Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Classic Group of Hotels
Cover of Vol-2 of the transcription of Cheitharol Kumbaba by Saroj Nalini Arambam Parratt

Manipuri Culture and Literature – A Refresher

Culture is defined as ‘the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time’. So, there is an element of time associated with culture. It is also explained as the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, literature, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. In the dynamics of culture, change and innovation have important places as continuity and tradition.

For better understanding of Manipuri culture one has to look at their dance, music, games, etc. and also literature. They call themselves ‘Meities’ or ‘Meeteis’. Here the terms ‘Meitei’ and ‘Manipuri’ are used interchangeably.

Majority of the Meities live in Manipur, which is also the home of diverse ethnic groups. The Meiteis, the largest group, are said to be the descendants of a break-away group of the Shang Dynasty of Central China and the Lei-hou tribe of Koubru hill situated in the north-west of Manipur valley. They established their principality in the Koubru hill ranges (circa 1445 BC).

Manipur valley lies in the centre encircled by ranges of high hills. In the prehistoric times the valley was nothing but a vast lake. It started drying up and the Meiteis descended to the valley. Over the centuries, many groups of people belonging to different races migrated from all directions and settled in the valley. They assimilated into the local population, enriching its culture and traditions. Frequent intermarriage with different tribes in the surrounding hills also enriched the culture and traditions of the Meiteis. Manipuri or Meitei language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman sub family of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. It has proven to be an integrating factor among all ethnic groups in Manipur who use it to communicate among themselves.

A hypothetical theory advocated by Atombapu Sharma in the early thirties postulates a link between Manipur and the great epic, the Mahabharata. Even scholars like E. Nilakanta acknowledged it. As in this theory the borderline between history and myth is not so sharp in many other ancient civilizations. Present day scholars are of the opinion that the Manipur of the Mahabharata is not the present Manipur.

Manipur’s connection with Hinduism started when Hindu kingdoms in mainland India were overrun by Muslim invaders and people, especially the Brahmins, started running off to safer places to escape the onslaught. In 1204 Bakhtiar Khilji led the Muslim conquest of Bengal. They occupied Bengal from 1206 to 1757, a period of around five hundred fifty years. They also occupied parts Assam for ten years from 1660 to 1670. Starting from the 15the century A.D. waves after waves of the Brahmins entered Manipur. The escapees found Manipur valley a safe haven. They assimilated into the local population. Bengal Vaishnavism came to Manipur to be reborn, enriched and energised.

The cultural heritage of the Manipuris has two layers viz, Pre-Hindu phase and the Hindu phase starting from the 15th century A.D.

Pre-Hindu faith and culture of the Meities is centred around veneration of Lai. The term Lai has many connotations. It stands for god, goddess, male or female deity, divinity, supernatural being — in short it means any entity which cannot be explained by human perceptions. Sanamahi is the household Lai and worshipped in every family. Meitei religion is also known as ‘Sanamahi religion’ after ‘Sanamahi’.

A few sacred groves zealously protected and preserved by the people living in the surrounding areas are the only forests left in the valley. It is believed that many Pre-Hindu deities reside in the groves. Lai Haraoba or pleasing of deities, ceremonial rites to appease deities, is an important festival of Manipur. For the followers of Sanamahi religion, Lai Haraoba is their main festival. Whereas important festivals of the Hindu Meiteis are Yaoshang or Holi, Kang Chingba or RathYatra, JhoolonYatra, Krishna Jarma or Janmashtami and Durga Puja.

Creation myths, beliefs and superstitions, the concept of birth and rebirth according the Meitei philosophy are ingrained in the rituals of Lai Haraoba. Main religious functionaries of the traditional Meitei religion are Maiba (male) and Maibi (female). Maibi of Meitei religion is a priestess as well as a dancer, a songstress, a medium through whom Lai delivers oracles and an occultist sans pejorative overtones.

