Historical Evaluation of Puya Meithaba
- A Contemporary Re-interpretation -
- Part 2 -

Dr. Lokendra Arambam *

'Puya mei thaba' : Burning of Puya - 284th Observation at the Kangla, Imphal :: 4  February 2013
'Puya mei thaba' : 284th Observation at Kangla, Imphal on 4 February 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

The entries at the Cheitharol Kumbaba recording the actions of the monarch mention a systematic exercise of state power to erase the cultural memory of the people, and establishment of the ritual forms and practices under the new tenets of the Indian religion. In he was still constructing the Krishna temples as well as the Kalika temples (1717?), and inaugurated the Krishna temple with pomp and splendour.

The first forceful step towards the Ramandi religion was perhaps the prevention of meat-eating by the seven clans, and the prohibition of domestication of pig and poultry in the interior of village households, and in 1723, there was the official declaration of the rejection of the indigenous Umanglai deities and destruction of their abodes. In Nov 1723, Brahmin priests were allowed to serve the native deities namely Lainingthou Nongshaba, Yimthei Lai, Panthoibi and Taibang Khaiba (Lord Sanamahee).

In 1724, there was the ritual cremation of ancestors according to new precepts at the banks of the Chindwin river, and the new cremation system introduced by Shanti Das became the mortuary rite norm. Also the start of addressing the king as Maharajah was made at this year. In 1725, Gomati (Wahengbam chanu Paikhu Lanthabi) became the chief queen. In 1726, the first incident of the priest Shanta Das participating physically in war preparations were seen in construction of the Prum Pan.

The Ningthem Pukhri was also dug at this year through collective labour. Krishna and Kalika deities were transferred at this site since then. The nine Umanglais were buried at the Mongbahanba site (Mahabali) in June 1726. Destruction of the temples of the indigenous deities of Layingthou, Panthoibi, Laiwa thiba, two Lammapis, (Mayengbam and Leishangthem), Soraren, Hoidon Pokpi etc. were effected. In 1727, the Guru physically supervised construction of market sheds at Shallungthen.

The Shingjamei bridge was constructed by him at this year. He also physically participated at the war against the Tripuris (Takhel) during the year. He again with the monarch went into the punitive expeditions against the Marring tribes, as well as against the Shairem tribes. In June 1728, the stone from the market was pulled towards the Mongbahanba site to erect the statue of Hanuman. During this period the crisis in the destruction of the iron statue of Lord Sanamahee had its ramifications and the king undertook the restoration of the statue of the Lord in 1729.

Along with the restoration of the native deity however, there was the ritual ablution of both the priest and king at Lillong which was a collective acknowledgment of the official contract between king and people for acceptance of the new faith for seven generations (Nongkhrang Iruppa). Sacred thread wearing ceremony was undertaken by the king through the priest. And finally in Oct 1732, the burning of the sacred scriptures were effected with ritual precision and care.

The use of the elephant procession to collect native literature was important since monarchical power, imperial authority and royal magnificence was theatricalized to project the farewell to the thousand years of indigenous knowledge and philosophy, and the floodgates to the western door was opened. Some one hundred twenty sacred books on religion, ritual and philosophy were burnt. Incidentally the burning of the Puyas were effected by the British colonial power in 1891, after the defeat of the Manipuris as well (B. Kulachandra, 1995).

What is the cultural and political significance of this momentous event is history? Is it similar to the near recent destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992, which began another chapter in the cleavage in Indian society in the fag end of the twentieth century? Is the act of the monarch purely a result of sheer manipulation of wills by a crafty Brahmin priest, which is normally the assumptions of the gullible contemporary public, or was it a deeply concerned, radical action taken by a powerful personality at the height of his intellectual and mental powers?

A careful consideration of the unreported inter-relation of forces beneath the seeming flow of events and meticulous rerecording of the social and political compulsions, along with the world view of the eighteenth century Manipur population would be necessary to unearth the reality behind the historic event.

From personal history of Pamheiba's growth, maturity and pre-dilections as he ascended the throne, we are aware that the court in which he grew was an environment of liberal thought and behaviour, which enabled the representatives of Sanskritic culture to have access to patronage, the inner realms of decision making in the chamber of the queens, as well as the freedom to engage in rituals and ceremonies in the religious establishments patronized by the court.

