The Tangkhuls in the historical traditions of Manipur
- Part 2 -

Ch Budhi Singh *

 Rendition of a Tangkhul folk dance during Lai-Haraoba festival at Wangoo Tampha Lairembi in May 2011
Rendition of a Tangkhul folk dance during Lai-Haraoba festival at Wangoo Tampha Lairembi in May 2011 :: Pix - TSE

Germinated on the spree of the local Dravidian historical water-shed, another legend lays claim that on a mission to reclaiming Manipur Shiva visited this country and sojourned at 'Nongmaiching' (or 'Langmaiching) hill' amid peoples like Angom, Luwang, Thang-e, Selloi (Siroi)-langmai, Saram Tangkhul etc.

This visitor must have been an outstanding strong man likened to Shiva in the legend, and the whole story may have been a fabrication to explain the infiltration of one Tari who usurped leadership of Angom and Sarang- Leishangthem communities (Tari was the name of a small tribe of the Karen/ Koireng).

That Tari originating in the Karen tribe was perhaps likened to Shiva in this legend. 'Nongmaiching' is known by another name i.e., 'Baruni hill' too, presumably after the term 'Barus' which the Burmese used as a word for 'camphor'.

In recent past camphor was locally produced at this hill; hence, mayhap this additional name of the hill. The Meitei pilgrimage to worship Mahadev at this hill on a night annually in the month of March a few days after the Holi festival could perhaps be linked to the above legend of Shiva's sojourn at this hill.

'Numit sana khomdol' of Numit kappa legend, who fled the attack of 'Khaba Khui', hero of the Khaba community, took asylum at Moirang, and later sheltered at a particular spot, 'Sangai Yumpham', in this hill, that has been consecrated as a sanctum sanctorum by the Meitei people.

This hill is the tryst, too, of another legendary hero, 'Nongpok'/'Nongpok Sellu (siroi) Apanba'/ 'Nongpok Mallang Humoiba'/'Saram Tangkhul Pakhangba'(names after, and personifications of, the direction of the compass, the east', abode of the Tangkhuls in Manipur) and his female partner 'Saram Tangkhul Nurabi' who purportedly create scene of dispute over the question of ownership of land in the 'Tangkhul versus Nurabi' episode of Lai haraoba dance drama.

One finds this anecdote transmuted into another legendary narrative with the new content of romantic affairs of 'Nongpok Ningthou' and 'Panthoibi' (the story detailed in the local text Panthoibi Khonggul). 'Panthoibi' whose archetype may aptly be fixed on the fabulous Amazonian queen 'Panthoisilla' that figured in the Trojan War on the side of the Trojan prince Priam, was locally a hedonistic and atypical daughter of the Mangang royal House of the Gandharva community of early Manipur, who had been none else than the Manians/Minoans of the ancient Bronze Age Cretan World, and who fanned out on migration also far to the Orient.

They were a people of early Manipur whom the Meitei then called 'Mangang Hao'. Meitei king Naothingkhong (663-760 A.D.) conquered and assimilated them into the Meitei population, appropriating many of their things cultural of superior quality including, say, their word 'Mangang' as the prestigious name for the dominant ruling clan of the larger Meitei society.

Immediately prior to that event they had been settling at 'Haokap Chingshang', the low-lying hill range (extension of the high Koubru Range) just bordering the Manipur Valley on its south-west. Evidence has it also that still earlier they had settled at the source of the Gwaii river to the west of the 'Koubru Peak'.

Certain Gandharva individuals got drifted to the Tangkhul populations, possibly among the 'Luhupa Tangkhuls'. The Meiteis called them 'Tangkhul Gandharvas'. There appears to have a claim of the Puimei of Hao-Chongpal settlement of Ngaprum Chingjin region that at dim past some of their ancestors migrated to the east where they became gradually known as 'Luhupa Tangkhuls'. This claim may be clubbed with the trace of Gandharva elements in this section of the Tangkhuls.

A retrospection into the above array of legends rebellows the feature of something like an algebraic line drawn over several names of divine or so idealities having a common relation to what follows or precedes; the names already produced above and the rest culled from the text on local historical traditions may be marshalled in this order of sequence: 'Haraba' (Shiva) = 'Marjing' = 'Nongpok (-Ningthou',-sellu or Sirioi Apanba,'-Mallang Humoiba') = 'Tangkhul (-Huitop Pakhangba,'-Saram Pakhangba') = 'Angom (- Poleilomba,' - Ningthou' ) = 'Angouba' or 'Angou - Panba.'

