Burning of Holy Scriptures: Religious Conversion and its impacts

Dr H Indrakumar *

A page from 'The Puya of CHAINAROL' (The Way of the Warrior)
A page from 'The Puya of CHAINAROL' (The Way of the Warrior)
Pix Copyright : Human Right Alert (HRA)

Introduction : Social theories and academicians have considered religion to be the socializing agent playing an important role for unity and harmony even though Karl Mark desired it when he rejected religion as the opium of the masses in his communist showdown. Some take it as having norm of ideas and action which will have morally and spiritually connected with achieving higher values of the self.

Some regard it as a means for salvation through highly spiritual austerity. Others take it as ritualism by means of which peace, security, prosperity, etc. can be attained. What Pamheiba embraced fanaticism at the first instance of its letting loose by some Bengali refugees did not suit well the worthiness of being a benevolent native ruler. That he was too much adamant and whimsical as to whether his autocratic decisions deserved any consideration for abrupt change in favour of Sanskritisation or Ramanandi cult would be inconsistent with rulership and kingship tradition in the history of Meetei nationalism. Religion must bear a holy concept otherwise it appears to take on malevolent and violent or mischievous acts discarding humanism or human values.

Historicity: The Meeteis had their own chequered history and got experienced a distinct entity consistent with a national ethos. They were freedom loving people who could not be accustomed to toleration for imposition and domination. There was no social stratification by birth as seen in the caste system in which functional division into four varnas is strictly regimented. A cohesive social order prevailed discernible through inter-dining and intermarriage (except inter clan). Benevolent Kingship with democratic norms was found recorded prevailing from early times. Faiths and beliefs were in line with Sanamahi and Pakhangba as ancestral worship which was the oldest pattern of Meetei religions system.

The Meeteis had keen senses of identity and integration and which was why such native sensation of indigenization and homogenization had brought in all historical times all the inhabitants under one roof of nationalism.

This paper seeks to analyse the contents of the burning of the Holy Scriptures called the Puyas of the indigenous people and evaluate them in the light of the identity crisis. To begin with, it was turning point in the history that a king had been converted in an easiest way by a mere fakir who came from Sylhet, now a part of Bangladesh. When Shantidas failed to speed up conversion of the masses through Nongkhrung Oath for mass conversion and idol worship by using force under the despotic order of Pamheiba, the last violent act of crime was the burning of the Puyas on the pyre. He spent many a sleepless night conspiring about the plans for conversion of the whole kingdom into a Hindu one.

I have been wondering why Pamheiba yielded to what Shantidas conspired with ill-devices to harm and malign the Meeteis. He told the king that the native religion was so unique that the Ramanandi cult could not be accomplished and the idol worship in the temples also failed to attract the masses. Hence the next device was to destroy all the existing scriptures called the Puyas including all literature in order to introduce the Devanagari script for the victory of Sri Ram. All the books and scriptures were collectted and piled up at Kangla Uttra.

The collected Puyas were placed on the pyre and Pamheiba lit the pyre himself. Most of the Holy Scriptures which could not be burnt by fire had been blown away in different directions signifying that such Puyas would be kept harmless and safe in the true custodians. The two whispered that the Meetei religion must surely return as most of the Puyas had blown to different directions. The Maichous passionately smiled with tears knowing that native religion would come back after a short departure.

Pamheiba and Shantidas committed deliberately an unpardonable crime to impose conversion on the Meeteis. Valuable Puyas which were blown out of the pyre meant that the Meetei religion would come back because truth prevails in the end.

Chingu Khongnangthaba, the Head Priest, once warned Pamheiba:
"The Kingdom will be plunged into deep sorrow as all the Meetei Holy Scriptures are being burnt down.
O King Ningthem, little child !
Even though a few nominally small books are burnt down.
Yet Meetei scriptures dealing with history and tradition have not been burnt.
All such have been blown away to different directions.
You have got things done at your own will for same time since Nongkhrung Oath was taken before you.
O Ningthem ! Do listen !
For your responsibility Ningthem !
the Holy scriptures will have to be preserved throughout and in every Meetei home.

"Oh Ningthem ! Today I do speak out, the journey of an age has arrived today.
All the Meetei luminaries are quite retired.
They have absented from the Nongkhrung Oath not to annihilate Meetei tradition.
I am also to negotiate for some time now.
Look wide, open your eyes !
O Ningthem, if you are crazy enough for the alien cult you won't live long

Immediate Impact :

(i) Shantidas knew that his religion would never last long. The next step was that all the bones were taken out of the graves and thrown into the Ningthi River.