Though there is extensive written literature in ancient Meitei script that goes back to more than one thousand years, the essential core of the sacred lore associated with Lai Haraoba has been passed down through mouth from Maibi to Maibi. The oral texts contain a number of different literary genres, including songs for prosperity, dancing songs, riddles, erotic verses and love lyrics. Under the umbrella of Lai Haraoba dance come Khamba-Thoibi Jagoi or dance, Maibi Jagoi, Leima Jagoi, etc., which are the basics of modern and classical Manipuri dance.

Lai Haraoba has been preserved in its most pristine form – its dance form and oral literary and poetic traditions are still intact even long after the Meities have become Hindus. Hinduism could not totally subvert the pre-Hindu Meitei religion. Even the kings who patronised Hinduism continued to worship pre-Hindu gods and goddesses. Meitei religion reached a modus vivendi with Hinduism.

About Sanamahi religion Pradip Phanjoubam says, “But Sanamahi religion, it must be said, has in the present times become somewhat an extension of Hinduism, although their followers deny this. Religious ceremonies and rituals of Sanamahi today closely mirror Hindu ones. The fact that Hinduism is not a strictly structured religion has helped.”

Despite the fact that Lai Haraoba is a pre-Hindu festival, the Hindu Meities still celebrate it with all the traditional pomp and fanfare. Lais are continued to be worshipped by the Hindu Meities. Sanamahi is still worshipped in every Meitei household irrespective of the faith they follow. Lai Haraoba reflects the culture of the Meites in totality, irrespective of caste and creed, and the faiths they follow.

Manipur is synonymous with dance and sports to the world outside. On the next day of Lairoi, the conclusion of the strict liturgical prayers and rituals of Lai-haroba, many traditional games and sports like Lamjel (foot race), Thouri Chingbi (tug of war), Mukna (wrestling), Khong Kangjei (foot hockey), Yubi Lakpi (snatching of coconut), Sagol Kangjei (polo), etc. are played.

Mukna is the traditional style of wrestling, which requires fascinating skill and body manoeuvres. The one who fells or throws down his opponent on his back or make him touch the ground by one of his hands or knees is declared the winner.

Khong Kangjei meaning ‘foot hockey’ is a game played with seven players on each side. Each player is equipped with a bamboo stick measuring around 4 feet in length, shaped like a modern hockey stick. The ball is made of seasoned bamboo root. There is no goal post. The ball has to cross the boundary line of the opposite side to score. The peculiarity of this game is that the players can kick the ball and carry it in his hand toward the goal line. However, for scoring the ball has to be hit by the bamboo stick. The player carrying the ball has to defend himself. The players in the two teams can lock themselves in wrestling bouts in pairs to gain control of the ball. So another name given to the game is Mukna-Kangjei, meaning wrestling-cum-hockey. It requires great bodily skill for the players to free themselves and carry the ball to the goal line. The players have to have good speed, stamina, strength, agility and skill of Mukna in order to win.

Yubi Lakpi meaning ‘snatching of coconut’ is a traditional game similar to Rugby. An oiled coconut is used in place of the ball.  For scoring a player approaches the goal from the front with the oiled coconut in his possession. He passes the goal line and offers the coconut to the judges who sit beyond the goal line.

Sagol Kangjei is the traditional game of the Meiteis which gave birth to the modern game of polo. The game is played with seven players on each side mounted on ponies. Each player holds a long cane stick with a narrow angled wooden head for hitting the ball made of seasoned bamboo root.

Even though Thang-Ta or sword and spear, an art for self defense is gaining popularity, the rich heritage of martial arts related to the ethical culture of the Meiteis has not yet found the place it rightly deserves. Chainarol (ways of fighting), an old Manipuri book gives accounts of bouts between commoners known for their courtesy and sense of honour. Fatalists as they were, they fought a duel as a way of deciding the right and the wrong by God.

