TODAY -

The Effects of the Burning of Meitei Puyas
(The Sacred Writtings of Manipur)

Madhu Chandra *

'Puya mei thaba' : Burning of Puya - 284th Observation at the Kangla, Imphal :: 4  February 2013
'Puya mei thaba' : Burning of Puya - 284th Observation at Kangla, Imphal on 4th February 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam



The people of Manipur remembers the burning of Meitei Puya every year in the month of October. The burning of Meitei Puyas was a mode of forced conversion of Meiteis to Brahminical religion during the early 18th century. The event has brought the socio-religious, culture, tradition, and political implication of the people of Manipur. Shantidas Gosai, a Bengali Brahmin converted Manipuri King Pamheiba to Brahminical religion, which is known as Hinduism. Shantidas Gosai instigated Pamheiba to burn all Meitei Puyas.

The exact date of the burning of Meitei Puyas is unknown, but a forum held in 2008 fixed date as 17th Mera (October) of 1729 AD. Another tradition claims it as 23rd Wakching (December-January) 1729 AD. The first claimed has some connection with Cheitharol Kumbaba. The matter of the fact is that the burning of Meitei Puyas was not a single event, but it was a series of the campaign against Meitei culture and religious practices.

The word "Puya" or "Puwari" is derived from P = Ipa-Ipu (ancestors) + Ya = Yathang (Instruction).

"The Puyas may be defined as sacred written records handed down to posterity by the forefathers of the Meiteis. They are a particular kind of old narratives which form a definite class in Manipuri literature." The Meitei Puyas deals with the genealogy, creation and cosmology, rituals, deities of Meiteis.

Assault on the historical account of Meitei Pantheon: The Meiteis had the historic ages like the Vedic writings. The burning of Meitei Puyas affected the historical account of the Meitei Pantheon. Rena Laisram in her work "The Early Meitei History" records two great ages of the Meitei Pantheon: The Hangko and the Chak.

"The Leishemlon Ariba Puya divides the Hangko age into four major sub-periods viz., Ko-Hangko, Thoi-Hangko, Tayo-Hangko, and Poi-Hangko. Each period was ruled by Chinggu Mapuren Sidaba, Pakhangba, Kourouhanba and Koubaren respectively" .

These four sub-periods cover 19,55,88,945 years, 16,29,906 years, 57,845 and 11,79,900 years, respectively bringing a total of 19,84,56,596 years according to Meitei calendar. The Puya Meithaba has destroyed the Meitei Pantheon historical account.

Assault on the Social-Organizational Setup of Meiteis: After the burning of the Meitei Puyas, the social life changed. The identity of the Meiteis distorted. The name of the people is replaced with Hindi names and 'Singh' and 'Devi' fixed after the names of men and women.

The name "Manipur" is also a distorted name. Manipur was known with different names "Meetei Leibak", Kangleipak, Poirei, etc. The name Manipur was not the original name, it was given only after the emergence of the Brahmin religion.

The Meitei community of today has seven clans. They are Ningthouja, Angom, Chengloi, Nganba or Khabanganaba, Looang, Khoomon, and Moirang. These are hardly remembered. Rena records the social organizational changes after Meiteis were proselytized and burning Meitei Puyas.

Social Hierarchy: King - Aristocratic Lineages (Belonging to the Royal Families); Salai and Sagei (Constituting the Majority of the Meitei Population); Lowest Social Group such as Lois and Yaithibis (Performing menial services for the royal household)

Assault on the Practices of Rituals and the Ritual Specialists: The Meitei religious practices had high places for Maibas and Maibis. They are unlike the practices of maintaining pure blood for the Brahmin race. The role of Maibas (priests) and Maibis (priestesses) were not classified by birth. Every member of phungga, sagei and salai can become a Maiba or a Maibi.

The prophetic role of female priestesses is considered an important aspect among the Meitei society. The maibis would prophesy the fortune of the individual, families, and the nation. They were believed to come true. They are ritual specialists. This suggests a high place for women among the Meitei religious and social setup.

The burning of Puyas has assaulted the ritual specialists of the Meiteis. The Brahmin men determined the fortune of every newborn child by writing their horoscope. These Brahmin also replaced the Meitei priestesses.

Assault on the Religious and Traditional Practices: The historians and scholars have identified that the religion adopted by Meiteis was Vaishnavism. Vaishnavism is the love of Lord Vishnu or his followers introduced to Meitei communities by Narattama Dasa Thakura. After the converted, most of the indigenous religious practices become adulterous by converting the indigenous folklores, dances, festivals.

Assault on the Relationship between Hill and Valley: Before the emergence of Hinduism in Manipur, both the people of hill and valley had tribal status and closely associated. The Meiteis in the valley became a non-tribal and the people of the hill as tribal.

The untouchability became part of life between the hill and valley after the sacred writing of Meiteis were destroyed and replaced with Vedic scripture. The gap between the hill and the valley become wider and wider ever since.


* Madhu Chandra wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be reached at madhuchandra66(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 01, 2018.



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