Cheitharol-kumbaba And The Internet: The Gregorian Dating
By Chabungbam Amuba Singh
In this age of the Internet, retirement is a boon for those 'who wanted to read but could not find the time'. I am talking not of any serious academic pursuit but of simple pleasurable reading. Respectfully curious of the Royal Court Chronicle of Manipur, the Cheitharol Kumbaba, I longed to read it and practiced 'reading the Meitei Mayek' during my days in office. I was disappointed at the slow progress of my proficiency in Meitei Mayek. So I was really elated when I was given by Shri M Biren Singh a copy of the Cheitharol Kumbaba in the Bengali script edited by Shri L Ibungohal Singh and Shri N Khelachandra Singh and published by the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad (second print, 1989).
I got the shock of my life when I found that this sacred book/compilation of the records of the reigns of the 'Meidingus' starts with the Sanskrit word 'Shri' ("Shri Taibangpanbagee mapu ....") and the very next sentence refers to the Kalyabda—an era system connected with Hindu mythology and not at all followed in the writing of history in any part of the world. This tell-tale evidence of the sacred book having been re-written or re-compiled at a later date when the Manipur royal court had been completely Hinduised notwithstanding, I derived immense pleasure of fleeting through the world unfolding out of the pages of this sacred book. Of course, the book written in old Meiteilon does not provide easy reading to a novice like me. Supplementing my endeavour with occasional reference to Saroj Nalini A Parratt's English transliteration of the Chronicle (available on the Internet) opened up another woe for me: the occasional inconsistencies in the two versions of the Chronicle—the Sahitya Parishad's and Saroj Nalini's.
Saroj Nalini A Parratt says that for the pre-British period, the Cheitharol Kumbaba is the only source of Manipur’s history that we have which is of any substantial historical value. This bold observation endows the Chronicle with a unique place of importance and reverence. It is my intention here to establish its chronological authenticity beyond any shadow of doubt and provide the basis for an error-free Gregorian dating of the events recorded in the Chronicle.
It is a fact that we the Manipuris adopted the Saka system of counting the solar sidereal years - but we have never followed the Saka calendar (even in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries). Throughout the Chronicle, the entry of a date always refers to the phase of the moon and a month always refers to the lunar month - a system contrary to the system of the Saka calendar which is a solar calendar. It is not at all surprising, rather it is natural, that such a luni- solar system was followed in Manipur, because such a system was followed in east and northeast India and also in Southeast Asia. However, the astronomical foundation of a luni-solar system is quite complicated. In comparison, the solar Gregorian system has a straightforward astronomical basis. That is why all historical recordings are done in or transliterated into the Gregorian system which is now called the Common Era (CE) system.
In the Internet space, I have come across quite a few write-ups about the history of Manipur in which wrong dates in CE have been given to important events. For example, in the history of Manipur uploaded by IIT Guwahati, the date of birth of Pitambar Charairongba is given as 20 May 1673 CE and that of the crowning of Pamheiba as 28 August 1708 CE - both of which are incorrect according to the recordings in the Cheitharol Kumbaba (the correct dates are 17 June 1673 CE Saturday and 14 August 1709 CE Wednesday respectively). Marjit’s (Nongpok Wairang Pamheiba) ascension to the throne of Manipur is often reported to have taken place in the year 1813, while the true date of the event recorded in the Cheitharol Kumbaba is the 17th day of Shajibu (later) in Saka 1735 which is the 6th April 1814 CE. Even in the Appendix to the Cheitharol Kumbaba published by the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, the editors had given the reign of Meidingu Marjit as 1813-1819. The fact as per records in the Cheitharol Kumbaba is that Meidingu Marjit reigned from Wednesday 6 April 1814 to Tuesday 9 December 1819. It is important here to respect the authenticity and accuracy of the entries in the Chronicle.
Eclipses of the sun and the moon are God-given chronometer to determine the precise dates of historical events. Records of the eclipses can be conveniently used to translate any date in a lunisolar calendar into a date in the proleptic Gregorian calendar or the CE system provided the week-day of the date is also given. Here it is understood that the seven-day week is universally adopted. (For example, the assertion that the week-day 'langmaiching' or 'nongmaijing' in the Manipuri system is the week-day 'Sunday' in the western system is never to be disputed.)
