Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Dept of Environment and Climate Change
Synoptical Map of the early Greek and Latin, Indu, Arab and Chinese knowledge of Indo-China and the Indo-Malay Archipelago (1909). Map source: Author G.E. Gerini M.R.A.S.

Ancient Manipur Kingdom and Brahmanism

Manipur was an antique kingdom in the ancient Southeast Asia. It is worthwhile to note the book on Chinese source “The Man Shu: Book of the Southern Barbarians” translated by Gordon H. Luce and edited by G.P. Oey, 1961, gives an insight of the ancient kingdom of Manipur. The Chinese knows the ancient kingdom of Manipur by name of Hsiao P’o-lo-men (Little Brahman) kingdom of the north-west. According to Col. G.E. Gerini M.R.A.S. in his book “Researches on Ptolemy’s Geography of Eastern Asia: Further India and Indo-Malay Archipelago”, 1909, records that a kingdom in which the Mi-no, i.e. Man-Kathe or Manipur River, rises according to the “Man-shu” circa A.D. 860. On this kingdom of the ‘Lesser Brahmins’ the “Man-shu” remarks that no beef is eaten and that future events can be predicted. The kingdom of Little Brahmans of the North-West is conterminous with P’iao (Pyu) kingdom in Burma and Mi-ch’en kingdom. The journey to the kingdom was 74 day-stages north of Yung-ch’ang.

Map of Nan-Chao (8th & 9th Century). Map source: The Man-Shu: Book of the Southern Barbarians (1961)

The Nan-Chao map of 8th & 9th Century mentioned ancient Manipur kingdom as “Little Brahmans of the North-West” and Col. G.E. Gerini’s Synoptical Map of the early Greek and Latin, Indu, Arab and Chinese knowledge of Indo-China and the Indo-Malay Archipelago showed the map of Manipur below its written “Hsiao P’o-lo-men” in ancient Chinese toponym meaning Little Brahman. A Brahmin living then in the Magadha country was called Brahmabandhu-a degraded Brahman. Brahmabandhu also means a person who is born of a brahmana father but whose activities are not up to the standard of the brahmanas. They chose astrology as profession and intermarry with other castes.

In the words of Edward Harper Parker H.M. Consul, Kiungchow, Officiating Adviser on Chinese Affairs in Burma in his book, “Burma with Special Reference to her Relations with China”, 1893, states that Chinese have records of the existence of Manipurese people under the name Kieh-Seh, this last name being imitation of the word Casse or Cathay, meaning “Manipuri-people.” The Chinese annals also mention Shan’s possession of the Manipur kingdom at different times, and for several centuries.  The Tai Nanchao king Ko-lo-feng built a trade route between Manipur and Nanchao in 8th Century. It is also recorded in the ancient Manipuri chronicle that the Manipuri king Naothingkhong who then acknowledged the suzerainty of Nanchao under Ko-lo-feng, sent a well trained party of dancers, singers and instrumental musicians to the Imperial Court of China as a goodwill mission. It must have been a mission to T’ang Emperor Tien-Pao (Hsuan Tsung’s) court. Since there was no independent Thai kingdom in Thailand in that early period the reference is apparently to Ko-lo-feng’s conquest of Upper Burma and Assam including Manipur in the eight century C.E. as described in the T’ang history.

The maps highlighting Little Brahmans of north-west kingdom and Hsiao P’o-lo-men written in ancient Chinese toponym is further substantiated in the writings of R.G. Latham in his book “Descriptive Ethnology: Vol.1. Eastern and Northern Asia-Europe, 1859, records that Munipur is Brahminic in its creed; with an alphabet directly from the Devanagari of India; and Munipur, with much of its original rudeness remaining, is still in the category of equals, one for inferiors, one for superiors; even as there is in Siam, Java, and elsewhere. A difference between the language of politeness and rudeness exists everywhere. The phenomenon of a court dialect, as contrasted with the dialect of ordinary life, exhibits itself in the greatest prominence in the south-east of Asia.

