TODAY -

Romanticizing the monumental and antiquarian past and delaying change: The Manipur context
- Part 1 -

Wangam Somorjit *



In 1780 CE, Chingthang Khomba commissioned his uncle Ananta Sai, the minister, to recompose the lost court chronicle Cheitharol Kumpapa. The narration begins: "In the year 3135 Kali Yug (33 CE) Meidingu Pakhangba became the king."

Once the past is regulated it becomes a force. By the above dictum, the ambitious dynasty had established the ruling idea, legitimizing the dominant consciousness of this emergent state with the discovery of two 'civilized' or 'alien' concepts, "Kali yug" and "pakhangba"; the former is a borrowed Hindu era, presuming the genesis of the dynasty dating back as far as the beginning of Sakendra era, and the latter is a dynamically translated Buddhist philosophical term "enlighten" assuming as a distinctive regal title of ruler in Scott's phrase "in the form of symbolic jujitsu", thereby justifying the claim of absolute arbitrary authority to coerce certain enslaves and subordinates designated as subjects and tributaries, thus naturalized its rights to rule; whereby demarcating a line between inhabitants, as state people and state repelling people, correctly bondage people and free people.

The Royal Proclamation of November 7, 1737 CE, clearly reflects the demarcation line that premised stateness as the higher class and statelessness as backward, served to persuade bondage or enslaved people of their bestowed privileged status, that runs as follow:

"The inhabitants are now divided into two classes –those invested and non-invested with lagun (sacred Hindu thread). Those Kshatriya who are invested with lagun are the seven clans whereas non-invested are those (hill) people who refused to incorporate to the authority. Intermarriage between these two classes is prohibited."

The ruling class generates a form of belief which it imposes on other classes. The consecration of the idol of Govindajee in 1780 CE marks the accomplishment of state's oeuvre, the social system based on hierarchy, an ideal form of feudalism.

The royal proclamation made on this occasion stated that in order to avert the recurrence of calamities as then oppressed by the Burmese invasions, King Chingthang Khomba wholly made over his country to his celestial proprietor, henceforward holding the government in his name, and no descendents of his without the possession of this image should ever be raised into royal dignity or as ruler.

In feudal Manipur, the kings had the political, economic, and military power to take the lead in defining themselves as rulers and in establishing class hierarchy, dividing the enslaved or 'incorporated' populations, excluding the ungoverned people, who were designated as 'enemy' in the Proclamation of 1737, into different classes as 'lups' (legitimate subjects, later substituted by the term pana, borrowing from the Mughal's jagir system), slave classes, viz, Phunganai, Potshangba, Ayokpa and Kei, who were all formerly hill people, and Loi class the subdued tribes and communities, viz, Andro, Sekmai and Khurukhul.

The royal order of King Surchandra (c.1886-1890), further clarifies the division of "state space" as Imphal and Louwai. Imphal was the capital and the elite residential area, "dedicated to luxury and amusement" as documented in the Austrian Daily News in 1891 and Louwai was the paddy field zones beyond the centre assigned to the serfs and artisans. Beyond Louwai was the non-state space where 'booty and slaves' were seasonally collected or 'harvested'; the term "Lokpa" which literally means harvesting, is regularly used in the official chronicles to denote collection of booties; "hao naba chatpa" for military expedition into hills; and Lan phaiye for enslavement; Lan-pha, for captives and war prisoners; loi-pot for tributes.

And in the end of each expedition the rulers dubbed themselves with high sounding titles like captor or victor of the subjugated tribes, such as 'Maramba', literally victor of Maram; Khongjai Ngamba, Victor of Khongjai, and so forth. Sometimes the non-state space was used as 'game preserve' where non-state people were raided as a part of the coronation ritual called Phambal Lan, in which the regal name of the king was assumed in accordance with the name of the captive.

These are the few historical proceedings where dominant ideology in Manipur takes its birth, encapsulating that official historiography tends to write history from the perspective of the dominant group, in the words of Gramsci, "The State has always been the protagonist of history", and that the owner of this history, the ruling class, developed hegemonic ideas, which disseminate its values and norms, materializing this knowledge in the consciousness of the majority to conserve the status quo and hinder the development of another contradictory environment.

The historiography in Manipur relies almost exclusively from the sources with royal seal, such as the list of the kings, court chronicles, hagiographical accounts, royal epigraphic stones, coins and archaeological structures erected by the kings. So, the 2000 year old official 'written' history of Manipur emerges from the womb of ruling class hegemonic system. This 'written' history is the prologue to the proud legacy of dominant group, which 'chooses to close its eyes' to its responses, the history of those who do not have written history, legitimating valley and hill divergence, and the history of those whose lived experience has been overlooked or skipped in the official and academic history, but intertwined with it –undermining and interrupting the political domain and aspiration of the subaltern social group, above all, delaying human growth and progress.

The ideology of the dominant group and its common sense value gradually extended with pervasive power, playing a role in shaping contemporary political and common attitudes and social behavior. In short the dominant ideology persists in every area of practice. In Manipur democratic experiment began in the mid-20th century. The birth of Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha is believed to be the effect of this experiment. Although it endorsed dominant values, which is exemplified in its significant 4th Session resolution took in Imphal on 30th December 1938, presided and signed by the pioneer revolutionary figure Hijam Irabot.

'Hypocritically' the conference resolved the 'hill and valley unity' in the 10th resolution and at the same time questioning on calling the hill people as Manipuris in the 18th resolution, distinctly underestimated the hill people as inferior people. The 'unity' is a self-centered perspective of state-space, as the resolution runs, "If the hill areas are excluded, the valleys are not greater than a Sub-division."

To be continued ...


* Wangam Somorjit wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is the author of the books"The Chronicle of Meetei Monarchs, 1666 to 1850 CE" and the forthcoming, "Manipur: the Forgotten Nation of Southeast Asia"
This article was posted on February 10, 2016.


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