From the Volume: Confluence: Essays on Manipuri Literature and Culture
Compiled and Edited: by B.S. Rajkumar
(Reproduced with permission of the author)
The word renaissance originated from the French and Latin languages. It meant rebirth, to be reborn, to revive. But the word carries a wider meaning than what these connote. Most people understand it in the following ways -The revival of classical Greek and Latin literature, sculpture, arts and the subsequent spread of the same in 15th and 16th centuries all over Europe as well as the new significant awakening it brought in the arena of art and culture. It marks the important juncture in time when the Middle Ages carne to a close to usher in a new Europe. A new awakening could be seen everywhere in literature, arts, painting, architecture, science and religions. It ushered in a new aesthetical journey in the old classical literature. It was the beginning of a long journey that undertook to bring freedom in action and thinking, to define individual value to newly look at man at every sphere of his life in its entirety, a journey filled with eagerness to gain new ground in human life, in fact a journey with serious all-encompassing humanistic tendencies. So, in the words of John Addington Symonds renaissance is said to be “the rediscovery of world and men”. “Borrowing a biblical phrase an historian also described it as “discovery of a new heaven and new earth”. By virtue of its proximity to Greece and because of the Roman tradition Italy became the centre of the renaissance. From Italy it spread to France, England, (Germany, Portugal, Poland etc. and to the rest of Europe. Everything that closely resembles it in spirit and practice became to be called renaissance in the whole of Europe. So, we may interpret loosely as follow -“Any period similarly charactered by enthusiastic and vigorous activity along literary, artistic or other lines, strictly, such a period when distinguished by a revival ofil1terval in tl1e part or a return to old Masters for inspiration as the Irish Renaissance.” (Webster’s New International Dictionary).
We come across history many occasions where renaissance occurred. Western education arrived in India under British rule as the frequency of contact with them increased. Along with this many changes came about in fixing human values, new line of thinking, new perceptions in social, religious and artistic areas. When Manipur came under British rule in the beginning of the 20th century renaissance entered Manipur.
With the British colonisation of Manipur in 1891 till the year 1960 may be counted as the renaissance age in Manipur. Manipuri history saw ‘Native Rule’ for the first time which brought great changes to the land. After the ‘Sanad’ issued by the British, Manipur became a Kingdom within the sovereignty. There came a new awareness in almost every walk of life, individual or public, for instance in law and justice in development in education or in political matters, a new consciousness dawned in people’s mind in the beginning of the 20th century. The system of lalup, a kind of forced labour had been abolished since 1890 thereby bringing an end to this system of slavery and restoring self respect to the individual in society. It increased people’s free thinking and restored him his self dignity. As a result of the arduous trials faced by such political agents in Manipur as Gordon, Nuthal etc. the Johnstone School was established in 1885 and hence afterwards western education started making inroads inside Manipur. At the start of 20 century there were 17 primary schools, and one Middle English School. The Education Department was established in 1910. As a result western education promoted western civilization started nudging its way amidst the turgid water of the Manipuris giving new views and sprouting new thinking. The sense of orthodoxy, a vestige of the middle Ages, feeling of smugness a tradition inherited from generations in the past came under a changed vision. People now started seeing the world in a wide and inclusive manner.
