Meitei Pictographic Writings: A Discovery :: Book Review

James Oinam *

Meitei Pictographic Writings: A Discovery
Meitei Pictographic Writings: A Discovery

Meitei Pictographic Writings: A Discovery
Author: Athokpam Chinglemba Luwang
Publisher: Self-published
Year of Publication: 2017
Number of Pages: 73
Price: Rs 100

Meitei Pictographic Writings by Athokpam Chinglemba Luwang begins with an unusual Preface where he talks a lawsuit filed by him over an examination held for the position of a scholar of Manipur State Archive Manuscript Resource Centre where he had applied. Therein, he alleges corrupt administrative practices that was hindering potential of the institute.

The book is a secondary reproduction of pictographs of the manuscript (Puya) Subika Laisaba published by Mutua Bahadur. The manuscript was originally written by Ngangbam Romal Sing and deals with astrology. Hence, the current edition has interpretations of Mutua Bahadur other than transliteration and translation in English of the Manipuri text given alongside the pictures in the manuscript.

From the name of the author of the manuscript, the present author concludes the manuscript cannot be older than eighteenth century. The surname Sing indicates the author was a Hindu convert, and conversion to Hinduism took place around that time.

In the Introduction part of the book, the author quotes various stages of development of scripts outlined by I.J. Gelb:

1. Pictogram (pictographs): This is the first stage of language development. Pictures are used to talk about things.

2. Ideographic writings: In this stage complex pictures are used to convey ideas.

3. Word writing or logographic writing: Symbols used to convey words, for instance, using x to mean ten.

4. Syllabic writing: Symbols denote syllabic sounds as in cuneiform writing in this stage.

5. Alphabetic writing: This is the most modern stage wherein each sound has symbol indicating a vowel sound.

According to the manuscript under discussion, King Kurum Sidaba, the lord of the universe, became the first king who ruled from the capital Kangla. It is said the king and his five successors ruled over the god people (the Lais?). A courtier Nong-pok Aripa ordered a god Mar-ching to develop the field of pictography. Consequently, Mar-ching established an office to develop the same in the kingdom.

The author believes the pictographs depicted in the manuscript transcend from pictograph to ideograph stage stated above. According to the author, the pictographs reflect the customs and culture of Manipur. Deciphering the pictures will unfold a wealth of information pertaining to the past.

Some of the old practices and beliefs shown in the pictures are as follows:

1. A crow is believed to be a messenger of death. Hence a picture of a crow is a sign of bad omen.

2. Drawing of man smoking a hookah is a picture of medicine man, a maiba.

3. Presence of cow or trees in the picture is a sign of owning property, in other words, of prosperity.

4. Coffin-palanquin indicates illness or misfortunes. However, if it has legs, the fortune predicted is changeable.

The numbers 1 through 7 representing Sunday through Saturday present in the pictographs beside other images pictorially show various predictions for the said days. There are other pictographs dealing with house construction and influence of the age of the person on his or her fate.

The author believes many pictographic manuscripts probably have been destroyed. The pictographs can overcome language barrier, and can help different ethnic groups, speaking different languages, to communicate. He cites the Chinese script which helped diverse groups speaking different languages to communicate with each other. This helped a lot in forging unity in this geographically enormous country.

The author feels there is a need of a separate institute to study the ancient manuscripts written in old Manipuri and pictographs, most of which are still undeciphered and scattered here and there.

In back cover, there is a handwritten note for the readers welcoming feedback and suggestions to be directly addressed to the author.

* James Oinam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT0com
This article was webcasted on November 08, 2017.

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