Hinduism in Manipur
- Part 2 -

Dr. Chirom Rajketan Singh *

 Konung Kang Chingba festival at Imphal :: July 04, 2019
Konung Kang Chingba festival at Imphal on July 04, 2019 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

King Pamheiba felt that his subjects should also follow him in embracing Ramandi religion as it was the duty of all the subjects to follow their king's footsteps. So he tried to forcibly convert his people into the new religion by leaving their old Manipuri religion. But the people had deep rooted sentiment for the old Manipuri religion.

So the conversion was not completely successful, even though there were some changes. Shantidas knew that the mentality of the people would not be easily changed so he tried different ways to deal with the situation. He even destroyed many valuable treasures. Some of the changes he introduced were

- In the month of Langban, 1723 A.D he destroyed the shrines of Umang Lai. On the full moon day of Hiyangei Friday, Brahmins were allowed to enter the Meitei temples of Lainingthou Nongsaba, Yumthei Lai,Panthoibi and Taibangkhaiba to perform the various religious rites.

- On Sunday 20th of Lamta 1724 A.D the king gave the order to dug out the buried bodies of the dead and the skeletal remains were collected and burnt and the ashes were thrown to Ningthi river. From this day onwards the Meiteis started cremating their dead.

Before this the Meiteis did not cremated their dead. Instead there was practice of burial of dead bodies. In the next year the grave would be dug out again to collect the bones. The bones were thoroughly washed and then put in a pot to perform the last rites. This was called Mang Chanba or secondary burial. For the kings and the noblemen the skull was covered with gold or silver and buried again.

There is written record about such practices in the book called Thawan Thaba Hiran. Moreover, gold covered human skulls were dug out from Pidonu Ching and Cheirao Ching of Thangmeiband. Burial sites at Sekta were excavated and preserved till today. Nowadays cremation replaces burial. Then on the completion of one year instead of secondary burial a death anniversary called Kumon Phiroi is being observed.

- Another significant change was that the title given to the Meitei king i.e. Meidingu was replaced by Maharaja. (During the time of Meidingu Khagemba the king was even addressed as Lainingthou.)

- Then rearing of pigs and fowls in the household was prohibited. People were fined if they did so.

- On Wednesday 11th of Phairel 1725 A.D Ningthem Pukhri (Royal Pond) at Wangkhei was dug.

- Ningthem Pukhri was opened on Sunday 2nd of Kalen 1726 A.D.

- Near this big pond, temples of Krishna and Kalika were placed. Till today the temple of Kalika stands on the northern side of this pond and is being looked after and worshipped by the Sairem clan. On the western side of this pond a temple dedicated to Lord Rama was constructed and it still stands today as Temple of Ramji Prabhu.

- In the month of Enga all the Umang Lai (Ancestral Gods ) were collected and buried at Mongba Hanba.

- On Monday 23rd of Engen seven temples belonging to Lainingthou, Panthoibi, Laiwa haiba, 2 Lamnapi, Soraren and Huidonpokpi were destroyed along with the images or forms which were worshipped.

- On Sunday 18th of Enga 1729 A.D the stone placed at sana Keithel was moved toMongba hanbafor sculpting a Hanuman statue.

(This stone was believed to possess special powers and was being worshipped at the market.Meidingu Chalamba who ruled from 1545 A.D 1562 A.D brought and kept two possessed stones at the market place. Out of these two one was used to make Hanuman Thakur statue which was worshipped later on as Hanuman Thakur.)

During this time, with the falling of misfortune in the land and instability in the mindsof the people for their unwillingness to leave old religion and accept new religion, there was utter confusion.

So in order to pacify the minds of the people Guru Shantidas advised the king to revive Sanamahi worship saying that God was one and Sanamahi was the incarnation of Shri Krishna and Rama was also the incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

With these on Thursday 2nd of Thawan 1729 A.D. a sacred place for Lainingthou Sanamahi was maintained and worshipping started. On the day 11th of Wakching the temple of Lainingthou Sanamahi was consecrated and worshipped.

But the efforts for conversion to Ramandi religion never ceases. Shantidas thought that until and unless the priceless old manuscripts called Puyas were destroyed people would not accept his religion. So on Sunday 17th of Mera 1732 A.D all the Puyas were collected and put to flames in front of Kangla Utra.

This incident is called Puya Meithaba in the history of Manipur. In this fire around 120 different Puyas were burnt but it was presumed that the actual number of manuscripts were much more than this. The names of the 120 destroyedPuyas were written in the Puya called Miyat.

But it can be said that these 120 Puyas were not totally lost. Some puyas which were copied and some others which were kept secretly remained. Some puyas are still there which need to be read only at night with no one around.Some Puyas which were considered to be destroyed in the fire are still found today. They may be considered to have been written again after Pamheiba was no longer the king.

This is possible because most of the Meitei Puyas are related withreligiouschantings which are used frequently by the Meitei Priest or Maichous. So they learn everything by heart. Be it puya or Lai Haraoba the priests / Priestesses always say the chantings without looking at a book or manuscript.

The PuyaNumit Kappa and Tutenglon were used as chantings for Chupsaba and the Priest would recite everything without looking at the puyas.

The long Epic Khamba Thoibi which took many days to sing by pena or Khongjom Parbasingers did not require a book or script to look at. Local storytellers called wari liba would learn the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata by heart and they could tell it continuously.

However hard Shantidas and the king tried Meitei religion could not be totally replaced by the new religion. This forcible conversion led to a great rift between the king and his people. Seeing the situation Shantidas adopted new measures to appease the people.

The statue of Lainingthou Sanamahi which was destroyed in the month of Thawan 1733 A.D was made again by casting in bronze. (Lainingthou Sanamahi is still worshipped today at Haying Khongban near 1st Manipur Rifles). People were then allowed to worship Sanamahi at their homes as before.

Worshipping of Umang lai was again revived. By doing so the minds of the people got pacified. At the same time many Hindu Religious festivals were introduced to the land. The festivals were happily accepted by the people and they became a part of the people's lives. A book called Sanamahi Laikal was written tocommemorate the revival of Sanamahi religion.

To be continued ....

* Dr. Chirom Rajketan Singh wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Manipuri at Kha Manipur College, Kakching
This article was webcasted on September 03, 2019.

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