History Of Medieval Manipur
- Part 1 -

R.K. Jhalajit Singh *

What do we mean by Medieval Manipur ?

Medieval times begin at different times in different parts of the world. In Europe, specially in Britain, the Middle Ages began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and ended at the end of the 15th century i.e., the Middle Ages extended from the 5th century to the 15th. The conditions prevailing in Europe did not prevail in Manipur. In Manipur, there was never Muslim rule-partly because of the thickly Wooded ranges of hills between Cachar and the Manipur Valley and partly because of the considerable distance of Manipur from Bengal.

We have also to take into account the power and influence of the Shans of Upper Burma who far outnumbered the Manipuris and ruled over a vast territory many times larger than Manipur. There are at least three routes across the hills-the offshoots of the Himalayas-separating Manipur from Burma. By these routes the Shans and other peoples of Burma could easily come to Manipur.

Taking all factors into consideration, we place the beginning of medieval times of Manipur in the reign of Loiyamba (1074-1122). This reign is an important watershed in the cultural life of the people of Manipur. The influence of the Shans on the cultural life in this kingdom became much more powerful than that of the people of the rest of India. How ? The Shans were fast rising in their power. On the other hand, people of the rest of India, particularly Bengal, visited Manipur less frequently probaly beacuse of the Muslim invasions that were going on in North India.

Manipur has a good dependable chronicle-one of best in India-called Cheitharol Kumbaba. It was maintained in the royal palace of Manipur. We therefore call in the Royal Chronicle. The situation prevailing in Loiyamba's reign in recorded in the Royal Chronicle thus: "Formerly, gods and men joined in the service of the State. In this reign, the gods vanished and only men remained". We interpret this as asserting that the culture coming from Upper Burma and beyond began to prevail over the culture coming through Sanskrit. This language is commonly believed to be the language of the gods.

Political and economic reforms

Loiyamba introduce a number of political and economic reforms which conferred lasting benefits on this kingdom. He divided the valley portion of his kingdom into six administrative divisions. Each division was called a paanaa, a term which remained in widespred use even after 1949 i.e. for a span of nearly one thousand years. Each paanaa sent a batch of adult male workers to work for the state for ten days without takings remuneration. After this period of ten days, the batch was relieved by another batch to a work for ten days. After this period, it was relieved by another batch and so on.

This system was called lalup - the literal meaning of this term is war/battle association. The boundaries of the paanaas were changed by subsequent kings and new paanaas were constituted with the expansion of the realm of the Meitei Ningthouja Kings. But the idea of dividing the Manipur Valley into paanaas for better administration and the system of laalup survived wars, revolutions and successions to the throne. Was laalup forced labour ? No. It was a system of taxation in which the tax was not paid in cash but in the form of services to the state. This system of taxation was abolished by the British in April 1892.

There cannot be economic well-being in a society unless is a strong and stable government. But there cannot be a strong and stable government unless there is a strong economic base. The two are inter dependent. So Loiyamba effected some economic reforms. He promulgated some edicts in 1110. All these edicts are collectively known as Loiyamba Shilyen.

The main aim was to promote cottage industries and eliminate, as fast as practicable, wasteful competition. He assigned Particular trades to particular families (Yumnaks). Thus all families got their respective trades. This ensured full-employment or at least near fullemployment. In the case of well-developed industries like weaving and dyeing, weaving of particular types of cloths were assigned to particular families (yumnaks) and dyeing with particular dyes such as deep pink, blue and black were assigned to particular families. This was to eliminate, as far as possible, unhealthy competition. Loiyamba was aiming at a sort of Division of Labour.

Criminal Law

Loiyamba Shilyen gives us an idea of the society and beliefs of the Manipuri people of late eleventh century and early twelfth century. The kingdom depended heavily on proper rainfall and proper sun shine. But proper sunshine and proper rainfall depended, it was believed, on proper administration of justice by kings and judges on earth. If justice was done on earth, there would be, it was believed, regularity of seasons including proper rainfall and proper sunshine. So justice must be done by all high and low. If justice is to be done, the law to be administered must be clear. So Loiyamba laid down the criminal law and it is given in Loyamba shil-yen.

The criminal law given in Loiyamba Shil-yen is draconian. For stealing cattle or a slave or a horse, the book prescribes amputation of one leg. For burglary, the punishment is amputation of one hand. For seduction of other's wife, the book prescribes blinding. "Those who rise rebellion against the king shall be put to death without any exception". the book says.

By our standard, some of the punishments prescribed in Loiyamba Shilyen are too severe. But severity of punishment was the rule in other parts of India also in the Hindu period. For instance, see the provisions in Manu-Smriti Vishnu Smriti. "He who has stolen a cow or a horse or a camel or an elephant shall have one hand or one foot cut off, Vishnu Smriti says. According to this Smriti, those who forge royal edicts and those who are of low birth but aspire to kingship shall be put to death.

Code of conduct

Loiyamba Shil-yen prescribes the code of conduct for the king, the queen, the nobility and the commoner in their dealings with one another. Every one in the kingdom was to do his or her duty. No one, not even the king, was above law. The king, although he was the head of the state, had to submit to law.

