TODAY -

What is Manipuri ?
- Part 1 -

Thokchom Ngouba *



What is Manipuri? Manipuri according to me means three abstract things - one citizenship or nationality of a person, second name of a language and third name of a community. Manipuri - citizenship or nationality of a person Manipuri shall mean the citizenship or nationality of the people of Manipur. Citizenship or nationality of Manipur shall include all persons born and brought up in Manipur State irrespective of caste, creed or religion. It is not the name of a particular tribe or ethnic group.

All residents of Manipur State be it Meetei (Meetei also includes - Meetei Bamon and Meetei Pangan), Tangkhul, Rongmei, Anal, Kuki, Paite, Mao, Kom, Maram, etc. etc. are all Manipuri. Whoever they are, they are the Manipuri. Wherever they are, they shall remain the Manipuri. Manipuri - name of a language Manipuri is the mother tongue of the Meetei. It is the official language and also the lingua franca of the State of Manipur.

Being the mother tongue of the dominant group and a language spoken by the majority in Manipur, this language is called Manipuri Language. All tribes of Manipur State use this language to communicate between each other. Furthermore, it is the medium of communication for the entire people of Manipur. Because of this, all the Hill Tribes of the State also prefer to call this language as Manipuri Language and not as Meeteilon. As such, this language was, without any controversy from any corner, included in the 8th Schedule of Indian Constitution as Manipuri Language.

I hope, the Government of India had taken the uniqueness of this language into consideration when they decided to include it in the 8th Schedule. Manipuri - name of a community The Meetei is the dominant ethnic group in Manipur State. Being the dominant group, they are also known as the Manipuri. Therefore, they are known by two nomenclatures as the Meetei or the Manipuri by other communities. Both are one and both indicate the same thing. Hence, this fact is undoubtedly acceptable to everyone in Manipur. However, Manipur is the home of different tribes. Therefore, each tribe needs to identify them by the particular name of the tribe to avoid confusion.

Contrary to this, the Meetei adopts two pointers to categorize their identity. They used to identify them as the Meetei to a fellow Manipuri and as the Manipuri to a non Manipuri. They use both the nomenclatures as a tool for identification of their community. Therefore, there is no wrong in saying the Meetei is the Manipuri and the Manipuri is the Meetei. This is the two faces of the same coin. This is the way how they identify themselves and this is what they are known.

Using of two indicators for identification of their community is an inherent social behavior commonly found in all the Meetei or the Manipuri. It is inseparable. Manipuri in Assam and other parts of India Regarding those Manipuri or Meetei living in Assam, Tripura and other parts of India and the world, they originated from Manipur State. They remain as the Meetei or the Manipuri wherever they are. They speak Manipuri, they maintain the Manipuri way of life, and they identify them to be the Manipuri to a non Manipuri and as the Meetei to a fellow Meetei or Manipuri. Their blood flows down from Manipur and their DNA carry the pure Manipuri gene. This is a fact and shall remain true.

Manipuri according to me Therefore, the definition of the Manipuri according to my concept is as follows - A person, who speaks Manipuri, maintains the Manipuri way of life, identifies himself as the Meetei to a fellow Meetei or Manipuri, and is also known as the Manipuri by other communities outside the State of Manipur, shall be a Manipuri. Hence, the term Manipuri is distinct in itself which needs any definition. Is the Term Manipuri controversial? In Manipur, we do not find any controversy about the term Manipuri. It is a non issue there.

However, in the States of Tripura and Assam, the so called the Bishnupriya, in nexus with some group of people, had connived to abuse the term Manipuri for their selfish ends. They connived to make it controversial so that their identity gets publicity. Even they succeeded in generating confusion in the minds of the people who wanted to accept the term in the way they interpreted it and not to the facts as stand in the History. With clandestine design, they had succeeded to get the Bishnupriya Manipuri recognized by the Governments of Tripura and Assam.

It is an infallible fact that the History of Manipur shall never recognize any claim of the Bishnupriya people on this issue. The people of Manipur including the Meetei and the Hill Tribes never allow them to be part of their History. Manipur State is surrounded by Mountain from all sides. The valley where the Meetei or the Manipuri settled down from time immemorial is surrounded by the Hill Tribes from all sides. They never accept them to be their brethren. Manipur is having around 29 recognized tribes and sub tribes.

Amongst these tribes, the Meetei is the major tribes having a population of approximately 14 lakhs out of 25 lakhs of the total population of Manipur. The State Government is also maintaining a list of tribes where no mention of such tribe as the Bishnupriya or the Bishnupriya Manipuri is found. Therefore, how much they endeavor they will not succeed in distorting the History of Manipur in any manner.