Origin of Thang-Ta can be traced to creation myths of the Meiteis. During the creation Almighty, Khoiyum Yaibirel Shidaba taught his two sons how to create the Universe. The highly spiritual lesson is known as Thengou. It forms the foundation of Thang-Ta. Besides the spiritual part, Thengou may be explained as artistic manifestation of the creation of the Universe in the form of footsteps with body movements.

For learning Thengou certain initiation rituals are to be conducted at four specific places on an auspicious day fixed by a learned astrologer. The places are (i) Lalambung, (ii) Heibokching, (iii) Lamphel and (iv) Takyel.

Primary lesson to be learnt is called Lathabi Thengou. Otherwise there are nine forms of Thengou, viz. (i) Leikau Thengou, (ii) Leikal Thengou, (iii) Nongphan Thengou, (iv) Leichai Thengou, (v) Leinet Thengou, (vi) Leikhom Thengou, (vii) Leikak Thengou, (viii) Leihou Thengou and (ix) Leitai Thengou.

After adopting Hindu faith the Manipuri musicologists used to look towards Bengal in their struggle to identify the Sankirtana tradition. However with the exception of a few classical Talas other than the basic Ragas and Raginis, the Kirtans of Bengal do not throw much light on the existing forms of Manipuri Sankirtana. Bangadesh, an old form of Manipuri Sankirtana has no counterpart in Bengal. It is interesting to note that a small group called ‘Bangadesh’ flourished in Assam during Sankardeva’s time. The Biyagoa Ojapali following the classical tradition starts the Alapa of a raga with such syllables as Ha, Ri, Ta, Na. The Manipuri Isheihanba, the main singer, (counterpart of Oja) always begins with Ta, Ri, Ta, Na. The Manipuris have Dohar, principal assistant of Ishei Hanba (counterpart of Daina Pali).

During the reign of Meidingu Chingthangkhomba aka Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (1763-1798) Manipur was exposed to the performing arts of Assam, including a Bhaona called Ravana-Badha. He brought an Assamese story teller, Jivram Sharma who introduced Wari Leeba (story-telling) art in Manipur.

Assamese Ankiya Nat and Manipuri Ras Leela have grown out of the traditional movements in the respective areas but there is much affinity in the patterns between the two. The Umbrella of classical Manipuri dance covers Nata Sankirtana, Ras Leela and even Gostha Leela.

In the later part of 18th century A.D. Rajarshi Bhagyachandra introduced Ras Leela as an extension of the Nata Sankirtana tradition. Maha Ras is based on the Bhagavatam whereas Vasant Ras, played in the night on the 15th or full moon day of Sajibu/Lamda, months of Manipuri lunar calendar, falling in March-April, is based on the Geet Govindam of poet Jayadeva. Now there are five forms of Ras Leela viz. (1) Maha Ras, (2) Kunja Ras, (3) Basanta Ras, (4) Nitya Ras and (5) Diva Ras.

Ras Leela is invariably preceded by Nata Sankirtana as Lord Chaitanya is supposed to have conceived the entire Leela with himself identifying with Radha. Nata Sankirtana starts with invocation to Krishna Chaitanya. To the Manipuris, Ras Lila is embodiment of love and devotion. It is meant for spiritual awakening and not for entertainment. Naturally the dancers have to follow a strict discipline. They cannot have eye contact with the audience. Their eyes should be focused on the tips of their fingers.

In Sankirtana, mridanga or pung players, always play in pairs to give the desired acoustic effect.

In Ras Leela the whole aesthetic of drama, Bhava and Rasa are present. The dancers project and communicate the meaning of the dance through Abhinaya (histrionic representation). All the dancers have to be well adapted in Angika (physical representation through the movement of hands, fingers, lips, neck and feet), Vacika (communication through speech) though limited, Aharya (representation through costume and make-up) and Sattvika (communication through the entire psychological resources of the dancers).

