The unbreakable umbilical cord : Maram folklore and Meitei connection

Yenning *

 Maram Khullen still keeps alive the ancestral values by singing folk song :: 2012
Maram Khullen still keeps alive the ancestral values by singing folk song :: 2012:: Pix - Ibomcha Yumnam

The Marams hold within their grasp a treasure trove of extraordinary tales. These narratives echo their origins, their odysseys, and their intricate rapport with the Meiteis. Although every storyteller imparts a unique twist, the essence of these sagas remains intricately interwoven in the tapestry of their oral traditions.

In a time when magic flowed freely and wonder filled the air, the saga began. A chapter unfurled, painting a portrait of a powerful deity and creative whimsy, embodying Pumpu Pramha, the Almighty God, playful yet potent. Amid the vast expanse of his solitude, a craving for companionship stirred within.

Before life could bloom, he sculpted realms for them to inhabit, shaping the universe – the heavens above and the earth below. Yet, the earth stood flat, surpassing the sky in size. In response, Sky requested Earth to fold into a sphere, fitting snugly together and giving rise to the hills and valleys we see today.

Pumpu's creative spree continued, birthing an array of creatures. However, contentment eluded him, driving him to liberate these entities, each adorned with a name. Taking a contemplative stroll, he found himself atop a picturesque hill, gazing upon a serene valley graced by rivers and lakes. Grasping a branch of the Madungbang oak tree, he pondered his next masterpiece.

However, tranquillity shattered with the intrusion of the persistent koktchi-n'chet, a mischievous stem borer insect. Reflecting briefly, Pumpu spat into his palm, rubbing his hands to conjure a transformation – an entity akin to himself, named Madungkasi. Amidst his satisfaction lingered a sense of unrest, compelling Pumpu to embark on a further journey, leading him to a pond.

Thirsty, he cupped water with his palms but felt the tickle of a Silmongpui, a water strider. Flicking it to the earth, he muttered and witnessed its metamorphosis into a resplendent naked woman, Samotingdungpui. Enchanted, he foresaw the potential peril that Madungkasi might face.

To safeguard against this, he endowed her with protective genital teeth, much like our own teeth that aid in chewing food, but here, an armour against intrusive male influences.

Thus, the names of Ma-dungkasi and Samoting- dungpui became intertwined with their origin and creation, marking the birth of humankind according to Maram folklore. Pumpu entrusted them to a place known as Taikong Rajaimie, under the care of his loyal servant Surah Kachingnii (Goddess of Mercy). Abundant in nourishment, this place bore a singular rule–abstaining from consuming the fruit positioned at the pond's centre, reserved solely for the Almighty.

As time progressed, Madungkasi acquainted himself with sensual pleasures. His proximity to Tingrangpui (Samotingdungpui) sparked an unexplained itch within him. Her beauty, from her moon-like face to her tender curves, captivated him.

However, it was her scent that surpassed all, with its captivating allure. His attempts at courting her were met with strategic dismissals. Frustrated, he sought counsel from Surah, who revealed the secret of Tingrangpui's protective teeth.

Initially astounded by this revelation, Madungkasi embarked on strategies to conquer her heart. Among them, he subjected himself to rigorous exercises, even resorting to breaking a wooden mortar daily with his member. Through Surah, Tingrangpui eventually learned of his endeavours. In response, she resolved to educate him, showcasing her own prowess – her unique ability to manipulate objects using her genital teeth.

A pivotal moment arrived when Madungkasi enticed Tingrangpui to Teikong Rugumi, promising exotic fruits. Amid them stood the wild apple tree Kababang, bearing vibrant green fruits celebrated for their tangy flavour. Tempted, Tingrangpui implored Madungkasi to pluck some. Ascending the tree, he cleverly chose unripe fruits.

After consuming a few, Tingrangpui's teeth grew sensitive, limiting her intake. Seizing the opportunity, Madungkasi proposed an unconventional solution – employing her genital teeth to chew the remaining fruits. He reasoned that such heavenly fruits deserved not to be wasted, invoking the authority of the Almighty.

Ensnared by his ruse, Tingrangpui undertook the task until her protective genital teeth grew overly sensitive, inhibiting her consumption. Sensing her vulnerability, Madungkasi seized the moment, culminating in a passionate encounter. Despite her initial resistance, Ting-rangpui succumbed to the waves of newfound excitement. Their union bore three sons in successive years: Maram Roukang, Makikang-ba, and Kia Sanglung.

A crucial legend narrates Maram Roukang's birth, his cries resonating, shaking heaven and earth. Resistant to all soothing, only the forbidden fruit, Pumpu's rice, from the pond's core would provide solace.

Driven to desperation, the couple defied divine orders, enlisting a red mouse to pluck it. Consumed, tranquillity embraced Maram Roukang, but divine fury was unleashed. This act of defiance resulted in a curse upon humanity, condemning them to toil tirelessly for sustenance.