Who is the Bishnupriya Manipuri? The so called Bishnupriya Manipuri is a tribe/community found in some parts of Assam, Tripura and Bangladesh. Earlier they were known as Kalisha, then Kalishaya, then Bishnupriya and then they started claiming as the Bishnupriya Manipuri. History shall testify it. They speak Bishnupriya language. This language is found to be mixture of Manipuri Language and Bengali Language and their accent is quite similar to Bengali people. They maintain their own way of life and custom.

Their cultural and social behavior has little commonality with that of the Manipuri but its usage (the application of the cultural and social behavior) is totally different. Their womenfolk dress like the Manipuri women but the way they use the Manipuri women dress is also different in look. They profess the Hindu religion. They use the Manipuri Bamon when they perform their religious rituals. Their blood is Aryan origin. And as such, their DNA (if tested) may perhaps carry the Aryan gene. The Bishnupriya also have a dance form almost similar to the Manipuri Dance. (They also call it the Manipuri Dance).

However, this dance form differs in the movement of hands and legs and the Polloi (dresses worn by the Manipuri Dance performer). To Manipuri, this dance form lacks tenderness, creativity and originality in the movements of hands and legs that exist in the Manipuri Dance. This dance form is the replica of the Manipuri Dance. However, many non Manipuri confused it to be the Manipuri Dance.

A part of History I read from history that three sections or groups of people mostly male were brought by the Meetei Kings for various purposes according to the necessities prevalent at that time. They were the Brahmins, the Pathans, and the Kalisha or the Kalishaya. The Meetei Kings made them to settle down in the valley of Manipur. The Meetei Bamon or Bamon It is said that the Brahmins were brought to Manipur to utilize their services in performing the Hindu religious ceremonies as the Priest and they were allowed to marry the Meetei women and also to occupy honourable seats in the Manipuri Society.

They gradually came to be known as the Meetei Bamon or the Bamon. They mingled in the mainstream of the Meetei Society. They speak Manipuri as they adopted Manipuri as their mother tongue and they dress like the Meetei. Still they are made to perform all Manipuri religious ceremonies and without their involvement, any Manipuri religious ceremony is incomplete. The Meetei Bamon cooks and serves the food items in any community feast apart from performing puja and arati of the God. However, the Meetei were neither allowed to cook nor serve the food in the community feast.

The Meetei who takes the Bamon as the symbol of purity never eat food that is cooked and served by any Meetei in the community feast. However, the Bamons were not allowed to take part in the Lai Haraoba or other Meetei erat thouniba (religious ceremonies performed by the Meetei themselves). Inter caste marriage between the Meetei and the Meetei Bamon was not permissible earlier but this restriction is little by little disappearing now a days. The Meetei Pangan or Pangan The Meetei Kings brought the Pathans warrior to help them to regain Manipur from the hands of the Burmese.

However, they were not sent back from Manipur after regaining of the kingdom and they were made to settle down in the valley. They were also allowed to marry the Manipuri woman. They mingled in the mainstream of the Meetei. Nevertheless, they were allowed to retain their faith of the Muslim religion. Then they came to be known as the Meetei Pangan or the Pangan. They speak Manipuri and their mother tongue is also Manipuri.

Their womenfolk use the Meetei women dresses, but the way they use the Meetei dress is different in look. The male Meitei Pangan commonly uses the Lungi. Their accent in speaking the Manipuri is noticeable from the Meetei. Hence, their general look is quite different from the Meetei. However, they were not allowed to take part in any Manipuri religious ceremony or any other festivity or the community feast.

They keep away from such ceremonies. Even they were not allowed to enter the house of the Manipuri. Still they hesitate to enter the Manipuri house. Inter caste marriage between the Meetei and the Meetei Pangan were forbidden and it still persists.

The Kalisha or the Kalishaya I am still vividly remembering a story having told by our forefathers that some section of people mostly male were brought by the Meetei Kings to be used as domestic helper. But I had not heard having told as to what tribe or community they belonged to and the place from where they were brought. However, they were allowed to marry the Meetei women and made to settle down in the valley. Gradually they grew in number. Some of them had mingled in the mainstream of the Meetei.

