TODAY -

Religion As A Marker Of Caste System In Meetei Community

Manganleibi Loktongbam *

A Clip from The Coil Pottery of Manipur in Andro and Thongjao
A Clip from The Coil Pottery of Manipur in Andro and Thongjao :: Video by Bibinaz Thokchom



INTRODUCTION

Manipur which lies in the north-eastern region of India has come across various aspects of resistance and movements. The land has been inhabited by different communities - Meeteis/Meiteis, Lois, Yaithibis, Tangkhuls, Kukis, Pangals, Bamons, which practice the different religion. Mentioned may be made that the Yaithibis are considered as an exile and war captives, but they are hard to find, it is said that they hide their identity, and they called themselves as the Lois (Bino:4).

The Loi group or the Meetei Ariba (old/ indigenous Meetei) in Manipur are considered as the other category in the Meetei society. The Lois and Yaithibis are recognized as the Meetei scheduled caste in Manipur.

ORIGIN OF THE LOIS

Though there are many connotations regarding the origin of Lois community, considering the local people and researchers viewpoint, the Lois are the Chakpa people which are the constituent of four villages of Andro, Phayeng, Sekmai and Khurkhul in Imphal district. In this paper, I would focus on the parallel axiom of the Lois and the Meeteis who follow the Meetei marup, which were not influenced by Vaisnavism.

It is also observed that the similar accounts of locating the people who follow their indigeneity were excommunicated and were considered as "mangee", which literally means not pure that lead to the idea of " mangee or sengee" (impure or pure),and also generated the notion of caste system in Manipur , which is locally known as "Atonba Kanglup".

RELIGION AS A CASTE MARKER: A STUDY ON PHAYENG VILLAGE IN RELATION TO THE MEETEIS WHO FOLLOWS HINDUISM

When we look pertinently in the field of religion as a source of caste marker in the Meetei society it is inevitable to say that, the dual division amongst the Meetei who follows Vaishnavism and the Meetei who follows Meetei Marup and the Lois of Manipur clearly demarcated. The notion of caste differentiation arose with the coming of Shanti das Gossai, a Bengali brahmin who came from Sylhet during the reign of King Pamheiba, later changed to Garibnawa in an around eighteenth century. According to Sanamahi Laikan, Shantidas Gossai spread the Ramanadi cult which is the worshipping of Rama and Hanuman.

Gossai was one who had a strong opposition against the worshipping of the indigenous Sanamahi Laining and the Umanglais, and also the use of the Meetei scripts. It can also be noted that Gossai in a way to convert holistically the people of Manipur, he brings the Bengali script and instigate Garibnawaza to burn the Puya( manuscript) which contains the holy texts, cultural history of Sanamahi and the genealogies of the kings', solely written in the Meetei script by the Maichows(scholars) of the time.

The Nongthang Iruppa or Lukun Thangba which was the process of purification and conversion to Hindu religion by holding and swearing in the presence of the sacred leaf Nongkhrang tree chanting as " I will not give up Ramanadi Religion if I retract I will die vomiting out blood ( Chingtamlen:24)", at the adjoining rivers of Lilong river, This incident was crucial in developing the caste system in Manipur.

In the Meetei society, it is observed that class division and the hierarchy amongst the seven principalities Ningthouja, Angom, Moirang, Khuman, Luwang, Chenglei, Khuman, Khaba- Nganba were prominent during the Pre-vishnevite era in Manipur. Each of the clan preserved their dignity and capabilities. Historians and researchers had traced formally the Meetei civilization since 33 AD during the reign of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba under the Ningthouja dynasty.

Saroj Nalini Arambam Parratt's translation of 'The court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur: The Cheitharon Kumpapa' is use extensively as an authentic book for a reference point to date. But it is crucial to note that caste system was not known to the Meetei kingdom. Bino in her book 'The Lois of Manipur', remarks that "With the advent of Hinduism, the Meiteis began to imitate caste system of the Hindus"(pg. 10).

With this notion, the caste differences eroded in the soil of Manipur. But somewhere the hardcore believer of Meetei Laining of worshipping the Sanamahi religion, which is the embodiment of the ultimate Godfather as the spiritual principle ( Chingtamlen:25), raised against the idea of converting and absorbing to the idol worship of Hindu.

