TODAY -

Rani Gaidinliu and Heraka religion
- Part 1 -

Budha Kamei *

 Rani Gaidinliu
Rani Gaidinliu :: Pix - Dr. Heera Marangmei



India is celebrating birth centenary of Rani Gaidinliu in recognition of her role in the freedom struggle against the mighty British Empire and her socio-religious reform movement. She did spread the message of Mahatma Gandhi in the North East, thereby connected the thoughts of rest of India with the North East. Unfortunately, she is not yet included in the history text books/educational curriculum like other Indian freedom fighters.

Rani Gaidinliu was born on 26th January 1915 in a Rongmei village called Nungkao, which is located between the Barak and Makru rivers in Tamenglong District, Manipur. Gaidinliu literally means a girl who is a harbinger of good news. From her childhood, she showed her extraordinary qualities and courageous in whatever she did. Her life took a new turn when she met the daughter of God Bisnu in the forest who looked exactly like her. They established a life long friendship.

People of the village and her parents thought that Gaidinliu would become a shaman priest. Afterward Mr. J. C. Higgins, the political agent of Manipur described her as a Maibi, medicine woman in Manipuri, however, she was much more than a Maibi. Gaidinliu met Jadonang through dreams and she visited Kambiron to meet her future Guru.

Ultimately, she became the most trusted lieutenant of Jadonang. In the study of Rani Gaidinliu and her movement, one cannot overlook the chapter of Haipou Jadonang because he is the pioneer in socio-religious and political movement in the 20th century.

Bhuban cave is a holy place of the Zeliangrong people. According to Ramkui Zeliang, Bhuban cave is "one of the Godly pilgrimages for all human beings in the belief that occasionally all heads of Gods came together for meeting and the souls of all kings or rulers used to house after death in this cave." (2010) For the Heraka religion, Bhuban cave represents the point of reformation began there because in this cave the blessing of Tingwang was bestowed upon Hapou Jadonang and Rani Gaidinlu to introduce a new cult in Zeliangrong society. Therefore, it becomes a pilgrimage site for the devotees of Heraka in the month of February every year.

After the revolt of 1857, the British India government adopted a policy of non-interference in the social affairs of the Hindu and Muslim with the objective of consolidating the British rule in India, but this was not happened in the context of north east. They encouraged active Christian proselytisation work, because they believed that, Christian missionaries would help in consolidating their rule.

The primary objective of the missionary is to convert native people through evangelization, education, literary and medical works and those who are trained in these trades were engaged to continue the evangelical works. (Dena 1988) The tribal people of North East accepted Christianity. The tribal religion could not oppose the Christian condemnation of their religion as an animism cult which is full of superstitions.

The existence of the Supreme God (Tingwang) which is the foundation of the Zeliangrong religion was not used to oppose the attack of Christian missionaries. This is mainly due poor knowledge of the true essence of their philosophy and religion. Christian doctrines very easily did overcome them. In addition, poor economic condition of the tribal people narrowed down their world-view.

The missionaries employed many welfare programmes and the tribal people fell an easy victim to the persuasive strategies adopted by the missionaries. The western culture and civilization which was based on scientific technology had been accepted as a superior race. In addition, "the personal testimonies of the native converts rather than the foreign missionaries appealed to the spiritual problem of the tribes who were told that they would have a millenarian life in Heaven, living in God's Kingdom." (Kamei 2004)

The traditional Zeliangrong religion was conservative, and had elements of superstitions and taboos. They had become superstitious to such an extent that the worship of Tingwang was submerged in the performance of countless sacrifices from smallest to biggest animals to the spirits for any kind of ailments.

In this situation, poor people who could not bear the expenses of the sacrifice attracted to the new religion which had no economic burden in worship of God. This is also one of the important factors for conversion to Christianity. Truly speaking, poor people became debtors as result of expensive sacrifices. Their religion had become a mere observance of sacrifices and gennas.

Moreover, there was no unity among the Zeliangrong people and inter-village feud was prevalent. In the meantime, Christianity entered into the Zeliangrong country and started challenging the traditional religion, its old value and ideals of Zeliangrong people. Jadonang and Gaidinliu wanted to save the religion from the onslaught of the alien religion and reform and revitalized the religion of their people.

By 1920s more and more people began to embrace Christianity and to effect more conversion the Christian missionaries introduced a number of welfare programs such as education, medical works, and even offered white collar job in the state government. (Downs 1971) The new converts began to condemn the forefather's beliefs, rites and rituals, ceremonies, feasts, festivals something connected with evil spirits. (Yunuo 1982) They owed their loyalty more to the missionary and the officials.

In this way, many young people came forward and began to embrace the new religion. This was one kind of local response to the external influence. In the process of proselytisation, the traditional religion was loosing its foothold day by day, and this was a serious issue for the people who wanted to preserve and promote the traditional belief and practices of the people.

The Christians faced opposition from the believers of the traditional faith. The conflict between the pastors and the village priest was very serious in the 1920's. The clash was mainly due to the attacks of the Christian missionaries on the traditional tribal belief and way of life. Naturally the traditionalists had to defend against this onslaught. (Irene 1989)

It is a fact, there was also some kind of conflicts between the "new converts and the traditional elites represented by the Pei (village council) members. The Pei began to feel that their privileges and powers were being undermined by the new converts who had the solid backing of colonial officers and the missionary. F. S Down wrote that "as among the Angamis, the Zeliangrong villages strongly opposed Christianity…. Christians were invariably driven from their village."(1971)

The traditional Zeliangrong religion reacted against the conversion, which was condemned by the Christians as persecution, though it was they, who had encroached and violated the traditional religious beliefs and practices. In this situation, Jadonang who wanted to defend his traditional religion on the one hand, and uplift his people on the other, had to take a very careful path.

He realized that if the traditional religion was to be revived, the morass of superstitions and irrational taboos that afflicted the religion be removed and new ideas and forms should be injected to suit the changing time and space.

To be continued....


* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on December 14, 2015.


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