common Era.

Secondly, a research journal authored by Myanmar Historical Commission, Yangon vice-chairman Sai Aung Tun titled “The Tai Ethnic Migration and Settlements in Myanmar” gave an account of Tai’s migration to Upper Myanmar, Manipur and Assam in 600 CE at the time of formation of the Shan States in Upper Myanmar.

Thirdly, the last major wave of Tai migration in Manipur happened during the reign of Sao Hsam Long Hpa (Samlungpha). The Tai Meitei is referred as Tai Kassay by the Shans and the kingdom of Manipur was Tainized/Shanized with the other ethnicities living in Manipur and were also called Kassay Shan/Kathe Shan.

Dr Sai San Aik recorded Sao Sam Long Fa (Samlungpha) took Shan Queens from Mong Kong. Sam Long Fa was supposed to pay tribute to Mong Mao Long, when there was no news, Sao Sam Long Fa with strong army marched (1332) to Mong Duarn Son Kham (Ahom), matters were sorted peacefully, he came back with all his army, back to Mong-Kong (Nam-Tee) in 1334 and died there, his soldiers never returned to Mong Mao and started their own kingdoms [Khamti, Putao, Tai Leang, Viangsur (=woontho)].

The black uniform worn by the Tai Leng army with red bands tied i.e., red head-dress, red waist band, red band on hand and end of trousers were also used by the fighters of Manipuri martial art (Thang Ta). In regard to the form or style of sword fighting there had been no difference between the Manipuri fighters and the fighters under the command of Mong Mao Chao Sam Long Pha.

Chao Sam Long Pha conquered 10 Tai Nuea dynasties and nine Shan States (Koo-Shan Pyi), including Songsop (Samjok). There were many mini-armies under his command, including small units of Tai Leng (now mostly those Tais who could not speak Tai language, as they had adopted themselves as (Tai Leng/Tai Neng/Tai Deng) or Red Shan (Shan Ni). At present, all of them are known as Tai Nuea. The History of Thaungdyut also known to Manipuris as Samjok shows the merging of Bagan dynasty (Tai) with the Kathe dynasty.

Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, Ningthouja Dynasty and ancient Manipur

In 33 CE the great civilizer, Nongda Lairen Pakhangba who was the descent of the Indo-Aryan Tagaung dynasty founded the kingdom of ancient Manipur. Before the formation of the ancient kingdom of Manipur a sizable number of Sakyas or Mauryas coming from the west on the one hand, and large number of Tai (Shan) coming from the east on the other and several other races like Pyus, Kanyans, Thets, Mons, and Khampas, settled together in the realm of ancient Manipur.

Nongda Lairen Pakhangba was an extraordinary gifted ruler. Before the prince became the ruler, his background was comparatively mysterious. The reforms he introduced during his reign laid the foundation of the social and political structure, cultural and religious pattern of the Meiteis. Perhaps, later historical and literary sources made an exaggerated praise of Pakhangba as every institution, law, reform and convention had been made to trace its origin to this prince. Had he been really innovative and reformative as it has been projected, Pakhangba perhaps had a high level of awareness in the political, social, religious and cultural affairs and his background must have connection with a superior culture or civilization.

On the other hand, Manipur being a link route of India and Southeast Asia was influenced by her geographic situation and the ecology in the shaping of her history and cultural development. The renowned historian Professor Gangmumei Kamei and great Scholar RK Jhalajit Singh have alluded the foundation of the Ningthouja Dynasty of Manipur to the ancient Aryan civilization of Upper Burma. According to their writeup, Nongda Lairen Pakhangba was the first ruler and maker of Manipur in the first century CE. Keeping into accounts several sources, they stated that Pakhangba was a prince of mysterious origin and gave their opinions regarding his origin and parentage which had ranged from being an Aryan prince of Upper Burma to an adventurer from Brahmaputra valley to the Himalayas to divine incarnate to put an end to anarchy in the land.

In minute examination of the origin of the Prince Pakhangba, it is certainly possible that he was the descent of the Indo-Aryan Royal Race of Tagaung Dynasty of Upper Burma.