The Meeteis who follow Hinduism started idol worship and constructing temples. One could be noted that Sanamahi Laining was sacred enough that it cannot be overshadowed by the Hindu religion. Sanamahi religion remained as the divine and the sacred God, that in each corner of the Meetei house, Sanamahi is worshiped despite the different religion that one follows. Simon Laishram also stresses the miscegenation of the ancient tradition and Hinduism, stating that ''At day, the Meeteis chanted bhajans at the Sree Govindaji Temple, and by night, burned tokens of fire to the Laimarel and Lainingthou (P.g2)".

In this juncture, the Meeteis who follow Sanamahi and Lois who settled in the periphery of the state have some close affinities of worshipping the indigenous religion. According to Laxmi Ningthoujam, a resident of the Phayeng village of the Loi community states that "Each of the Lois who belongs to different villages has their form of origin and myth, but culturally and emotionally they are one".

Bino in her book 'The Lois of Manipur', strongly point out that the four villages of Loi community, belief that they are "the descendants of the Soraren( King of Gods)"(P.g 13). In this scenario, religion wise the Lois and the Meeteis who follow Sanamahi has similar affinities.

All the four Loi villages of Phayeng, Andro , Khurkhul, Sekmai also preserved their dialect, culture, tradition and custom. It is observed that their ways of thinking, food habits, and lifestyle are completely different from the Meeteis in the urban areas. In this juncture, the Meetei who follow Hinduism looked down the Lois as the other or the untouchable caste (mangee ) in the society.

The informant, the resident of Phayeng village also gives an example of food habits that existed and preserved since the inception of the Phayeng Village, that " In the Phayeng village , after the death of someone in the family , the neighbouring villagers who came to help and condole the death were served with pork (oak ),as a marked of respect to the soul and villagers", she also continued that this form of culture is unique and distinct, that it embodies their identity.

One could be observed that in the Meetei family who follows Hinduism or the Meetei marup in the urban areas, the symbol and respect for the death soul is marked by starving the food on the date of the death and remained vegetarian for 7 days ( Meetei Marup) and 14 days for the ( Meetei Goura). The idea of categorizing the Lois which I focus on the Phayeng village, as the untouchables or the other is itself a biased view by the Meeteis who were converted to Hinduism.

One should be noted that the strong position in those days was held by the upper caste of the Meetei community, that is the royal King initiated by Garibnawaza and their relatives which later developed to the surname Rajkumar/Rajkumari, the Brahmins, and the followers and supporters of the King.Hence the idea of degrading and making strange of one's culture is purely installed in the Meetei community.

According to one of the versions of the origin of the Lois community, Bino says that " the Chakpa Lois who are considered as the earliest settler in the valley might have come from Meikhel and Koubru"( P.g. 13), where the Koubru hill also stands as the birthplace of the Meeteis. It could be assumed that the Meeteis and the Lois belong to the same blood.

WHAT CONSTITUTE LOIS TO DATE ?

The term Lois is very controversial and interpreted in many ways by different scholars, but there were no written recordings of how they were named as Lois. One could be observed that in the Lois village ( Phayeng ) the Ningthouja and Angom clan were settled wholly and intermarriage occurred to this two clan, It is clear to understand that the Lois of the Phayeng village belongs to the seven principalities of the Meetei genealogy.

The overlapping thoughts of why it is termed as Lois, are one who pays tribute as "Loi Kaba" or who is put into exile known as "Loi Pupa". It is observed that the latter corresponds to the idea of constructing them as untouchables ( mangee) and sending them to the periphery of the state. They were excommunicated by the King, for their incessant act of preserving their identity and not embracing Hinduism.

Though time has changed and each of the individuals is evolving, in this rapid pace of development the idea of being a Loi and what constitute a Loi is still ingrained in the minds of the Meetei society. Discrimination and stigmatization of belonging to a less fortunate caste define Lois to some extent.

Till now in Manipur in the Meetei inhabited areas, i.e in valley, the practiced of untouchability and the idea of " mangee or sengee"( impure or pure), is still evolving, one of the instances could be: The Meetei Brahmins and the other followers of Hinduism can share the food cooked by the same cook but differences arises when they share food with the people who follow Sanamahi or the Meetei Marup .

The Meeteis who follow Hinduism has a different ritual of painting Chandan on the forehead, nose and the neck, that basically marks the respect of the Hindu God, whereas People who follow Sanamahi paints on the forehead with the soil, which means the earth is sacred. For the Meeteis who follow Sanamahi Laining and the Lois, worshipping of Umanglais (Forest God) is crucial.

In the present state, the Lois got the status of the the Scheduled caste. Mentioned can be made that sharing food or celebrating the festival in indigenous Meetei form is considered as untouchable. The Meetei Brahmin and the followers of Vaishnavism are vegetarian except for common food 'Ngari'. Cooking of meat inside the kitchen is considered as 'mangee'.

