Open Letter to V Shanmuganathan (Governor of Manipur) on the Definition of Culture
- Part 2 -

Kshetri Prem *

V. Shanmuganathan : Governor of Manipur
V. Shanmuganathan : Governor of Manipur :: Pix - DIPR

We the people of the Northeast are known by the Sanskrit term kirata [6] meaning roughly means 'uncivilised', meaning non-Aryan. We (Meiteis non-Aryan) were Hinduiased through the process of Hinduaisation/Hindu method of tribal absorption/Aryanisation. The concept is very much like the European 'enlightenment' theory which the cultural imperialists believed in (and bow down before) and by convincing themselves and rest of the world that they were actually on a 'civilising mission' to sanctify a savage land inhabited by 'untamed dangerous people' [7] . This pretext called 'civilising mission' was carried out by Vashnavite missionaries and Brahmins who came to Manipur with their 'scrolls and sanctities' [8].

Your Excellency, as you understand, the notion of culture is fluid, dynamic, and ever evolving. Trying to define culture is like trying to hit a moving target. As a small time teacher who discusses high and popular/mass/low culture, production and propagation, insemination and dissemination, associated terms, origin of the concept and its reception in various fields, etc. of culture both with Post-Graduate as well as PhD students, I must confess that I do not try to define culture or give a pre-existing definition of culture in a classroom scenario. I don't do it because the term 'culture' has become very political in today's world. The domain of culture has become a fertile ground for expression and assertion of ascendancy of a dominant class over a subordinate class.

Therefore, we have the concept of 'hegemony' which is the process of making, maintaining, and reproducing authoritative set of meanings, ideologies, and practices. The dominant class tries to push down their ideals and ideologies through the throat of the subordinate class. This process is what Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci called 'incorporation'. The dominant class believes that they can incorporate the subordinate class by claiming the existence of a 'dominant centre' but, in a country like India, there is no 'dominant centre'. There is no such thing as common culture either. Let's all remember that culture is heterogeneous both in terms expression and the ways in which we (people from different cultures) find meaning within that expression.

Your Excellency surely knows that Canada has 'multiculturalism' in their constitution (Section 27 of 'Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom' to be precise). But, interestingly, an extremely diverse country (racially, culturally, and linguistically) such as India has not made 'multicultural' as part of its constitution. But, we believe in the concept of 'unity in diversity'. Do not Your Excellency think that 'unity in diversity' is just a popular excuse for grouping impossibly diverse entities together under one overarching all-inclusive theme (a line borrowed from a concept note of a seminar)?

For your kind information, the Northeast alone is a conglomeration of around 475 ethnic groups and sub-groups, speaking over 400 languages/dialects. Manipur alone has some 35 different tribes speaking as many languages and practicing and propagating as many cultures. Would it be wrong to conclude that each tribe would have its own notion and understanding of culture? Do we even practice 'unity in diversity'? Instead of promoting multiculturalism do we not always talk in terms of my culture versus your culture?

Yours Excellency's 'hundred word essay on culture challenge' to the people of Manipur reminds me of the immigration officer at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi who bullied a young Manipuri lady by questioning her 'Indianess' for which Smt. Sushma Swarji, Honourable Union Minister, External Affairs, Govt. of India had to apologise. If we look at these two incidents structurally, I do not see and find any difference. Such unfortunate statements are the direct results of cultural arrogance and false superiority complex. Your Excellency must be having the same notions about us as the rest of India does.

This is what the rest of India thinks and perceives the people of the Northeast. 'You' have a static 'jingalala hurr syndrome' about 'me'. My 'self' evokes an image of a half naked spear-wielding tribal, wearing buffalo horns and jumping hysterically to the sound of tom-toms and shouting 'jingalala hurr' feverishly in some corner of the earth. I also seem to eat everything that creeps and crawls (except for cars) and everything that flies (except airplanes). The region is marketed as Paradise Unexplored a paradise 'yet to be found'.

It is believed to be a land of exotic orchids, inaccessible yet beautiful jungles, enchanting half clad tribal girls dancing everywhere at any given point of time (as shown in the Northeast Brochure published by Ministry of Tourism, Government of India), wild animals and wilder food habits, strange languages and stranger customs, primitives whose history and literature are yet to be written ... Simply put, we are waiting to be explored. A 'case study' of sorts for researchers, anthropologists, NGOs, and the people who hold 'I Love N-E' placards at Jantar Mantar.