Pakhangba was truly the maker of Manipur. He was the first coronated historical ruler who founded a new dynasty called Ningthouja, and the progenitor of a clan of the same name which was gradually evolved into the Meitei society, state and nation. Definitely at the coronation of the new king, the chiefs of the three major clans, Puleiromba of Angom clan, Langba Langmaiba of Luwang clan and Apanba of the Mangangs had already accepted his suzerainty over their clans. In a sense, the selection of Pakhangba as the ruler of the Meitei confederacy and Ningthouja dynasty was an instance of popular sanction for a king.

Therefore, the connection of Ningthouja dynasty of Manipur to the Tagaung dynasty was important, because successors of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba claimed lineage to the Ningthouja dynasty which was undoubtedly the resultant product of the Indo-Aryan ruling race and great origin of Upper Burma

The formation of the kingdom of Manipur was not the result of the struggle of a single group of people. Different racial stocks came from different directions successively without interruption before the beginning of Common Era (BCE) to the ancient Manipur.

The Tai people, the majority race among the different races took the leading role in the formation of the Kingdom of ancient Manipur in 33 CE. The kingdom was built up under the aegis of Indo-Aryan Tagaung royal ruling class known as Ningthouja Dynasty of which Nongda Lairen Pakhangba was the first king. The kingdom became the social, cultural and political centre in the ancient Southeast Asia. Those racial stocks may be named as follows: The Sakya/Maurya of the Kshatriya Solar race of Himalayan region, Khampa/Khamba from Kham region (Kang in Chinese) of Eastern Tibet.

There still exists a place in Northern Ladakh called Kang La (pass) a trekking route patronized by the Khampas. Pyu people or Puru Vanshi of Hindu origin, also Mon people belonging to Mon-Khmer group of Austroasiatic race and the majority Tai people of South Western China, Southwestern Tai Group (Northern Branch), Kanyan and Thet.

David Sangdong in his thesis, “A grammar of the Kadu (Asak) language”, 2012, writes on the Thet or Sak, it’s claimed that the Thet inhabited the upper part of the Irrawaddy valley and might have also spread into Manipur and become the ancestors of the Andro and Sengmai tribes. Luce also confirms this claim and says that the Thet or Sak languages were “once spread over the whole north of Burma, from Manipur perhaps to northern Yunnan.”

Luce considers the Kadu to be the earliest settlers of the region, saying “a sure sign of antiquity is when one finds a language, unmistakably fragmented, spoken by minorities in remote places, widely separated from each other by major languages.” Linguistically, there is a strong connection between Kadu and the Thet or Sak, who are scattered parts of Rakhine State and also across Bangladesh border. They are also sometimes refer to as “Thau Kadu” and “Thet Kadu”. 

Indeed, mention may be made of the contributions of the Tai people who were in possession of inherent characteristics, capabilities, wisdom, vision and peculiarities for the formation of a true kingdom and therefore it was not difficult for them to build up the royal ruling class Ningthouja Dynasty of the kingdom of Manipur.

During the beginning of the civilization in Southeast Asia they could command respect and honour from other races due to their war like and restless character, cultural perspectives, festivity moods, skills and intelligence in arts, martial arts, culture, literature and, the cultivation of Animism, Brahmanism, as well as Buddhism

Manipur was known as “Hsiao-P’o-lo-men” meaning Little Brahmans by the Chinese. A kingdom in which the Mi-no, i.e. Man-Kathe or Manipur River, rises according to the “Man-shu,” circa 860 A.D.

On this kingdom of the ‘Lesser Brahmans’ the “Man-shu” remarks that there no beef is eaten and that future events can be predicted. A Brahmin living then in the Magadha country was called brahmabandhu–a degraded Brahman. Brahmabandhu also means a person who is born of a brahmana father but whose activities are not up to the standard of the brahmanas. They chose astrology as profession and intermarry with other castes.

A region is Brahmanized when its population, or its rulers, accept Brahmins as the by right most eminent members of society. These populations, or these rulers, are not converted to a different religion and no converts are made to Vedic religion, or to any other specific religion promulgated by Brahmins. These populations or rulers are made to accept a vision of society in which Brahmins are highest because they have access to the supernatural.