It is observed that, though there were no written records in the history of the Lois and the Meeteis who follow Sanamahi Laining , of the untouchability and excommunication, that was/ is practiced in Manipur. It could be noted that personal memories, historical books like Cheitharol Kumpapa and other history books, help in defining that caste system and differences do exist in Meetei community to some extent with the coming of Hinduism in Manipur.

CONCLUSION : A NEW THINKING

The revivalist movement initiated by Naoria Phullo in an around nineteenth century, slowly fade away Vaishnavism in Manipur to date. It was a major outbreak in the history of Manipur, a game changer in the history of the revival of the Meetei indigenous religion called Sanamahism.

John Parrat in their book 'Wounded Land: Politics and Identity in Modern Manipur' eloquently called this form of movement by the Meetei as 'de-Sanskritization' of the Meetei religion.( Pg33) . It is quite interesting to add that this revivalist movement also generates in the evolvement of the use of the Meetei script which was abandoned and restricted for a long time. In the present Manipur, people slowly tend to follow the Meetei Marup and started reviving the Meetei script.

REFERENCES :

o Ningthoujam, Laxmi, informant a resident of Awang Leikai Phayeng. Interviewed on 4th April 2017. Hyderabad.
o Bino Devi, Lairenlakpam, The Lois of Manipur.Mittal Publications. 2002. New Delhi.
o John Parrat , Wounded Land: Politics and Identity in Modern Manipur 'Cultural renaissance and political awakening. Mittal Publications 1nov 2005.New Delhi.
o Sairam Nilabir ,Lainingthou Sanamahi Amasung Sanamahi Laining Hinggat Eehou.2002, Puthiba Press Computarise.Khurai Lamlong Keithel Imphal, Khurai Nandeibam Leikai
o R.K Jhalajit A short history of Manipur, R.K Jhalajit. Seven Union Press,Paona Bazar Road Imphal ,1891.
o Aarambam Parratt ,Saroj Nalini The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur The Cheitharon Kumpapa Vol.2 ,1764-1843 CE . Cambridge University Press Pvt.Ltd. Ansari under the imprint of Foundation Books Road, New Delhi. 2009
o Iboongohal, Lairenmayum , Introduction to Manipur. The Saraswati Printing Works, Imphal , Manipur 1987 third edition.
o Wangkhemcha Chingtamlen A short story of Kangleipak ( Manipur) part III, G.K Printers Uripok Flyover Bridge, Imphal , The Kangleipak Historical & Cultural Research centre. 2014
o Kunj Bihari Singh, Manipur Vaishnavism :A Sociological Interpretation. Sociological Bulletin. Voll. 12, No. 2 ( September 1963), pp. 66-72. Indian Sociological Society.http://www.jstor.org/stable/42864621 accessed on 08-03-2017, Hyderabad.
o Simon Laishram , Dual Religious Identification of the Meeteis of Manipur:Miscegenation of Ancient Tradition and Hinduism. Cultural Studies EST 642A.
https://www.academia.edu/8639776/DUAL_RELIGIOUS_IDENTIFICATION_OF_THE_MEETIES_OF_MANIPUR?auto=download accessed on 21-03-2017, Hyderabad.


* Manganleibi Loktongbam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at manganleibiloktongbam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on April 08, 2017.


* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of e-pao.net. We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.