The Northeast is perceived, at the turn of the twenty first century, by many of the 'mainstream Indians' (a term which has mainstreamed by itself in the centre-margin discourse) as mysterious, exotic, bizarre, and the actual location for 'hunger games'. The race-culture issue of the Northeast still mars the socio-political discourse of India. Racist attacks on the people of the Northeast in all parts of the country are becoming a 21st century Indian reality. However much we deny that racism exists in India, discrimination issuing from racial and cultural differences permeate everywhere. We are called 'chinky' (whatever that word means). That's not all. There are food epithets in this racial 'slur'ping. I am not just a 'chinky', I am a Momo Chinky Chow man.

Please allow me to take Your Excellency down the memory land and discuss with you the process of Hinduasation that happened in successive periods. During the reign of Meidingu Kiyamba (1467-1508) Hindu conversion efforts accelerated in Manipur. Waves of Shaivism and Vaishnavism sects entered Manipur. Chief among them are the Nimbarka Sect, Vishnuswami Sect, Madhavcharya Sect, Ramandi cult, Madhu Guru Sect, etc. Vaishnavism was adopted as a state religion during the reign of Maharaj Garibniwaz (1709-1748) but not one sect could hold the ground for long.

Finally in about 1777 Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (1748-1799) adopted Gouranga (Narotam) Paribar of the Bengal branch of the Madhu Guru Sect. The madhur bhava of Radha and Krishna enticed the valley of Manipur for more than two centuries. However, Manipuris never gave up their indigenous faith. Something had to be done to consolidate Vaishnavism in Manipur. That consolidation effort included rewriting Manipuri history and superimposing Hindu gods on Meitei lais (deities). An ambivalent syncretism ensued between the two faiths. The configuration of Manipuri cocktail identity began thus.

One cannot help but notice Ngugi's sarcasm when he says that, "It is the final triumph of domination [neo/colonialism] when the dominated [colonised] started singing its [coloniser's] virtues." [9] We had many in the 1930s who through carefully selected Vedic texts made us see and feel Aryan blood in Mongoloid veins. I have nothing against any religion. I am a proud atheist who still considers Hinduism as one of the best ways of life. I still am a son of a pious Vaishnavite mother and Christian minded Vaishnavite father. But, what followed after the Meiteis got converted to Vaishnavism is something we need to introspect.

The Hindu religion brought to the land (Manipur) Hindu culture, the notion of amang/aseng (impure-pure/touchable-untouchable), Sanskrit and Bengali languages and script, and above all, the propagation of a false racial superiority (elevated self) of the Meiteis among the rest of the ethnic communities. Suddenly, there was a divide between the hill tribes and the valley tribes who had co-existed for centuries.

This divide (religious) continues to persist (in political avatars) as the hill tribes have adopted Christianity (around the time of British occupation of Manipur in 1891) and the valley tribes have made themselves stranded in a unique situation of racial, religious, and cultural wilderness [10]. Manipuri language and literature was being sidelined to promote a hegemonic language and culture. There is a sense of pride in the following observation made in 1890 CE in an article called "Manipur" in Janmabhumi published by Shri Kebalram Chattopadhyay.

My prosaic translation from Bangla is:
Previously in Manipur, the Sanskrit language was highly coveted, and the nagarakshar/devanagri script was used. But, after Goswamis of Nabadvip became their mantra gurus, the Bengali language and the script began to be preferred by the people there. However, this has not resulted in the complete disappearance of devanagri. Manipuris who are well versed in Hindu dharmahastra have great respect for Srimadbhagavat and other Veishnav texts. [11]

To be continued.....

* Kshetri Prem wrote this article for
The writer is Assistant Professor, Dept. of English, Tripura University and can be reached at kshprem(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on August 18, 2016.

* 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 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.