Their common relation consists in being names a Divinity ('Lainingthou Sanamahi'/ 'Ashiba') assumes in His chequered cosmogonical manifestations in the work of creation of the socio-cultural world. Now, as a requisite of this write-up, it can't but be pointed out that the Tangkhul ascribed hereabove as having had creative divine touch of Shiva ('Ashiva'/'Sanamahi' of the Meitei) trace to the Tangkhul-turned-Angoms, offspring of the Tangkhul younger brother of the story that we read at the beginning, that horde that formed the stem of the Angom clan at the time of the socio-political formation of the greater Meitei community, whose leader 'Poleilomba' was, for what he contributed to the making of Manipur to follow up, and for the grand historic background of having had affinity with the Dravidians and the Gandharvas of that antiquity, conferred a number of high titles of common affinity even with the 'Creator' of the Meitei cosmology, and accordingly honoured with a multitude of special privileges and prerogatives held in unique statuses, all that in sum is our overview of the same.

Contrariwise of these progeny of the Tangkhul younger brother that prospered to the status of being an important section of the panna (free) Meitei populace of the historical kingdom of Manipur, the descendents of the elder brother who stayed on in the eastern hills of the state remained till recently a historical backwater.

Once the Meitei kingdom was formed in the valley, the total lot of the separated, forgotten hill brethren were reduced to tribute-payers to the emerging kingly state, and thus left succumbed to all possible hardships and sufferings of being subdued. Save for certain individuals of outstanding achievements from among them, that too very few and far between, the rest bulk of the said lot were bogged down in segregation and benumbed, ever forbidden to enter en masse into the greater fold of the panna citizens of the kingly state.

The main hindrance to that effect was the immutable ideological principle of the then prevailing type of state, 'middle kingdom' by which is meant the kingdom existing sandwiched by the celestical kingdom above and the sluggish underworld beneath, while the peoples on its peripheral margins were censured unfit to be bona fide citizens of its civic body politic.

Damned and dumped in seclusion were the Huns/Turks/hsiung-nu and the other border tribes unnumbered in Imperial China, so were the Germans in Imperial Rome, inclusion of which stuff therein was condemned as defiling the high civitas of the imperial systems. Individual Germans were, however, recruited in the Roman Imperial army; toward the close of the fourth century A.D. wealthy Roman households were running with German slaves. German individuals were working in the body-guards of Roman nobles, too.

All what happened so happened sheerly as a matter of historical necessity of that antiquity, a reality of the platitudinous tenet of historical relativity. No force could undo the same. History moves in its own intrinsic momentum that one can't meddle with. One need not, therefore, lament or argue on the course of history.

It has its own process that works spontaneously, whereas historiography may be a conscious tradition though, like other cultural phenomena. Soothfastly, therefore, the past is for learning from, not to live in. Given any residue of historical damage/injury, if there be, history in the fitness of its irony may vindicatively heal up the lingering casualty of the past, its linear span recoiling itself thereby its head biting the tail.

That way history revisits the present in guise of the latter; reversely, the present appears quo avatar of the past reborn. In line with this continuing nuanced design of history the historical traditions of Manipur, too, stand still in good stead to redress the threatened balance of harmony befalling this state initially in the aftermath of the early historical formation of the Manipuri 'middle kingdom' in the valley, and the concordant Meitei ethnic formation that was eventually trailed by a historical grave situation of religious divide between and betwixt the valley and the hills at the advent of the Hindu proselytisation of the ethnic Meiteis in the eighteenth century of the present era, and subsequently Christianisation of the Tangkhuls and other hill tribes of this state one after another during its colonial days, all being responsible for the current condition of anomie plaguing the societal life of Manipur whereby its two sets of people, the valley and the hills, are left poles asunder.

Now, then, what to learn from the historical tradition of Manipur to meaningfully address the emergent crisis of the tangential inertia of conflict in the question of integration of this state in today's democratic set-up of civic life. The past does not die out overnight; it continues in the present putting on the latter's form, yet in a new content.

This idea of history accorded with, the reconciliation management spree in action observed on the occasions of the annual state festival of Hao chongba and the Meitei cyclic festival of Lai haraoba, both renewing regularly the message of organic solidarity of the hills and the plain, that the peoples of Manipur inherit from their historical tradition, should be fed amply with new suitable content that may be envisaged in certain empathic innovation of a sort of democratic, inclusive institutional re-arrangement / re-structuring amicable to both the two sets of people of this state to befittingly cater to the growing and widening range of aspirations of the peoples thereof to participate in self-rule/self governance, the law-making process in particular, and thus cracking down the present bottle-neck impediment to the aspirations in question.

Fairly germane would it be to what is expected of the Government concerned for it to execute nation-building from 'below' and 'lateral' locus in quo in the proper light of contemporary civil polity.


* Ch Budhi Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The author is formerly a Professor of Social Anthropology at Manipur University, Canchipur.
This article was webcasted on June 08, 2019.

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