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E-Pao! Kangla Fort - The ancient Capital of Manipur

The Revivalism of Sanamahism
(A review regarding the present scenarios)

By : Lukram Ingocha Meetei *



I belong to Manipur, which is a meeting point, epicenter, between South East Asia and the Indian sub-continent. The history of Manipur dated back to 33 A.D ruled by a total of more than 108 kings and Manipur was known by different names at various periods in its history, such as, Tilli-Koktong, Poirei-Lam, Sanna-Leipak, Mitei-Leipak, Meitrabak or Manipur (present day).

In 1891 AD, after the defeat of the Meiteis by the British in the Anglo-Manipuri war of Khongjom, Manipur's sovereignty for more than three millenniums was lost. It regained its freedom on August 28, 1947 AD but did not last long. On 15 October 1949, Manipur was annexed into the Indian Territory. Sport is our blood because Ningthou Kangba who invented horse polo (Sagol-Kangjei) for the first time in Manipur in or before 34 BC to the world. These are some of my original history of my birthplace Manipur.

From the identity point of view I would like to express myself to the world that I am Lukram Ingocha Meetei and I belong to the Meetei/ Meitei community; I speak Meeteilon (Manipuri) and I worship Sanamahism and finally I am pursuing my PhD in University of Delhi. And I love to respect my own religion and indigenousness for that I give time when I have every free time.

This identity is very important when I contribute something for a particular works or for the achievements to the society. As I have been very confused by such question like whenever I go out of Manipur like "Are you a Hindu Christian or Muslim"? But I reply to them that I belong to Sanamahi religion. May be here in Delhi I don't have "Worship Places" like other religion do. But my room is a best place of worship as I keep my goddess Emma Panthoibi, Emma Imoinu's Images and also the Lord Pakhangba's Image just above my main entrance door at outside wall of my room.

According to Oxford Advance Learner Dictionary, religion means "the belief in the existence of a god and gods and the activities that are connected with the worship of them". It means "belief in the existence of a supernatural ruling power, the creator and controller of the universe". With the down of the proto history/ prehistory (New Stone Age) human started to settle in groups and worshiped natural gods like the sun, water and sky etc as God and Goddesses.

Later on developed great religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam etc. Similarly the Meetei/Meiteis of Kangleipak (Manipur) also started to worship natural objects and later regarded Sanamahi the son of Tengbanba Mapu as their supreme deity.

Sanamahi religion is one of the oldest religions of South-East Asia. It originated in Manipur and mainly worshipped by the Meeteis/Meiteis, Kabui and Zeliangrong and few other communities who inhabit in Manipur, Assam, Tripura, U.P, Myanmar, Bangladesh, UK, USA and Canada etc.

The study of Sanamahi religion may be termed as "SANAMAHISM" and the followers as SANAMAHISTS" it simply the cult of Sanamahi the creator of Meetei trinity, the Sidaba Mapu - the immortal one - the immortal trinity god which is in extensive use in ancient literature. From the present population trend, the region has sharply increased of Sanamahism from the previous census. The revivalism or revolutionary cult Sanamahism is recognized by the census record of the Govt. of India due to the praise worthy efforts of Late.R.K. Birendro Singh, I.A.S.

Meetei/ Meitei attitude to the religion and concept of God is not possible without the proper understanding of Sanamahi religion. Back to Sanamahism/ancient religion before the coming of Hinduism was the slogan of Apokpa Marup, Meetei Marup (Social organization) etc. in their programmed. Pakhangba Laining was also currently employed to signify revivalism.

On the basis of lord of Meeteis, it was thought that there was a conflict between the cults of Sanamahi and of Pakhangba. As decreed by the almighty, Pakhangba was the king of Kangla (cult of the ruling dynasty) and Sanamahi was the ruler every house (cult of masses). The image of the Pakhangba usually keep at every Meeteis houses at the outsides walls over the doors after the 113 year long occupation by the British and Army personal of the Indian Govt., the symbolic place of Kangleicha's the Kangla was handed over to the Govt. of Manipur, by the Prime Minister of India Dr.Manmohan Singh in month of November, 2004 in between the volatile situation by people movement for the Removal of Arm Forces Special Power Act from the state.

I have been very confident to go into the Kangla Fort since my grandfather Late Lukram Anganghal was a priest who visited every day, but our visits demanded permissions. Now time has changed and we are free to go to the fort and worship the God (Ebuthou Pakhangba the first king of Kangleipak since 33 A.D). Some of the salient features and aspects of Sanamahism are like "in Sanamahism there is the belief in one God underlying many god and goddesses".

In assimilate features such as the worship of forces of nature like fire, water, mountain etc. ancestor worship (Apokpa), Lamlai, Yumlai, Ningthoulai and Umanglai. Religion of antiquity-In its pure native form it is as all as the History of Meetei/Meitei people. There is reference to the worship of Sanamahi by King Kangba in the Hayi age.

Activity and the glory of Sanamahi - The king Khagemba experienced many difficulties in his war with the Mugal army of the west and Mangsha of the Kabow valley (which is at presently Chindwin Valley in Myanmar). It was revealed by oracle that Sanamahi who returned to the godheads after ending his earthy life.

Shanti Das Mahanta, a powerful Ramandi missionary from Shylhet. The prince got ill when the king re-established Sanamahi's idol and worship him with his humbleness. On September 2, 1944, a joint meeting of 11 prominent leaders was held at the residence of my (Author) Grandfather ôLate Lukram Anganghal Meetei (son of my great grand father Late Lukram Leeklai) at WangKhei ThambalKhong, Imphal, as he was one of them. Two resolution were passed unanimously i.e., to denounce the present religion (Hinduism) and try to accept the ancient Meetei religion and also to make an effort to popularize and develop Sanamahi religion.

