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The Depth of Sanamahi Laihui & Sanamahi Laining: Book Review

James Oinam *



Author: Dr N. Pramodini Devi
Publisher: Sahitya Seva Samiti, Kakching, Manipur
Year of Publication: 2015

This book discusses one of the Puyas (sacred texts of Manipur) Sanamahi Lahui. The author analyzes the Puya by putting it in the historical context in which it was written, and comparing it with other similar texts (other Puyas and the court chronicle of Manipur, Cheitharol Kumbaba).

The author of the Puya under discussion is not known but it is mentioned that he was descendent of Hongnem Luwang Punsiba (p. 8). No precise date of when it was written is not known. The author cites the celebrated scholar N. Khelchandra's classification of Manipuri literature to estimate the probable period when this Puya was written.

N. Khelchandra divides the history of Manipuri literature into three phases:

1. Early period (up to 17th century)
2. Medieval period (from 18th century to the last decade of the 19th century)
3. Modern literature (from the colonial to the postcolonial period)

From the content as well as the 'loan words' (p. 23) (words that came from other language families, here I belief Hindi/Sanskrit is implied) found in the Puya, the author claims this particular Puya was written during the medieval period, during the reign of Garibniwaz (p. 20). Extensive footnotes provided in the book explain various indigenous terms and cites references to other works.

The Sanamahi cult/sect seems to have struggled against the Pakhangba and Atiya Sidaba (Nongsaba) sects, other than Hinduism. The narrative of nongkhong koiba (moving round the earth) wherein Sanamahi who had actually gone round the earth was not given the throne—instead he was given the status of household deity as reconciliation—might be a reflection of the conflict.

Also the kings of Manipur were often regarded as incarnations of various gods. So the narrative might have some historical angle to it.

One maichou, Moirang Lalhamba, is highlighted by the author. He would probably be called a diplomat nowadays. When king Garibniwaz embarked on forceful conversion of the population, Moirang Lalhamba stood up against it and sought reconciliation between the two religions.

It was because of him that Sanamahi idol, which was demolished by the king, was again rebuilt. Towards the end of this Puya, a convergence is sought between the two religions by linking the gods. Other texts like Ariba Meiteilongee Ramayan considered Taibangkhaiba (Sanamahi) as an incarnation of Vishnu, which also highlights the measures taken by the king for cultural integration (p. 45).

The author also lightly touches upon the recent movement to reinstall Sanamahi as the state religion. Naorem Phundrei, popularly known as Naoriya Phullo, who founded Apokpa Marup at Jaribon Laishramkhun, Cachar is mentioned (p. 46) in passing.

The chapter 'Festive Rites and Rituals Associated with the Sanamhi Laining' gives a list of festivals associated with Sanamahi. The chapter points out that before the advent of Hinduism, rice beer and meat used to be offered to the gods during rituals (p. 62).

Other than the well-known Umang Lai Haraobas, at the household level, there used to be Sanamahi Haraoba. This was done under the supervision of maiba-maibi upon request by the householder.

The chapter 'Legacies of Sanamahi Laining' briefly describes few other texts related to the Sanamahi cult:
o Sanamahi Laikan,
o Leithak Leikharol,
o Khagemba Langjei,
o Leihou Nonghou,
o Khamlang Pawari Ahuiron,
o Sanamahi Phankhong,
o Sakok Lamlen Ahanba,
o Sanamhi Thellon Thirel Layat,
o Ariba Meiteilongee Ramayan and
o Loiyumba Sinyen.

The text Leihou Nonghou gives the mythic origin of universe from the lord Santlang. Other than the basic elements like air and water, he also produced the seven days of the week and the twelve lunar months. He divided his body into two parts to form Atiya Sidaba and Leimalel Sidabi.

According to the author, one of the characteristics of Sanamahi Laining is its belief in the supernatural powers of the abiotic elements.

'In fact the worship of Sanamahi is the worship of the Supreme Being who created the components of life i.e. water air, fire, sky and earth' (p. 88).


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT0com
This article was webcasted on June 13, 2018.



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