  • NEROCA, 2nd Div League winner:: Gallery
  • Thounaojam Loiyangamba :: Gallery
  • Nachom Arts Residency #1 :: Gallery
  • Bombing of a bridge in 1944 during WWII
  • Road side hawker culture in Khwairamband
  • Maharaja Bodhachandra Samadhi :: 360 °
  • Jadhav case: Return to India will need more
  • Admission Counselling in NE, Delhi
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • Letting professionals run DIPR
  • Articulating freedom of speech
  • HSE 2017 : Toppers in Science :: Gallery
  • CCpur victims laid to rest :: Gallery
  • Class XII result announced :: Gallery
  • 2nd Startup Weekend Imphal
  • Interdependence is key to #endTB
  • Urban flood effective mgmt strategies #2
  • Public Meet resolves No Oil Exploration
  • UG admission info for Delhi University 2017
  • College Principals' Conference at NEHU
  • Mortal remains of CCpur victims laid to rest
  • Redefining Manipuri Hindu
  • Last rites of CCpur bodies performed
  • Private tuition : Financial burden on parents
  • Nungbi Chaphu - Ukhrul Pottery :: Gallery
  • International Yoga Day #1 :: Gallery
  • New Government, New Hope #2
  • Auditorium of High Court of Manipur :: 360 °
  • Book publishing as a career option
  • Simplifying the pursuit of happiness
  • Shirui festival: Let us not go with words..
  • Count pigeons around you
  • The Killing Fields :: News Timeline
  • Hill dists : Lagging in Science stream
  • The lesser truth of National media
  • HSE 2017 Result :: Science Toppers
  • HSE 2017 Result :: Arts Toppers
  • HSE 2017 Result :: Commerce Toppers
  • HSE 2017 Result :: Science Stream
  • HSE 2017 Result :: Arts Stream
  • HSE 2017 Result :: Commerce Stream
  • Barak Spring Festival @Senapati :: Gallery
  • Phalneilhing, Sinchui :: eMing
  • Incarnations of Goddess Nongthang Leima
  • Ebudhou Thanjing Laishang #1 :: 360 °
  • Media & Contemporary Manipuri Society #2
  • Cleaning up the air we breathe
  • 'Maj Rati Keteki', an author's insight
  • SC notices in Biren son case
  • Army act extended by six months
  • Timely acted, but need to rethink...
  • Lamkang Cultural Day @Chandel :: Gallery
  • Ambassador Of Japan with CM :: Gallery
  • JNIMS Ortho scripts history
  • Indigenous people are ST, so are Meeteis
  • Grooming security experts in admin service
  • Parents are supposed to be cheer leaders ..
  • Applauds CM for Building Peace & Harmony
  • 2 trucks carrying logs seized
  • Japan to invite 25 people from Manipur
  • Bomb blasts rock border town in Manipur
  • Shirui Lily Festival, Ukhrul #2 :: Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • 73rd anniv of Battle of Imphal :: Gallery
  • Nachom Arts : Encouraging Artists
  • Manipur: In the waiting room of justice
  • Cheiraoba Ching Kaba :: 360 ° View
  • Of storms, flying saucers & lazy thoughts
  • Anti-Terrorism day observed
  • Ex-Servicemen Meet organised
  • Managing natural resources
  • Ksh Bhaktakumar- Mr India 2017:: Gallery
  • Tanglei Music Festival :: Gallery
  • Effort To Bridge The Hills And Valley
  • Colloquium: Japanese Culture & Nationalism
  • Meet rejects oil exploration at Khaidem
  • Training on Service Marketing in Healthcare
  • Illegal migrant detection with 1951 cut-off
  • Indo-Naga Talks 2017 :: News Timeline
  • Ghost of 2010 continues to haunt
  • Brahmacharimayum Roji - Actress :: eRang
  • Handloom @Temporary Market #1:: Gallery
  • New Government, New Hope #1
  • Nightmares of event management
  • Big data for big impact
  • Free Counselling & Awareness Program
  • One belt one road
  • Jobs: Counseller for Family Court, Ukhrul
  • Sadar Hills Demand 2011-2017 : Timeline
  • Total shutdown against blast in Moreh
  • Tribals reject MoU signed- govt, JACAATB
  • Naga Hoho appeals NIA over arrests
  • First visible step to check corruption
  • International Dance Day :: Gallery
  • Gudui Ngai @Majorkhul #2 :: Gallery
  • Manipur Children Club:: 360 ° View
  • Take smart choice before admissions
  • Love one another ... for living together
  • Shirui Lily Fest off to a grand start
  • On Shirui festival
  • Seminar on 'Life of Gangmumei Kamei' #2
  • Shirui Lily Fest @Shirui, Ukhrul #1 :: Gallery
  • Civil Service Tennis Tournament :: Gallery
