Manipuri Diaspora in Myanmar: Past and Present
- Part 3 -

Mutua Bahadur *

Mutua Bahadur delivering the CMS Lecture moderated by Prof. S. Mangi Singh, Director, CMS, MU.
Mutua Bahadur delivering the CMS Lecture moderated by Prof. S. Mangi Singh, Director, CMS, MU.

Residential and Temple Architecture

Rich Manipuri-Kates and Paonas built their houses with bricks and some of them are double storied. Most of the houses are constructed with wood and they are covered with C.I. sheets. Besides the living house, kitchen and store houses are roofed with bamboo. And these houses are walled with bamboo mats.

Some of the houses of Manipuri-Kates by the river banks of the Ningthi (Chindwin) look like the traditional Meitei Yumjao (traditional Manipuri house). Some of them were seen before the 2nd World War. At Namfalong, some Manipuri houses have 'kangthak (pile dwelling).

The area under the kangthak is used as a work-shed. There is a gate for every bamboo, wooden and brick walls that encircle residential areas. A 'Tulishipung' (a sacred spot for ritual purposes) is there in front of every house.

An area called 'phamel' is reserved for elders on the right side of the verandah of a house. There is no tradition among Manipuri-Kates and Paonas of Mandalay of reserving an area in the south-eastern corner of the house for Lord Sanamahi.

However, idols of Lakshmi (Hindu goddess of wealth) are worshipped in place of Sanamahi. Manipuri-Kates settled along the banks of the Ningthi river, have the tradition of reserving an area for Lord Sanamahi in their houses. They don't have the tradition of rearing poultry. They believe that if a hen perches on the roof of a house, Lord Sanamahi will move away.

In the localities of Kate-Paonas there is a tradition of having temples and mandhavs. The main structures of the temples are of brick, and they are roofed with C.I. sheets.

The village of Dat Dale have Hindu temples, besides having brick temples of Lainingthou Pakhangba and Lairembi. At Gaave (Yekyi pauk) village, there are two wooden temples of Yumjao Lairembi (meroji) and Marjing and the roof is of C.I. sheets. The Hindu temples have pointed domes like those of the Pagoda. Bells are hung high supported by brick pillars.

Dress and Customs

Myanmarese Manipuris have two areas of dressing. When they come out of their houses they wear longyi. From an early period, some Manipuris will cover their head with a piece of cloth and a knot is left on the left side. Myanmarese Manipuri women wear stripped sarong. The sarong is joined at the borders lengthwise and it is worn by tucking in a part of it, along the line of the left leg.

Women wear long sleeved blouses Sometimes woman wear sarongs over them. Sometimes the blouse covers the sarong. There is not much difference on the matter of dresses between a girl and a married woman.

Male folks wear white dhoti (pheijom) when they participate religious of ritualistic ceremonies. Boys wear white dhoti. Men use white armless vests as they participate in ceremonies, and cloth is hung around the neck.

During ceremonies, girls of Bamon Khunjao wear 'Pumngou Phanek' (pale pink sarong) and their forehead is adorned with 'Chandan' (sacred mark). The tradition of wearing pumngou phanek in Mandalay is a recent one.

There's no tradition of 'Phidon Chingkhatpa' (wearing sarong over the chest) among married women during prayer sessions. Most of the male Myanmarese Manipuris wear 'Longyis'. If a male person, residing by the banks of the Ningthi river is seen with a Longyi, he is looked at with derision for he is seen as a woman wearing a sarong. Now - a- days, some men have started using Longyi.

There is a tradition for married women to keep a knot of hair on the backside of the head. This knot of hair is often adorned with white flowers. They use ear-ring and gold necklaces around necks. There's no tradition of wearing extra golden bangles.

A groom puts on a 'Pheijom' (white dhoti) and Lugun (sacred thread). No shirt is worn. But, their upper body is covered with a white cloth.

'Kokyet', (white turban) is put on the head. However, it is different from the one used by the Manipuris in Manipur. This turban is specially created by the Myanmarese Manipuris. No difference is there between the turban worn by a groom and the turban used by a pungyeiba (drummer). The bride wears 'Achiek' or a costly sarong (phanek). A long-sleeved blouse is worn by her.

A thin white cloth will cover the bride, and jewellery is on the head. Scented white jasmine will be used along with the jewellery. Kate women settled by the banks of the Ningthi (Chindwin) river wear embroidered sarong (phanek) in marriage ceremonies.

The bride and groom will be marked with chandan. There's no difference in the use of costume and jewellery between girls ready for na-hutpa (piercing the earlobes) and a bride. But, there's no tradition of using an inaphi (wrapper).

In recent years it has become common seeing girls and married women wearing needle worked sarongs (the designs are on both the borders) among the Manipuri-Kates and Paonas of Mandalay division. When girls offer dances at a Mandhav (an open construction used for religious or other functions). They will put on 'Mayek Naiba' sarong.

During the occasion of Lai Haraoba of 'Yumjao Lairembi' (Meroji in Myanmarese language) at Gaave (Yekyi pauk), village the girls of Manipuri-Kates and Paonas settled in Bamon Khunjao, Minde-e-kin, Dat Dale, Moza of Mandalay and Sagaing use mayek naiba sarong and extra-weft-designed wrapper.

About a centuries back, Manipuri women of Mandalay wore a sarong named 'Pumthet Phanek' other ones which had embroidered by needle on both borders. However, these sarongs are no longer in use.

Manipuri-Kate 'Maibi' (priestess who does not speak Manipuri language) wear a horizontally-stripped sarong high on the chest; she is without any shirt.

She will cover herself with a thin cloth over the head. Girls who form a part of the festival of Lai-Haraoba (pleasing of deity) wear stripped sarong and a blouse. A garland prepared with white jasmine will decorate her head.

In the late 18th century, a Manipuri-Kate was found serving under the Myanmarese king as a general. Manipuri-Kates formed a part of the Myanmarese cavalry and foot soldiers.

The general (Manipuri-Kate) of Myanmarese army donned a Pheijom and a turban on head and the shirt is Myanmarese. Manipuri cavalry wore 'Koyet Kangdrum' (turban used as safety gear) and it is tied down with a piece of cloth under the chin.


** Proceedings of the Centre for Manipur Studies (CMS) Interactive Lecture Series, dated 17 September 2018, orgd. by CMS, Manipur University. Rapporteur: Aheibam Koireng, Asst. Prof., CMS, MU.

* Mutua Bahadur (Cultural Activist, Freelance Archivist and Museologist) gave this lecture at Centre for Manipur Studies (CMS) which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on December 06, 2018.

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