TODAY -

History Of Medieval Manipur
- Part 3 -

R.K. Jhalajit Singh *



War with China?

Sir James Johnstone in his My Experiences in Manipur and Naga Hills says there was a big Chinese invasion of Manipur about 1230 T.C. Hodson in his The Meitheis says that there was the invasion but places it in 1630. With respect to the British writers we should like to point out that there was no Chinese invasion of Manipur. No chronicle of Manipur speaks of any.

What happened is clearly recorded in Ningthourol Lambuba. The king of Manipur invaded a Chinese town, defeated the Chinese who defended it and captured their chief After this, the king assumed the reignname Khagemba, meaning "The Conqueror of the Chinese". This was not a permanent conquest. The Chinese there gave no tribute. Loiyamba Shil-ycn which was updated by subsequent kings mention the different types of tribi paid by different dependencies of Manipur.

Thus dependencies in the Kabaw Valley silk cloths as tributes and those beyond the western hills of Manipur paid arecca-nuts and Conchs as tribute. What tribute did this Chinese town pay? Loiyamba Shil-Yen mentions nothing. We therefore infer that the Manipuri attack on the Chinese on the Chinese town was a temporary affair not leading to permanent conquest. We place this event in 1631; for this is the year in which the manipuri monarch assumed the title Khagemba.

Relation with Cachar

Cachar was an independent kingdom in medieval times. Kings of Cachar occasionally married women from Manipur. Thus in 1566, the king of Cachar married a woman from Manipur. Nineteen Years later, another king of Cachar married a woman from Manipur. In 1603, another king of Cachar married a woman from Manipur. In 1603, another king of Cachar married a woman from Manipur. After a long interval, another king of Cachar married a woman from Manipur in 1671. This time we know the family of the bride. She was of Keisam family(surmame).

Elephants were more abundant in Cachar than in Manipur because Cachar had bigger and thicker forests. Manipur used to buy elephants from Cachar. In 1604, a war was about to break out between Cachar and Manipur. Fortunately, there was a negotiated settlement and a disastrous war was averted. Soon after this Tangkhul worriors arived in Imphal to fight the war under the king. As a settlement had already been reached, the king pacified the Tangkhul worriors and sent them back.

Relation with Tripura:

Tripura was known to the Manipuris as Takhen. The name comes from the Sanskrit word dakshin (South). Selhet, now in Bangla Desh, was Manipur's gate to the Gangetic Valley and beyong. For going to Tripura, the Manipuris first reached Sylhet and then proceeding to the south reached Tripura. The people of Sylhet used to call Tripura dakhin meaning the south, In the mouth of the Manipuris, dakhin became takhen, 'd' sound changing to 't' sound 'i' sound changing to 'e' according to their speech habit.

From the standpoint of Manipur, Tripura was weaker than Cachar. But wars with Tripura were more frequent. There were wars between Manipur and Tripura in 1533, 1634, 1696 and 1724. Tripura is adjacent to East Bengal. So people who migrated from Bengal to Manipur often stayed in Tripura for some time and reached Manipur. Manipur used to buy elephants from Tripura also. Elephants from Tripura often bore Sanskrit name or names derived from Sanskrit. One such elephant was Mukta (pearl). Another was Hera (diamond). Marriages between kings of Tripura and women of Manipur was not frequent. But there was one such marriage in 1609. In that year a Manipuri woman of Akoijam family married a king of Tripura.

Cultural contact with Bengal

A constant stream of Brahmin immigrants settled in the Manipur Valley from this time onwards. The stream was not large but constant. The immigrants from Bengal brought with them copies of Krittibasi Ramyana, Gangadas Sen's Mahabharata and the like. The Manipuris adapted in Manipur the whole of Krittibasi Ramayana in 1734, the Virata parva of Gangadas Sen's Mahabharata in Jai Singh's reign (1763-1798) and the Ashwamedha Parva of Gangadas Sen's Mahabharata in Madhu Chandra's reign (December 1800-February 1804).

Stories relating to Parikshit of Mahabharata fame were adapted in Manipuri from Gangadas Sen's Mahabharata in 1725. Gangadas Sen was a Bengali writer living in Jhinar Gram in the district of Dacca. His father's name was Sbashthibara Sen. Many other works like Ekadashi Panchali and Veer Singh Panchali were also adapted from Bengali. The emmigrants from Bengal must have brought also book relating to Manasa, the snake-Goddess. But they were not adapted because the people of Manipur did not believe in her.