LATEST IN E-PAO.NET
  • Imoinu @Yumnam Leikai :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 23 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Our Ailing Planet: My locality as a facet
  • Stop Oil Palm Plantation in Manipur
  • General election in hard times :: Poem
  • Being free from freedom
  • Roaring 40 in first list of Cong
  • Significance of Gaan-Ngai festival #2
  • COVID-19 Status 22 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Wake Up My People Wake up :: Poem
  • COVID-19 : Impact in Manipur :: News Timeline
  • A tribute to Athokpam Indrakumar Singh
  • Stunted fingerling- Replacement of fish seed
  • Training Program at Dimapur
  • Gaan-Ngai @Kakhulong :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 21 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Classical Language Vs ST for Meetei
  • The Great Green Walls, conserving nature
  • Webinar: The Birds and Bees Talk
  • Covid Booster Campaign at Tamenglong
  • IVF Centre in Guwahati
  • Easing curbs as cases spiral
  • Third wave is on!
  • Ecotourism Complexes @ Ramrei :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 20 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • No excuse not to end acute pandemic stage
  • Palm-oil in Manipur: Bad to worse
  • For sons and daughters :: Poem
  • Effective methods for facial hair removal
  • Subdued dissent over Sunday as poll day
  • Embracing the party hoppers
  • Gaan-Ngai @Iboyaima Shanglen #2:: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 19 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Cultural Activists of Manipur honoured
  • Male infertility: What are the options ?
  • Is celebrating New Year Day really worth it
  • Third wave: State on record breaking spree
  • Compulsion of power politics
  • Imoinu Thouniba @Singjamei :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 18 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • O Jonga! O Jonga :: Poem
  • Grey market for election tickets
  • Some common weeds of Manipur #2
  • Lilong Haoreibi College awarded 'B' grade
  • State used as transport route of drugs
  • Possible post poll scenario
  • Significance of Gaan-Ngai festival #1
  • COVID-19 Status 17 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Lunghar path in springshed conservation
  • Lament of love :: Poem
  • Career options in Lift Technology
  • Brief tale of one year COVID vaccination
  • Bickering among allies in coalition politics
  • Low vaccination coverage
  • NH-2 : Remember Khongnem Thana
  • COVID-19 Status 16 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • O Kolhen! O Kolhen :: Poem
  • Program on POCSO Act at Thoubal
  • The Killing Fields (2013-22) :: News Timeline
  • A spate of 'defections' in UP elections...
  • High performing individuals work alone
  • Onus on ECI to avert crisis situation
  • Keeping people informed is key
  • Gaan-Ngai @Iboyaima Shanglen #1:: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 15 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • The church is & must remain apolitical
  • Tamenglong Battalion celebrated Army Day
  • How prosperous NE India became backward
  • Imoinu Erat Thouni @ Koubru #1:: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 14 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Read all about Gaan Ngai
  • Justice, Peace and Change :: Poem
  • Mass Surya Namaskar at Tamenglong
  • Padmanabha Swamy Temple
  • Overcoming vaccine hesitancy
  • Nothing grand about 'Grand Old Party'
  • Lainingthou Sanamahi Complex #1:: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 13 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • A Hymn for Goddess Emoinu
  • Some common weeds of Manipur #1
  • How to keep your hair healthy this winter
  • Third wave: Litmus test for NE states
  • High TPR, low vaccination
  • Maharaja Gambhir Singh
  • COVID-19 Status 12 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Rani Gaidinliu Open Air Lounge inaugurated
  • NAAC peer team visit for assessment
  • National Youth Day
  • Conservation Agriculture: intensified farming
  • Negligence galore as Covid cases rise
  • Back to the spike in three figures
  • How AFSPA undermines 'Act East' Policy
  • COVID-19 Status 11 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • P Achevei : Mega Mister North East 2021
  • Stop Violence related to Election
  • Civil / Project Engineer @ R-Square
  • Business Development @ R-Square
  • Customer Representative @ Property Geo
  • No matter what :: Poem
  • Stealthy extension of AFSPA
  • Confiscating 'suspected heroin'
  • 188 Death Anniv: Maharaj Gambhir:: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 10 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG) 20th Call
  • Kalum Kai (House of worship) #2
  • Account Assistant @ Amber & Arthur, Imphal
  • Business Dev @ Amber & Arthur, Imphal
  • The 5G Race :: Samarjit Kambam
  • Manipur elections not for the faint-hearted
  • Guns & violence in run up to polls
  • Climate Change in Ukhrul in last 50 years
  • COVID-19 Status 09 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Are we able to break chain of transmission
  • 100 new Sainik School- opportunities for girl
  • Joyjeet Waikhom / Ksh Maradona: Mr India
  • Money flying in or out ?
  • Will partial lockdown help curb transmission
  • Voting during Covid pandemic
  • Food items @ Singjamei, Pishum :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 08 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Curfew : Measures to combat COVID
  • IMFP - Indian Made Foreign People
  • Happy 2022 to you !
  • Manipur Press Foundation Day :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 07 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Politician must practice, preach on COVID