The political consciousness that came to the people of this land by the 1920s became fully grown up when it reached 1930s. The people agreed to drop the word “Hindu” from the nomenclature “Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha” ” during its Chinga Session in 1933 and transformed the organisation into a bonafide political one. Under the leadership of Neta Irabat a strong political movement came up in Manipur. They started demanding democratic rule in the Kingdom and along with it the demand for a unicameral legislative picked tempo. This kind of demand is to be counted for as an understanding of people’s right at a very early stage in the Indian context. By 1910 there was the printing press in Manipur. In its wake a flood of publications became available in the market. We may make mention of such titles as Meitei Leima and Jagaran (published outside Manipur) Meitei Chanu (Ed.-Hijam Irabat), Yakairol, Deil1ik Manipur (Newspaper that wrote against the government, subsequently banned), Manipur Matam, Anouba Yug (Ed Irabat), Manipuri Sahitya Parishadki Patrika, Meitei Leima etc. that came out in the market and paved the way for Manipuri literature which earlier was the reserve for a few people under the patronage of the King of Manipur now became unshackled of the restrictions and was made open to the people. In 1924, Manipuri as a subject was recognised for Prabesika (Entrance Test) and in these years Manipuri language gained momentum as a vernacular. Likewise Manipuri dances as well as art and culture also developed into popularity. So, the early years of the 20th century is the modern period in Manipuri literature that is to say the awakening years. The period saw the appearances of such pioneer writers, poets and literateures as Chaoba, Kamal, Anganghal, Nabadwipchandra, Darendrajit. Irabat, Mayurdhwaja, Minaketan etc.. They could create a new Manipuri literature. Describing the time the well known critic Elangbam Nilakanta writers, “With the beginl1ing of the 20th century we saw a rewakening. It may be termed as the Manipuri renaissance in Literature. ” (Achaiba Lei). Then, we may say that there were ample reason to conclude the beginning decades of 20th century as the effervescent time of Manipuri renaissance. When we say that these pioneers of Manipuri literature ushered in the age of renaissance here we take into account their unfluctuating objective, clarity of goals while they were trying to lay the foundations of a new Manipuri literature.
Traditional literary output in general consists of a holistic presentation of the totality of the people’s thought, views and values as well as a complete acceptance of the old trend of thinking. Itdoes not believe in making protests. Thus people did not engage in writing from an individual perspective. What traditionalists wrote about astrology, religion, literature and philosophy etc. within the boundaries of these subjects to provide more information on them, excluding personal view points. Therefore literature in the past ages always remained a composite product of the group of people of which it is about. But the pioneering writers of modern times strove hard to give personal views by giving attention to the realm of human intellect. Thus we find in the modern poets a renewed keen interest resulting from the experience of his surrounding. It is with these new writers and poets that we come across new human problems, an expression of the inner truth of man that we had not seen, hear or experienced before. In their hands we corne across such works that proved to be beautiful views of literature, works that would be ever true and excellent. They started experimenting with new formats, designs, new literary forms, short stories, essays and novels during this time. They were responsible for creating a new Manipuri literature. Following are some of those pioneering works of these modern Manipuri writers whose publications brought in a new era of Manipuri literature-Chaoba (Wakhal, Plzidam, Thainagi Leiralng), Kamal (Lei Pm’eng, Madhabi) Hijam Irabat (Sheidan Sheireng), Chingakham Mayurdhwaja (Sheireng Anouba), Pukhrambam Parijat (Thougallon) Sorokhaibam Lalit (Areppa Marup, Sati Khongnang), Ashangbam Minaketan (Basanta Sheireng), Nabadwipchandra (Meghanad Tuba Kavya, Tonu Laijinglembi), Anganghal (Khamba Thoibi Sheireng; Thambal, Singel Indu, Jahera, Ibema, Yaithingkonu), Darendrajit (Khamba Thoibi play), Bhagyachandra, Kangsbadha), etc.
It is quite natural for the classical writers or famous writers to exert influence on other writers during the renaissance period. Renaissance in Bengal was also founded on western renaissance. The historical novels of Sir Walter Scott, Todd’s Annals afRajasthal1, the poems of Milton, Byron’s Childe Harold’ s Pilgrimage to name a few had influenced Bengali literature in that period (mainly it brought to them free thinking). As Manipuris proselyted into the Vaishnavism of Bengal and as they depended mainly on Bengali as the medium of instruction the foundation of Manipuri literature was also laid by Bengali literature. As the young generation of 1920s who had been brought up under the system of western education thought regarded imitating the English gentlemen, their manner and their way of dressing was the fashionable thing in those days the young Manipuri generation in the early 20th century thought it fashionable to imitate the Bengali Babus especially those who had been initiated into Bengali education. Thus we find in Kamal and Chaoba influence of the novels of Bankimchandra. ln Darendrajit’s play Bhagyachandra we find traces of the influence of Dwijendralal and Shakeshpeare. The poet Nabadwipchandra left us a translation of the immortal epic Meghanad Badha Kavya into Manipuri. Darendrajit was much influenced by Kalidasa and his Sakuntala when he wrote the Khamba Thoibi play, the essays of Kaliprasanna Ghosh laid the foundation of Chaoba’s essay. Thus in many instances of poetry and prose in expressions and idioms there were innumerable instances of the Bengali as well as English influences. Such sign of influence are but natural in literature, it should not be taken in a bad sense. And this should not be counted as outside the purview of good behaviour. Rather it is a kin to the act of fertilising a flower in bloom to fertilise it. The main result of the influences on Manipuri literature may be said to be -1) to bring out a desire in man to look for the higher aim of life, 2) to inspire man with love of his people and mother tongue and 3) to widen the horizon of their vision. Thus the pioneering Manipuri writers developed a new format of Manipuri literature under the thought and scope resulting from such influences.
