Manipuri is a classical language

Free Thinker *

Puya text of Chainarol (Way of the Warrior)  in Meitei Mayek
Puya text of Chainarol (Way of the Warrior) in Meitei Mayek :: Pix Courtesy :: Human Right Alert

What is the oldest language in the world? Historians remain inconclusive and indifferent because of fragile and conflicting evidences. However, we can mention some of the oldest languages like - Hebrew, Harappan, Mesopotamian, Mayan, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Chinese, Tamil, Egyptian, Nordic, Latin, Greek, Tibetan, Persian, Africans and many others.

Of course, Manipuri is also one of the ancient languages of the world. Some languages are still alive and many have vanished in the course of history. In addition, there are innumerable dialects of which thousands have died and many are still struggling to survive and a few are on the verge of extinction.

Languages which are more than 2000 years old are considered to be ancient and classical. Manipuri language is more than 2500 years old. So, it is certainly an ancient language and it is also different from any other languages of the world. Some scholars try to classify it as a Tibeto-Burman language.

But recent experts maintain that the Manipuri language is unique and non-comparable. What is more significant is that it had an unusual ancient script (which is now in the process of revival in the State of Manipur by making it compulsory in formal education). It may take one more generation to completely revive the original Manipuri script.

Language is very significant in one's life. It is very close to his or her heart. In fact, language always remain a sentimental and emotional issue throughout the world. I am basically talking about one's mother-tongue. A person is very much attached to his or her own mother-tongue. Even if they become linguists they have special connect with their mother tongue.

French people are generally very proud of their language, culture and fashion. They believe they are the best. Perhaps they have a superiority complex particularly about their culture and fashion. The world also recognizes (willingly or unwillingly) Paris as the fashion capital of all. By chance I had been to Paris with some of my friends.

When we landed at Paris we had a tough time in terms of communication with the people out there. When we enquired about something in English nobody responded properly. If we start the talking in English their response was lukewarm or they became completely reticent. We finally got the help from an African who knew both French and English.

Manipuri ( Meiteilon) is still the lin gua franca among different ethnic groups of the state of Manipur. If a Kuki is to talk to a Naga they will chat in Manipuri. If they know English, they may converse in English; if they don't know English they will certainly converse in Manipuri. Similarly, if a Meitei-pangan (Muslim) wants to talk to a Manipuri-Nepali they will definitely communicate in Manipuri.

Today the Government of India recognizes six languages as classical languages. They are namely - Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Odia. Tamil was declared as a classical language in the year 2004. To my surprise, Sanskrit was made a classical language in the following year. The number of classical language is growing year by year.

There is a yardstick for awarding an Indian language a classical language status:

1. The language must have a recorded history for more than 1500 years.

2. It must have a huge volume of ancient literature or text which is a heritage of the present generation.

3. It must have an original literary tradition independent from other communities.

4. The language's ancient literature may be distinct from the modern form but its modern form can be an offshoot of its ancient version.

Manipuri language has fulfilled all the criteria of being a classical language. The volume of ancient Manipuri literature is less and it is because of the event of "Puya Meithaba" when the ancient literature, chronicles and texts were burnt by a warrant from the then competent authority.

And those who were caught with the ancient scriptures were punished and their literature destroyed. That is the main reason why Manipuri language lacks hard copies of ancient texts and literature. However, the ancient poetry and folklore are still preserved in its oral tradition linked with "Lai haraoba" (the festival of local deities).

"CHING DA TABA WAKON NA TAMDA TAGE MAHAI RE, TAM DA TABA WAKON NA CHING DA TAGE MAHAI RE" (the bamboo clusters of the hills want to come to the valley and the bamboo clusters of the valley want to go the hills). Forget the faulty translation; let us try to comprehend together the underlying meaning of this age old "Laiharaoba" hymn. This is not only a reflection of an ancient literary work but also an embodiment of the true spirit of hill-valley unity.

* Free Thinker wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on April 16, 2017.

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