Contact with Orissa

A Brahmin named Rai Vanamali migrated from Shweta Ganga near Puri in Orissa with his wife, two Shudras and a Brahmin name N Balabhadra Brahmachari and settled in Manipur in-1703 in the Manipuri month of Mera (roughly October). In 1704 in the Manipuri month of Sajibhu (roughly April) he initiated King Charai Rongba(1698-1709) also knows as Pitambar Singh to Vaishnavism. We believe that the form of Vaishnavism to which the king was initiated was Nimbarka's school of Vaishnavism. Nimbarka was a South Indian Brahmin who preached from Vrindavan. In his school of Vaishnavism, Krishna is the Supreme Being. It recognises Radha in contrast to the school of Vaishnavism preached by Sankar Deva of Assam. Pitambar Singh built a brick temple to Krishna Madana Mohan to be more accurate.

Two other Brahman families also migrated from Orissa and settled in Manipur. The initiation of Pitambar Singh to Vaishnavism gave an impetus to the advancement of Vaishnavism in this kingdom. More and more Brahmins from different parts of India such as Kanya Kubja and Mathura came and setted in Manipur.

Polity

Manipur was an absolute monarchy throughout the medieval period from 1074 to 1819. There was the King's Council to aid and advise him on all matters of importance. Next below him was the crown prince, who was groomed for kingship. But to assist him in day-to-day administration there were two posts of senior ministers. They were the posts of Pukhramba and Nongthonba. These posts were filled by people of wide experience usually older than the king. The king was the head of the executive, legislature and judiciary. He also exercised the prerogative of mercy. He was also the supreme commander of the army, For putting down rebellions inside the kingdom, he might depute officers; but if a neighbouring power invaded Manipur, it was his duty to lead the army to repel the invasion. In such invasions, it was the duly of hill peoples to join the fight against the invaders.

Thus in 1604, the Tangkhuls reported for duty to fight against the Kacharis. They did not actually fight as a negotiated settlement had already been reached to avoid the war. In 1724 when the Burmese invaded Manipur, the Tangkhuls, the Koirengs, the Thangals, the Kabuis, the Songs, the Marings and the Taros actually fought, under the generalship of the king, against the Burmese at the great Battle of Wangjing. The Manipuris were far outnumbered by the invading Burmese. But the Manipuris had better weapons and better generalship and the Burmese invasion was repelled.

A great judicial reform was effected in 1715 in the reign of Gopal Singh also known as Garib Niwaza (1709-1748). The king still retained the prerogative of mercy and the theoritical position of the fountain-head of justice but the actual work of trying cases was entrusted to judges from this year onwards. To be more precise, this great reform was effected on Saturday the 23rd day of the Manipuri month of Langban in 1715 A.D Langban is usually September.

Society

In medieval times the Manipuri society was, as it is still now, patriarchal and patrilineal. This means that after marriage, the girl went to the house of her husband and lived there permanently and her children traced their descent from the side of the father. There was polygamy but never polyandry. Polygamy was mainly among the royalty, the nobility and the rich, there was the institution of adoption among, the Manipuri-speaking population except the Manipuri Muslims.

Among the Romans there were two types of adoption-adoptio and adrogatio. In the later type of adoption, a married man with children could also be adopted. Whether such a type of, adoption was found among the Manipur is a moot point. Among the Indo-Aryans in ancient times, a girl could be adopted but this practice fell into disuse in later times. But in Manipur, a girl could be adopted throughout the medieval times and in modem times.

Food

The, staple food of the Manipuris was and still is rice. Maize was introduced in 1683. A plenty of cultivated vegetables was available. In addition there was a wide range of wide, but quite edible and nutrious,vegetables like polygonum barbatum (Manipuri elang). Plumbago lanica (Manipuri Kengoi), Alpinia allugas (Manipuri Pulei), Allocasia coculate (Manipuri Pal-ukabi). Ipomea aquatiqa (Manipuri Kolamni). Netunia olerecia (Manipuri Ikaithabi) and Oenanthe Javanica (Manipuri Kompreg). Percentages of protein, carbohydrate fat and vitamins present in each of these vegetables have now been determined.

The people of the Manipur valley can digest milk. They drank milk-the milk of cows and buffaloes. Besides fresh milk, they used curd, butter and ghee. Lakes and rivers were numerous but the population was small. So fish was abundant in the lakes, rivers, canals and ponds in the medieval period, inspite of the practice of the Manipuris to catch fish, including fries and female fish with roe, even in the monsoon. The ill effects of the persistence of this practise, though not felt in medieval times, were felt during British Paramouncy. In the early medieval period the people of the Valley ate meat.