Administration in hill areas

In late 11th Century and early 12th Century, much of the administration in hill areas was left to hill chiefs, who paid tributes in the form of cloths and other produce of the hills. These tributes were paid regularly. In a Loiyamba's reign of 48 years, we find only one case of default of payment by a hill chief. If there was delay in payment of tribute, officers of the king went to the hill chief concerned for realisation. But such instances were very rare.

Contact with Bengal

There are six main ranges of wooded hills between the eastermost extremity of the Indo-Gangetic valley and the small hill valley called the Manipur Valley. But there are at least three hill routes across these hills. So there was contact with the rest of India from pre-historic times, although the hills helped the defence of Manipur very much. The Manipuri chronicle Ningthourol Lambuba records the existence of a Bengali village in the western part of the Manipur valley in the early years of the 12th Century.

According to this chronicle, one day a Manipuri prince, a little boy, cried and the servants of the king could not stop him crying. At last one of them went to the Bengali village mentioned above, fetched a top (Manipuri khung, Hindi latoo) and gave it to the boy prince. He stoped crying and played with it. This boy became the king of Manipur and ascended the throne in 1122. He is no other than King Loitongba who reigned from 1122 to 1150.

The indoor game Kaang

Among the Manipuris, there is an indoor game called kaang. The two teams which play it can be of men only or women only. But usually, each team is a mixed team. Ever player, whether man or woman, is well dressed. Women players use cosmetics judiciously to look at their best. The game was introduced into Manipur in Loitongba's reign. It is still popular; rather the popularity has increased in recent years. There is even a hall for playing it in the Sports Stadium in Imphal.

The popularity of the game in Loitongba's reign is a measure of comparative prosperity and affluence of the Manipuri society in the 12th Century. Before 500 B.C. most part of the Manipur valley were cover with lakes and swamps. It was only in the second Century A.D. That a Manipuri king dredged all the major rivers of the Valley. This made the land drier and a healthier place to live in. Even in the second century A.D. woods were too abundant in the Valley. A Manipuri king in the fourth century A.D. cleared some of the woods to make room for the expanding population. This made the Valley a more comfortable and healthier place. Still, before Loiyamba's reign, the people of the Ningthouja kingdom had to lead a life which was almost a Spartan life.

Integration of Manipur

When the Ningthouja Principality was established in 33 A.D. with Kangla near morden Raj Bhavan as the headquarters, there were seven main principalites in the Manipur Valley. History is partly a matter of challenge and response and partly a record of Man's advancement in knowledge, art and literature, religion and spiritualism. The challenges come from Nature, and fellow human beings. A people aspiring to live as a people on this globe must give adequate response to every challenge and then, and then only, they can remain with honour on this globe. Only those people who have given sufficient response to these challenges can embark on the advancement of knowledge, art and literature, religion and spiritualism.

The people of Manipur gave adequate response to the challenges of Nature by dredging their rivers and clearing the woods. The dredging of the rivers drained the lakes and swamps reducing them to appropriate size, made the land drier and the climate less foggy. The dredged rivers also became good waterways and facilitated better administration by enabling the authorities to more officers and troops to different parts of the realm swiftly. The good waterways provided by the dredged rivers also promoted trade and commerce.

The clearing of the woods in the fourth century A.D. helped the expansion of the population by expanding the area which could be inhabited and cultivated. All these responses were good. But a people must also be ready and able to give adequate response to challenges from human beings which usually come as foreign invasions. Neighbouring Burma is about 35 times bigger than Manipur. In medieval times, the people of Manipur had to defend their frontiers from Burmese invasions.

In medieval times, not only Burma but also neighbouring Cachar and nearby Tripura occasionally invaded Manipur. The Manipuris had to repel these invasions also. If Manipur remaineced divided into seven main principalities and innumerable hill villages, it would be impossible to defend Manipur from these invasions. Integration of Manipur was a must.

In the sixth century, in the reign of Sameirang the Ningthouja principality embarked on the process of conquering and integration the other principalities and the hill areas. In the seventh century, only Luwang, Khuman and Moirang Principalities remained independent of the Ningthouja kingdom. In the hills, nearly all the hill areas between Cachar and the Manipur Valley became a part of the Ningthouja kingdom. By the beginning of the thirteenth century only Moirang remain independent of the Ningthouja kingdom.

By the middle of the fifteenth century, Moirang principality also lost its independence and became a part of the Ningthouja kingdom. The boundary of the Manipur of mid-fifteenth century nearly concides with that of the Manipur of today. A notable exception is Jiribam Sub-division. The ceding of this sub-division by the East India Company to Manipur in 1833 is outside the purview of this paper.

To be continued....

* R.K. Jhalajit Singh wrote this for a Souviner called "Chahi Taret Khuntakpa Ningshing Numip".
This was released by Sanajaoba Leishemba - His Highness the Maharaja of Manipur.
Organised by : Chahi Taret Khuntakpa Ningshing Numit Celeberation Comittee, Hojai ( Sponsored by Manipur Shaitya Parishad, Hojai, Assam.)
This article was webcasted on September 19, 2010.

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