Will Manipuri Be a Classical Language?

Prof Chungkham Yashawanta Singh *

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

This is the age of information technology. Even Hindi is used in ATM. Above this, Google Maps are available is Hindi. But Hindi is not a classical language: Sanskrit is a classical language, not doubt. Manipuri is in a initial stage for preparing a theses on 'Manipuri': A Classical Language'. Not it is very much necessitous to look into what are the qualities of Manipuri language to be a classical language; in the same time, what are the requisite features of a classical language.

According to university of California, Berkeley, linguist, George L. Hart, it should be ancient; it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature.

The Government of India currently follows the following four criteria to determine the eligibility of language to be considered for classification as 'classical language':
i) High antiquity for its early texts / recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years,
ii) a body of ancient literature texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers,
iii) the literary traditionbe original and not borrowed from another speech community, and
iv) the classical language and literature being, distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.

There are five classical languages, They are, namely, Tamil (2004), Sanskrit (2005), Kanada and Telegu (2008) Malayalam (2013) and Odiya (2014).

In India there are more than 1500 languages. All these languages are categorized in various ways: 8th schedule languages versus non- 8th schedule languages; in literary category there is Sahitya Akademi recognized languages versus unrecognized languages; and on the basis on number of speakers there are endangered languages (less than 10,000 speaker) versus non-endangered languages. The last is based on the antiquity: it is classical language versus non-classical language.

Since 2013 many people are talking about classical language for Manipuri in many book released functions and in many cultural functions. But this is not an easy job, we have to write a Ph.D. thesis, no room for agitation, this is of purely academic work. For writing this thesis, it needs namely, linguists, historians, archeologists, anthropologists and literary persons.

The group has to do a collective work; they have to work on their areas and have to bring out evidences and records to fill appropriately to the four principles. This will be a scientific study, describing adequately and analytically. It is highly imperative to bring out and show to the people the epigraphically source, where ,when and on which, say, stone, or bark or pillar or copper plate, or iron plate or coins so and so inscription are made.

To fulfill the four criteria the followings points have to be analyzed scientifically:
language and script (Meetei Mayek),
our prehistory, unbroken history of Manipur,
its relationship with neighboring countries as well as its relation with other groups in the state (country),
Manipuri culture (it includes religions tradition,
philosophy and ideology,
artistic tradition,
song and music, dance (classical dance and other folk dances),
Laiharaoba, and sport, martial art etc),
creation myth and toponyms,
legend, origin and development of Manipuri literature etc.

For all these Meetei scripts is the backbone. Because evidence of inscription must be in this script not in Bengali, not is Assamese. Now the question is when it was created or innovated or derived; a scientific explanation is highly inevitable in this regard. When, where, what, on which plate or bark or pillar inscriptions are done. Whether the inscription is of creation myth, toponyms, hyms, cosmology etc? Prehistory is a must item to study for a society.

In this small valley, surrounded by hill, it is to be noted there is a civilization. The living-mode of the stone age, copper, bronze and iron-megalithic age have to be studied scientifically with sagacious attitude. The then use of weapon in field, in hunting, in war, pot and pottery art and the prehistory site are to be studied and make an attempt to establish the relationship to the succeeding historical periods.

Unbroken history of Manipur:
It is very much necessary to show that there is an unbroken history of history of Manipur. How many kings are between, 33 AD. Pakhanga and King Bodh Chandra? 76 kings are in the row and what significant things or recorded books, road and bridge, coins artifacts (Hiyang Hiren, Kangla Sa) reformations, new establishments are there in the records. What is their relation with other countries as well as with the groups within the state /country. In addition to this what are the various names of Meitei: Meitei is named as Kate by Burmese; Mekhali by the Ahoms, Meithei by the Britisher etc. In which book they are recorded; question goes farther why do they use these names?

Manipuri Culture:
No doubt, there is something in this small valley, surrounded by hills. Very simply why the floor and walls are rubbed with cow dung? How classical dance is produced? Culture included religious tradition and belives, philosophy and ideology, artistic tradition, song and music (Khunung isei, Khulang isei, Pena), Dance (Manipuri classical and folk dances), Laiharouba, game and sport, Martial art etc.

It is noteworthy to look into the indigenous games like polo, rugby, Mukna-Kangjei and martial arts (thang-ta and Sarit-Sarat). It is necessary to study why and how the martial art is developed. Is this related to protect the king and Kingdom? It is noted that there are various wars. Can we draw an analogy why the monks, (especially of China) are the masters of martial art?

Creation Myth and Toponyms:
Analysis is recessary to establish the relationship between the creation myth and toponyms. And this leads to what? It is re commendable to analyze the names of hills, lakes, rivers, places, lanes etc. the study of toponyms may lead to the record, how old they are and where and when they are mentioned, for instance, name, like Tendong yang is mentioned in Poireiton Khumthok, which is regarded a piece of old Manipuri literature.

Origin and development of Manipuri literature:
Before the written Manipuri literature there is a rich narrative or oral literature (folklore) which includes folksongs, folk tales, myth, legends etc. Oral literature is the fountain of Manipuri literature. Songs like, Ougri, Khencho, Lairema Paosa, Nonglao isei, Louta isei, Phousu isei, retained in oral literature are the endless source of poetry. When these are recorded?

In prose people accepted to mention of Cheithoral Kumbaba, Poireton Khunthok, Numit Kappa, leithak Leikhorol etc, as the product of old Manipuri literature written in Meetei Mayek; these show as the prose tradition. All these songs and all these prose are the foundation of Modern Manipuri literature.

Greek, Lalin and Sanskrit are the classical languages; they are the languages of Before Christ (BC) and that they are the ancient languages have evidences and records. They are regarded as high value antiques having their offshoots. The world saw and read, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (of Greek), not only this, scientific names of birds, plants, animals etc, are found in Greek and Latin; Panini's Sanskririt Grammar is of the 4th B.C. and Rigveda etc. The offshoots of Sanskrit are the Indo-Aryan languages. That is why they are known as classical language.

To claim and to prove that Manipuri Language is a Classical Language, it needs evidences and records. It again needs collective efforts of linguists, historians, archeologists, anthropologists and literary persons. For this hope lies in effort.

* Prof Chungkham Yashawanta Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Professor, Department of Linguistics, Manipur University.
This article was posted on August 26, 2014.

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