These writers embarked on an aesthetic journey filled with excitement in heart as if they were getting acquainted for the first time their long neglected mother language and their own national culture that were their inheritance from their forefathers. This awakening song was a rueful melody, plaintive and disappointment filled. They were looking for a new identity. So, they started looking for a new identity. To see their motherland anew under this light of new awareness, they start singing poems for the mother volubly, heaping praises on her. So, awakening of patriotism, the yearning for freedom, the untrammelled shout expressing the new found awareness-all of these constituted this renaissance movement in the context of Manipur also. The powerful imaginative output emanating from the talent of these writers, the majesty of language and the stature of their expressiveness then made this literature a rich vehicle of thought that could yield exalted thought and feelings. Thus it came about that Manipuri literature could find a stable medium of intellectual heritage during this period.
Patriotism, love of the mother tongue and love of nation are the most significant aspects of Manipuri ‘literature that the pioneering writers left for us to follow. Khwairakpan Chaoba (1896-1950) was a poet who sincerely loved his language. It was his life’s mission to work for Meiteilol1 (Manipuri language) and for the development of Meitei Sahitya (Manipuri literature.) His writing disclosed for us many precious gems belonging to the past. As one of the earliest Manipuri critics he reasoned out that Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng should be considered as an epic. In the historical romance Labanga Lata not only did he show us the beautiful ancient culture of Manipur but also exalted the character of Meitei women. He dedicated sincerely to convert into Manipuri language the songs of raas, soiyon and khubak eshei forms of Manipuri dance and religious songs that were sung in Brajabuli. His endeavour helped to wake up his own generation of Meiteis who had been slumbering under the effect of Bengali language and culture. He edited such journals as Mingnaidabi and Jyoti besides founding a popular cub called Meitei Samaj. He wrote many text books for young students that proved to be the buds of Manipuri language and literature that flowered in the near future. His principal contribution remain the creation of a new tradition of Manipuri poetry as well as that of essay writing in the language. His works for the development of the Manipuri language will always make him an immortal Manipuri poet and pioneering writer.
Dr. Kamal’s (1900-1934) writings are somewhat different from the writing of other poets of that age. Though he possessed a sincere love for Manipuri language and people we find the sense of humanism predominant in him. Self sacrifice and universal love are two concepts in Manipuri literature that evolved from his devotion to humanism. He left us an infinite world free from parochial views. He also gifted us a poetic prose quite lilting as well as mellifluous. He was the first Manipuri novelist who wrote with surrender to nature describing the beautiful innuendos of nature. His Meitei Chanu is a beautiful poem that sung of Meitei literature’s awakening.
Anganghal (1892-1943) created an indigenous literature without taking much benefit from outside influences. Like Virgil who presented the beauty of ancient Romans and like Sir Walter Scott who reconstructed the ancient name of Scotland for the English speaking people, our poet Hijam Anganghal Singh also sang of the beautiful chivalric past of Manipur in his Khamba Thoibi Sheireng and Singen Indu. We find Anganghal’s individual stamp on the wide ranging episodes, narrative style and the manifold usages of idioms. He specialises in presenting the old ways of life of the Manipuri people, their ethos and values-all these are quite rare presentations. The poet who spent his life wearing khadi clothes not only wrote such social plays as Ibemma and Poktabi for which he did not have to go to Bengali literature. With these plays he could lay the foundation of Manipuri social drama. He also left Thambal, an essay that shows the deeper and higher side of life contrasting with down to earth expressions, Jahera again is another extraordinary novel that Anganghal left us fabricating on Hindu Muslim relationship in the love between two young people.