Solar and lunar eclipses are regular astronomical events occurring at least four times a year (a maximum of seven eclipses may occur in a calendar year). Very precise and detailed records of solar eclipses for 7000 years and lunar eclipses for 5000 years in the proleptic Gregorian calendar have been computer-generated and are now available on the Internet for ready reference.
The Cheitharol Kumbaba contains records of 189 eclipses (58 solar and 131 lunar) sighted in Manipur (a few are 'reported' but not ‘sighted’) - starting with the partial lunar eclipse of 1666 December 11 (Saturday) [the full moon day of 'Poinu' of Saka 1588] and ending with the total solar eclipse of 1955 June 20 (Monday) [the last day of 'Inga' of Saka 1877]. On cross-checking with the NASA’s record of eclipses, it is found that 175 of these recordings are bull's-eye accurate, 7 are one day off, 4 are two days off, 2 are three days off and only one is off the mark by a whole month. This last mistake is unique and refers to the annular solar eclipse of 30 December 1758 CE which has been wrongly recorded as having occurred on the 29th day of 'Hiyanggei' of Saka 1680. Perhaps the mistake was due to late recording of the event owing to the invasion of Manipur by the Burmese king Alaungpaya, the founder of the Konbaung dynasty, in November/December 1758 who defeated the Manipuri army at Palel. This Burmese invasion during the first reign of Meidingu Maramba (Gourashyam) is also mentioned in the Cheitharol Kumbaba [Poinu tha humni leipakpokpada Kakchingee tengol kaineiye]. It could be mentioned here that King Alaungpaya was a commoner born in 1714 CE to the hereditary chief of Moksobomyo (Shwebo), a village in the Mu river valley. As a young man, he helplessly watched the Manipuris raiding and ransacking his village and other villages in his home region year after year (during the reign of Meidingu Pamheiba) and it is said that he was determined to take revenge as soon as he was able to.
It adds to the credibility of the Meitei chroniclers that in the Cheitharol Kumbaba, there are three instances of correct recording of eclipse but to which the learned editors have appended foot-notes giving wrong Gregorian dates to the events. The editors, late Shri L Ibungohal Singh and late Shri N Khelchandra Singh, might have referred to some old Bengali Panjeeka (almanac) and inherited the mistakes therein. The cases under reference here are:
(1) the total lunar eclipse of 01 July 1852 (GMT 15:26:13; 23S-129E) which was correctly recorded as having occurred on the Ingel thanin Thursday of Saka 1774 to which the editors have appended a foot note giving the date (wrongly) as 30 June 1852 AD which was a Wednesday;
(2) the partial lunar eclipse of 26 December 1852 (GMT 13:03:06; 24N-164E) which was correctly recorded to have occurred on the Poinu thanin Sunday of Saka 1774 to which the editors have (wrongly) foot-noted the Gregorian date 25 December 1852 which was a Saturday;
(3) the total solar eclipse of 18 May 1901 (Saturday) (GMT 05:33:48; 2S-98E) which was correctly recorded as having occurred on the 'Kalen thasi’ (new-moon day) of Saka 1823 Saturday to which the editors have (wrongly) assigned the date 19 May 1901 which was a Sunday.
There are also a few amusing episodes recorded in the Cheitharol Kumbaba in connection with the sighting of eclipses:
(a) During the reign of Meidingu Bhaigyachandra, the Panjees (astrologers) predicted the solar eclipse of 6 May 1864 (Friday) (Saka 1786 Shajibu thasi Erai); however, on the said date, no eclipse was sighted and all the Panjees were punished by keeping them in water. In fact, the eclipse, even though it was not sighted, did occur: it was a Hybrid type with the maximum phase occurring at GMT 00:16:48. The NASA mapping of the eclipse’s path indicates that it could be barely visible from Manipur. It goes to the credit of the Meitei Panjees that they, in fact, correctly predicted this eclipse.
(b) About five years later, one Sanjenba Panjee was punished for predicting the solar eclipse of 7 August 1869 (Saturday). In this case, the Panjee deserved the punishment because there is no way the said solar eclipse with the maximum phase occurring at GMT 22:01:05 could be visible in Manipur.