 Maram Traditional Dance at BOAT, Imphal :: 25 November 2022
Maram Traditional Dance at BOAT, Imphal on 25 November 2022 :: Pix - Bond Thokchom

Endowed with indomitable spirits, the three brothers matured, carving distinct paths. Embarking on quests, they shaped destinies and domains. Parting ways at a location named Meikhel (Makhel), the eldest brother, Maram Roukang, planted his walking stick.

This seemingly innocuous act bore lasting consequences as the stick took root and grew into a monumental Tamdonbangj tree, symbolizing the dispersal of the ancestral brothers. This wild pear tree stands resolute at Makhel.

Maram Roukang chose Maram Khullen for settlement and became the progenitor of the Nagas. Makikangba or Makikarunii, journeyed southward, pioneering the Manipur valley and becoming the forebearer of the Meiteis. Meanwhile, Kia Sanglung ventured to Cachar, sowing the seeds of the Mayangs or Assamese lineage. In their divergence, unity and pursuit of destiny, the Marams etched a legacy that continues to thrive.

In an array of oral and folkloristic traditions, the Marams claim that their forefathers ventured into the valley, laying claim to whatever they sought. Amidst the history of conflict, a parallel tale of peace and unity emerged. Bonds between the Marams and the Meiteis evolved through gestures of amicability, unions through matrimonial ties, and prosperous trade.

One such story is about Meidingu Tabungba (1359–1394 AD), Telheiba's son who succeeded Tonaba. Tabungba's expeditions into the hills met triumph, except for one fatal encounter with a Maram chieftain. Surprisingly, retribution did not follow, indicating the formidable stature of the Marams.

The Marams' belief suggests that a relative tranquility might have dawned during the reign of Meidingu Paikhomba (1666–1697 AD), owing to the great king's marriage to Ingalei, a Maram maiden. His brother, Charai-rongba, further solidified these ties by marrying Maram princess Makinai, whom the Meiteis refer to as Nungthil Chaibi, thereby nurturing a bond of camaraderie with their kin.

Maram folklore subtly hints at a story where Prince Charairongba embarked on a quest to retrieve his father's skull, which had been taken by the Marams. While living among the Marams incognito, he fell in love with Princess Makinai.

Their elopement was prompted by a warning that abandoning her would invoke the wrath of heaven. Yet, Palace courtiers held reservations about having a tribal queen, relegating her to a village called Thangal Surung near Saikul.

In due time, Makinai gave birth to a son, Pamheiba (Gharib Niwaz), but met a heartrending demise in the Thangal village. Despite this tragedy, vengeance was meted out, as Charairongba met his end through a lightning bolt while returning from quelling a rebellious village.

Legend envelops Nungthil Chaibi and the birth of Pamheiba. One narrative, as per the account in Bijoy Panchali, recounts how Charairongba, upon learning of Nungthil Chaibi's pregnancy, consulted astrologers who predicted his demise at the hands of his unborn son.

In anticipation, the queen devised a covert plan with Samnura, the wife of the Makeng Thangal chief, to safeguard the child. Upon birth, Samnura discreetly whisked the child away, and a fabricated report was presented to the king.

The child grew up in the Thangal village, hidden from the world. Upon discovery, the king was entranced by the boy's enigmatic aura. This discovery marked the inception of Haomacha Loishang, as the king brought the boy, along with three friends, to the Palace.

The chronicles of trade interactions between the hill tribes and the valley meticulously detail the exchange of commodities such as plantain leaves, cotton, bamboo goods, beads, spears, and more in return for salt, rice, and clothes.

The ebb and flow of market dynamics mirrored the bargaining power held by both parties, shaped by mutual agreements. It's likely that the Marams engaged in rice and salt trading due to the abundance of these items in their villages.

Tragedy followed Meidingu Bhagyachandra's passing, ultimately leading to fratricide. Among his sons, Marjit, with Awa's assistance, claimed the throne of Manipur in 1813. He reigned until 1819. However, Bagyidaw's ascension to the Awa throne heralded a Burmese onslaught on Manipur, plunging the land into seven years of devastation known as "Chahi Taret Khuntakpa".

Maram folklore recounts the ramifications of this dark era extended to the hills, where victorious Burmese generals, Pakhaun and Kane-Un, dispatched envoy Chaka- Piyang to gather those taking refuge there including several Meitei women. These raids depleted provisions among the Maram people, forging a mutual dependence on the Meiteis, who sought expertise in crafting spears and swords.

In the grand tapestry of history, the Marams and Meiteis remain indelibly intertwined. Their stories vivid- ly depict themes of brotherhood, struggles, alliances, and the unbreakable umbilical cord that binds them across the expanse of time and space.

* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at hoiyenning(AT)proton(DoT)me
This article was webcasted on 20 August 2023.

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