Political philosophy for a new age

Puyam Rakesh *

Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by the majority of the people
--Giordano Bruno

According to David Miller, author of 'Political Philosophy- A Very Short Introduction (2003)', political philosophy is "the philosophical reflection on how best to arrange our collective life - our political institutions and our social practices, such as our economic system and our pattern of family life". Referring to the genesis of political philosophy, Leo Strauss holds that "If men make in their explicit goal to acquire knowledge of the good life and the good society, political philosophy emerges." For him, it is the attempt to know both the nature of political things and the right or good political order. The search for "the good life, or of the good society" is linked to human nature. In the words of Aristotle, "Man is a political animal, destined by nature for political life". The origin of state can be found safely in the human nature. Truly, it is rooted in human nature. In fact, Aristotle made this contribution long time ago.

An individual (Meeoi Ama) is gifted with many qualities to survive and prosper in the natural world. But he/she is aware of the fact that the nature (Mahousa) is powerful. Nature is bountiful but it is also cruel without comparison. He is not alone in the world. There are wild beasts, other human beings of different colour and size, diseases, destructive forces of nature and unknown/mysterious forces. He has to defend himself and learn things. It is not possible to do the protection and learning by himself. The pressing political issues of the time compel man to think and search for a better social and political order. The individual, family, society/Khun and State have to work in co-ordination to change the present state of things. The individual (Meeoi Ama) and family (Immung) have to learn and unlearn many things for a positive change. At present, Manipur needs proper yumballon-keiballon to reshape the Lannai Punshirol and Khunnai Punshirol.

Though human wants are unlimited, he cannot have everything he wants. There are limitations. Nature has provided other claimants, both man and beast. As a matter of fact, one cannot fulfil his wants by himself. There are ways and means to work and co-operate with others to achieve many things. He does not know everything. There are elders who can provide knowledge of different arts and professions. Many religious scriptures say that man learnt many arts and lessons from divine being(s). A teacher/master was already present when man was crawling. I tried standing up on my own feet after crawling enough on the ground. My parents and elders were there for me to chant "Hei-na Hei-na" for the first difficult steps. Did gods and goddesses chant for the first human child? Or was the first human being made adult?

The concept of a family (Immung) began when Lainingthou Sanamahi was adopted as the son of Salailel Sitapa and Leimalel Sitapi. The birth of Eputhoi Pakhangpa after adopting Lainingthou Sanamahi is recorded in the Meetei Puya. This gave the idea of adoption (yokchaba macha) and child birth (pokchaba macha) in our society. It is believed that the divine message (Laipao) instructed Salailel Sitapa to adopt Lainingthou Sanamahi as the eldest son (Palee Ahan). Lainingthou's mission on earth (Malem) was the creation of human being (Namu Taipang Mee semba). The first human being created by Lainingthou Sanamahi was Mee Khaloupa as recorded in the Puya. Mee Khaloupa was created in the image of God. The destruction of the puyas has caused immense loss to the treasure of our recorded texts. We still have some large gaps to be filled in our understanding of human social evolution.

The first concept of a family thus began with Salailel Sitapa and Leimalel Sitapi getting and their two sons namely, Sanamahi and Pakhangpa. The name 'Imphal' is the corruption of 'Impham'. Impham is now written as 'Yumpham'. A house (Im/Yum) is built upon a levelled mound. This well-prepared mound for constructing the house is called Impham/Yumpham. Therefore, the place of a house (Im) and family (Immung) are rooted deeply in the history (Puwari) of our people. A dwelling constructed to provide shelter to the members of the family is called 'yumlingba'.

An individual (Meeoi Ama) has privacy. The private sphere/domain of an individual is called 'Lannai'. In the three different personal pronouns, we have irannai (first person 'I'), narannai (second person 'You') and marannai (third person 'He'/'She'). The private sphere of an individual is sometimes in clash with the public sphere called 'Khunnai'. The term 'Khunnai' is created from the word 'Khun' which means village.

In his famous book 'Prince', Machiavelli writes that the human nature is self-centred, non-rational, aggressive and egoistic. According to him, a man has envy, jealousy, love of wealth and ambition. It was contradictory to the Greek philosophical tradition which regards the goodness and social instinct of man. In a similar tone, Thomas Hobbes regards that man is essentially selfish, contentious, quarrelsome, mean, wicked, non-altruistic, non-rational, impulsive and self-centred.