Darendrajit (1907-1944) was an idealist. His poem Ireipak shows his extreme feelings of patriotism. The poet who was influenced on a conscious level by Sanskrit, BangIa and English writings wrote three important works –Moirang Thoibi, Bhagyachandra and Kangsabadha (epic). He also experimented linguistically by making compounds from Sanskrit and Manipuri words. Nabadwipchandra (1897-1946) was another such poet who dedicated himself to the welfare work of society. He contributed a great deal by translating Michael’s Meghanad Vadh Kavyn into Manipuri. On the other hand he was an industrial entrepreneur in a way. He started a manual printing press at home to print his own books. He wrote, Come forward Mother Meetei tongue/Be no longer fire in the ash/This dark song of children/Shine on it like a lamp – it certainly expressed sentiment of his deep feeling for his mother tongue.
Besides the poets and writers mentioned above, some others are there. Their writings, thought and literary contribution are no less different from these. We may now take into account the main subject, ideas, views as well as a composite understanding of their literature produced during that period. It consisted of the following -1) They tended to form a much idealistic view of things in society and life, 2) They tried to evaluate man under the Vaishnavite system of values, 3) Thy also wanted to work on the mold Manipuri life and social aspects, 4) Depiction of high romantic idealism, 5) Expression of extreme patriotic feelings, 6) Focus on history and legends, 7) Interest on translation, 8) New experimentation with linguistic possibilities and 9) Interest in new forms of literary genre.
Did these pioneering poets and writers question the system with courage, did they protest against the rulers feeling revolt against the colonial rule against partiality in rule over its dependent subjects of the land? Did they throw any challenge against the government and social system? The answer will be -no, they did not. There were no open revolutions and public protests against the administrations. What Michael Madhusudan did in BangIa literature has no equivalent revolutionary writing in Manipuri literature. Michael was in truth -“the genius ofthe poet was rebellious rather than strenuous”. What Bankim Chandra did in BangIa literature where he composed Vande Mataram and became a deshbhakta, in truth, became “a seer and a nationbuilder” it has no equivalence in Manipuri literature.
There was no Neel Dharpan like books of Shri Dinabandhu Mitra that described the atrocities under British rule in India. And there was no Chandrasekhar of Bankim that satirised the Bengali generation who aped the British life and in deed and also no book like Sektal of Rajnarayan Babu in Manipuri literature of those days. The reason is not far to look because the social set up of Bengali society was so much different to that of the Manipuri society of those days. In Bengal it resulted as a result of three movements such as. 1) Religious movement, 2) Social Reformation movement and 3) Literary movement. Moreover there was strong political awareness among the people of Bengal in that era. There was dissolution of feudalistic values, and the middle class in society came out to create new genres of literature in Bengal in those days. There was strong movement of the Brahmo Samaj associated with Raja Rammohun Roy. Though there were protests against the system of excommunication, revenues, in general, discontent it has not been taken up by the people of Manipur in a systematic manner.
There are certain reasons regarding why protest was not there in this literature. Vaisnava religion that had been already two centuries with the people of the land had already enjoyed ample time to amalgamate with its life style to become a way of life for most of the Manipuris. Another salient aspect of Indian culture is its ability to cohere into a whole. Such deep rooted peculiar aspect of Vaishanvism remained quite unchanged. Besides, the extremely religious King tried everything he could to make this religion prosper. So, the way of life that they had shaped in accordance with their belief, as it were, the value system did not sustain any harm and they found nothing to protest about. Moreover they had the means to create newer set of values under the ongoing process. What is more there could be no movement for change among the common people since the people in authority, the educated people w ho belonged to the creamy layer did not make any protest. Though there was a middle class in the society after getting western education as well as other changes have been effected in the administration, since there was no tension in the feudal economy they could not effect a separate value in their own way. Therefore the middle class writers did not produce in their writings any
dissonant note that may be adverse to the system, hence the lack of protest in their writings. The only exception was the social reformation activities of Irabat who combined it with nationalistic ideas. It did not exert any recognisable impact in the literature of the renaissance in the whole. No writer of that period used their pens against the royal nurtured, supported and established religion as it did not throw any challenge to the continuing tradition of the people. In Manipur, therefore, the principal movement of renaissance could be seen in literature and culture. They brought in new ideas, new perspectives to create the new literature in Manipur characterised by their love of the mother tongue, their old life and culture.
The writer is a noted columnist and critic of Manipuri literature