Religious activities of Haipou Jadonang in the first half of 20th Century
- Part 1 -

Budha Kamei *

82nd Death Anniversary of Haipou Jadonnang at Jadonnang Memorial Park , Imphal :: 29 August 2013
82nd Death Anniversary of Haipou Jadonnang at Jadonnang Memorial Park , Imphal on 29 August 2013 :: Pix by Deepak Oinam

"Haipou Jadonang was a martyr, religious leader, social reformer, a freedom fighter and symbol of Zeliangrong unity"

The first half of the 20th Century was an important epoch in the history of Zeliangrong of North East. It was during this period Haipou Jadonang launched his religious activities to reform and revitalized the religion of his people from the onslaughts of alien religion, Christianity. He introduced reformation in the traditional religion with the revelations of God. But, because of his untimely death, Haipei Rani Gaidinlu, a true disciple of Jadonang continued the religious reform movement and fulfilled the dream of her Guru. The article is a humble attempt to delve into the religious actions of Haipou Jadonang in the 20th Century.

Religion is the system of worship of God by men with a code of spiritual, moral, social behaviour dealing with God, men and society.(Kamei 2005:1) In the beginning, the religion had no name so the western anthropologists led by E. B. Tylor described the Tribal religion as Animism. Following them, Indian scholars (including local scholars) also used the term Animism to mean the tribal religion. When this idea is applied, every religion has some beliefs in spiritual beings; animism was a primordial stage of every religion of the world. It has now become a mistaken notion, because it was quickly outgrown by the religious and spiritual development of the community concerned. Western observers including the anthropologists and sociologists have accepted that historically evolved religion is not animism. Therefore, the religion of Zeliangrong is not animistic cult.

Jadonang was born in the year 1905 in a peasant family of Kambiron village. The exact date and month of his birth was unknown due to non-maintenance of horoscope. He was about 26 year old at the time of his death in 1931, counting being on the basis of the jhum cycle of his village, Kambiron. (Yonuo 1982:39) He was the second son of Thiudai of Malangmei clan and Taboliu of Dangmei clan. His father died when he was only one year old so Jadonang was brought up by his mother; his other two brothers were Mudunung, the elder and Tiningam, the younger. The children were close to the mother and Jadonang was closest. He had an extraordinary childhood in which his mother came across many miraculous incidents. (Zeliang 2005:3-6; Zeliang 2006:48-49)

Kambiron, a middle size Rongmei village with 40 houses was located on Manipur- Cachar road, 12 km. away from Nungba; one of the three important road that linked this state with the outside world. Young Jadonang and his elder brother Mudunang did witness the movement of soldiers, officials, traders of Manipur through this road and the forcible collection of house tax, porter system, and the Christian preaching about the Gospel of God etc., which left a deep impression on the mind of young Jadonang. (Makuga 1994:120-125) Even though Jadonang did not get any formal education, through his many fold experiences he became one of the few knowledgeable persons in his tribe.

Like other Naga and Kuki villages, the main occupation of Kambiron was Jhum cultivation. When Jadonang attained the age of 12 to 13 years, there was a failure crops in the village for many years due to attack of rats which was believed to be sent from Bhuvon Hills to eat the bamboo fruits and in that process, ate up standing crops. In this connection, Jadonang had urged the elders of Pei, village council to sacrifice a mithun (Goichang) to God which was revealed in his dream; after some hesitation it was decided to perform and this had the effect of ensuring rich harvests in the village. (Zeliang 1998:7; Kamei 2009:21)

J.C. Higgins called him a Maiba, a medicine man cum healer in Manipuri dialect. The people of Kambiron looked on him as Mhu, a spiritual guide, healer and preacher. However, in his religious actions, Ursula Graham Bower had described him as 'Seer of Kambiron.' In fact, he was not only a medicine man, and a dream interpreter, a medium between man and God, performer of sacrifices for the sick and deceased. Hence, the term given by Graham Bower was quite suitable one. He was officially declared as the Mhu-Ren after the observance of a sacrifice locally known as Ralen-Loumei, worship all the deities of Zeliangrong pantheon including Lord Bisnu and some local gods. (Kamei 2004:147-149) After this observance of Ralen-Loumei, one is permitted to carry out all the rites and rituals of the worship of god and goddesses.

As a young prophet he began dream divinations for his people; he went in dreams to the cave of Bhuban, the abode of God Bisnu where Jadonang was received with honour and permitted into the sanctuary of the God Bisnu and even entered into friendship with the son of God Bisnu called Khangrillung. Lord Bisnu was looked upon as the God for the welfare and prosperity of men, creatures and the universe as well as the earthly world. But God Bisnu is not the Hindu God Vishnu. Bisnu is the God of the Zeliangrong pantheon recognized by different names; Munchanu, Bonchanu, Buisnu, Bisnu etc. This prehistoric Bhuvon cave was first discovered by Gairemnang, a semi historical, semi mythical culture hero and poet but it was unknown to the Zeliangrong people.

