History Of Medieval Manipur
- Part 2 -

R.K. Jhalajit Singh *

Kabaw Valley

After integration nearly the whole of Manipur, the Manipuris turned their attention to the Kabaw Valley-the valley which lies between Manipur and the river called the Chindwin by the Burmese and the Ningthee by the Manipurie. In 1467, the Manipuri king Kyamba and Khek Khomba, the king of Pong, jointly invaded Kyang Khambat in the Kabaw Valley. Pong was a powerful kingdom of a branch of the Shans and its capital was at Mogaung in what is now called Upper Burma. The Shans of Kyang Khambat were defeated. Victorious Manipur and Pong shared the conquered territory between themselves. This was by the Treaty of 1470. Under the terms of the treaty, Manipur got the Kabaw Valley as her share-out.

Manipur did not annex the Kabaw Valley. The Shan princes were left to rule their respective territories with a wide measure of interna administration subject however to payment of annual tributes, which they paid in silks. The obligation of Manipur was to protect the Kaba Valley from Burmese invasions and to prevent armed conflicts among the princes. To fulfil these obligations Manipur maintained a network of intelligence in the Kabaw Valley perhaps unknown to the Shan princes.

Richard Boileau Pemberton says that the territory of Manipur extended to one or two days'journey beyond the Ningthee towards east. At present we can neither contradict nor confirm his statement. Manipur lost the Kabaw Valley in 1834. How she lost it is outside the purview of this paper.

Worship of Vishnu

A most important event in the medieval history of Manipur is the beginning of the worship of Vishnu. The king of Pong who concluded the Treaty of 1470 with Kyamba presented a little image of Vishnu to him. Some Brahmin of Bengal who some how felt that they could not live with religious freedom had already fled to Manipur. Some of them were well-acquainted with the worship of Vishnu. Kyamba requisitioned the service of one such Brahmin and began the regular worship of Vishnu.

According to written family accounts of the descendants of the Brahmin who first performed the worship of Vishnu, kirtan (devotional music) was sung to the accompaniment of the cymbal and the drum. According to oral tradition, rice cooked in milk with sugar (rice porridge; Sanskrit Payasah/payasam; Manipuri ksheer was offerred with leaves of tulasi (Ocimum sanctum). This was some sixteen years before the birth of Chaitanya.

The People of Pong spoke a language called Shan by the Burmese and Tai by native speakers. In Tai/Shan language, phra means God Almighty. Since Vishnu was God Almighty in the estimation of the people of Pong, Vishnu was called in that language Phra Vishnu or simply Phra. Tai/Shan is a monosyllabic language whereas most manipuri words have two or more syllables.

So, when the Tai/Shan words phra in the sense of God Almighty Vishnu came to Manipur, it became Phura in the mouths of the Manipuris because of their speech habits. Brahmins who performed the worship of Phra (Vishnu) came to be known as Phuralatpam i.e. the family of worshippers of Visnu. Now they are called Phurailatpam. It appears, from a written account of the descendants of the Brahmin who first worshipped Vishnu, that they now belong to two different families Phurailatpam and Aribam

A most important watershed

The beginning of the worship of Vishnu is one of the most important land mark in the history of Manipur estending from about 400 B.C. to the present time. How? The year 1074 saw the beginning of Shan Influence-a significant period in the history of this place. The beginning of Vishnu worship saw the beginning of the waning of Shan influence. In 1074, the Ningthouja kingdom was still weak. Because of the integration of Manipur, good quality of most of the kings and, above all, the dedicated service of the people under the replete system, Manipur became by 1467 a power to reckon with. The course of History is with ups and downs.

The once powerful kingdom of Pong now became weaker and weaker because of Burmese attacks from the south and Chinese attacks from the north. In the 15th and the 16 century, many Shans fled to Manipur to seek refuge. They were Hinduised in course of time. On the other hand, the beginning of Vishnu worship stepped up the immigration of Brahmins. Most of the Manipuri Brahmins of today are from Bengal. Some are from Assam.

But there are some Manipuri Brahmins whose ancestors came from Orissa, Gujarat, Lahore and Rai Breilly in U.P. The ancestors of the Manipuri Brahmins of today spoke different Indian languages. But now all Manipuri Brahmins speak Manipuri. The coming and settling of Brahmins from different parts of India was a powerful factor in shaping the culture of Manipur. As the medieval period was drawing towards a close, the kingdom of Manipur became the eastern most for of Vaishnavism.

Friendly Assam

Manipur had frequent wars with Burma and occasional wars with Cachar and Tripura. But in the fairly long period of about 2,400 years, there was no war between Assam and Manipur. The Manipuris constantly tried to improve the roads leading to the Sunns Valley and the Brahmaputra Valley. The roads were difficult as they passed over hills and by through dense forests. But the unmentalled road, hardly a road by mordern standards, served the purpose of the hardy people of those days.