Even though Manipuri classical dance forms have affinity with Natya Shastra, Bharat Muni’s ancient Indian treatise on performing arts encompassing theatre, dance and music and Abhinaya Darpana or ‘Mirror of gesture’, it is quite clear that the steps of Manipuri classical dance forms have been taken from Manipuri martial arts.

It was announced at the eighth session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan, held from December 2 to 7, 2013 that “Sankirtana: Ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur” nominated from India is among the 14 elements inscribed on the Representative List of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Theatre is another important aspect of Manipuri culture. Theatre incorporates all forms of creative art ¾ dance, music, painting, literature, etc. The rituals associated with Lai Haraoba inevitably include many episodes like ‘Tangkhul-Nurabi Loutaba’, which actually are nothing but plays. Sanjenba, Goura Lila, Kali Daman, Ras Lila, etc. are some of the religious theatrical performances of Manipur, pertaining to Vaisnavism. All forms of plays have some points in common in the sense all try to reach out to people to convey messages, thoughts and ideas.

During the reign of Maharaja Chandrakirti (1850-1886) Phagee Lila (farce) was popular. It in turn gave birth to Shumang Lila or courtyard play ― ‘Shumang’ meaning courtyard and ‘Lila’ meaning play or performance. Shumang Lila is performed by troupes of 10-15 actors either exclusively male or female. Male characters are played by female actors in Shumang Lila performed by female Shumang Lila troupes. Male actors enacting female characters in Shumang Lila performed by male Shumang Lila troupes are known as Nupishabis.

Shumang Lila is performed in an open space with the spectators sitting all around. No stage prop except a table and a chair is used. Of late, special sound effects have been incorporated in the performance. Shumang Lilas are generally meant for entertaining and making the people aware of the social values. The theme of Shumang Lila is very wide; it can be anything from folk tales to the happenings elsewhere in the world like the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers of World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001.

Modern Manipuri theatre performed in the proscenium theatre similar to the Western theatrical model was moulded under the enthusiastic patronage of Sir Churchand Maharaj (1891-1941) and ‘Pravas Milan’ was performed for the first time in 1902. The initial plays were adaptations from other languages. In 1925 ‘Narasingh’ the first play originally written in Manipuri was staged. After that theatre movement developed and expanded rapidly.

GC Tongbra may be said to be the Greatest Manipuri Playwright of the twentieth century. More than one hundred plays written by him have already been staged. To his credit are nearly one hundred books of plays. He himself had directed a number of plays. He was worried about the decay and loss of humanity in the society. His plays are biting satire on life.

Lokendra Arambam, H. Kanhailal and RatanThiyam are prominent personalities of modern Manipuri theatre. Each of them has a distinctive style of presentation — masters in their own rights.

Writer, Director, Designer, Composer and Choreographer, Ratan Thiyam firmly believes that plays should be based on logic and reason — it should mirror the society; it should be able to analyze the social changes and give comment on it. In other words, plays should point out the wrongs in the society and correct it by putting questions on human intellect.

Early Manipuri literature mainly consisted of verses relating to the appeasement of numerous gods and goddesses, most often sung to the accompaniment of Pena, a local bow and string musical instrument.

Many stories have also been circulating from mouth to mouth. As it is evident in the case of oral literature, there is inconsistency in the stories circulated by mouth. Many versions of the same stories are available. It is also equally true in the case of manuscripts. A copy of manuscript cannot last forever. At most Manipuri manuscripts written on homemade paper or bark can last for one or two centuries under normal circumstances. So a new copy has to be made before the older one wears out because of constant handling. Further, several copies have to be made for wider circulation by manually copying from the original. While copying, the copier may insert, delete or alter some lines at his discretion. So, there may be variations in the same story from one copy of the manuscript to another. On the other hand, it may safely be presumed that many of the stories in the manuscripts must have been circulating orally for a number of years before they were reduced to writing.