An important instrument in the hands of the Brahmins is their knowledge of the Veda, a collection of texts which the vast majority of the population is not even allowed to hear recited, much less study. The Brahmanism spread in the South Asia, Southeast Asia and Far East were primarily due to its socio-political ideology with a variable religious dimension.


The Sanskrit epics Mahabharata and Ramayana are the two texts that also played a successful role in the transformation and spread of Brahmanism in the regions. Later in subsequent period Buddhism played an influential role in these regions.

The emergence of a new and unified culture

The demographic structure of the kingdom of ancient Manipur was composed of several races of the west and the east. These different races cultivated Buddhism, Brahmanism and Animism equally resulting in the emergence of a new and unified culture. Topographically and culturally, the realm of the ancient Manipur was the melting pot of Buddhism and Brahmanism of ancient Indian civilization.

The Buddhism peak in ancient India and Southeast Asia has made significant influence felt on Manipur, one of the olden land routes and gateway to Southeast Asia from mainland India. The article by Wangam Somorjit titled, “World’s Largest Mandala: From Manipur and Carl Jung’s Archetype of the Self”, writes on the discovery of six giant mandalas in the valley of Manipur is also made with Google Earth. The six giant mandalas, viz., Maklang mandala termed the world’s largest mud mandala, Sekmai mandala, Heikakmapal mandala, Phurju twin mandalas and Sagolmang mandala are located on the western bank of the Iril River. Another two fairly large mandala shaped geoglyph at Nongren and Keinou are also reported from Manipur valley, India, in 2009. They are named Nongren mandala and Keinou mandala.

The write up of Somorjit on the mandalas is strong evidence indicating Buddhism religion flourished in ancient Manipur for centuries at some point of time in her long history. There is no doubt  presence of Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism or a further evolution of Mahayana religion, sometimes called Vajrayana (the Vehicle of the Thunderbolt), developed about 500–600 CE in India. An offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism, the origins of Tantric Buddhism can be traced to ancient Hindu and Vedic practices as well, including esoteric ritual texts designed to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual breakthroughs.

We need to analyze Buddhism religion do not allow independent growth of animism as clearly shown in the example of Burmese Buddhist king Anawrahta suppression of over five centuries of Naga-worship or the worship of serpent cult, with the Aris as its priests in 11th century CE. The Tantric Buddhism in Manipur may have curtailed free growth of Animistic Sanamahi religion. The Mandala though originated from Buddhism but Hindu took the symbols.

After the decline of Tantric Buddhism, Manipur once again became a Brahmanic kingdom with animistic Sanamahi faith equally flourished. Sanamahi religion can be regarded as a sect of Brahmanic Hinduism and Manipuri Vaishnavism or in simple word the prevalence of dual religious worship or religious syncretism in Manipur. It can also be interpreted as the cultured group of people that settled in ancient Manipur probably conceived a localized Brahmanical faith mixed with Buddhism which in turn mixed with Tantric cult.

The mandalas found in Manipur is also similar to Hindu mandala symbol i.e., Maklang mandala represents symbol of Shree Narvan Yantra. In Hinduism, Goddess Chamunda or Camunda is an aspect of Devi, the supreme mother goddess. The name is a combination of Chanda and Munda, two demons.

After the decline of Buddhism in Manipur, a strong revivalism of Brahmanic Vaishnavism was initiated by Gariba Niwaza (Pamheiba) in the first half of the 18th century. The religious preceptor Shanti Das was known to the Burmese by name of Mahatharahpu.

In the words of another renowned scholar Michael W Charney, “There is, thus, little doubt that Shanti Das had major plans for the Burmese court, especially since his large entourage consisted of five hundred of his disciples, including Brahmin priests. Thus if there had been any real chance of a conversion of Burma to Brahmanical Hinduism kingdom this was doused by the end of the 1750s. The Hindu teacher, however, fell ill and died in Burma about a month later in 1744”.

