TODAY -

Buddhism in Manipur
- Part 1 -

Holkhongam Haokip *

A Buddhist Temple at Tamu, Myanmar near India Border town of Moreh in April 2015
A Buddhist Temple at Tamu, Myanmar near India Border town of Moreh in April 2015 :: Pix - Nganthoi Lourembam



Indian Nationalist Historians and Scholars had considered the 6th century BC as a significant turning point in the history of India. It is not only because of the emergence of new states and empires, new dynasty and kings, new towns and cities, but more importantly because of its witnesses in the rise of many religious sects that is going to shaped the course of Indian history.

Similar to the emergence of Magadha as a strongest state by annexing and abolishing all other emerging states, all these religious sects soon died out and only Buddhism and Jainism remained prominent. Both Buddhism and Jainism took birth from the womb of Hinduism and are regarded as Protestant Hinduism like the Lutheran and Calvinism in the 15th century European History.

The period was a period of religious unrest and the people were griped with religious dogmas and superstitions because of the higher ascendancy of the priestly class called Brahmins. The two religions founded by Mahavira and Gautama, both belonging to the powerful Kshatriya clans of Janatrika and Sakya respectively, led the First ever Religious Reforms Movement in India against the rigid and cumbrous beliefs of the Orthodox Brahmanical Hinduism and offers a Middle Path to the followers for the attainment of salvation.

In course of time, due to the effective measures taken up by the Buddha and his successors for its propagation coupled by the strong support and patronage extended by the Ancient Indian rulers since the days of Bimbisara and continued by Emperor Ashoka, Kanishka, Harsha and many Buddhist Monks and Scholars automatically makes Buddhism a world religion. According to the Tibetan historian Taranath, the prevalence of Buddhism in Pragjyotishpura or Kamrupa (present name of Assam) is traced back to the 3rd century BC.

Different scholars and writers had expressed their independent thoughts and opinions about the presence of Buddhism in this tiny state of Manipur. There has been a theory suggesting the widespread of Buddhism in Manipur before the Hinduization of the state in the 18th century AD by furnishing probable artifacts in the state believe to be pretty much related to Buddha's lives and teachings.

They even went to the extent that Buddhism spreads to the eastern world from India through Manipur.However, some scholar had rejected the statement pointing fingers to the silence on Buddhism maintained by several historical accounts. They even put forth their arguments that if any aspect of Buddhism really had been existed, it would have been mentioned at least in one of the Manipur's ancient chronicles.

From the above two different theories, it is more likely that Buddhism finds its place in Manipur only after the coming of Hinduism. It is certain that there was animism or traditional religions being practiced among the people of Manipur before the 18th century AD.

Whatever it might be, it is crystal clear that Buddhism and its activities, perhaps in its true sense, begins in Manipur only with the Nepalese after they had settled in the state in the second half of the 19thcentury A.D. The Nepalese or the Gorkhalis entered Manipur with their religions.

The Nepalese of Mongoloid origins were entirely responsible for introducing Buddhism in Manipur. Their physical appearance, a little bit different from their kins coming from the western regions of Nepal, are more or less the same with the already settled purely mongoloid-structured races of the north eastern India. Among the Nepalese, the Tamangsand the Sherpas belongs to the said groups.

They are the sons and daughters of the great people of Eastern Nepal who had been following the doctrines of Buddhism since the beginning of the Christian era. The Tamangs and the Sherpas of Manipur are purely Buddhists. They are borne Buddhist. According to Pandit Ram Prasad, hundred percent of the Tamangs and Sherpas population are Buddhist and fifty percent among the Gurungs, who also followed Hinduism as their religion.

The Sherpas loves to live in the high altitude where the forest is cold and friendly. They belong to one of the indigenous groups of people living in the North East of Nepal. The etymological meaning of Sherpa (Sher-pa) is "Eastern people". It is believed that the Sherpas are one of the early inhabitants of Kham region before they migrated to the northern belt of Nepal in the 14th century AD. They belong to the Tibeto-Burman family.

In Manipur, the Sherpas and the Tamangs are seen in the high altitude of the Koubru ranges. They are stealthily settling in the IT Road areas of the north western region of Manipur, just 50 to 60 km. away from the capital, Imphal. The area in mention is perfectly suited for grazing animals. Their domesticated animals like cows, goats and sheeps are seen grazing in the high grassland areas and even up to the top of the high mountains just to remind any passerby about their clear mountainous Himalayan origins.

The mountain sites become a suitable place for their livelihood. Like any other hill dwellers these Nepali clans also depends entirely on the forest and its products. The forest provides wild vegetables and fruits, and even the green leaves of trees for domesticated animals. The Sherpas and the Tamangs in the region cultivate rice which is also a sure-crop for their neighboring tribes of the Kukis and the Nagas.

Besides, they also grow vegetables like mustard, maize, Brinjal, potatoes, and pears of different varieties not only for home consumption but even for selling in the nearby markets through which they can get other useful household materials.

To be continued...


* Holkhongam Haokip wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao / The Sangai Express
The writer is a Lecturer in the Department of History, Mount Everest College, Senapati, and can be contacted at Holkhongamtvm(at)gmail(Dot)com
This article was posted on April 26, 2015.


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