Historical Evaluation of Puya Meithaba
- A Contemporary Re-interpretation -
- Part 3 -

Dr. Lokendra Arambam *

'Puya Mei Thakhibagi Chahi 286 suba Ningshing Kumon' at Kangla :: January 13 2015
'Puya Mei Thakhibagi Chahi 286 suba Ningshing Kumon' at Kangla on January 13 2015 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

The presence of the Indian elements in the social structure was however to change the character of Manipur society in the years to come. The eighteenth century Brahmin presence was of a phenomenal nature, for Shantadas Goswami was no ordinary preceptor who would content himself with traditional priestly role of presiding over rituals and thriving on royal munificence. He would rather be a social and developmental activist, as well as a pro-active participant in the military struggle of the Manipur people.

He participated in the war himself, and many Brahmin warriors were enlisted in the military arm of the state, some rising in ranks. Shantadas Goswami was also responsible for the marginalization of the indigenous institution of the Maichou (wisdom teacher). Since the withdrawal of Lourembam Khongnangthaba from the public affairs of the state, there was no longer the tradition of the indigenous philosopher.

All subsequent scholars the state produced were focussed on the studies of astrology and as advisors on the auspiciousness of time and events, and not on the vision of the people as a whole and as philosopher of conscience, which Khongnangthaba held. The death of the indigenous intellectual tradition could not be retrieved since then, which reflected a serious crisis in the ontological history of Manipur's cultural strength.

Shantadas Goswami also helped in the development of the concept of the body of the king as the rationalized icon of power and glory, which was attested by Pamheiba's acceptance of the title of Maharajah, and his being equated with God and territory as Manipureswar (God of Manipur), or Meckleyswar (Lord of Meckley).

It was during his influence as close advisor to the king replacing Khongnagthaba that the theatrical magnificence of the body of the king as displayed over the public as symbol of divinity and power were accentuated to the extreme, to meet the rising needs of war and aggression, as well as authoritarian governance.

The necessities of the martial culture to focus on individual persona of the leader as the deliverer of justice and dignity became a concern not only amongst the siblings from the multi-layered family system, but ideological conflict from religious affiliation and strong resistance from the Meetei believers in the dynastic system led to more than fifty years of internecine strife and violence.

The state violence which was perpetrated in the wake of the forcible conversion led to intra-societal violence within the lineage and clan networks and the Post-Pamheiba episode was of tremendous crisis in the elite leadership in Manipur society. Pamheiba himself and his Guru encountered violent deaths, as wont the internal crisis built up on the foundations of Indianism perpetrated during the regime.

The Indianization process and its institutionalization was featured not only on the structural modification of the societal and kinship structures, re-invention of the history of the royal lineage in a mythical relationship with the heroes of the Indian epics, and with the cosmic world designed under Hinduized principles, but also a far more physicalized disciplining of the Manipuri body through a systematic control over the deitary habits of the peasant population.

To have a regulatory exercise over the food habits of the Manipuri people, which began with Pamheiba's prohibition of the eating of pork and chicken, but strict vegetarianism enforced by Bhagyachandra was not simply a regulatory conditioning exercise under sanct religious scruples, but as attempt to have a 'transformation of emotion and affect, so that the individual was expected to control his or her bodily behaviour through norms that implied a new consciousness' (Bryan S. Turner 1992).

This process of Indianization therefore involved 'a training of emotion and a reduction of collective excitement in the interests of the centralized court affiliated to the higher culture', which meant operation of the Weberian and Foucoultian thesis of the disciplining of the body for ideological purposes (vide Weber & Foucoult).

The Indianization process was therefore a multifaceted, multi­pronged appropriation and control over the native bodies, emotions, thoughts, cultures and possessions to transform the original people into an 'other' in history.

What was the most important character in the Indianization process was the claim of the higher culture over the geography of the authochthons. The claim over the land and geography of Manipur, the naming of the place itself as a place in the epic story of the Mahabharata was a cultural imperialist project of appropriation over land and geographical imagination of the native.

The acceptance of their own land as being the part of other people's history is the vital moment of colonialized servitude, 'inaugurated by the loss of locality to the outsiders' (Edward Said 1993). In the very words of Edward Said, the theorist of cultural anti-imperialism, 'Imperialism after all is an act of geographical violence through which every space in the world is explored, charted, and finally brought under control.

For the native, the history of colonial servitude is inaugurated by loss of locality to the outsider; its geographical identity must thereafter be searched for and somehow restored. Because of the presence of the colonizing outsider, the land is recoverable at first only through the imagination' (E. Said 1993).

Anti-imperialist resistance which evolved in the future therefore was the focus on the retrieving of the geography of the land, when an appropriate name for the place was fought for with intensity and passion by the natives of the soil (viz the struggle over the name of Kangleipak).

It is here that Hinduized populations in contemporary geography of the world react in varying proportions to the spread and practice of Hinduism. Whereas in Bali in Indonesia, the Hindu populations live with pride and dignity with proper cultural synthesis because of the non-possession of their land by the source-holder of Hindu civilization, i.e. India, but in Manipur the hold over the territory and population by the 'Indian civilizing process' is associated with violence and suppression thereby lending deep credence to the Saidian theory.

The ownership over the land and territory by the proponents of the higher culture, the claim over the geographical imagination of the indigenous people, the incorporation of the geography, history and originary impulses and emotions of the people are therefore clear examples of the imperialistic project in South Asia, from which the historical necessity for reclaiming of land, territory and culture became a compulsive engagement for the decolonizers of the land which is part of a global phenomenon today. The culture discourse is therefore is much deeper than what is normally felt and perceived by the contemporary academia of the Universities.

General patterns of the Indianization of Manipur and Northeast India who had primordial Southeast Asian cultures were somewhat different from those of other Southeast Asian nations affected by the same cultural influences. The concept of Indianization was popularized by Indian and western cultural historians in the early twentieth centuries. There were however differing interpretations of the historic influences themselves, and on the nature of responses by the receiving cultures as well, according to particularities and specificities of the varied communities and nations.

R.C. Mazumdar, in his thesis of a Greater or Further India in cultural terms perceived the advancement of trade, colonization or conquest theories, even though Indian sources did not provide evidence of a colonizing process in South East Asia…..C.C. Berg argued that Indianization was the result of conquest and settlement and inter-marriage and N.J. Krom, in his Hindu-Javanese History, saw it as a result of expansion of Indian trade and consequent settlement and inter-marriage.

On the other hand, Paul Mus in 1933, theorized on the existence of a common, primordial substratum of belief and culture in both Indian and Southeast Asian societies. Thus, when Hinduism and Buddhism became, as it were, available, there was a local basis in Southeast Asia for the acceptance of the beliefs and for their absorption into the local totality of beliefs. J.C. Van Leur, however in 1934 insisted that Indian influence in Southeast Asian, and subsequently that of Islam, powerful though they may have been, were nevertheless comparatively superficial when seen in the context of the societies they were affecting - 'a thin and flaking glaze' under which the main form of an older indigenous culture continued to exist.

(To be continued ....)

* Dr. Lokendra Arambam wrote this article which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on September 29, 2018.

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