By: S. J. Meetei
Prior to its merger with the Union of India in 1949, Manipur existed as an independent nation, boasting a well-documented cultural heritage spanning thousands of years. The roots of Manipur’s rich culture can be traced back to as early as 33 CE. Among the diverse communities worldwide, the Meetei stands out, possessing their own written sacred text known as Puya/Cheitharon Kumpapa. This ancient script imparts wisdom encompassing life’s dos and don’ts, medical practices, strategies in warfare, birth and posthumous karma, and many more.
Remarkably, the Meetei community is one of the select few in the global populace that employs its distinct alphabet/script called the “Meitei Mayek”. The flourishing and evolution of this opulent culture are the outcomes of countless millennia of research and the establishment of comprehension regarding its origins, settlements, and transitions throughout various phases of human development.
The environment in which contemporary human societies originate has remained a fundamental facet for the Meitei communities over countless generations. A testament to this relationship is the Meetei’s tradition of conducting ceremonial rituals to honour and seek
blessings from trees before felling them. The deity revered by the Meetei, known as “Umang Lai” or the “God/Goddess of the Forest”, is perceived as the guardian of their woodland domains, bestowing everything essential for their survival.
While efforts to convert the Meetei people to Christianity encountered resistance, the transition to Hinduism proved to be more harmonious. This was due to shared beliefs, such as the reverence for an omnipotent guardian of the forest, land, and humanity. Observing contemporary Hindu worship practices, it becomes evident that any Hindu community would revere the same deities that have long been venerated by the Meetei.
In summary, Manipur’s historical narrative unveils a realm that existed independently prior to joining the Union of India. The Meetei culture, thriving for thousands of years, has birthed unique scripts, rituals, and beliefs that continue to shape their identity in profound ways.
I have personally witnessed the reverence for “The Ima Kondong Lairembi” at Moreh, “The Goddess” we regard as the guardian of our Moreh region and its surrounding forest. The celebration of Ima Kondong Lairembi brings together various communities, including Meetei, Nepali, Marwari, Tamil, Bengali, and many more. It’s a notable phenomenon that any Hindu community passing through Moreh takes the opportunity to seek blessings from “The Ima Kondong Lairembi”, the divine protector of our forests. This practice underscores a historical connection between the Meetei worship traditions and those of mainstream Hindu communities over time. Across diverse religious paths followed by the Meetei, there remains a steadfast commitment to paying homage to invincible forces, epitomized by figures like Sanamahi and Umang Lai
(The God/Goddess of Forest). The symbiotic relationship between the Meetei and their natural surroundings, particularly the forest, is deeply ingrained. The sanctity of the Koubru Hill, a sacred site in Meetei tradition, cannot be compromised to serve as a haven for illicit activities like drug trafficking.
“The Koubru Hill” holds a significance comparable to that of “The Mount Kailash” for Hindus, Jerusalem for Christians, and Mecca for Muslims. The respect and reverence attached to these sacred places should resonate with every individual inhabiting our planet. Thus, the preservation of these sacred sites transcends religious boundaries, emphasizing the shared human responsibility to honour and protect places of profound spiritual value.
Upon joining the Union of India, we brought with us a wealth of cultural treasures, including the vibrant Raas Leela dance form and the legacy of our sporting achievements. Among these, we proudly introduced the world to the captivating sport of Horse Polo. Embracing our membership in this magnificent nation, we enthusiastically adopted iconic national symbols like “Jana Gana” and “Vande Mataram,” songs that resonate deeply with our upbringing.
Our hearts swell with pride as we pay homage to our valiant freedom fighters-icons such as Mahatma Gandhi, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, and numerous others who made the ultimate sacrifice for our beloved India. As parents, we instil in our children a profound reverence for these heroes, whose lives serve as models of courage
and determination. Just as Mahatma Gandhi, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Rani Lakshmibai and Sardar Vallabhai Patel dedicated their existence to the greater good, our youngsters learn to honour their legacy.
As integral participants in this splendid nation, we, the Meetei community, fervently hold the earnest hope that the integrity of our state and the dignity of its people shall forever remain untarnished. Our revered heroes such as Bir Tikendrajit, Paona Brajabashi, Thangal General, and numerous others have shed their blood and given their life to safeguard the Integrity of our motherland Manipur. Throughout history, we have been a country with its own sovereign protecting and standing fearlessly from mighty invasion from olden days Chinese and Myanmar. The sanctity of Manipur stands as an unwavering principle that must not yield to the interests of a privileged few who seek to encroach upon it. Our connection to our homeland Manipur is profoundly rooted, and we stand firm in our determination to safeguard its sanctity and uphold the respect it deserves.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the NEA.