(c) On the other hand, during the reign of Maharaj Churachand Singh, the palace Panjees were punished by keeping them in water for their failure to predict the total lunar eclipse of 28 December 1917 (Friday), which because of the maximum phase occurring at GMT 09:46:32 would have been barely visible from Manipur.
(d) Some three years ago, in the year 1914 CE, there was also an interesting episode. The British political agent learned from some Panjees of the West that there would be a solar eclipse on the new moon day (thasi) of the month of 'Thawan' of Saka 1836 and that some catastrophe might happen and accordingly advised the Maharaja to move out the idol of Shree Govindajee. Maharaja Churachand Singh consulted the Meitei Panjees who assured the king that nothing would happen. Still on the order of the Maharaja, Shree Govindajee was moved to the 'mandop' and the king, the royal elder brother, the queen mother and many other people stayed in the 'mandop'. No eclipse was sighted and nothing untoward happened. In fact, there was indeed a total solar eclipse on that day—21 August 1914—with maximum phase at GMT 12:34:27 which was not visible in Manipur.
The wisdom of the court scribes in giving the week-days along with the lunar dates (thabans) while recording the events in the Chronicle is to be appreciated—it has a far-reaching significance. It enables us to cross-check with the records of eclipses available in the Internet space and establish the general authenticity of the Cheitharol Kumbaba. It also enables us, with a rudimentary knowledge of the length of the lunar months and the universality of the seven-day week system, to translate the lunar dates into the Gregorian or the Common Era (CE) dates. And this is the only way to arrive at the correct CE dates of events recorded in the lunisolar system adopted by the Manipur Royal Court and do away with the incorrect transliteration of dates by some authors.
The first ever instance of recording the week-day along with the lunar date of an event in the Cheitharol Kumbaba is the one made by the royal scribe Laishram Maitek in Saka 1553 (1631-32 CE) during the reign of Meidingu Khagemba when he recorded that King Khagemba established the Kangla on Wednesday the 10th day of Lamda of Saka 1553 and inaugurated it soon after. The CE date of this day is 31 March 1632. This was, however, an isolated instance. It is only 57 years down the line that the scribes regularly mentioned the week-day along with the lunar date while recording the events, starting with the recordings made by the royal scribe Wangkheirakpam Khongchomba for the year Saka 1610 (1688-89 AD) during the reign of Meidingu Paikhomba. He also made the first recording of a solar eclipse in the Cheitharol Kumbaba—the total solar eclipse on Sunday the last day (thasi) of Shajibu of Saka 1610 (which is 30 April 1688 CE).
Prior to Saka 1610, there had been a few instances of simultaneous recording of the week-day and the lunar date of the event. Notable ones are:
(1) Coronation of Meidingu Paikhomba on Friday the Wakching 5 of Saka 1588 which is 31 December 1666 CE.
(2) Birth of Ningthem Charairongba on Saturday Inga 5 Saka 1595 which is 17 June 1673 CE.
(3) Death of Ningthem Charairongba's father Khwairakpa on Friday Ingel 27 Saka 1603 which is 11 July 1681 CE.
All the three events occurred during the reign of Meidingu Paikhomba who died on Thursday Wakching 28 Saka 1619 (9 January 1698 CE) and was succeeded by his nephew Charairongba on Friday Lamda 10 Saka 1619 which is 21 March 1698 CE. It is interesting to note how the royal scribes had revered Charairongba by referring to him as Ningthem and by referring to Khwairakpa as Ningthem Charairongba's father long before Charairongba became the king. It may also be pointed out that the editors have appended a foot-note wherein they said that Tubi Charairongba was crowned king in the year 1697 CE, which, as noted above, is incorrect.
By the way, if you are curious about the universality of the seven-day week, just note that 7 is the largest prime number divisor of 29 with least remainder and the average number of days between two consecutive new moons is 29.5. In other words, hypothetically speaking, if a lunar month spans over precisely 30 days, a system of six-day week and five-week month would have been convenient and universal!
In the second part of this article, I would be employing the methodology of “eclipses-as-milestones” as the basis for Gregorian dating of some of the landmark events of our history as recorded in the Royal Chronicle—the Cheitharol Kumbaba.
[The author is a physicist and former Vice Chancellor of Manipur University. He can be contacted at [email protected]]
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