The true colour of human nature is hard to understand. The power of the mind is great. The nature of man is rooted in the brilliance and weakness of mind. Reason alone cannot always direct human actions. Human mind needs constant supervision and moderation. It can do wonders but, is also full of dangerous thoughts. Some bad thoughts are easily ignored by the thinker but some such thoughts lead to actions causing crimes and destructions of all sorts.

Human beings are quarrelsome, mean, wicked, impulsive, self-centred and egoistic. We have envy, jealousy, hatred, love of wealth and ambition. We are also rational, altruistic, forgiving, loving, kind and supportive. In Manipuri language, we have the following words/phrases: phunaba, khatnaba, saonaba, (wa) yetnaba, hattoknaba, cheinaba, muknaba, kallakpa, mihouba, yengthiba, lounamba, karamba, pukchel pikpa, namthak touba, meethanadaba, meewa ngangba, warem-wakai suba etc. These words/phrases carry 'negative' nature of man.

Some words meaning 'positive' nature of man are as follows: wakheiba, wayel, sangtainaba, chanbiba, ngakpiba, pukchel chaoba, mabuk phaba, thoujan, nungshiba, meenungshi, taisinnaba, yannaba, yasinnaba, wa tannaba, wa khannaba, wa sengdoknaba, mawa-mapao hangba, tengbangnaba, hingminnaba, yennaba, takpi-tambiba etc. These words and phrases are examples showing how human beings have been living collectively. The human nature is neither positive nor negative. It is nepositive (negative+positive). The wickedness of man is not at the cost of his social instinct. Does human nature change?

A village (khun/khul) is the bigger unit of collective human arrangement. A village is further divided into some 'Leikais'. Leikai is an intermediate unit. It is still an important collective unit. Like Immung, a Leikai can only fulfilled some limited needs and wants of an individual. As a result, the village is more important than the Leikai. A group of families forming a village is socially, economically, culturally and politically more advanced. However, the role of a family remains significant.

Human beings have the natural tendency to establish villages (khunthokpa). A new village began with only one family or two/three families. They are joined by other families if the location is good for a healthy and prosperous life. History of every village has recorded a few families which established the village. They are the first settlers. It is still visible in many parts of the state. It is important to note that the villagers were put under the control/administration of a village ruler (Khullakpa) during kingship. There were Wangkheirakpa, Khurailakpa, Khwairakpa, Yaishkullakpa etc. A village became an important unit of administrative division.

Human beings are social animals. We establish village (Khunlingba, Khundaba, khunthokpa) to fulfil our socio-economic needs and wants. Khungi Lai Haraoba is an important event. It strengthens the bond of unity and feeling of oneness with the fellow villagers (Khunchas/Khunjas). Almost all the Meetei villages have lai haraobung for community worship. These haraobungs are the centres of religious, cultural and social life of the people. The sporting spirit of the people of Manipur has a lot to do with these haraobungs.

A village is a limited and small centre of human settlement. The expansion of human settlements with population increase is worth studying. The seven separate principalities joining together after a long and torturous warring period to form a united kingdom is a well-recorded history. The next higher level of collective arrangement is the state (Leipak). A Leipak can be taken as a state/country or a kingdom. Land/territory and people are important constituents of a state. As given in the Puya, Eputhou Pakhangpa was made the King (Ningthou) of the people (Namu Taipang Meeoiba) and Lainingthou Sanamahi was the deity of every household (Yumthong). Every Meetei household has a sacred worship place maintained in the South-West corner of the house. It is reserved for Lainingthou Sanamahi. This tradition is traced to the above division of temporal and spiritual spheres.

A Ruler/King of the land has to take care of the people. A deity in the South-West corner of the house is worshipped daily for blessing and protection from evils (also evil thoughts and deeds). The tradition of reserving this sacred South-West corner in house still practiced by the Meetei people. Unfortunately, the Meetei Christians are said to have forsaken this. A people of a kingdom must have a King/Ruler. A household must have a deity. No country can prosper and make progress without a good people. A good people can have a good ruler or ruling class. A good people cannot be sown in a field without care.

An individual (meeoi), a family (immung), a village (khun), a country (leipak) have to play their roles for grooming a productive and healthy people. Some ancient teachings hold the key to some great ideas. We just have to explore and analyse them. A family is a basic unit of human society. With increase in population, families constitute a village. A big village is divided into Leikais. Increase of population and interaction of various groups, interests, clashes, wars and competitions are contributory to the formation of state. One man does not wage a war. When there are many individuals, there are various thoughts and interests. Competition for influence, domination and control of economic interests among them increase with the passage of time. Mee yamladi wa yamlak-e. Wa yamlakladi wa yetnarak-e amasung wa kainarak-e. Wayel ama touba tarak-e. We do not have same thoughts, ideas and ways and means. Even for the same problem we can have multiple solutions competing for solving it. It is the process of the mind establishing individuality and personality of each individual. Meeoibagi wakhangi Pankhei Leite. Is there a way to supervise and moderate the mind?