  • Barak(Spring) Festival at Senapati
  • When will India cashless island go cashless
  • The winsomeness of human mind
  • Jobs at NIELIT centers
  • Aadhar Registration & Distribution Program
  • Work starts on Trilateral Highway in Myanmar
  • AI plans NE expansion, to inject more flights
  • People's Day Bridging the gap
  • Reality bite - something seems fishy
  • Meeyamgi Numit hosted by CM :: Gallery
  • Andro AMMA FC : Winner of Doon Cup 2017
  • How great is my mother's love for me
  • Boat House, Kangla :: 360 ° View
  • Pinch of love :: Poem
  • Fingerprint & Iris code for Aadhaar
  • Sharmila solidarity with Africans
  • Trust deficit in Framework Agreement
  • Equality in place of majoritarianism
  • A hope for better Manipur
  • Kangleipak Kang Trophy #3:: Gallery
  • Featured Photo for 2017 #2 :: Gallery
  • Gudui Ngai : Festival of Zeliangrong
  • Fishery as an agenda for Barak Festival
  • Supermom :: Poem
  • 2nd Startup Weekend Imphal
  • May Day #2 :: Essay
  • For inclusion of Meitei in ST category
  • Hands that rock the cradle rule the world
  • Film Personalities #1 :: eRang Classic
  • Handicrafts of the Zeliangrong #2
  • High Court of Manipur :: 360 ° View
  • From head-hunters into money-hunters
  • Importance of dialectic in Philosophy
  • Binalakshmi Nepram threatened by Police
  • Cleanliness drive conducted at CCpur
  • Gudui Ngai @Majorkhul #1 :: Gallery
  • Bringing TB out of the shadows
  • Women are the salt of the earth
  • Superstition and its side-effects
  • Temples of learning
  • Guidelines of play schools
  • Bucket of cold water after a hot shower
  • Breaking the barrier
  • Lai Lamthokpa @Yaiskul #2 :: Gallery
  • MIMS (MU) - ManFete #4 :: Gallery
  • Impact of October Revolution Manipur #2
  • Bir Tikendrajit Park :: 360 °
  • Nurses are heart beat of healthcare
  • Go to the hill districts too
  • Beginning of a new era; but ...
  • Seminar on 'Life of Gangmumei Kamei' #1
  • OORJA football Closing ceremony :: Gallery
  • May 10, 1942: first bomb hit Imphal in WW2
  • Manipur killings: Amicus Curiae on Army...
  • A white paper on good governance
  • Butterfly a living parable of resurrection
  • Global Manipuri Mega Photo Contest
  • Inquiry on "School Van accident"
  • Inking an MoU with CCpur JAC
  • Calls for human security
  • Laishram Lalitabi - Actress :: eRang
  • Manipur & Nagaland CMs :: Gallery
  • Cheirao Ching Kaba #1 :: 360 ° Photo
  • MLA - defection politics in Manipur
  • Japan interest to develop Education in NE
  • CM floral tribute to Martyred Jawans
  • More than a 'courtesy call'
  • Development & security matters
  • Thongjao potters adapt to modern reqt
  • Prize Distribution- MU Sports :: Gallery
  • Handicrafts of the Zeliangrong #1
  • Imphal Intl Airport : How International?
  • The mystery of nine :: Poem
  • RIST popular talk 29 - Molecular Electronics
  • 122nd rank in the list of cleanliness
  • Consumers' rights
  • Sagol Kangjei Exhibition :: Gallery
  • Musuem, Kangla :: 360 ° photo
  • Keeping workforce healthy-smart business
  • Brief story of Karl Marx (199th Birth Anniv)
  • Manipuri resurgence & Jewish lessons
  • Visit of Japanese Ambassador to MU
  • Poems released at Barapani, Meghalaya
  • CMD, NHPC Visit to Loktak Power Station
  • Right venue for seminar on bridging the gap
  • Landscape of Manipur #6: Wallpaper
  • Lai Lamthokpa @Yaiskul #1 :: Gallery
  • Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon #1 :: Gallery
  • Arbind Soibam - Emerging Singer :: eRang
  • MIMS (MU) - ManFete #3 :: Gallery
  • Traditional Thabal @Pourabi :: Gallery
  • Henjunaha - A folk play :: Gallery
  • The Mighty Mystic Manipuri Women
  • Arambai show #2:: Gallery
  • Shakuhachi meets Pena, Manipur & Japan
  • Laishram Birendrakumar recieve Padmashri
  • Kei Onba Kom Gi Eshing :: Funga Wari
  • 'Nura Pakhang'(Video) @Portugal:: Gallery
  • Mr India 2017- Ksh Bhaktakumar :: Gallery
  • Purul, Senapati :: 360 View Panorama
  • Ethoi Oinam #1 (Actress) :: eRang
  • CM N Biren visit to Ukhrul #2 :: Gallery
  • Manipur Sangai Festival 2016 #4 : Ooba
  • Nungshiba Khongel @Sylhet :: Gallery
  • Maphou Dam :: 360 View Panorama