The Great Meitei Nation & Its Socio-Economic Evolution
- Renaissance of Meitei Hinduism -

Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh *

 Modern Meitei Societal Structural Evolution
Modern Meitei Societal Structural Evolution

Social Evolution was an essay by Benjamin Kidd, who wrote a book and published it in London in 1894. It summarised the thinking of Karl Marx, at a time when people in the West, were bemused with Darwin's biological evolutionary ideas and Social Darwinism.

Most of us are now quite familiar with Darwin's evolution through natural selection of species, which is now coming to a close. But his idea of social evolution that was more difficult to understand, still, keeps going imperceptibly.

A few thinkers at the end of the 19th century, had this idea that that Social Darwinism was drawing to a close. Social Darwinism was a theory in that Humans are subject to the same laws of natural selection as plants and animals. The theory is now mostly discredited.

Social evolution as I understand it, means continuing changes towards a more perfect society. It is going on, at least among the Meiteis of Manipur. It will continue in the foreseeable future. By social evolution I mean modern cultures of Meiteis are different from those in the past.

The Meitei society is moving on progressively with an evolutionary behavioural change towards a social existence that will make it possible for everybody to live together without much of inherent Meitei narcissism.

If you follow research in cultural neuroscience, you will find that the culture of the post-War Meitei youth was conditioned by the relational recoding of a host of cognitive functions (ie mental processes that allowed them to navigate the world around them) related to that part of WWII, incident in Manipur, which enabled the formation of their socially shared thinking and practices.

The greatest social evolution of the Meiteis in the beginning of this 21st century, is the revival of various Hindu festivals that were dying out in the later part of the 20th century, especially YAOSHANG a local variant of Mayang HOLI, and Ras Leela. This renaissance of Hindu culture among the Meiteis is important as it particularly appears in terms of art and literature, and sports, rather than on issues of religious nature.

Meitei-style Holi - Yaoshang Meithaba ; Meitei-style Ras Leela   -Thabal chongba ; The artistic Meitei Ras-Leela

With this preamble I will try to centre my essay on a particular pre-War Meitei culture for effect, rather than on academic writing.

I have written before how the relationships between Meitei culture and events of WW-II incident in Manipur, shaped the thoughts of premodern Meiteis, and how the cloistered Meitei worldview and poor economic pattern during the period between 1897- 1947 began to change.

Cultural evolution is an evolutionary theory of social change in a society from information that an individual acquires from other members of human society. The experience of meeting a variety of ethnic people and their diverse cultures during the War, began to nudge Meitei society for an evolution.

The British rule in Manipur began on April 25 1891. Following which, the Meitei culture was in a limbo, in a state of shock. Meitei men became couch potatoes having no incentives.

At this stage of Meitei history (2019) as I write this piece, and looking back to that period of which I was a part of its fag end, it will not be too difficult to paint a picture of Meitei cultural history and cultural evolution. The best example of Meitei cultural evolution is in the concept of time.

In the old Meitei culture, time had no value as they had all the time in the world. And time and space was one. Not from any mathematical knowledge but simply from their perception

 2nd KEN Convention in London on July 27 2019. President Dr Mohendra Irengbam handing over mementos to delegates
2nd KEN Convention in London on July 27 2019. President Dr Mohendra Irengbam handing over mementos to delegates

of the reality of living in small world of their own. The concept was prevalent long before Einstein said time and space are so intimate with each other that one can think of time and space being one as 'space-time'.

Einstein, who contradicted his predecessor Newton, who said "Time is Absolute, proved mathematically that 'time and space' is indeed one'. Long before Einstein, Meiteis had the concept of the oneness of time and space. It was partly because of the small space of the oval shaped Imphal valley (1813 sq km); 58 km, north to south, and 29 km across ie 174 km around the periphery. Ultra-marathon runners can do it in one day. The vast majority of Meiteis had never seen a train. For them, Manipur Sanaleibak was everything. Time stood still.

The unlettered Meiteis had a culture, a national culture that became a bit stagnant. It needed a breath of fresh air. WWII brought that whip of fresh air to the Meiteis, who needed it for both physical and mental health. When the war ended in 1945, new sprouts of Meitei culture began to erupt, and Meitei society began to evolve into what is today.

In general, the organisation of social structure, for example, by industrialisation, will influence the economic system, and as a result, the social system.

There will be an increase in the standard of living, and also a rise of population in the urban areas, such as Imphal, Churachandpur, Ukhrul and Tamenglong. Industrialization broadly refers to the change from rural- agrarian societies to industrial-urban societies that are dominated by manufacturing and services.

The economic pattern of Meiteis of the premodern period (arbitrarily, before 1947) was shaped by their social structure and patterned social arrangements ie the way they lived their lives in Imphal town and in the agrarian rural countryside. It was a stable and self-sufficient economy, having all the mineral resources for a comfortable subsistence.

After WWII, Meitei socio-economic structure is now undergoing a gradual and perpetual change towards urbanisation and industrialised economy with the availability of modern technology and close affinity with Mayangs outside Manipur.

Meitei social evolution has now become more and more materialistic. Craving for modern amenities of life with a higher societal status has become part of modern Meitei social structure, while a few getting on the bandwagon of vulgar social climbing by becoming friendly with the rich, and Mayang military brass.

Well! Having indulged in a bit of past socio-cultural and economic structure of Meiteis, I should now stop barfing back the contents of a semi-digested food. You might say 'past is past'. But, though we have done with the past, the past has not done with us. The actual lapse of time has got nothing to do with it.

The Meitei social and economic evolution, as it continues from the past, should now be more integrated with the global economy, harnessing the skill and expertise of Manipuris within and Manipuri Diaspora organisations without, such as KEN (knowledge Exchange Network- a global platform), based in Boston, Massachusetts, US, in the production process for goods, and creation of income by attracting outside direct investment for a diversified structure of production.

Meitei cultural evolution has begun with increasing economic development in Manipur, especially in the rural areas, affecting local social structures. It is unstoppable.

Vive La Manipur.

* Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at irengbammsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com and Website:
This article was webcasted on August 11, 2019.

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