  • Makeup routine during pandemic
  • Third wave threat no more a mirage
  • Queuing up for BJP
  • Thangal Lambi & Ima Keithel :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 06 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Before I sleep... II
  • Election Brawl :: Poem
  • Impact of Covid on Employer Branding
  • Chasing peace in Manipur
  • COVID-19 Status 05 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Kalum Kai (House of worship) #1
  • The art of New Year's resolution
  • Cong struggling to keep its house in order
  • Manipur's place in the eyes of Delhi
  • Makru bridge, Oinamlong Waterfall : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 04 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • Depression : A New Time Bomb
  • School & Student Championship Quiz
  • Concern over child labour
  • ECI on sluggish vaccination rate in state
  • Vaccination rate in hill districts
  • Fusion of contemporary dance & theatre
  • COVID-19 Status 03 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • COVID-19 Crackdown on violators
  • AMAND, Pune released 2022 calendar
  • Rising poverty in Manipur
  • Sunset, the most memorable!
  • Election time season of plentiful promises
  • Interesting role of NPP, NPF
  • Pineapple @ Ngariyan Hills #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 02 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • kLlQtre :: Seireng
  • National Day for our feathered friend
  • Value of purposeful life
  • Homemade face packs for winter beauty
  • Dreadful start to New Year as cases spike
  • Manipur steps into Year 2022
  • Tarpon Katpa @ Loktak #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 01 Jan : Govt of Manipur
  • OneHealth: towards pandemic preparedness?
  • Before I sleep...
  • Meitei ST demand & the opposition
  • Bye Bye 2021 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 31 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2021 #6: Gallery
  • Manipur : National Futsal C'ship 2021
  • 'Unlocking Locks Under Lockdowns' released
  • Baby corn cultivation for livelihood
  • Extension of AFSPA to Nagaland
  • Hoping for a better New Year 2022
  • Appeal of AMCO to Chief Minister
  • NK Sanajaoba- Star in Dark Sky of Manipur
  • COVID-19 Status 30 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • Danube Kangjam : Miss North East 2021
  • In search of Christmas party
  • Demise of Film Producer: Guruaribam John
  • Disturbed Area Act in Nagaland extended
  • Thyroid cancer- The Good, Bad & Ugly
  • Same old order to tackle most potent threat
  • Putting tighter restrictions in place
  • Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958
  • COVID-19 Status 29 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • January Calendar for Year 2022 : Tools
  • Carol on Christmas :: Poem
  • Formation of 13 Farmer Producer Orgns
  • Indian Army Inquiry Team visits site in Oting
  • Review home isolation rule or punish violator
  • Lining up for saffron party
  • Red Ribbon Manipur Idol, 2021 #2: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 28 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • curaNTbdi nYte AE :: Seireng
  • Marriageable at 25 not 18 or 21
  • IMA Manipur wins 7 awards at NATCON-2021
  • Impact of climate change in agriculture
  • Dual threat to state in election season
  • Another panel to study AFSPA
  • Indigenous under-utilized fruit crop Manipur
  • COVID-19 Status 27 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • Can we deliver on #HealthForAll
  • Business Executive @ Property Geo, Imphal
  • 13th Seniors National Futsal C'ship
  • National Curling Championship
  • Centre benevolence crucial for development
  • Taking the elixir of life to all village
  • Omicron now in town
  • Job-Fair 2021 @ Imphal : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 26 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • Remembering great grandmothers :: Poem
  • Grand finale Mega Miss North East 2021
  • Kodo - A miracle food millet crop in Manipur
  • Preparing HCWs for long battle against Covid
  • Bid to arm twist the media
  • Christmas Eve @ Imphal : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 25 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • My idea of justice- For the old aged folks
  • Amit Shah holds conclave with Naga leaders
  • Horses - some tidbits
  • The best skincare routine for teenagers
  • Christmas Eve @ Churachandpur : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 24 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • My Christmas
  • Mary : The Unwed Mother
  • O Come, let us adore Him
  • Violence in election: Will it sustain?
  • Hymn on autumn :: Poem
  • Crackdown on liquor sale in election
  • Another Christmas comes
  • Red Ribbon Manipur Idol, 2021 #1: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 23 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • Secy raises CCpur ambush with Myanmar
  • Gossiping with flowers, bees & butterflies
  • Careers with Migrants
  • Climate literacy to tackle climate crisis
  • Violence in AC with 2 fmr education minister
  • Heirok AC: Shooting to kill : Abhorrent
  • Of AFSPA, Manipur and NE States
  • The Price of Justice!
  • Seminar on 'Bioeconomy from Bioresources'
  • Shija: 1st Pvt medical college in NE
  • Water saving techniques in hill agriculture #2
  • Plight of women in land of brave-hearts
  • Not a question of If but
  • Heisnam Savitri (Legendary actress) #2
  • Painting: Tribal Freedom Fighter #1: Gallery
  • New Barak Bridge @Jiri highway : Gallery
  • Heisnam Savitri (Legendary actress) #1
  • RK Meghen tribute @ Nupi Lal : Gallery
  • Protest: massacre of Naga Brethen: Gallery