Memorial lecture on remembering Guru Gourkishwor Sharma

Rajmani Ayekpam *

 Gurumayum Gourakishore Sharma  with a Thang Ta student in November 2012
Gurumayum Gourakishore Sharma with a Thang Ta student in November 2012 :: Pix - TSE

The people of Manipur should remember Guru Gurumayum Gourakishwor Sharma for his invaluable contribution in the field of Manipuri martial art, Thang-Ta. Manipur is proud of its rich martial art tradition. For its skillful in Manipuri martial art, Thang-Ta, Manipuris, particularly, Meiteis kingdom has survived as an independent State from time immemorial.

Neighbouring States and countries respect the martial arts. Even, Manipuri kingdom expanded its boundary due to its adept in martial art, Thang-Ta.

Though Manipur was a small State, its boundary reached at the far corner of Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh. During the reign of king Garibaniwaj (Eningthou Pamheiba), king Garibaniwaj expanded its boundary upto Mandalay (once capital of Burma) and marked a sign on the wall of the Pegoda at Sagaing (near Mandalay). There was a royal alliance with the Ava king.

Meiteis or Manipuris make good friendships with the Mandalay king. A large number of Meitei settled at Mandalay till now. Burmese (Myanmarese) king used the skill of Manipuri noblemen and soldiers in martial arts. These were gifts of the Manipuri martial art, Thang-Ta.

After Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (Seven Years Devastation), Manipuri princes established various small princely kingdom at Barak valley (Cachar district of Assam) and Surma valley (now in Bangladesh). There was a small palace at the outskirts of Dhaka (capital of Bangladesh).

A street named Manipuri Para is there till now near parliament house at Dhaka. There is a sizable number of Manipuri (Meiteis and Manipuri Pangal) settled at Banugach. These are due to Manipuri's skill in martial art, Thang-Ta.

The performing arts of this state are very much indebted to Manipuri martial art, Thang-Ta particularly Manipuri dance. Many Manipuri dance movements were developed from the movement of martial art, Thang-Ta. It may be said that slow and stylized movement of Manipuri martial art is the facet of Manipuri dance.

As Manipuri dance is different from other classical forms of India, Manipuri dance has a unique identity. Many movements of the famous Nata Sankirtana were also developed from the movements of Manipuri martial arts.

Even, Manipur has survived as an independent country since time immemorial due to its skillful martial art, Thang-Ta. Many instances of history, Manipur faced war with neighbouring countries but Manipur didn't lose its independence. When new technology was not developed much martial art, Thang-Ta was the best weapon to defend our sovereignty.

If Manipuris were not skillful in the martial art, Thang-Ta, it would have lost its sovereignty long ago. So, martial art became a lifestyle for Manipuris particularly the Meitei community before modernism arrived.

When British rule came to the state, learning and teaching of Manipuri martial art, Thang-Ta, was completely banned in the state. However, some enthusiasts secretly preserved this rare art form at their own cost. The time Manipur as well as India got independence learning and teaching of Manipuri martial art, Thang-Ta was reborn again.

 Thang Ta performed at JN Dance Academy , Imphal :: 26th December 2019
Thang Ta performed at JN Dance Academy , Imphal in December 2019 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

Some gurus of Thang-Ta tried to revive this rare art form. Among them, Guru G. Gourkishwar Sharma was one of the prominent gurus of the Manipuri martial art, Thang-Ta who worked tirelessly for the development and promotion of this precious art form.

Guru Gourkishwor began his endeavour for the cause of Manipuri martial art, Thang-Ta by establishing his alma mater institution Huyen Lallong Manipur Thang-Ta Cultural Association (HLMTTCA) in the year 1958. HLMTTCA is the first organization in the state for the development and promotion of Manipuri martial art, Thang-Ta.

Many of the students, gurus and scholars from this institution work for the promotion and preservation of this art form. The artistes of HLMTTCA toured many parts of the world for spreading and recognition of this art form. Many workshops and seminars were organized under his supervision for the promotion of Manipuri martial art, Thang-Ta.

By recognizing his contribution for the promotion of Manipuri martial, Thang-Ta many awards, titles and medals were conferred on him. The erstwhile Maharaja of Manipur, king Budhachandra honoured him by decorating 'Khamen Chatpa' and 'Gold Medal'.

Manipur State Kala Akademi (MSKA) awarded him 'Fellowship' in the year 1974 and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1983 by Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, Kala Ratna in 2008, Tagore Ratna in 2012, Huyen Lanjang Athouba in 1976, Padmashri in 2009. Purva Saman Sandak Award in 2013. After his death, few titles were conferred like Huyen Lallong Shintak Purel in 2015 and Thang-Ta gi Nongsharel in 2016.

His alma mater Huyen Lallong Manipur Thang-Ta Cultural Association (HLMTTCA) organized a memorial lecture on 'Manipuri Kala Amasung Sanskritida Mityeng Ama' by Longjam Joychandra Singh on 26th October, 2021 at 9.30 in the premises of MLMTTCA, Keirao, Imphal East to remember him.

The speaker of the memorial lecture, Shri Longjam Joychandra Singh is an eminent critic and scholar of Manipuri literary and culture. During his service period, he served as the secretary of Manipur State Kala Akademi, an apex body of Manipuri art & culture and literature. Besides, he served as a Director of the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy (JMDA), a pioneering institution of Manipuri art and culture.

As a man of literature he (Joychandra) highlighted the beauty of this land by presenting a few lines from old literature (song from Laiharaoba) and a few lines from a new modern poet, Elangbam Nilakanta. Then, he entered his journey into the beautiful realm of LaI-Haraoba. If Lai-Paraiba is removed from Manipuri culture, Manipuri culture will be a simple one.

 Thang Ta performed at JN Dance Academy , Imphal :: 26th December 2019
Thang Ta performed at JN Dance Academy , Imphal in December 2019 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

Lai-Haraoba contributed much to both Manipuri literature and culture. Then, comes the emergence of Hindu Vaisnavism in Manipuri culture and King Bhagyachandra. King Bhagyachandra introduced the famous Nata Sankirtana in Manipur culture.

Now, UNESCO recognized Nata Sankirtana as an intangible heritage. Many scholars regarded King Bhagyachandra's period as a 'golden period of Manipuri culture'. Famous 'Ras Jagoi' was introduced by presenting 'Maharas' during his period.

Then, British rule came to this state and began its journey in a newer way. Modernity and hybrid culture entered into the soil of Manipuri culture. Variety of performing arts sprung up in Manipur culture to cope with newer wants of Manipuri people. The memorial lecture concluded with hope and aspiration of Manipuri culture.

We hope followers and disciples of Guru Gourkishwor will keep his tradition and what he wanted during his lifetime.

* Rajmani Ayekpam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on November 24 2021.

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