Rivers have played a pivotal role in shaping the religious and cultural landscape of India as a whole. Rivers in India are not merely geographical entities but hold a scared status deeply embedded in the spiritual and cultural practices of its diverse communities. There are many mythological narratives associated with major Indian rivers. For example, The Ganges are believed to have descended from heaven, holding a central position in Hindu cosmology, Yamuna is revered as the sister of God Krishna while the Saraswati is often considered as a mythical river with symbolic significance. From the sacred dip in the Ganges during the Kumbh Mela to the immersion of idols during festivals shows a clear picture of how the rivers are integral to religious ceremonies that bind communities together.
In Manipur also rivers are considered as a religious and culturally important and also have significance in shaping the identity and traditions of the local communities, specially the Meiteis. Among all the major rivers of Manipur, Kongba River is one of the important rivers which has religious and cultural importance in Manipuri, particularly Meitei, society. Kongba River is a freshwater river and it is a tributory of Imphal River having a catchment area of about 144.2 square kilometer with a length of 35.8 kilometers. It arises from Kongba Maru and joined the Imphal River at Kiyamgei. The river though small in size and length is considered as one of the most important rivers for the indigenous Meitei community.
Kongba River, meandering through the picturesque landscape of Manipur, holds a pivotal position in the hearts and minds of the people residing along its bank. The historical roots of the Kongba River significance reveal a tapestry of cultural evolution. From ancient times to the present, the river has been witnessed to be ebb and flow of civilizations, leaving an indelible mark on the religious practices and cultural role in various rituals conducted by the indigenous communities. From sacred ceremonies to seasonal festivities, Kongba River is considered a divine conduit, symbolizing spiritual purity and renewal.
In many Meitei Chronicles, it has been found that the water of Kongba River is considered as important sacred water used in various religious ceremonies and rituals. For the prosperity of the King and the Kingdom, rituals were performed in the Kongba River has been mentioned in the classic book “Nunglen Thambal”. In the book “Thaloi Nongkhailon” and “Tharon”, it is found written that in the month of Hiyangie, the 8th lunar month of Meitei calendar, rituals were performed at the Kongba Maru or at the river for the prosperity of the land. It is also found in the book “Heibok Chinggairol” that if the paste made from the water of Kongba Mairombi, clay of some specific place and mixed with water is applied to the body, it increases the longevity of life and cures many diseases within few days and the water has other healing powers etc. One of the important cultural aspects of Kongba River is that the Angom clan, one among the seven clans of Meitei, is closely associated with the Kongba River. In all the religious rituals of Angom clan, the water of Kongba River is used as a mandatory element.
In this regard, Pandit Ngariyambam Khomba Singh of Pandit Loishang shared his view that People of Kangleipak used to settle in the river banks since time immemorial and rivers were one of the important means of transportation. People depend on river water for daily uses and also for agricultural purposes. Among the important rivers of Manipur, Kongba River is one of them. Kongba River is also important from religious and cultural point of view. It is believed that “Konglouton-Louthiba” ruled the area of Kongba Maru and it is said to be the place of origin of Angom clan and their leaders decided to performed their religious ritual using water from Kongba River. Till today, the sacred practice is still continuing by the families of Angom clan.
He narrated that rivers are polluted by human activities and the impact of pollution finally reached to human beings and this can even impact in genes mutation. It can be claimed that polluted rivers water are major causes for many dreadful diseases. The degradation in the quality of Kongba River has given a great impact on culture and tradition of our society. Thus, there is need for revival of life of all the rivers of Manipur which have deep cultural association. The bonding between human beings and rivers are parting day by day. The love bonding for the rivers need to be restored and it need to transfer to the present generation. So that rivers will have a longer life span.
Dr Likmabam Sanjoy, Department of Environmental Science of Dhanamanjuri University, Manipur narrated that in Manipur since time immemorial ponds and rivers are believed to be the sacred water performing many religious ceremonies and rituals. Even the holy dip is practice in some rituals and other ceremonies. The river water has a close cultural affinity with the people of the state. As rivers and pond are believed to be sacred water flowers and fruits are thrown into the river after performing the rituals.
Kongba River has now stagnant water and because of pollution due to discharge of domestic waste, sewage, toilet outlet into the river allow rapid growth of macrophytes such as water hyacinth and Kabonapi (Althernanthera species) etc. having less chance of dissolution in the water. Nowadays people hardly use the water as they believe that it may cause many diseases including skin diseases.
The major source of water in Manipur is river which is rainfed. Rainwater harvesting mechanisms and construction of check dams in the catchment area can be a solution for avoiding water scarcity in the river during the lean seasons. Dr. Sanjoy added that it is none to blame than us who exploit our river system as all the major rivers and its catchment area are within the state boundary. With the plenty availability of packaged drinking water in the market, facility of treated water at home and increasing number of private water suppliers, people ignore the importance of river as a major source of water. Because of ignorance and negligence, the fate of Kongba River is now unpredictable. It is high time to make the young generation aware of the need for the revival of Kongba River. It is in their hands whether to save the river or not for the future keeping in view the importance of river as a major source of surface water. Once the river is revived in its earlier form, it will help in continuing the cultural and religious importance of Kongba River. So there lies the urgent need to introduce a holistic approach to preserve the religious and cultural values of Kongba River of Manipur.
(The article is written as part of the 4th State level Media Fellowship Programme on Climate Change under the sponsorship of the Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, Government of Manipur.)