Imphal Review of Arts and Politics


Meitei Revivalism and the Friction This Has Caused in Recent Time May be a Result of an Inability to Fathom the Depth of the Idea of Spiritualism

Knowledge is a continually expanding process and compassion brings one human nearer to the other. In Manipur there are two main religions among the Meiteis in the valley area, the Sanamahi religion and the Hindu religion, both of which thankfully have been gracefully synthesised in the centuries that have gone by so that someone can follow traits of both without any sense of discord. Hence a Meitei Hindu family would also have a Sanamahi, or Leiningthou (Lord of Gods) deity in the house and prayed to with faith and reverence. But now there is a third trend called the Meitei revivalists who do not go along with either. Misunderstandings in fathoming the nature of religion is the cause of a new unnecessary friction within the larger community, because of this dissentious factor, that has gone to the point of causing a lot of consequent spiritual harm. In the resulting confusion, most people in Manipur valley have an isolated worldview of what we come to see broadly in present times, resulting in an ambiguous view of society and religion. This fact is true, as much as it would be relevant to us, in discussing this subject matter.

Let’s mention here, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada who founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Srila Prabhupada elaborated in the Srimad Bhagavatam how Lord Shiva’s consort Parvati is “the daughter of the king of the very, very old mountainous country known as the Manipura state.” Now this is what the Indian scriptures say. Scriptural history’s too vast to explain, and this relevant quote is a reference, even in today’s circumstances. Especially in Manipur, Pandit N Khelchandra gave recognition to the Meitei script in relation to Sanskrit, the oldest text available in India.

Pandit N Khelchandra was right. Regardless of how many letters the Meitei script has, cultural affinity to the alphabet is of more importance. We know only so much about ourselves at the moment. We are only human, and can’t expect to be more than that. The Meitei language Puya-Puranas (local scriptures) are a related subject matter for whoever wants to study it, and will be important only if we attach ourselves to the evolving moments of living history, in a given point of time, without trying to grab the lion’s share for meeting selfish ends of a particular religion or community – the Meitei revivalist community in this case.

Whereas, the Meitei revivalist did not align themselves and remained unrelated to the Hindu scriptures, and hence in turn related with something else apart from Sanskrit or Hindu, whatever that was, and since revivalist Meitei remained undefined in its relation to the Hindus, they are not part of a composite Hindu life. This means they are their own self-appointed people without owing much to any relation with others, but at the same time borrowing heavily from the very Hindu religious texts, as their texts named Puya-Purana denotes, Purana being entirely an Indian scriptural text. So their identity is not aesthetically defined in their religious practice, ethos, or social structure, since their texts are borrowed from the Hindus and they do not accept that it is so. They may find, in a rush of blood, their affinity, for instance with China, which has been quite popular here, due to seeming physical affinity with the people there, but the point is they have no link, culturally, by language, philosophically, artistically or liberally with the Chinese.

The Meitei subjective affinity is, in fact, to the Indian culture because of, as we have explained earlier, having borrowed almost in entirety from India, dating back to religious life as far back as the scriptures relevant to Lord Shiva and Parvati, which is almost as good as timeless. That instance is one juncture in scriptures. The other reference is Arjuna-Chitrangada 5000 years back, which event’s relevance is reduced to 2000 years back from now in another deliberation by the Meitei revivalist, which has clipped the crux of the history of Manipur, according to their personal interpretation of their religion, and excludes the Hindu scripture entirely. It only conveys a false sense of warmth in the community because the basis for a calm society, viz. liberal art, philosophy or culture is not present, or is not truthful in intent and neither is it portrayed clearly. This I say because while the connection with Indian scriptures is obvious, from the Meitei’s religious texts itself, the revivalists have contrived to not acknowledge this fact.