It is fortunate that the Manipur Valley had numerous bountiful salt springs. There were just salt-licks in ancient times. Manipuri kings developed them into salt springs. Manipuri kings in the late medieval period developed the salt springs into salt wells. Besides sodium chloride Manipuri salt has traces of calcium chloride and magnesium chloride.

The Manipuris of this period chew raw sugarcane, prepared molasses from the sugarchane juice and towards the end of the medieval period manugactured sugar. In late medieval period, they used hing (asafoetid; Sanskrit hingu), fennugreek (Manipuri methi; Sanskri methika) and cumin seed (Manipuri jira; Sanskrit jiraka). The main cooking medium in the late medieval period was mustard oil as in modern times. There were not many varieties of good fruit in medieval times. But in the late medieval period, the Manipuris cultivate the pineapple which attained a high degree of excelence.

Living conditions

The people of Manipur in medieval times, lived in houses of wood and bamboo thatched with thatch grass. There was no brick house; although there were a few brick temples. The people drank from rivers and ponds which exposed them to water-borne diseases. The water in the rivers and ponds in the Valley had sufficient quantities of iodine and goitre was very rare among the plainsmen although the same cannot be said of the waler in hill villages.

The Manipuris of this period made straight and wide highway but they were not metalled as the Manipuris did not have the technology to metal them. So inspite of the abundance of suitable stone, the high ways, roads and lanes were muddy in the rainy season and dusty in winter. There was plenty of good food rice, vegetables, pulses, fish and milk but the quality of drinking water was not good. The population was small as it was decimated at intervals by smallpox-a fatal disease endemic in Southeast Asia, smallpox used to affect the people of Manipur also until it was eradicated after Independence.

In medieval Manipur there were smallpox epidemics of 1520,1531,1541,1673,1686,1699,1720,1786 and 1787. The epidemics of 1531,1541 and 1699 were mild and the rest were bad epidemics. We have no records of smallpox epidemics prior to 1520.

In medieval times, there was good monsoon in most of the years; But the rainfall was over abundant in 1538,1611,1633,1661,1699,1713,1775 and 1800. The timing of each of these floods is recorded in the Royal Chronicle. We have however no record of the flood prior to 1538. On the other hand, there was partial failure of monsoon also in a few years. Thus there was partial failure of in 1634 and 1760. Drought was a very rare phenomenon in medieval period.

Life in Manipur depends on the Bay of Bengal branch of the South-west monsoon. The Manipuris controlled floods by using the numerous lakes as reservoirs when the rivers were in spate and by releasing the water when the water-level in the rivers subsided. In the case of partial failure of monsoon, they irrigated, with river water, rice fields if they were not far from rivers.

Intellectual Attainments

The bane of the people of Manipur in medieval times was the neglect of physical and life sciences. In the period, when Europe invented the telescope, microscope and the barometer and began to harness electrity, the people of Manipur still believed in myths and legends. In astronomy however they were familiar with the 27 constellations of the Zodiac named Ashwini, Bharani, Krittika etc, could forecast lunar and solar eclipses with acuracy and kept records of these eclipses and the appearance of comets.

Their Year is Iuni-solar and it is adjusted with the solar year by the device of intercalary month. Their year began in March in ancient times but after 1485 it began on the following Vishuva Samkranti i.e. the day on which the Sun crosses the Equator in the Hindu method of calculation. In reckoning months the Manipuris use the amanta mode as in South India whereas the people of North India use the purnimanta mode. They carefully measured time day and night by a clepsydra called Ian in Manipuri and manarandhraa in Sanskrit. The measurement of time by the Manipuris is on the lines prescribed in Surya Siddhanta ? a clebrated Sanskrit work on Astronomy.

Attainments in art, games and sports

The people of Manipur made their mark on literature, dance, music, beating of drums, games and sports. The Manipuris have a script called the Manipuri script. It evolved from Brahmi script. With the help of this script Manipuri literature blossomed from about the 10th century, in our reckoning. The game of chaugan resembling polo was played in many parts of the world. The Manipuris improved it much by framing new rules of the game and began to play it in 606 according to the new rules. This is the beginning of the game of polo. From Manipur it spread to Calcutta, then the capital of British India. From there it spread to other parts of the British Empire, from where it spread to other parts of the world.

The attainments of the people of Manipur in art and literature, games and sports arc a result of the artistic bent of mind of the people, healthy climate, scenic beauty and last but not the least, the plentiful good food produced with natural farming.

Books relied on

  1. The Royal Chronicle
  2. Ningthourol Lambuba
  3. Ahom Buranji
  4. R.B. Pemberton: Report on the Eastern Frontier of British India
  5. A Short History of Manipur
  6. A History of Manipuri Literature Vol. I and II
  7. Manipur


Concluded....


* 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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