At the same time with tremendous agricultural expansion from domestic cultivation as well as rampages in outlying territories under a martial economy, the royal power had substantial surplus to spend on lavish ceremonies, constructions of buildings and temples and grants of land to the beneficiary Brahmins. The fluid movement of tribal and ethnic populations, the necessity to impress royal authority required extra-theatrical dimensions of power and exhibit the body of the monarch on occasions of public celebrations.

Control over population, and not on possession of land was rather the principal focus of the ethno-state, and the relationship with people and populations could only be secured through control over the rituals and rites which ensured the link of the subordinate realms in cosmological relationship with the forces governing the polity. The ritual theatre state (Clifford Geertz 1966) which was an embodiment of power exercise in medieval Southeast Asia, which rationalized authority relations in a cosmic world view based on ancestral beliefs and practices were heightened with the novel system of rites and regulations which the Hindu world view could enhance.

It was therefore not as much a story of personal devotion to the supreme authority or Godhood which impressed the ruler of the expanding realm, but rather the building of power and hierarchy and enhancing of personal authority of the king which attracted the religion of the other in the fast changing world of political fluctuations in the pre-modem Manipur which induced personal conversions into the same. The indigenous, communally oriented tribalistic religion alone was found wanting in the environment of war, political confrontation and clashes of world civilizations and cultures.

It is therefore the developing concept of God-king (Lainingthou) as an indigenous philosophy embellished by Hindu rituals and practices which propelled the Manipur kings since the seventeenth century to experiment conversion into various sects and practices of Hinduism to meet internal political and social needs. The Devaraja concept of Kampuchea, which was an indigenous Southeast Asian concept of kingship based on ancestral traditions led to enhancement of the powers of the king as well as later deification of the rulers that the king himself became equated with God.

The king, with an installation of the shiva linga on his coronation, became equated with the great god of ancient Cambodia (Nidhi Auesrivongse 1976). The divine right of the kings of Southeast Asia to rule over the realms of people and populations were accentuated with rites and rituals emanating from the cultural sources of Sanskrit and Indie philosophy.

Pamheiba himself modelled his own actions and behaviour on the principles exuded from Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. It was here that we have to undertake the enquiry into the thought processes of medieval rulers and their psycho-biological associations with the Hindu divinities. In the words of Frank E. Reynolds 'For the most part, these Hindu crystallizations set the story of Rama in a primordial time situated at or near the beginning of the present eon when the gods are very much involved in human affairs and the character of the world as we know it is just being established.

At a certain moment, the proper order in the cosmos and society is challenged by a counter-availing force that threatens to disrupt the world with injustice and disharmony. In order to prevent this situation from getting out of hand, a prominent god (usually Vishnu) becomes incarnate in the person of Rama, a prince of a northern kingdom usually identified with the city of Ayodhya in northeastern India. In his incarnation as Rama, Vishnu in surrounded by a host of companions and helpers, many of whom are themselves embodiments or descendants of members of the Hindu pantheon - although the particular deities and the relationships involved vary significantly from one account to another.

In some Hindu versions Rama and his companions are presented in a way that highlights Rama's divinity and thus evokes devotion directed toward him. In other versions Rama and his companions are depicted as semidivine exemplars who embody the virtues that Hindus are expected to cultivate. In still other versions a greater degree of moral ambiguity is evident (Paula Richman Ed 1994).

Reading into the first attempt by Manipuri literati in the eighteenth century to translate the Rama story Pamheiba encouraged the version of the fall of Birbahu (Birbahu Tuba) to be rendered into semi-archaic Manipuri. Two scribes in the court Murari and Angom Gopi were commissioned to do the translation from Kirtibasa's original version (M. Gourachandra 1984) probably in 1713 AD In the text however two authors are self-mentioned-a Langmaithem Baisnaki and Moirangthem Padmasing.

Here in the narrative of the fall of Ravana's son, Rama is depicted as the hero of righteous action, and a deliverer of justice, which perhaps impressed the monarch of Manipur. Rama is the one whose story if listened to properly propitiates sins and for those who are just the life and actions are further blessed. Even listening to the Rama storv. those barren women would be blessed with children. To hear a chapter from Ramayana is equivalent with the fruits secured from the ' Aswamedha Yajna itself, when, the horse, released for sacrifice, relieves the sacrificer of his burdens and sins. The Ramayana is therefore a sin-relieving, blessedness giving story (L. Arambam 1991).