Dr Yi Yi, Senior Researcher, Department of History, Ministry of Culture, Myanmar; has a chapter on Burma–Manipur War during monarchy period in the book titled, “The Situation in Myanmar 1714-52”, recorded in 1744, Shanti Das passed away at Sagaing Thante due to Cholera. The body of Shanti Das was dumped in Irrawaddy River in quick succession after performing Jal Samadhi/Ganga Prapti (Hindu ritual of water burial). Cholera was feared in those days as it was considered deadly communicable disease. ,Afterwards Samjai Khurai-Latpa and 500 disciples of Shanti Das returned to Manipur from Ava.

Ramananda was a 14th century Vaishnava devotional poet saint of Benaras, who as an early social reformer accepted disciples without discriminating anyone by gender, caste, class or religion.

Gariba Niwaza’s religious conversion of Manipuri to Ramanandi Vaishnavism at the behest of teacher Shanti Das brought revolution in Manipur which paved nation building process and drew strength to counter the religious warfare of Theravada Buddhism religion of the mighty Burmese empire, the size of her kingdom larger than five southern Indian states. The domination of Theravada Buddhism religion on her people would have resulted in Manipur becoming an outlying obscured district of Burma (Myanmar).

Sir Athelstane Baines recorded on the adoption of Brahmanism by a large portion of the Mongoloid population of Manipur, the chief and his military retainers passed into the rank of Ksatriya, and to the number of about 1, 80,000, appear under that title in the last census returns. The monarch thereupon embraced their creed and was invested with the sacred thread, and with him a large number of his people. Since, then, not only have most of the Meithei become Ksatriya, but the rank has been conferred by the Chief upon a plentiful supply of recruits from the surrounding Kuki and Naga tribes.

The seven clans comprising Meitei are Khaba-Nganba, Sarang Leisangthem, Angom, Khuman, Luwang, Moirang and Ningthouja also known as Meitei. The homogenized Meitei became the common nomenclature of all the seven clans and is recorded in the report of Sir Athelstane Baines titled, “Ethnography (Castes and Tribes)”, 1912, he writes, “The population of Manipur is divided into four tribes, the Khumal, the Luyang, the Ningthauja or Meithei, and the Mayarang, of which the Meithei (69,400) seems to have absorbed the others, and is used as a general title by the inhabitants.

The caste Meithei is defined as the exogamous sub divisions of the tribes, however, are still in existence, and seem to consist of the descendants of an individual, by whose trade or nickname the section is called. The Myanmar Government in their census report on the 53 Chin sub-tribes list, had written Meitei as Metai (Kathe)

Around the same time of the formation of the kingdom of ancient Manipur, the last descendants of Tagaung kingdom formed the Pyu city-states in the Upper Burma. The Chindwin River was the economic lifeline of both the kingdoms of ancient Manipur and the Pyu city-states. Naturally, the Chindwin River was fixed as an ancestral boundary by the people of the then ancient Manipur.

Meanwhile, the Tais were growing stronger with the formation of Nanchao kingdom extending their dominant region from the Southern China of Yunnan region along the Upper Burma and Manipur. In the later parts, the Pyu city-states were growing weaker and dominated by the emerging Mrammas who had the ambitions of an empire in the larger territory of ancient Southeast Asia, resulting in the formation of Pagan Empire by King Anawrahta in 1044 CE. Therefore, there was little wonder that almost all the Burmese chronicles including Hmannan Yazawin (The Glass Palace Chronicle) of Konbaung dynasty claimed that the successive kings of the ruling class of Burma/Myanmar were descendants of Tagaung dynasty.

The rise of Nanchao Kingdom (649-1252 CE) and Pagan Kingdom (849-1297 CE) running parallel to each other in Southeast Asia had caused the extinction of the Pyu-city states. The larger section of population of the Pyu- city states had entered into the domain of Burmanization and the remaining section came to the fold of Tainization in Manipur.

The difference between Tainization and Burmanization was clearly seen in such a way that the kingdom of Pagan was the first kingdom in Southeast Asia to unify the regions under the single-out center of power that would later constitute modern day Burma (Myanmar) on the one hand, and the kingdom of Nanchao, on the other, had undergone shifting of the center of power among the composite states on their own accord and further having concentration of all those states into one unified single kingdom under one strong leader.