Another important point is that in the past only a selected few could read and write. Till the last part of the nineteenth century to a large extent reading, writing and production of books were done under kings’ patronage. Oral literature could permeate every section of the society whereas written texts were reserved for the privileged few.

The earliest reference to writing in Manipuri literature as recorded in Ningthouron Lambuba, a chronicle, is about a king who ascended the throne of the Ningthoujas in 984 AD.

In 1616 AD, a king of Manipur, Meidingu Khagemba (1597-1652 AD), ordered to produce more books and reading and writing to be taught on a wider scale.

Early writings in Manipuri consisted of verses relating to the appeasement of numerous gods and goddesses. Some of the earliest popular prose works in Manipuri are Numit Kappa (10th century), Khongjomnubi Nongaron (14th century), Naothingkhol Phambal Kaba (16–17th century), Leithak Leikharol (17th century) and Panthoibi Khongul (17th century). Many books on various other topics were also written before the eighteenth century but only a limited number of copies could be produced.

For convenience of examining Manipuri literature, three periods may be considered, viz, (1) Early period (pre-Hindu period extending up to the end of the 17th century), (2) Middle period (from the beginning of the 18th century up to the end of the 19th century) and (3) Modern period (from the beginning of the 20th century till date).

Most of the writings in the early period are related to the worship of Gods and Goddesses, hymns, historical events like immigration of groups of people, expeditions of kings to different places, tales of legendary lovers, etc. Heroism and bravery as well as romance and love are the noticeable traits. Unknown writers of the early period gave varied and colourful accounts of heroic lives in Chengleiron, Tutenglon, Numit Kappa, Thawanthaba Hiran, Chainarol and Nongsamei. Poireiton Khunthok another important work of the early period gives an account of the land and people through the eyes of Poireiton, the protagonist, during the course of his migration from a far off place and finally settling in Manipur.

Some of the writings produced during the middle period are devoted to specialised subjects like martial arts, identification and description of flowers, edicts of the king, etc. Narrative poetry was also prevalent. Chahui Leirong Pamba, a book written during the Middle Period, is a good example of romantic fiction. The story is set during the reign of Meetingu (Meidingu) Loiyumba (1074-1112) though the work was composed much later, during the reign of Meetingu Nara Singh (1843-49). Sanamanik is another important fiction of the middle period. It was written by Wahengbam Madhabram, a court poet of Maharaj Bhagyachandra. Set in the city of Banarasi it relates the story of six princes. The elder brothers are jealous of their youngest brother, whose wife is already in the family way.

Coming to the Modern Period, fiction ranks foremost in Manipuri literature. In the early part of the twentieth century AD, Dr. Kamal, Chaoba and Angahal wrote the first original Manipuri novels. All of them have chosen the story of lovers in different environments as the theme of their novels.

In ‘Madhabi’, a novel, Dr. Kamal shows cruelty of man, victory of love over evil and the high ideal of sacrifice.

In the novel, ‘Labanga Lata’(1940) Chaoba created characters, who lived in the seventeenth century AD, during the reign of King Khagemba.

Angahal shows the universal problem of social complexes in his novel ‘Jahera’. His is a love story of a Manipuri Hindu youth and a Muslim girl.

After the dawn of a new form of creative writing in the early twentieth century, fiction in Manipuri Literature starts blossoming. Bhagya Yengkhoiba, R.K. Shitaljit, Hijam Guno, Ibohal and many more writers followed the footsteps of Dr. Kamal, Chaoba and Angahal.

A sea change has come over after the Second World War. Many writers focused on the challenges to the traditional moral values in the post war period.

The writings of R.K. Shitaljit overflow with moral and religious ideals, romantic exuberance is absent.

Hijam Guno emphasises on the barrier between the social classes in Manipuri Society and brings out the subtle human relations clearly in his novels.

Thoibi Devi, a female writer, approaches in the traditional way without ups and downs but successfully shows the ideals of life in her writings.

