Three millennia mythology still resonates at Konthoujam Lairembi

Phanjoubam Chingkheinganba *

A statue of Dragon ship (Hiyang Hiren) at the complex of the temple.
A statue of Dragon ship (Hiyang Hiren) at the complex of the temple.

Half-an hour drive, west of Imphal, along the Imphal-Jiri road, lies a sacred grove of inter-connected Banyan trees wherein the Manipuri mythological story of a tribal woman who was banished by her divine husband for ignoring his strong instructions to not dine with her relatives during a visit to her maternal family.

The three millennium old narrative which is still reflected in traditional arts concerns about Konthoujam Lairembi and is today a religious site where followers regularly visits to offer prayers and obeisance to. The story has it that Soraren, lord of the sky, of the Meitei pantheon had instructed three-month pregnant woman Huinu Leima that she was carrying a girl and that baby is destined to be his wife in the future. However, the girl-child which according to ancient manuscripts was a tribal woman (Ching Ningol) of the Mangang Hao would later make an unforeseeable mistake that would lead to her banishment from the heavenly abode of her divine husband Soraren literally meaning Sky.

Lovingly referred to as Tampha by Soraren, after he had married her, the goddess who would come to be known as Konthoujam Lairembi was prevented from going to her maternal home for years once she entered into wedlock. But, the goddess once saw funeral smoke rising from the earth to which she appealed to her divine husband to allow her to visit her home as she was apprehensive about who had died among her maternal families.

The all-knowing Soraren, told her that the funeral was that of a dog and that all her relatives were fine. But, consistent request by the goddess moved the heart of Soraren and gave permission for her to visit her home. Legend has it that a golden stair was laid down from the heaven to allow Konthoujam Lairembi climb down to the earth. However, she was strongly instructed by her divine husband not to dine and drink with humans during her visit.

Meanwhile, seeing their daughter visit her home after more than five years, enthusiastic and excited family members of Konthoujam Lairembi persuaded her to dine with them. Despite, strong protest of the Lairembi, the family members ensured Soraren would not know about the act if seven clothes (Phijang Taret) covered her while she was dining.

Unfortunately, Soraren seeing all was furious and decided his loving wife had no place in the heaven. As a result the golden stairs were lifted leaving Konthoujam Lairembi among the earthly inhabitants.

Konthoujam Kishore, a resident of the Konthoujam Village and former President of Konthoujam Lairembi Chaokhat Thourang Marup which looks after the welfare of the compound abode provided an interesting account that has happened at the religious site considered extremely sacred.

 The area of the sacred grove where the reddish ray of light appeared.
The area of the sacred grove where the reddish ray of light appeared.

The three miracles of 2009

One fine morning around eight, on July 8 in 2009, a student who was photographing the interiors of the sacred groves from different angles, was seen standing up and sitting down at the same place while clicking pictures of one particular spot. Curious, the aged-Kishore who was sweeping and cleaning the compound asked the boy what he was upto, to which the student informed him that a certain ray of light could be visible from that angle.

Kishore also saw the 15-feet long reddish light who then later apprised the villagers about the one-hour miracle which has never been witnessed before ever since man began to pay obeisance to the religious site.

Ever since the appearance of the ray of the light, for which photographic images are available, a small shrine has been built at the spot by Golthangmei Kakhangai Kabui of Ragailong to honor the event.

 A small shrine dedicated to the miraculous event that happened in 2009
A small shrine dedicated to the miraculous event that happened in 2009

However, what was more astounding and resembles the infamous face of Belmez, was the appearance of images of three deities, as well as that of physical form of child sleeping within the crevices of the trees. Kishore recalls the image of the three deities that appeared on the trees resembled a man yet slightly approaches that of a gapping lion while the other two were that of old women.

Kishore who was looking after the environment of the Lairembi compound back then also claimed many believers took the child to be that of Koriphaba, and the place where all the forms appeared was considered as an abode that were to be avoided at most time since time immemorial.

The last of the other miracles reported in 2009 was though based on the account of a 10-year-old boy. The boy who was well known to Kishore for he regularly visits the place with his father to take meditational walks had claimed he saw a divinely form of a woman within the interiors of the temple room that remains closed all the time unless it is period of religious festival of Lai-Haraoba. Kishore said the boy who was shocked by the incident had to be tended with utmost care by dozens of locals. Later, it was learnt that the small child had seen the divinely form while peeping through the small donation hole, four feet from the ground level.

The stone relic

The site of Konthoujam Lairembi also hosts one of the most important archaeological treasures of not just Manipur but of the entire Indo-Burma region. Believed to be more than two thousand years old, a small stone with a width of two feet and length of three feet emerges from the ground. However, what is of austerity of this small relic is that it is being inscribed in Meetei script that is yet to be recognized though some language experts had claimed to have successfully deciphered it.

 A portion of the yet to be ciphered letters found within the temple complex.
A portion of the yet to be ciphered letters found within the temple complex.

Nevertheless, those who claimed to have read the scribbling had never revealed what is being written. On the other hand, a local of the village claimed that as of today, none of the language experts including members of a prominent Meetei language body have been unable to read the script citing the letters are not identified. The local also said legend has it that a man with white beards will someday appear, decipher the writings and will initiate a social change in this ancestral land of Manipur known to the medieval Burma as Cassay and Kathe to the Shans of Eastern Burma.

Another reported incident involving the stone relic concerns about the scripts getting blur when some students of Thoubal College got close towards it to see if they can actually read it. The fantastic claims remains just a narrative which has no rational explanation and hard to believe.

Lastly, the main temple structure where the wooden statue of Ima Konthoujam Lairembi is kept also hosts a small hole which other end is not known. Kishore also says a small stone left by the goddess is also being preserved and is annually taken out during Lai-Haraoba festivals.

* Phanjoubam Chingkheinganba wrote this article for
The writer is with People's Chronicle and Special Correspondent for Assamese paper Asomiya Pratidin
He can be contacted at phanjching(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on December 29, 2014.

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