The Greek civilisation gives the aphorism: "Man, Know Thyself". There can be multiple interpretations of it. Nevertheless, a man trying to know himself will have to struggle with his wild and reckless mind. He has to go for the hide and seek game where 'nothing' and 'everything' exists. We can proudly claim that we have something to say about this. The Puya says: "He Meeoi! Nahak Ning-O". The Meetei religious scriptures talk about 'Ei kouba lai'. Ei kouba lai mabu ningjaba asina eibu eina masak khangjanabagi lambini. Isana isabu masak khangjou hairi. Some such texts say: "Ei masak khangdanadi lai magi matik-mayai fangloiye. Eibu eina khurumjei". These valuable teachings have something to do with the human mind.

There is no wrong is saying that one should know himself to be a good member of the family, society/village, state and the mankind in the world. An individual has to play his own role in the progress of his reason/intellect. Man is a social and political animal. In addition, he is also a moral and spiritual being. The individual is an end in itself. Hegel is wrong. The state is the means to an end. The state is not the higher end for which the individual exists. The individual exists in a state to fulfil his needs and wants. The individual should get room to make a World State (Taibang Leipak). This World State is also a means to greater achievement of the individual. The state has to exist as constituent unit of the World State but it should not suppress the individual. Up to some extent, the state and individual can live for each other. At any cost, the individual should not be forced to adopt narrow nationalist and parochial outlook permanently.

An individual is always looking for a family. A family is a limited grouping. As a matter of fact, human beings are for establishing a village (khunlingba). In fact, we are a social animal (Khunlingba Sa; KhunnaiSa). Khunlingba is the concept of being social. The place of family (Im/Yum) in the human life is very important. There are many saying referring to family. A very popular saying is: Yum Panba Turel Leingoidagi Henna Kuppi. Another saying also goes as: Lou Lingba Lai Yum Lingba Lui. The word "Yum" is generally written as 'Yum-Kei'. It shows that 'Yum' (house) and 'Kei' (Storehouse) are required to establish a family. There are words such as Phoukei (barn of paddy), Singkei (firewood store), and Lankei (treasure house). Anyone thinking of marrying to establish a new family without proper Keis will attract the scorn of the elders.

Yum/Immung cannot be replaced by other arrangements. For the people of Manipur, 'Yumbal-Keibal' is the central theme of a person's status in the society. The art of running/maintaining a proper family is part of Yumballon-Keiballon. There are no study centres to impart yumballon-keiballon but, it is considered very important to groom and nurture the individuals to become socially acceptable and successful. A family has a big responsibility towards the society. It is the first school that a child attends. A beautiful daughter-in-law (mamou nupi) with no proper lessons of yumbal-keibal is the target of the husband's family and others. Many couples end up leading a 'heinoujom yumbal, telangka yahip' without the pleasure of a happy family.

Again, a daughter or a daughter-in-law causing some unwanted disturbances to the family is considered socially undesirable. Such a girl/woman is scolded as 'yumtak-keitakpi'. The same holds true for the males. They are objects or subjects of public ridicule. Such concepts developed in the process of education of the children to become proper members of the family and society. 'Yum-Kei Panba Yare' is the line signifying the maturity of an adult to get married.

The term 'Khun' signifies social, public and sometimes, the State as a whole. Other terms such as 'Khundaba', 'khunthokpa', and 'khunlingba' are expressions of the social instinct of man. We have other terms like 'khuntak-lansiba', 'khuntakpa', 'leikai-khunlanba' and 'khuntak-leitakpa'. For example, the "Seven Years Devastation" in the history of Manipur is generally known as "Chahi Taret Khuntakpa". The Burmese destruction of Manipur Kingdom is still written as 'khuntakpa', meaning destruction of the villages. It symbolises the important role of a village as a unit in social evolution. Now, Manipur is undergoing through a dark phase of yumtak-keitakpa and khuntak-leitakpa. We need to focus on yumballon-keiballon and khunballon-leipallon. An individual can start the journey of 'Ei Ningba' or 'Ei Isak Khangba'.

To be contd.....

* Puyam Rakesh wrote this article for
The writer can be reached at khuman_mei(AT)yahoo(doT)com
This article was posted on August 07, 2015.

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