Pacha Metei has earned a separate place in Manipuri literature. In his novel Imphal Amasung Magi Ishing Nungshit, the first Manipuri Novel to receive Sahitya Akademi Award in 1973, Pacha examines and explores Manipuri society from another angle, through the eyes of an outsider.

In her historical Novel, Borshaheb Ongbi Sanatombi, M.K. Binodini, another eminent female writer, meticulously paints all her characters like the images painted by a classical painter.

Some of the novelists whose works cannot be ignored are Kshetri Bira, Jodhachandra Sananam, B.M. Maisnamba, Mayanglambam Kandesh and Arambam Biren.

Manipuri novels are more or less devoted to romance, patriotism or zeitgeist. Many Manipuri novelists are equally apt in writing short stories. Short stories made appearance in the Modern Period of Manipuri Literature almost simultaneously with the novels.

In the beginning, short stories made their first appearance in journals and newspapers. The first Manipuri modern short story ever published is Ema Wa Tannaba (Discussion about Mother) written by Bob Khathing aka Major Khathing. It appeared in the October 1931 issue of Yaikairol, a monthly journal edited by N. Leiren Singh. Another short story Yum Panba (Running the Family) by Sarvajit Singh appeared in the May 1932 issue of the same journal. However, the most acclaimed short story of that time was Brojendrogi Luhongba (Brojendro’s Marriage, 1933) by L. Kamal Singh. Masik Jagaron (first published in 1924) edited by Arjun Singh in Sylhet contributed a lot to the development of Manipuri short story. Ngasi, Jyoti and Meitei Chanu, journals circulated in the forties and fifties, published short stories and played important roles in popularising short stories among the Manipuri speaking people. Lalit Manjuri Patrika another journal of the period published short stories of S. Krishnamohon Singh, A. Shyamsundar Singh, R.K. Shitaljit Singh and many other writers. Romance, problems of inter-caste marriage and class differentiation are the themes of most of the short stories of that period.

Yum Panba of Sarvajit Singh moulded Manipuri short story. In it the role of a woman in running the family is emphasized.

In Brojendrogi Luhongba L. Kamal Singh picks up an unusual theme — the protagonist, a doctor, agrees to marry a girl of his mother’s choice as an obedient son but refuses to look at her face even after the marriage.

It was only after the Second World War Manipuri short stories emerged with a renewed vigour and stole the show. R.K. Shitaljit Singh published his first collection of short stories Leikonnungda (In the Garden) in 1946 followed by another collection Leinungshi (Beloved, Fragrant Flower) in the same year.

M.K. Binodini, Nongthombam Kunjamohon, Khumanthem Prakash, ShriBiren, Hijam Guno, Elengbam Dinamani, Chitreshwor Sharma and Nilabir Shastri came in the sixties. They broke the cocoon of romance and morality. They turned towards the social reality. They picked up the changes materialism has brought to the traditional values and morality.

In the late seventies Yumlembam Ibomcha, LamabamViramani, Keisham Priyokumar, Ibohanbi and their contemporaries formed a group and gave a new thrush to short story. They collectively opine that the disappointment and helplessness felt by the common man is because of the dwindling of human rights. Similar expressions are echoed in the stories of E. Rajanikanta, R.K. Mani, Premchand and Kishorchand,

Not satisfied with the simple realistic way of presenting stories, many writers searched for new techniques of expressing their ideas and experimented with different styles of writing. With the help of allegory, dream, fantasy, symbolic representation of characters, folk elements and intellectual way of looking at the objects and happenings all around, many writers tried to give life to their short stories.

Yumlembam Ibomcha penned short stories in poetic form based on abstract ideas, without story line. In Eshing (Water) he experimented with the non-reality or symbolism of characters.

Another dimension of Manipuri short stories is comedy. Parody has kept its place marked in Manipuri short stories. Elangbam Dinamani looks at the lighter side of things and mockingly describes the social system while the readers are skilfully kept amused.

