Historical Evaluation of Puya Meithaba
- A Contemporary Re-interpretation -
- Part 4 -

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

Indian influence (according to Van Leur) was a court matter and the process, in consequence, could only have been one of deliberate borrowing by South East Asian rulers seeking ideas, rituals and organization, not an example of general cultural diffusion. The view that foreign influences did not transform indigenous culture but were a thin and flaking glaze imposed on it, followed from the idea of local initiative.

Inspite of the growing conviction carried by these arguments (Leur's & Bosch's thesis etc.), the idea of Greater India had considerable staying power and was re-affirmed in the synthethizing work of Coedes in 1944 (L'Inde Exterieure).

He saw Indian influence as manifested not through conquest or colonization, but initially through trade; thus laid the foundation for the subsequent transmission of the higher culture associated with the development of indigenous kingdoms able and ready to receive, or to take an initiative in acquiring Indian conceptions of royalty, the sacred language of Sanskrit and the prescriptions of Hinduism (Cambridge History of South East Asia V.I - ed Nicholas Terling 1992).

These theoretical formulations are cited just to throw some comparative light on the general patterns of Indian connections with Southeast Asia. All these studies however were extensively revised by later scholars of the western universities and local scholars in the post World War II periods, which emphasized shifts from earlier Indo-centric and Euro­centric studies to a far more original focus on the strength and originality of the local cultures themselves.

In the early sixties Harry J Benda laid the foundation for addressing the 'structure of Southeast Asian history as distinct from the mere charting of dynastic circles or the chronicling of wars, as ends in themselves'. 'He sought to establish a periodization based not merely on political developments but on major structural changes in the social, economic and political relationships of the region.

J.H. Romein urged historians of Southeast Asia to adopt a comparative approach as a means of developing a more systematically scientific method and of coming to grips with such processes as nationalism, revolution and social change in Asian societies' (Cambridge History of South East Asia V.I - ed Nicholas Terling 1992).

The focus on the autonomy of South East Asian History was thus a compelling intellectual move. O. W. Wolters 'Confronted the Indianization question more directly in a consideration of the processes by which Hindu influences were received in Cambodia, 'he introduced the idea of'localization' to characterize the way in which external influences might be absorbed into the local scene restated in a local idiom where a local-external antithesis becomes irrelevant' (Smith & Watson 427).

Mabbett also emphasized the lack of a single homogeneous 'India', and that, in India itself, 'Sanskritization, was uneven and patchy (Cambridge History of South East Asia V.I - ed Nicholas Terling 1992).

The Indianization process in Manipur was a prolonged interaction between cultural carriers of the two entities with unique manifestations in the social and political milieu of the times. The similarities with the other Southeast Asian nations were in the nature of the reception by local centres of power who utilized the philosophies, texts and ritual systems as necessitated by the developing internal logic of polity expansion and theatricalization of authority.

Internal needs for transformation of the indigenous ritual systems to incorporate other cultural forms to meet the cosmic and mundane requirements of the growing polities were earlier features of the invitation to the other culture and assimilation of the interacting influences. Local idioms of a strong aesthetic character developed in the performance forms, which acted as instruments of political co-hesion and ritual control.

The earlier phase of Indianization in the eighteenth century was notable in the sense that the local polity was able to negotiate with the incoming culture in their own terms without a hegemonistic, authoritarian presence of the mainstream source in the receiving culture area.

However, the surrender of the geographical imagination of the natives by ideological attachment to the pan-Indian mythologies, and the relentless drive by the priestly literati to hierarchy and power under royal patronage, the resulting divide in the social structure, and later political and social movements to destroy the source of local authority in politics and culture led to another shift in the Indianization process in the early twentieth century.

The loss of the independence status through defeat in the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891, the destruction of the indigenous elite, the development of a servile social order, and the growth of an apologestic middle class and the ascent of political and business intrigue from the crafty colonial subjects, and physical and geographical integration into the Empire, along with submersion of the seemingly 'subsistence economy' in the colonial umbrella led to structural changes in the Indianization process. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the colonialized subjects of Manipur were substantially Indianized.

All these were strongly affirmed by acceptance of the Aryan thesis of the origin of the Meiteis, the consolidation of the Hindu orthodoxy in early twentieth century Manipur society, and proliferation of the ritual forms in the rites of passage of the converted, and complete restructuration of social and political movements under the direction of the nationalist movements in mainstream India pre-dominated the actions, behaviour and thought processes of the upper strata in Manipur society.

The gradual unfoldment of the oppressive, exploitative and manipulative character of the bearers of Indian culture were discovered much later through the physical experiencing of geographical, political and economic integration into the mainstream, which was made sharper and more violent through the intrigues of political administrators and business classes from Indian society.

The relegation of decision making authority to the 'other' in the far-distant powerful centre after post-integration hastened the movement for self-realization and retrieval of the lost identity of the Manipuris. The movement from 1930 onwards for re-assertion of cultural identity had to be re-oriented with a much more scientifically designed, and comprehensively structured movement for self-location and self-assertion and self-apprehension, commensurate with the demands of global developments.

The present however is a milieu of crisis, confrontation and disarranged amalgam of emergent forces, without a clear perception of contemporary cultural and concomitant realities. The pain and suffering, the devastation of indigenous knowledge, the strong undercurrent of forcible re-assimilation into the complex features of pan-Indianism, and the powerful presence of the instruments of an oppressive Indian state provide the milieu of contemporary predicaments of Indianization.

The formulation of a Manipur affirmation, the re-Manipurinization of Manipur and the restructuring of a counter-culture able to subvert these strong repressive forces accompanying cultural forms of dominance however need a much more deeper self-reflection and refined movement or renaissance. Simple reminiscence of a lost memory of the burning of indigenous knowledge is not enough. The recovery of that lost knowledge for a transformed reality of social and political emancipation is the need of the day.


* Dr. Lokendra Arambam wrote this article which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on October 15, 2018.

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