Though Pamheiba is suspected to have self-glorified his achievements, his valour in war and conquest and his generosity towards the poor under Indianized concepts of polity governance, he was however conscious of the omnipotence of his household deity, the Lord Sanamahee, whom Shantadas Goswami was learnt to have accepted as his God Vishnu himself. The context of the conversion into Hinduism and structural transformation of Meitei society therefore was always accompanied with the anchorage provided by the native religion, and in the early eighteenth century, probably the structural assimilation between the two cultures were not theorized or systematized.

It was probably in the later eighteenth century during the rule of his grandson Chingthangkhomba that a philosophical readjustment of the two religions took place, and the concept of the Godking which was a developing phenomenon undertook a radical transformation when Bhagyachandra accepted the Lord Govinda (equated with the ancestral Pakhangba) as king. The core principles of assimilation between the two cultures were systematically restructured by the spiritually oriented monarch who relieved himself of the task of governance and undertook the cultural theorizing of the Indianization process.

Earlier he balanced the outside cultural influences in equal status with the collective self, and the indigenous elements was accepted at par with the incoming culture. Only the establishment however of a Brahmasabha at the social spectrum with increasing search for hierarchy and status under Hindu principles led to the gradual restructuration of Hindu society in Manipur, which became oppressive in colonial times. It must be understood also, that Bhagyachandra relegated the God Rama as senapati in the cosmic hierarchy while Govinda (and Pakhangba) was placed at the centre, whereas his grandfather had Rama in the centre of the Pantheon itself. Necessary wars of liberation had to be fought inspite of changes in world view and cosmological concept.

All these events and historic events had extensive fall outs which perhaps shaped the future history of the people and the state. Pamheiba's tumultous events, his glorious confrontations with the rising Burmese empire, his interventions in the politics of the upper Shan principalities to fight against the Burmese power, his depredations over the Kabaw valley, his relations with Tripura and other extra-territorial powers were of the most exemplary character which led the imprint of the national formation of the Manipuri people.

His wars were substantially helped in execution and implementation by the ethnic communities in the peripheral frontiers of the region. He left a territorial legacy extensively beyond the present boundaries of the state, which marked the substantial martial energy of these racial categories in a plural order.

(To be continued ....)

* Dr. Lokendra Arambam wrote this article which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on September 18, 2018.