The extinction of the Pyu-city states was, indeed, a great threat to the kingdom of Manipur but the Tainization process had been adaptable to all racial groups of the kingdom of ancient Manipur since the time of King Nongda Lairen Pakhangba. Therefore, the kingdom had chosen Tainization so that they might be able to strengthen the evolution of the kingdom of Manipur as a single unified nation state along the lines and methods of the formation of Nanchao kingdom comprising six principalities by the descendants of the Tai kingdom of Yunnan Ai-Lao in 47 CE.

The name Nanchao was meant by “Southern Prince” and its realm extended from Magadha in the West, Tibet in the North-West, China in the North, Cambodia in the South, Annam (Vietnam) in the South-East and the Pyu Kingdom in the South-West. There were two capitals. One was not far from modern Talifu and the other near Yungchang.

The term Tai was known as Shan to the Burmese and consequently the Tais became Shans. The two popular independent Shan States who paid allegiance to the suzerainty of Nanchao confederation were Mong Mao and Mogaung (Mong Kawng). The kingdom of Mogaung during the rule of King Sao Hsam Long Hpa had 99 semi-independent States known as Mongs. Among them Ahom was the most important State which was followed by Kassay/Kathe (Manipur).

In this context, it is undoubtedly to be stated that the ancient Indian civilization gave birth to the Southeast Asian civilization. As is known to all that civilization is more than religion and art, however, it is to cover all aspects of life and thought of the people covered by the civilization.

The pride of the ancient civilization of India is that unlike the several breakdowns of the European civilizations, India found a culture fully conscious of its own antiquities -a culture, and claimed not to have fundamentally changed for many thousands of years.

To this day legends known to the humblest Indians recalled the names of shadowy chieftains who lived nearly a thousand years before Christ, and the orthodox Brahmin in his daily worship repeats hymns composed even earlier. The inherent character of Indo-Aryans was, in short, the building up of empires and kingdoms anywhere they settled and they were popularly regarded as civilizers.

During the time of Gautama Buddha and after, due to the internecine wars among the numerous petty Aryan Princes, though a cultural unit, the Sakya Prince Dhaja Raja wondered eastwards in search of a new country wherein to establish himself and his followers, and found his way to the passage of Manipur, and then into the valley of Irrawaddy.

Simultaneously, a large population of broken tribes and clans of savage independence from South western China popularly known as Yunnan, who were devoid of Chinese civilization started to settle together with the semi savage native tribes along the confluence of the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin Rivers. The Sakya Prince Dhaja Raja subjected those tribes to his sway, or he had been received by them as a civilizer and chief.

In short, the history of Manipur is the assimilated history of those successive different peoples who contributed in the formation of the kingdom of Manipur with the exertions of their characters voluntarily.

In the words of Sister Nivedita (Margaret E. Noble), “The character of a people is their history as written in their own subconscious mind, and to understand that character we have to turn on it the limelight of their history”. Therefore, the formation of the kingdom of Manipur was the result of the unification of all those successive groups of people and the sense of such unity was made effective through internal definition and self organization of the kingdom.

In fact, the people of the kingdom of Manipur had been in possession of the essentials of organic synthesis of a unified people. As a result of such synthesis, the Manipuris have been carrying on their pride and reverence to their motherland Manipur. Therefore, it is their unavoidable and inevitable task to counteract any sort of interpretations which are contrary to the vindication and encouragement of Manipur and the people of Manipur.

There is no wrong or exaggeration to assert that those who are attempting to make any of such false interpretations inculcating distortion of the history of Manipur are liable to the tragedy of Manipur. It is known to all that the history of Manipur is not the artificial creation of selective few but the natural gift of civilization.

Keeping in view the historical process of the kingdom of Manipur, the Ningthouja rulers from time immemorial were the true architects to build up the Southeast Asian civilization and it is due to their ceaseless efforts and sacrifice.

(The views expressed are personal)


First published:


Manipur historymanipur formationNingthouja DynastyNongda Lairen Pakhangbasoutheast asia civilization

Maheshsana Rajkumar

Maheshsana Rajkumar

The writer is an independent researcher and joint author of “The Political Monument: Footfalls of Manipuri History”.


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