(ii) Shantidas replaced the name of the Meetei Kingdom by Monipur. He was happy to name a land at his own discretion and became fruitful of his mission. As the original name of the Meetei native was changed into Hindu nomenclature, its religions and cultural aspects came to be followed.

(iii) The palace at Kangla was burnt while the king and the priests were on a visit to the Loktak Lake at Phubala.

Chingu Khongnangthaba Asserted Strongly :
"The Kingdom cannot be allowed to lose. This naked fire will be extinguished now."

The barricade was broken open and Chingu Khongnangthaba penetrated his hand into the burning fire and put the fire out.
"O great fire burning up high!
All the seven satans coming from the West has been kept expelled beyond the Maklang Khong in the Kangla passage.
The fire I see through my eyes outside has been extinguished.
The fire which is burning inside will be burning without getting it known to anybody else.
The time to put out this internal fire is not a matter of just now.
The time will arrive when the Meetei progenitors of true blood reconcile Kangla with the true knowledge of the origin, the fire internal will be extinguished.
As though the fire internal can be extinguished just now it will not be allowed to do so since the western culture is being adopted during your time."

"Lest I am compelled to do so as such you should die and your jewel chain should be broken into pieces

An Evaluation :

Religion is a factor for overthrowing the whole superstructure of Meetei society. The Hindu faith turned Pamheiba and Shantidas into fanatics and emerged to be a cult figure under his despite regime. If both of them knew the Ramayana values properly, they would not have committed such criminal acts. The Sanskritization process continues till today and it can be easily evident from the following facts of identity crisis.

(1) Nongkhrung Oath is performed as holy dip in the Ganges.
(2) Bamon practice of wearing lukun with diksha.
(3) Conversion of Yek-Salais into gotras means Meetei orgin goes to Bamon ancestor.
(4) Idolatry, construction of temples and idol worship patronized by Hinduished King.
(5) Stamping mud on the forehead and other parts.
(6) Meetei names are changed into Hindu names.
(7) The Puyas like the Hindu Puranas are destroyed so as to annihilate Meetei origin.
(8) Throwing the skull bones into the alien river is practiced as mark of submissiveness.
(9) Burning of dead body is introduced with the ritual arrangements as were done in the burning of Puyas.
(10) Krishna cult, Vaishanava Cult, Guoriya cult and several other cults follow consequently.
(11) Bamonism is more predominant than Hinduism.

From these historical facts, it can be understood that a despotic fanaticism can take religion into his own hand just like men in power do whatever they like without considering the popular values. Chingu Khongnangthaba prophesied as apocalypse or doomsday after which the Meeteis regain their lost vigor and vitality. He concealed all these in time capsule. Larei Lathup, Langtailol, Ngamtailol, Kaipilol and a few other holy treatises and Revelations dealing with the future. The Nongkhrung Oath for seven generations was over and regeneration is taking place now on.

Chingu Khongnangthaba is still with us because his prophesy comes true. He saved us from the complete ruin in the hands of fanatics and despot. He is guarding Kangla, the holiest of the holy abode of Lord Sidaba. All the crises can be resolved if we go by the saying of Chingu, and there is nothing to disbelieve in this proposition.

Identity Crisis :

The burning of the Puyas has serious impact on the identity crisis of the original people of the Kingdom. The religious conversion to Hinduism created a fissure in the society. Social segregation and discrimination, stratification and alienation were imposed. Pollution and untouchability became widespread resulting in psychological disturbances and sociological imbalances destroying the kinship and affinitive pattern of relationship. Eventual moments of conflict situation of and identity crisis broke out frequently orienting towards undue polarization into the pure and the impure, and the high and the low being practiced as Hindu import.

The following factors may be considered to be constraints and contradictions.
1. Psychologial Factor
2. Religious Factor
3. Cultural Factor
4. Social Factor
5. Linguistic and Scriptural Factor

Renaissance :

In the course this abridged evaluation I have taken note of a unique source of Renaissance in the1930s beginning with the life and activities of Naoriya Phulo and Takhellambam Bokul. I have also observed to propose five points for resolving the Meetei identity crisis on the social as well as individual level which I personally used to mobilize and materialize under the banner of my organization.

In conclusion, I visualize a prospect of conciliation and resolution based on Chingu Khongnangthaba's Revelation which ultimately warns that a doomsday is coming. I owe my whole-hearted reverence to him for he is a staunch protagonist of social justice, harmony and peace, and understand that without social justice there cannot be economic equality and political development in such a caste-imposed society as ours.

* Dr H Indrakumar wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
The writer is HoD, Political Science dept, Modern College
This article was posted on January 23, 2014.

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