In 1536, the Manipur is improved the road to Assam.In the same year the Manipuri king. Kabomba, sent a Manipuri girl to Assam to become a wife of an Ahom king Suhumung This entry in the Royal Chronicle is corroborated by an entry in Ahom Buranji written in Ahom language in Ahom script maintained in the Ahom court. According to Ahom Buranji, Suluimung had already three queens and they did not like the idea of Manipuri girl as a co wife. Disrespecting their sentiment, the Ahom king received the Manipuri girl.

According to Ahom Buranji, in 1536-37 Suhumung sent a few girls to become wives of Kabomba and a few elephants as presents. The sending of the girls is not corroborated by the Royal Chronicle. But it records the receipt of at least one elephant from Assam. The Manipuris were in a joyful mood. They named the elephant Tekhao Ngamba meaning the "Conqueror of Assam'. The Royal Chronicle is silent as to how many elephants were recived from Assam. But we know from this entry that the road to Assam was not just and improvised bridle path. It was wide enough to be passable for elephants

The above regarding/Mom Buranji Is from Golap Chandra Banian's English translation of the chronicle". For recording events, Ahom Buranji uses the epicycle of years-a method followed by the Chinese. The Royal Chronicle of Manipur uses Shakabda for all entries except the first entry which is in Kalyabda. The Royal Chronicle uses Kalyabda for the first entry viz. Pakhangba's accession to die throne; beacuse it was before the beginning of Shakabda. Kalyabda, was in use throughout India before Shakabda came into existence.

Upper Assam was known to the Manipuris as Tekhao. The capital of Upper Assam was near Sibsagar on the bank of the River Dikhau. This river was known to the Manipuris as Tikhao, as sounds changing to sound according to the speech habit of the Manipuris of those days. Soon Tikhao change to Tekhao, medial i changing to c another speech habit of the medieval Manipuris. The country in which River Dikhau or River Tekhao. as the Manipuris pronounced it came to be known as Tekhao.

The exchange of presents between king Kabomba (1524-1542) and King Suhumung of Assam was not the first contact with Assam. In 1516, a Brahmin arrived from Assam. The improvement of the road to Assam facilitated cultural contact. A king of fishtrap called Tekhao roo in Manipuri was introduced from Assam. It is suitable for the small rivers of Manipur.

Contact with the Muslim world

In 1606 in the reign of Khagemba (1597-1652), one of his younger brother Named Sanongba invaded Manipur. His army had a good number of Muslim warriors. After a pitched battle, Sanongba was defeated and captured along with his surviving warriors including the Muslim warriors. Sanongba was pardoned and the Muslim warriors were rehabilitated in Manipur. This was the first major contact with the Muslim world..

In 1514, a scribe named Kavi Chandra arrived from Tripura and settled in, Imphal. He and his descendants helped thc Manipuri kings in their occasional correspondence with Muslim rulers outside Manipur. The descendants of the Muslim warriors mentioned above became loyal and useful subjects of the kings of Manipur. Some of them were entrusted with the work of making paper.

The medieval Manipuris got their first supplies of I paper from Chinese merchants who frequented the Shan kingdom of Pong frequented by Manipuri merchants also in the cold season every your. In Manipur "Paper" is called che, a loanword from Chinese. By rehabilitating the invaders, they and their decendents were turn into loyal and useful subjects of Manipur. An office was established to look after the Muslims.

Introduction of economic plants

Although Manipur is situated far inland she received the benefits of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbos in 1492. Guava, chillies, tobacco and pineapple were introduced to Manipur in medieval times. The guave tree is a native of Central America. The discovery of America by Columbus in 1492 was closely followed by voyages of the enterprising people the Portuguese. They introduced the guava tree to the Irrawady Valley. From there is spread to the kingdom of Pong.

A king of Pong presented a sapling of guava to the Manipuri King Khagemba to help cure dysentry among the Manipuris. In medieval times, Manipur suffere from two fatal disease - smallpox and dysentry. The Manipuris ate the tender buds (two leaves and a bud) of the guava tree as medicine at the first attack of dyscntry. Chillies originated in the West Indies. The Portuguese discovered the Cape of Good Hope in 1496 and Vasco da Gama rounded it in 1498.

After this, the Portuguese introduce the chilli plant to South India from where it spread to Bengal. It is from Eastern Bengal that the chillies were introduced to Manipur. A Manipuri book Leithag Leikharon written in Khasemba's reign shows the use of chillies by the Manipuris. The tobacco plant is a native of Central America. The French consul at Lisbon introduced it to portugal America in 1558. The Portuguese introduced it to South India in the later part of Akbar (1556-1605). From there tobacco smoking and the tobacco plant reached, court either towards the end of 1604 or the beginning of 1605. It spread to Bengal. From there the tobacco plant and tobacco smoking were introduced to Manipur in 1610.

The pineapple is another gift of the Portuguese to India. It is a native of Brazil where it is called nanas. The Portuguese call it ananas. It is from this Portuguese word that anaros, anaras and ananas of different Indian Languages are derived. In Manipur, pineapple is first met with in 1732 when the reigning king Gopal Singh (1709-1748) on a picnic to enjoy the newly introduced fruit. In Manipur, it was called kiyom, a word derived from Sanskrit Keura a kind of screwpine.

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 24 2010.

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