The wish of protecting their ethnic identity led to the search for the origin of the problems of exploitation, which they feel the society is facing. Such thinking is reflected in the short stories of Lanchenba Meitei, Birendrajit Naorem, Memchoubi, Athokpam Kholchandra, M. Nabakishore and many others.

The laments of the neglected and forgotten people inhabiting in the far-flung corners are heard in the writings of Keisham Priyokumar. In Khongup Boot (Heavy Boot) Keisham Priyokumar relates the turbulent life of a person, an ex-militant, who has come out in open after laying down arms to lead a normal and peaceful life. Sudhir Naoroibam, portrays the anguish of the poor and downtrodden in his short stories.

The voice against the discrimination of women in the society is very loud in the short stories of Kshtrimayum Subadani, Haobam Satyabati, Memchoubi, Bimabati Thiyam-ongbi, Binapani, Sunita and Yengkhom Indira.

Nee Devi writes stories highlighting human relations with haunting poignancy. In Ashibagi Macha Ashiba (Dead Child of the Dead) she relates the story of a woman who goes insane because of the wilful neglect by her husband whom she loves very much.

Short story has become a movement of some sort. Manipuri writers outside Manipur also bring out anthologies of short stories one after another. Among them mention may be made of A.K. Seram and Khoirom Indrajit of Bangladesh, Sanasam Vinod and N. Dhananjoy of Cachar, L. Birmangol (aka Ibomcha) of Agartala, L. Surti Kumar of Hojai and Subram of Silchar.

In Nongoubi (The Greater Coucal or Crow Pheasant; Centropus sinensis), A.K. Seram shows the haunting love of a mother for her son, not her own biological son.

In Pinda Dan, a satirical story, L. Birmangol, shows the changes that time has brought in beliefs and customary practices.

Writers try to fulfil their inherent inner urge to communicate with readers what they see, think, perceive and feel about the happenings around them. They cannot escape from the subconscious impressions made in their minds by the milieu in which they live.

Modern Manipuri Fiction is almost a century old. During the span of one hundred years, Manipuri fictions have assumed many styles and manifested in many forms.

The fictions of the pre-war period are based on romantic themes. The plots are simple. Descriptions are elaborate. The writings of that period are strongly influenced by Bengali Literature.

The post war fictions are marked with religious ideals and the challenges to the traditional moral values. The themes and story lines have changed. The forgotten and neglected people have emerged as the main characters. .

In the later stage, after the sixties, abstract ideas and symbolic characters have entered the scene. The wave of Modernism, which spread from the West has made its presence felt in Manipuri Fiction.

In the last decade of the twentieth century AD, more emphasis is given to ethnic and cultural identity, political views and observations.

In the first two decades of the twenty-first century AD, fictions have become more experimental. Writers try to venture into new territories and new style of narration. Manipuri Fiction has been able to establish a distinct identity of its own.

If the number of books published serves as any indication then poetry is the favourite form of literary expression in Manipuri. In the early part of the twentieth century Dr. Kamal, Hijam Angahal, Khwairakpam Chaoba, Arambam Dorendro and Ashangbam Meenaketan wrote romantic poems drawing heavily from folk songs. Hijam Angahal wrote an epic poem of thirty-eight thousand lines — narrative poem relating the story of legendary lovers Khamba and Thoibi.

Hijam Irabot, the socialist poet, broke the trend of romantic poetry with his use of revolutionary language and subject. Laishram Somorendra a humorist added another dimension to Manipuri poetry with his penetrating vision of the society and his use of colloquial language and biting satire. E. Nilakanta, ShriBiren, R.K. Madhubir, Sagolsem Lanchenba Meetei and Birendrajit Naorem are some of the popular poets.