And some who wanted to retain their identity were allowed to do so. Since they were allowed to retain their identity and marry the Meetei women, their offshoots might have spoken a language mixture of the Meetei and the language of their origin. And these people worshiped the Hindu God Bishnu. The place where they worshiped Bishnu came to be known as Bishnupur later. However, I was not clearly told in what name they were recognized or known and what language they used during those days. I guess them to be the Kalisha or the Kalishaya and they spoke the present Bishnupriya language, a mixture of the Meetei and the Bengali language. Unlike the Meetei Pangan, they were not restricted to join in any Manipuri religious ceremonies or festivities.

Even inter caste marriage between the Meetei and the Kalisha were, to some extent, permissible. My observation? What I observe is that if the section of people who were brought to Manipur by the Meetei Kings for domestic help spoke the same language that the Bishnupriya people speaks now, then they were the Kalisha or the Kalishaya. However, that section of people all deserted Manipur during the period of Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (Seven Years Devastation) in Manipur. Because there is any section of people found in Manipur that speak the Bishnupriya Language at present.

We do not also find any section people who identify himself or herself (or claim) as the Bishnupriya in Manipur. This proves beyond doubt that these sections of people all deserted Manipur and they were the Kalisha or the Kalishaya. Therefore, they do not qualify to be the Manipuri under any classification of the Manipuri since they ceased to be the citizenship of Manipur from the day they deserted Manipur to establish a distinct identity. As such, they have no right to use the term as a tool for their identification. Bishnupriya in Assam and Tripura I heard having retold by our forefathers, the Bishnupriya living in some parts of Assam, Tripura and Bangladesh are the descendents of those groups of people that deserted Manipur during the Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (Seven Years Devastation) in Manipur.

They were formerly known as the Kalisha or the Kalishaya at that time because of their complexion distinct from the Meetei or the Manipuri. Sometime they identified themselves as the Manipuri as they claimed to have been originated from Manipur by virtue of their close proximity to the Manipuri. What I dislike the most in the social behavior of Manipuri? The Manipuri people generally do not allow any non Manipuri regardless of their religion or tribe to enter their house or participate in their religious ceremony or join in their customary festivity or community feast. This social behavior always keeps away other communities in such important functions. Even they are not allowed to enter their houses.

Sometime, such social restrictions cause us inconveniences to care for our non Manipuri friends when they visit our homes. I hate this social behavior the most and I like to disown this. However, this practice is disappearing little by little from the Manipuri Society now. Bishnupriya in Assam and Tripura The Kalisha or the Kalishaya people wanted them to be recognized by the Bishnupriya as they claimed to be originated from a place called Bishnupur in Manipur. During the sixties these people can speak Manipuri besides the Bishnupriya Language. They must know the Manipuri language.

Still some of them can speak Manipuri fluently. However, the Manipuri in Assam believed that the Bishnupriya people had connived to deprive them the facilities ought to be enjoyed by them. Therefore, they had a bad feeling about the Bishnupriya people. Nexus? I am recalling having told that during 1961 or early part of sixties, Assam Government introduced Assamese Language to be taught in every school in Assam. The Bengali people of the erstwhile Cachar District opposed the order of Assam Government and agitated against the Government. While trying to contain the situation, Assam Police resorted to firing to which few Bengali Students got injured and succumbed to death. Since then, they had started to demand for creation of a Union Territory for the people of Cachar District carving out from Assam State.

However, some Manipuri leaders were said to have supported the order of Assam Government. This has offended the minds of the Bengali people. I do not know how far it is true but I was told that the Bengali people wanted, in retaliation, to make the term Manipuri disputed. Therefore, they purposely poisoned the minds of the Bishnupriya people. To make the term disputed, they clandestinely instigated the Kalisha or the Kalishaya to claim as the Bishnupriya Manipuri or the Manipuri Bishnupriya. Because they knew that the Manipuri would never allow such things to happen.

They also knew that the Manipuri would never compromise on the division of the term on that line. Consequently, these people started their struggle to establish the foundation of Bishnupriya Manipuri. Thats end of the honeymoon between the Manipuri and the so called Bishnupriya Manipuri in Assam and Tripura. This has injured the minds of the Manipuri people. Thenceforth, the Manipuri people had divorced all relationship with these people. Now any attempt to make both these ends meet will be very difficult. Rest is the History.

One question still remained unsolved. The Bishnupriya people chose to change their name as the Bishnupriya Manipuri. Despite the objection of the Manipuri people, the Government of Assam and Tripura had recognized them as the Bishnupriya Manipuri and allowed their language to be taught in the Schools. Is it not prejudicial? I want to ask the Assamese or the Bengali people whether they would allow the Bishnupriya people to prefix or suffix the term Assamese or the Bengali to their name as the Bishnupriya Assamese or the Bishnupriya Bengali and share a common history with them. It is very doubtful.