It was rediscovered by Haipou Jadonnang only in 1920's. (Kamei 2009) In other words, the Bhuban Hills cave legacy was revised by Haipou Jadonang. Jadonang and many other pilgrims went to the Holy cave and worshiped God Bisnu and Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God there. The mouth of the cave is about fifty feet high, with a sloping roof of two hundred feet; it bears a resemblance to the front of Taraangkai, ornamental ritual house of Taraang sacrifice. It became for Jadonang a holy shrine, a place where he offered goat and mithun sacrifices and "where he communicated with God Bisnu."

During his frequent visit to the holy cave, he came into contact with the Rongmei settlers in Cachar; he visited almost all villages in Cachar treating the sick, praying for the dead and interpreting dreams for which he took fees 4 annas for praying the dead, a bottle of Zu interpreting a dream and 3 annas for treating of the sick. The money was returnable if the cure was ineffective. In 1929, Jadonang also did undertake a journey to the Zeilad Lakes, a holy place where he offered prayer and worship the deity of Zeilad for wellbeing and prosperity.

Zeilad lakes are four in number namely, the main lake Zeilad or Langmaijei (a logenge shape lake about a half kilometer long and the colour of water was muddy and full of water weeds), Gophopjei(the lake of tortoise), Roujei (the curse lake) and Napsamjei (the lake of paddy). These lakes were natural pond of water in the west bank of the Barak River located in the eastern mountainside of the village of Atengba (Makoi). It was Jadonang who declared that it was no longer taboo to eat fish of the Zeilad lakes.

Bhuban cave is regarded as one of the holiest places of the world. It is also "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." (Zeliang 2010) For the Heraka and Tingkao Ragwang ChapRiak, Bhuban cave represents the point of reformation began there because in this cave the blessing of Tingkao Ragwang was bestowed upon Hapou Jadonnang and Rani Gaidinlu to introduce a new cult in Zeliangrong society.(Longkumar 2008:33) Because of this fact, it becomes a pilgrimage site for the Heraka and TRC followers in the month of February every year.

All over the world, colonial administrations, which wanted to consolidate their hold over the natives in the colonies, and Christian missionaries who liked to convert the 'heathen' to Christian, even though they had different objectives, interacted with each other to achieve their respective purposes. The colonial officials did try to win over the people not only providing social programmes like education, medical works etc., in which the Christian missionaries too were interested, but also did try to win over the native people by convincing them about the so called colonial civilizing mission, through the missionaries, who by virtue of their deep commitment to their works, had gained closer relationship of trust and intimacy with the people. (Dena1988:1-8) The missionaries unlike the administrators used to stay with the natives for longer period, and therefore, had better contact with them. On the other hand, the missionaries did depend on the colonial authority for political protection and other material requirements such as finance, man power etc. (Rajkumari 2012:26)

After the revolt of 1857, the British India government had 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.

It is a well known fact that conversion of people into a religion is a common occurrence in the history. Conversion of great men had brought great changes. For instance, conversion of Ashoka to Budhism did change the course of Indian history and the future of Budhism itself. Christianity also became a world religion with the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion by Emperor Constantine of Roman Empire. 'Conversion is a change (either an event or process) from one view or way of life to another, from a set of belief or opinion to another.'

The basic objective of the missionary was to secure "converts through evangelization, education, literary and medical works and those who are trained in these trades were engaged to continue the evangelical works." (Dena 1988:85-86) The tribes of North East accepted Christianity but not Hinduism or Islam. Hinduism was in the next door, but their social hierarchical system kept them (Tribals) distance from Hinduism; although some tribals worshipped some Hindu gods in the popular form of Hinduism.

After study, it comes to know that the tribal religion could not resist the Christian condemnation of their religion as an animism cult which is full of superstitions. The existence of the Supreme God which is the foundation of the religion of Zeliangrong (Tingwang/Tingkao Ragwang) was not used to oppose the attack of Christian missionaries. This is more due to the lack of knowledge of the true essence of their philosophy and religion. Christian doctrines very easily did overcome them. But among the tribals, there is concept of the Supreme Being, which is comparable with the essentials of the God of Christianity. The poor economic condition of the tribals narrowed down their world-view. The missionaries employed many welfare programmes such as education, medical works etc. and the tribal people did fall 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 2004:282-283)

To be continued...

* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on September 22 2013 .

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