Thangjam Ibopishak, Yumlembam Ibomcha and R.K. Bhubonsana wrote brilliant poems bordering on satire. Bullets turn into delicious fruits in Yumlembam Ibomcha’s ‘Story of a Dream’. In Thangjam Ibopishak’s ‘I want to be killed by an Indian bullet’ he miraculously escapes death from the hands of terrorists when he tells them of his last wish at their bidding. R.K. Bhubonsana elucidates the topsy-turvy ways of the present day society in his poem ‘Should Light be Put Out or Mind Kept in Dark’.

Among the woman poets Arambam Memchoubi, Moirangthem Borkanya and Sorokhaibam Gambhini are worth mentioning.

Sarathchand Thiyam, Raghu Leisangthem, Shahid Chaudhury, Ilabanta, Biswanath, Kalenjao, Naorem Bidyasagar and Doneshwar Konsam have also made their voices heard in the crowd of poets.


Manipuri literature provides valuable insights into the lives of the people and prevailing conditions in Manipur for analysing Manipuri society at large.




1. Dun, E.W. Gazetteer of Manipur (first published in 1886 by the Superintendent Government Printing, Calcutta under the orders of the Quarter-Master General in India).


2. Hodson, T.C. The Meitheis (first published in 1908 under the orders of the Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam; David Nutt, London).


3. K.C. Tensuba. Genesis of Indian Tribes: An approach to the History of Meities and Thais (first published in India by M.C. Mittal, Inter-India Publications, New Delhi in 1993)


4. Nilabir, Sairem. Lainingthou Sanamahi Amasung Sanamahi Lathing Hingat Eehau. Published by the author, Imphal, 2002.


5. Parratt, Saroj Nalini. The Religion of Manipur. Firma KLM (Pvt) Ltd, Calcutta, 1980.
6. Parratt, Saroj Nalini. The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur; the CheitharonKumpaba. Routledge, Oxon, simultaneously published in the USA and Canada, 2005.


7. Parratt, Saroj N Arambam and Parratt, John. Collected Papers on the History and Culture of Manipur. Patriotic Writers’ Forum, Manipur, 2010


8. Pradip Phanjoubam.  ‘The face of another nationalism’ /The Indian Express, Sunday edition, February 28, 2016


9. R.K. Danisana. Manipuri Dances (A Panorama of Indian Culture). Rajesh Publications, New Delhi 2012


10. Roy, Jyotirmoy. History of Manipur (Second revised and enlarged edition). Firma KLM (Pvt) Ltd, Calcutta, 1999


11. Singh, Ch. Manihar. A history of Manipuri Literature (Revised second Edition, 2003). Sahitya Akademi, New delhi


12. Singh, E. Nilakanta. Fragments of Manipuri Culture. Omsons Publications, New Delhi, 1993


13. Singh, Konsam Manikchand. Sanamahi Laihui. Published by Shrimati Konsam OngbeeJ amini Devi, Imphal, 2005.


14. Singh, M. Kirti. Religion and Culture of Manipur. Manas Publications, Delhi, 1988


15. Singh, R.K. Jalajit. A History of Manipuri Literature (Vol.1). Manipur University, Imphal, 2nd edition 1976.


16. Singh, Wahengbam Lukhoi Lai Haraoba. Manipur Pandit Loishang, Imphal, 2008.


17. Singh, Tayenjam Bijoykumar ‘Beyond the Spectrum: The Tradition of Lai Haraoba’ / Northeast India: The Insiders’ Definition. Marg, Volume 63 Number 4, June 2012


18. Singh, Tayenjam Bijoykumar ‘ Khomjong-nubi Nongkaron : the Pleiades ascending heaven’ /​ Where the sun rises when shadows fall : The North-East (edited by Geeti Sen). Oxford University Press, 2006


19. Singh, Tayenjam Bijoykumar  ‘Some Petite, Some Powerful: The Cascade of Manipuri Short Stories’ /Emerging Literatures from Northeast India: The Dynamics of Culture, Society and Identity (edited by Margaret Ch Zama). SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, 2013

Also Read