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • Flood Watch: Nambul Turel [18 May] :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 18 May : Govt of Manipur
  • COVID-19 : Impact in Manipur :: News Timeline
  • Ambassadors for Christ
  • "... where women are not respected"
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Nursing as a career choice
  • Conquest of the last frontier
  • Dry Manipur among top 5 liquor states!
  • Scoring high on liquor consumption
  • Flood Watch: Imphal Turel [17 May] :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 17 May : Govt of Manipur
  • World hypertension day : 17th May 2022
  • Taking advantage of dying sedition law
  • Market innovations & vertical integration
  • Soram Oscar: Mr India Intl Tourism 2022
  • Cyber Security Lecture at Tamenglong
  • Involve village chief in Save Singda Movement
  • Reaching out to SC Jamir
  • Jalakeli Offering @ Govindajiu :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 16 May : Govt of Manipur
  • On 200th Anniversary of MK Binodini Devi
  • East Timor : Licypriya Kangujam invited
  • Carbon Sequestration in Dailong Site #2
  • Semiotic interpretations of traffic policing
  • Citrus Marcoptera: Rare Citrus species in NE
  • Same old healthcare issues for new minister
  • Rain : Bringing out the dirt of Imphalites
  • Art Exhibition @Imphal Art #1 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 15 May : Govt of Manipur
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2022 #2: Gallery
  • Soil rejuvenation through plants
  • Harrowing memories of a blast victim
  • Pristine Death :: Poem
  • Odisha File
  • Anti-poppy vows: Govt shouldnt be taken...
  • After more than 2 decades of talks
  • River & River Based Communities
  • COVID-19 Status 14 May : Govt of Manipur
  • Second National Lok Adalat
  • Manipur Cabinet: Blurry representation
  • Tips for summer party make up
  • Harvesting Fest of Tarao #4 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 13 May : Govt of Manipur
  • The USP of Churachandpur
  • Pranks unloaded: From fiction to mundanity
  • Radio comes to our rescue in pandemic
  • 3rd North-East Foodtech begins
  • Irreparable damage done to environment
  • Promotion of nurseries for plantation crop #2
  • Issues staring at the face of Manipur
  • Yaoshang Thabal Competition #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 12 May : Govt of Manipur
  • International Nurses Day 2022
  • Carbon Sequestration in Dailong Site #1
  • Various voices on reduced areas of AFSPA
  • IBSD, Imphal signed MoU with CSIR
  • Stay on sedition case smack on political elite
  • Identifying a district with one group ?
  • Kakwa Lairembi Haraoba #1 :: Gallery
  • Understanding Environmental Problem
  • Pre Recruitment Training at Keithelmanbi
  • Three rain catchers feted
  • How India is empowering women...
  • War-era bridges amid development rhetoric
  • Aerial route over heart of Imphal ?
  • SN Chand: The father of Manipuri cinema #1
  • COVID-19 Status 10 May : Govt of Manipur
  • NPF Kohima consultative meeting
  • Market creating innovation & business model
  • The element of surprise
  • 3rd North-East Foodtech at Guwahati
  • Growing support to 'war on drugs' mission
  • Backing the War on Drugs call
  • Mao-Imphal Market @ Kabo Leikai :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 09 May : Govt of Manipur
  • We live in the best of times to preach
  • Mixed Marriages & our Heritage !
  • Review Meeting on National Lok Adalat
  • Road blocking for everything
  • Promotion of nurseries for fruits & crop
  • Cong vigil essential to expose Govt
  • Thangjing Hill : Mischievous restrictions
  • Student appearing HSLC Exam #3 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 08 May : Govt of Manipur
  • Workshop with Vice-Chancellors of NE
  • BJP's major challenge in Nagaland - Church
  • Motherhood : A symbol of Love
  • Song of spring :: Poem
  • Mother's Day at Tamenglong
  • Stringent only means to deter poppy grower
  • Congress : Uncharacteristically quiet
  • 4th Documentor Imphal [7 May] :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 07 May : Govt of Manipur
  • Being a scapegoat for ages in this disaster
  • Entrepreneurs invest 8 lakhs to documentary
  • 12th Mahousa Ima Ningsing Tha
  • Float Festival of Tamil Nadu Temples
  • Yaoshang Thabal Competition #1 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 06 May : Govt of Manipur
  • On custodial death of Arambam Nanao
  • Placating Sharmila : The Iron Lady
  • Service Engineer @Info Trade, Imphal
  • Integrated farming- 2x farmers' income #3
  • Tree Plantation Programme at Kangla
  • Greed blinding rogue police elements
  • War on Drugs : Give it more teeth
  • Artisan Lourembam Bino Devi :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 05 May : Govt of Manipur
  • The Truth Alone Must Triumph
  • ICU bed facility launched in Tamenglong
  • World Hand Hygiene Day 2022
  • Workshop on Climate Change at Lilong
  • Water education for food security
  • Torpid tourism sector
  • Separate flag & constitution
  • Id-ul-Fitr @Hatta Golapati :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 04 May : Govt of Manipur
  • Lavish event management gone wrong
  • World Veterinary Day 2022
  • Condemnation on the killing of Nanao
  • Summer skin care tips for a natural glow
  • Centre's push for NSU commendable
  • Powerless power
  • Ole Wangkheimayum : Making a difference
  • COVID-19 Status 03 May : Govt of Manipur
  • Last surviving Naga regionalist- Shurhozelie
  • DoNER Minister visited NSU, Khuman Lampak
  • Market creating innovations & economic
  • Kuzholuzo takes charges as NPF Leader
  • Swachhata Pakhwada at IBSD Imphal
  • Jiribam Keithel #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 02 May : Govt of Manipur
  • Cheilaoba : A short story
  • A tribute to Asok Potsangbam