Col. G.E. Gerini taking the source of Burmese Royal Chronicle “Maharajavamsa” mentioned Dhajaraja, a king of the Sakya/Maurya race, settled at Manipura, about 550 B.C., and later on conquered Tagaung (Old or Upper Pagan). John G.R. Forlong in his book “Encyclopedia of Religions, Volume 3, 1906, records that from the time of Dhaja Raja down to the 11th century successive waves of Indian migration passed into the valley of Irawadi, bringing Sanskrit letters, legends, religions, and civilizations. According to renowned Manipuri scholar W. Yumjao Singh in his book “An Early History of Manipur”, 1966, took the source of Col. G.E. Gerini, mentioned that Sanskrit or Pali languages were used in official documents and inscriptions by the Indo-Aryan adventurers.

Renowned scholar Victor B. Leiberman gives a detail account on Manipur king Gariba Niwaza in his book “Burmese Administrative Cycles: Anarchy and Conquest, C. 1580-1760, records that “The Brahmanically sanctioned changes that Gharib Newaz introduced in political organizations, in personal devotion, in diet and dress inspired the Manipuris with a vast energy and missionary dynamism.” The religious preceptor Shanti Das was known to the Burmese by name of Mahatharahpu. In the words of another renowned scholar Michael W. Charney, “There is, thus, little doubt that Shanti Das had major plans for the Burmese court, especially since his large entourage consisted of five hundred of his disciples, including Brahmin priests. The Hindu teacher, however, fell ill and died in Burma about a month later in 1744. Thus if there had been any real chance of a conversion of Burma to Brahmanical Hinduism kingdom this was doused by the end of the 1750s. He also emphasized the contributions of Manipuri Brahmans who played a significant role in shaping the perspectives of and cooperating in the literary activities of Chindwin-based Buddhist scholars and lay people in a powerful literary culture which existed from mid 17th century to 19th Century known as “Chindwin Literary Culture” in Burma-Manipur Frontier.

The religious conversion of Manipuri to Ramanandi cult by Gariba Niwaza (Pamheiba) at the behest of teacher Shanti Das Goswami, brought revolution in the kingdom which paved nation building process and drew strength to counter the religious warfare of Theravada Buddhism religion of the mighty Burmese empire, the size of her kingdom larger than five southern Indian states. Sir Athelstane Baines in his book “Encyclopedia of Indo-Aryan Research: Ethnography (Castes and Tribes)’, 1912, records that on the adoption of Brahmanism by a large portion of the Mongoloid population of Manipur, the chief and his military retainers passed into the rank of Ksatriya, and to the number of about 1, 80,000, appear under that title in the last census returns. The monarch thereupon embraced their creed and was invested with the sacred thread, and with him a large number of his people. Since, then, not only have most of the Meithei become Ksatriya, but the rank has been conferred by the Chief upon a plentiful supply of recruits from the surrounding Kuki and Naga tribes. The result is that at the Census only 33 of the inhabitants of the State returned the tribal name, whilst the 33,000 Manipuri found on the record are Bengali enumerated in Kacar and its vicinity.

The Brahmanic Tainized kingdom of Manipur with military strength of 40,000 men became Asiatic power in Southeast Asia. Gariba Niwaza seized every opportunity to conquer Ava in 1740. He was backed by the Cacharese army and consolidated his control over a zone of northern Shan tributaries formerly loyal to Ava, became vassal of Manipur. The Manipur army led by Gariba Niwaza hurriedly retreated to save her kingdom after Tripura’s invasion when Manipur army was at Ava, thus, the golden chance to conquer Burma failed. The Burmese Chronicle “Hmannan” records the last Toungoo king Maha Damma Yaza Dipati had sent letters to Qing emperor of China asking support to crush Manipuri invaders and Mons owing to the threat of  his kingdom from Manipuri ruler Gariba Niwaza,.

The Manipuri nationalism faded with the advent of British rule. The proud kingdom which was force to reckon with in Southeast Asia made by the endless sacrifices of our forefathers who safeguarded the land and protected her kingdom from external threats, encountered severe breakdown of her hard won nationalism through the ruthless, aggressive and divisive policies of the British.

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