About a month later they organized a mass campaign to popularize the Sanamahi religion at many places of Manipur Valley. Again, a joint meeting was organized at residence of Late Pukhrambam Surchand on May 13, 1945 on the eve of formation of Meetei Marup. This comes up with many resolutions for the revivalism of Sanamahi religion.

In the religious history of Manipur, the 14th of May, 1945, the Meetei Marup was formed in Manipur unanimously. This lead to the revival of Meetei traditional cultures, scripts of Meetei (Meetei Mayek), customary practices, and traditional religious ceremonies relating to the Meetei society. These formations also lead to the conflict between the followers of Sanamahi religion and those who followed Hinduism.

In 1947, 38 members of the Meetei Marup were excommunicated by Brahma Saba (Hindu pro activist). They were not allowed to mix with Hinduism in any festival/ceremonies of birth and death etc. not only the people who followed Sanamahi religion, but those who are in touch with them were excommunicated by Brahma Saba. Both the group was not allowed to work together in the paddy fields or to eat together. Intermarriage between the members of Hindus and the Sanamahi was unthinkable.

So, after the formation of Meetei Marup, there were many cases of social boycott, excommunication and social conflicts and also between the authorities sympathetic to Hinduism and the Meetei. Many cases were filed in between the two authorities. As in the Meetei community we don't have any caste or group since our origin except seven clan or Yek Salai, but this was the first case like pure or impure among the community brought out by the Brahma Saba in Manipur, like in the mainstream India.

Is Hindu Meetei/Meitei belongs to which class or type among the Hindus as they have caste and class among the religion, like Brahmin, or lower caste? How mainstream Hindu recognized those mongoloid Hindus in their belief? These questions must be important to ask among the Meetei/Meitei Hindu as far as identity is concerned.

At the closed of the 20th century Sanamahism gained a strong foothold owing to the coming of modern education, increase in population and many other social factors. The gap of untouchables between Sanamahism and Hinduism became almost abandon. During this period the impact of Sanamahism became more and more embedded in the hearts and mind of the people at large. As a result it gave a new hope and dimension in the process of the revivalist's movement of Sanamahism. Old beliefs and religious bindings were untied and the beliefs of emerging movement began to take their place.

Mass baptism to Hinduism Known as Nongkhang Iruppa, during the reign of Pamheiba was debaptized on Wednesday, the 16th February 1974. On April 23 1992, the then Maharaja of Manipur, Okendrajit Sana declared that " I open the Lubak Tabu and abandon Hinduism as state religion and recognition is hereby withdrawn by the Royal Customary Law of the Country, instead the Royal Customary Law revives the Lainingthouism as the state religion and do herby give recognition as state religion".

Many images of Lord Sanamahi from its Brahmin Pujari from many place like Keisamthong Moirang Ningthou Leirak Imphal, Kongmaroo, Mongba Hanba Forest, Hiyangthang Lairembi and the sacred place Nongmaijing Nongpok Ningthou. Moreover the day the Puyas (Holy books Written in Meetei script) were burned on that fateful day-night during the reign of king Pamheiba is observed and remembered every year to this day as Puya Mei Thaba Ningshing Thouram since 1978.

Recent revivalism over the script is also become a very critical situation in the state at present. Many organization and institute have been demanding Bengali script to replace by Meetei script in this coming year 2005 right from News paper to the text of every Manipuri language books. Also unluckily thousands of books written in Bengali script have been burning down in the Imphal cities by the Meetei language activists, since the end of 2004.

The Festival of Sanamahi religion has become more popular and is being observed by more and more people in the recent times. Sajibu Cheiraouba is being observed to welcome the New Year (Sajibu Nongma Panba). Moreover in the census of 1981, 2001, Sanamahi religion was recorded as one of the recognized religion of Manipur. Also many educated Meetei Family who have been staying outside the state started worshiping such ancient religion and religious ceremony (like Imoinu and Cheiraouba) in most of the continent.

Many books on how to conduct religious ceremonies with rites and rituals are being published. Holy Books for Sanamahi religion were selected. All these are the advancement of the growth and development of Sanamahi religion. With the establishment of many religious organizations disposed to Sanamahism several interpretation of religious ceremonies, functions and prayers have come up.

The Meetei should remember the fact that Sanamahi religion is accepted and followed by small number of people. If the Meeteis do not contemplate seriously to being about a commonly acceptable framework for all the religious ceremonies function and rituals, Sanamahism would have revived in Vain. Every Meeteis must feel some emotions and regrets when we remember the deformation History of early 18 century, where our religion, script, tradition, crematory, custom had forcibly changed and destroyed by the king Chrairongba and his son Garibaniwaja reign with the help of a Ramandi missionary .

From these concept there may be many such natural belief or worships which is hidden in other parts of the world who's indigenous religion has been replaced by other dominant religions. As an example, most of the North East Indian tribes were baptized into Christianity after the British occupation by leaving or neglecting their own natural beliefs/worships and worship culture of their forefather. The diversity of religions makes the Indian continent most wonderful in the eye of today's world.


Lukram Ingocha Meetei is a Research Scholar & Consultant Geologists (CISMHE, South Campus,D.U) at the Dept of Geology, University of Delhi.
Contributes regularly to e-pao.net and this article was webcasted on 26th March 2005
The author can be contacted at ingocha2000@yahoo.com and at his home page at http://www.cismhe.org/faculty/lukram.html


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