Both are right. We cannot force anyone to do anything what we like. We have no say in their personal affairs. We cannot govern their choices. They are doing what they think right. However, it is bad the way they conspired to abuse the term Manipuri as a means to meet their unjustified end. From the Manipuri points of view, this is unjustified for they have no right to use a thing which is not theirs. To take a thing without the owners consent, it is stealing. Stealing in any form cannot be justified. However, this is justified from the Bishnupriya points of view, because this is their struggle to establish a distinct identity as a community. They had every right to change their name whatever they liked. They are independent in this matter.

On the other hand, they are right until their liberty does not trespass into ones freedom. They are right so long as they do not encroach into ones history while fabricating their own history. Whats there in a name? Whats there in a name? We can keep any name whatever we like. We can change our names by whatever name we want. In Manipuri Society, we dont prescribe any procedure for naming our children.

We name them whatever names we choose. Who cares about the name of a title or a name of a country besides using many foreign words? We give names just like Mehta, Mukherji, Gandhi, Patel, Birola, Washington, Japan, etc. etc. Besides these we give many foreign names like Sarat, Rajen, Biren, Rita, Rina, Mina, etc. etc. These are either the names of titles or the names of countries and these are all foreign words. There is nothing in a name till the intention is good. If the intention is to hurt the sentiments of the owner and to snatch the copyright illegally, it is bad.

Trespassing to steal ones copyright is a heinous crime. It is punishable. Scheming? The Bishnupriya people are distinctly separate from the Manipuri people. They are, in fact, having their own language. Their look is quite similar to the Aryan people as they inherited the Aryan gene. They perhaps wanted the people that took their side to judge their case. To arouse a suspicion about the sanctity of the term Manipuri in the minds of the onlookers formed the main purpose of their scheming. They were conniving to make this term disputed.

The more the Manipuri people make the Manipuri distinct from the Bishnupriya, the more controversy it becomes. The more the Manipuri became controversial, the more publicity they receive. The more publicity they received, the more distinct the Bishnupriya Manipuri becomes. They want to make it happen. When survival matters dog eats dog. We love the person that is struggling for survival.

In the struggle of survival, if one puts ones existence in peril, the answer will be different. What I want to make it happen? I do not have anything bad in my minds towards the Bishnupriya people. They are good people like the Manipuri. I have good contacts with them. I love them. I know they have too regards for the Manipuri in the bosom of their hearts. Sometime they behave as if they are our brethren that separated by circumstances. The woman walking on the streets in Manipuri dress who I thought was disguised to be the Manipuri woman was found to be the Bishnupriya woman that married to the Kalisha or the Kalishaya.

I could read in her face the pains of separation that is being carried on concealed in her heart. I thought her to be one of our sisters who got lost in the ocean of humanity. I thought both the community to be the two edges of the Barak River flowing down from Manipur towards Assam, Tripura and Bangladesh. Where do these edges meet? Will the Barak River make it happen? Both the people were afflicted by the symptom of a disease, not by the real disease. Disease can be healed however the symptom remains as scar.

This symptom had killed the relationship that we had and it is more cancerous than the cancer itself. Every beginning has its ending. Wherever they meet, I wish, there will be no bargain, no misgiving to end this feud. I wish if I were able to imagine more than this. I wish if I had the courage to make it happen. A stranger in your vicinity It is nice to see you. I felt warmth and comfort to pass near you.

I am coming as a stranger in your vicinity, with a poor look and presentation and feeling little uneasy to be near you, please wish me at least Hallo. Being Sunday, I felt free. I wasted the whole day to do this. This is meant for general reading only and this is useless as a reference material. I am sharing in this what I had heard and come across in life stitching together the thoughts lying in piecemeal. If God willing, we will meet in Manipuri part two. Till then Good Bye.

Thank you.



To be continued...


* Thokchom Ngouba wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a resident of Kohima; The writer hails from a small village called Pallarbond located on the Silchar-Imphal Road in Cachar District of Assam. The Village is 17 KM away from Silchar Town towards Jiribam in Manipur. This village has nowadays become a small rural township.
(As per the author, this article was writen on 18/08/2013 and correction completed on 31/08/2013 ...Regarding the terminology 'Meitei' and 'Meetei' , I used the Meetei following an Order of the Government of Manipur that was published in the Gazetteer of Manipur dated 20th April 1980 notifying the word Meetei to be correct term to avoid confusion between these two.. )
The writer can be contacted at thokchomngouba(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on September 01, 2013.


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