If the Meitei revivalist believe in China, than India, that is fine, but how much do these revivalist know about China, if at all they are to influence the community here? The answer is – next to nothing. While believing all the while that they have ‘found’ their religious and cultural roots, in this affinity with the Chinese, they have been believing in a diametrically opposite view of normal religion – heat where there should have been the calm of religion, in the process creating a kind of global warming due to this, as Meiteis wittingly or unwittingly have played a role, like during the World Wars in earlier times. It’s like environment science, and can be entirely predicted, by how Meitei revivalist put too much confidence in their undefined religion, causing heated moments all along the history of Manipur’s environmental biosphere that affects climate, literally, and the climate of peace, figuratively.

Where does this sense of belongingness to China, and not to India, extend till? The greatest shortcoming and factor is language. In a hypothetical situation, how can you merge with a Chinese mind without a common language of communication? The Meitei revivalists have reasoned time and again that their bonds within the Meitei community in Manipur were affected, as their Meitei script was not in use all this while. So using the same reasoning, how can there be a bonding of the revivalist Meiteis with the Chinese, without a common language communicating feelings. This is what they lack. So the argument about these affinities between the Meitei and places like China, doesn’t hold much ground. Where there’s no knowledge exchanged through a language, there can be no bond.

For instance, take another hypothetical situation. What if there was no knowledge in Manipur’s schools and colleges. How would jobs come; people are earning so much here in jobs, but how would that be possible, if they didn’t have knowledge. Is there parity without knowledge? And the basis for that knowledge is language, and language derives from the scriptures, whichever religion it might be. But that scriptural authority is missing now in Manipur’s Meitei, as they have already forfeited that right in an earlier age. They are already born spiritually to Chitrangada’s son, who was installed king, as the Meitei king, whose daughter Chitrangada is, didn’t have any son. So at this moment in time, that seat cannot be usurped by proxy by any revivalist Meitei, or anyone else also.

The other question here, about physical birth, is not so desirable to ask, as we don’t know much about the parental demography of the land, after instances like the seven years continued occupation of Manipur by the Burmese. It could be even that the most vocal of the revivalists, may not be of the Meitei stock. How can you prove it? Is there any exclusive DNA for the Meitei to help confirm their ancestry? The only way to decipher is, if one stays quietly in the family. Then you can be sure. But once you divide the family, by your own rules, going so far as to pronounce self-made scriptures, you’ll stand nowhere – and as a result, cause problems for everybody else.

And anyway that age of kingship is already over. We live in a different time now when democracy is thriving and even the former Russian empire vows by democracy today. The point is, small pockets of self-professed godless states may remain, like China for instance, but that really doesn’t matter in the larger context. Neither does the Meitei revivalist’s contorted belief in their own religion, whatever those beliefs might be, matter to anyone else. Same as they are anathema to Hinduism. No one’s with them in propagating their religion here in Manipur, where there’s lots of other nuisance also going on, this being the chief of them. And as long as it harms others’ lives and interests, they are solely responsible for what they bring upon themselves. The point is if they are different, stay different, no one’s stopping them, but they cannot disrupt other people’s work and lives if other people are having their own religious leanings.

Coming back to Srila Prabhupada, he has given enough hint how Manipur does actually have roots and belongs somewhere. So, though Meitei revivalists may blame Hindus for whatever misgivings they are trying to prove in all its peculiarity, the fact remains that, how can’t you be amiable with a Hindu scripture that has told you so much about yourselves in a few sentences, whenever the need arises? Without affinity there can be no community. A person needs a comparison with others to know where he or she stands. Meitei utopia is not a matter of floating in free space. You can’t always remain day dreaming in utopia, in fits of imagination that you have already achieved or are in the process of achieving a utopic state, although nothing is actually changed your way.

We need evidence that the Meitei revivalist day dream, whatever that signifies, is at the same time not harming other people’s aspirations in the Indian context. By its definition utopia is a working principle, not something to be always thought about, and never achieved, and more especially it doesn’t harm anyone by what it thinks and does. So in a nutshell, religion should not try to challenge the government, in which case it will only be a religion of non-believers. India is a secular democracy with freedom to practice a religion, and if a religion in India doesn’t belong under its constitution, it doesn’t belong anywhere.

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