  • Id-ul-fitr :: From a book
  • Building India to be the world's master
  • Rapists don't deserve mercy
  • Taking the case to a higher Court
  • Cheirao-chingkaba #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 01 May : Govt of Manipur
  • May Calendar for Year 2022 : Tools
  • Nirupa Sanjenbam, Woman Achiever NE Fest
  • Student Centre for Excellence at Bishnupur
  • MPSC : Re-recruitment of MCS/MPS officers
  • Integrated farming- 2x farmers' income #2
  • Alangtakhou waterfall @Tml #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 30 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • Blood Donation camp @Keisampat : Gallery
  • Appeal in High Court against Zou acquittal
  • Jubilee Celebration of Manipuri Cinema
  • Labour Day (May Day) -Chennai Connection
  • 24th - 30th April is World Immunization Week
  • Yaoshang Thabal @Mongshangei #4 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 29 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • Foundation Day celebrated at IBSD Imphal
  • Alone but not lonely :: Poem
  • Gender balanced workforce
  • Govt North East plan: Repealing AFSPA
  • AFSPA repeal vow galore as NE enjoys peace
  • Promise of AFSPA free NE
  • The hike to the summit of Koubru
  • COVID-19 Status 28 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • Documentor Lab concludes with Final Pitch
  • Interlocutor promises the impossible
  • Natural ways to maintain a Summer glow
  • 2024 polls: BJP eyeing to tighten grip
  • Manipur : A smuggling paradise
  • Lunghar in Ukhrul district #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 27 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • Call for a face-lift for cross-border town Moreh
  • Project Coordinator for Shestrong Assn
  • Integrated farming- 2x farmers' income #1
  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century:: Book
  • Inclusion of Chandel in aspirational district
  • No takers at Lamphel
  • Student appearing HSLC Exam #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 26 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • My 'Tragic Tryst' with politics & politicians !
  • Education embroiled in cultural nightmare
  • Creativity is must for Career Development
  • Is Mizoram smarter in promoting border trade?
  • Back in the examination hall
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba Chak Katpa #3 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 25 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • Talk Series with Aribam Syam Sharma
  • Market Creating Innovations & Pull Strategy
  • Intl Conclave on Universal Happiness
  • Four Churches in one compound
  • Employees in dilemma over 'place of posting'
  • Delivering LPG at Rs 100 per cylinder
  • Tributes on Khongjom Day :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 24 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • Documentor Imphal 4th edition begins
  • World Malaria Day 25 April 2022
  • Few more to CM's 100 days programme
  • Rongali Bihu at RGU Arunachal Pradesh
  • Telangana midwifery initiative,game changer
  • Waithou encroachment affront to anti-graft
  • Stand to boycott Government news
  • Surbala Laishram : Mixed Martial Arts star
  • Tongjei Maril (Old Cachar Road) :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 23 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • Autumn: Sentiment & the 'Maangang'
  • Drug-resistant TB: Are we converting ...
  • Hassled advantage 'Babudom' holds
  • Painting Competition on 'Tribal' #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 22 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • Battle of Khongjom & Manipur's fighting spirit
  • World Earth Day at Tamenglong
  • Techniche, IIT Guwahati's Half Marathon
  • Meaning of life at Spring season
  • Khongjom Day amid outrage over Hindi policy
  • Need to look beyond 'No parking' sign
  • Floral tributes @ Cheiraoching #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 21 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • Ima Machet Icha Tangkhai - A Film Review
  • Diploma in Photography Course at Imphal
  • Patent Filing Support from KIIT-TBI
  • Call for Regional Start-up Network
  • Decoding Hills-Valley improved relations
  • Body donation: Exemplary decision by Imas
  • Palpable inner contradiction: Stand of NNPGs
  • Cheirao-chingkaba #1 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 20 Apr : Govt of Manipur
  • Manipuri Cinema can leap forward if ...
  • Hindi subject compulsory= economic sanction
  • Genomics of medicinal plants of NER
  • Summer with Mangoes :: Poem
  • Revival of sericulture sector must for state
  • Why no follow up on drug seizures ?
  • Yaoshang Sports @Bamon Leikai :: Gallery
  • Policies and the implementation gap!
  • Recycling of Agro-forest wastes- Mushroom
  • Listen to Silence
  • Digital content creator as a career choice
  • Fight against corruption, drugs
  • Move to decongest commercial areas
  • Rules of English Pronunciation : Download
  • Response to pandemics missing medicine
  • Presidency College, Motbung
  • Women Entrepreneur Network launched
  • World Heritage Day at Tamenglong
  • Armed thugs feasting as Govt plays peace
  • Covid is down, but it is not out
  • Mega Export Conclave #2 :: Gallery
  • Yaoshang Thabal (Day-time) #3 :: Gallery
  • Cheiraoba Chak Katpa [Apr 14] :: Gallery
  • Shajibu Cheiraoba @Pune :: Gallery
  • Cheirao-chingkaba @Singjamei #2 :: Gallery
  • Yaoshang @Bengaluru #2 :: Gallery
  • Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi (MM) :: Gallery
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba Chak Katpa #2 :: Gallery
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba Shopping :: Gallery
  • Sub-Syllables in English : Book Download
  • Learn English pronunciation: Book Download
  • Learning calculating skills : Download Book