Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Dept of Environment and Climate Change
Artist's depiction of an episode from Khamba and Thoibi epic tale

The Philosophy in “Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng”: An Amalgamation of Meitei & Hindu Thoughts – Part 1

The present available printed work of Mahakavi (the Great Poet) Anganghal’s, Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng will give us more pleasure in studying it as a highly imaginative literary work. But, at the same time we may also look into this work to find out the inherent philosophy separately. Because as the epic had been a product of different generations in the past created by many folk singers and poets, it shows this nation’s i.e. the Meitei nation’s will, likes and dislikes, customs and traditions, nature of worshipping gods and goddesses, ways of justice, heroic tradition, romance, human relationships, amusements and sports, political systems, aesthetics, sociology and ethical values clearly.

Many currents had already become intermingled in this epic. We find the streams of the old Meitei beliefs comingle with the new Hindu belief that reached this place at a later stage. By opening the pages of the past containing this kind of intertwining we may search for a philosophy of the Manipuri i.e. Meitei nation. Along with it, we can clearly see, the growth of old Meitei thought that had remained hidden inside a little story. This epic had captured the will and heart of the Manipuri people and had adversely shaped up epic values thereby enjoining us to accept the ethical values and moral teachings with warmth as the h’uth. In this regard Lascilles Abercrombie’s words are quite apt to quote. He had written ‘an epic represents the basic values of a particular age.’ It is particularly true with reference to Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng.

 The present line of story in Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng epic was narrated to the poet by the Pena singer Oja Chungkham Manikchand and written by the poet during a span of about one and half years during the Second World War. The story starts from the episode of ‘Tending the Bull’ and ends in ‘The Marriage of Khamba and Thoibi.’ The story of Khamba-Thoibi before Anganghal wrote it down had been started to be sung as a Pena song since the time of King Chandrakirti (1834-1886). Moirang Kangleiron or the songs of Moirang Kingdom was first sung during King Chandrakirti’s journey outside Manipur to the Zilla Durbar or Meeting the British Viceroy to India on the Barak river. At this time those pena singers of Manipur might have composed the story of Khamba-Thoibi into its present form with many additions. Scholars are there who think of the episodes of ‘Catching the Bull’ and ‘Khamba Meets Thoibi at Kabow’ to have been introduced into the main story during the time of King Chandrakirti. The story became widespread when Kangleiron or the description of Kanglei was introduced to the general public in the form of pena singing. In this context a question arises-Could it be possible that there was no story or legend of Khamba and Thoibi prior to the times of King Chandrakirti? Is this story which is said to be a creation of the Pena singers non-existent earlier and is thus a newly fabricated story? The answer will be the following – the legend of Khamba and Thoibi had been which was in the form of a little story came down through the ages through story tellers or singers. From early times Meitei scholars, men of learning, and poets had been closely connected with Meitei writings, history and culture. This connection is between the old tradition and the new one. So, based on this old tradition singers and poets of the later day period helped to expand the story with new additions. Perhaps the story could be not so elaborate during the early times. But, the skeleton had existed definitely from which it grew up.

Though old works such as Moirang Kangleiron, Cheitharol Kumbaba, Ningthourol Lambuba, Khumanlon, Shagei Salairol, Loikumba Lammitlon had not mentioned the story of Khamba and Thoibi in a well organised and systematic continuity, instances have been found where incidents, persons, topology etc. connected with this story had been noted. For instance, in the work Moirang Kangleiron Thoibi had been referred to as the daughter of Chinkhu Yaima Telheiba. The work takes cognizance of her sublime beauty. Then, when they made a description of places and events that had taken at those places, the death of Nongban (Kongyanba) as a prey to a ferocious tiger has been mentioned. The book also mentions such historical personages as Chaoba and Thonglen. In the manuscript Moirang Kangleiron which is in the custody of Pundit Ngariyanbam Kulachandra the episode ‘Floral Offering’ as well as the dance of Khamba and Thoibi at the Courtyard of Lord Thangjing are found mentioned. It would have been an easy matter to create the episode of ‘Hunting the Tiger’ for those talented pena singers who possessed great imaginative power. In this manner the sub stories and episodes mentioned in this epic by Anganghal such as ‘Tending the Bull’, ‘The Match of Kang’, ‘Fishing’, ‘Foot-polo’, ‘Flower Gathering’, ‘Floral Offering’, ‘The Dance’, ‘The Race’, ‘Capturing A Wild Bull’, ‘Shooting the Arrow’, ‘The Hunt at Torbung’, ‘Into Exile’, ‘Capturing the Tiger’, are already found scattered here and there in ancient manuscripts of the Meeteis and Moirangs, in their history, mythology and folk literature. Besides these, things which are described in this epic such as forms of worship and prayers, folk beliefs, lores, male and female shamans, festivities of deities, the teswa plant (a kind of bamboo), Lord Thangjing, tantricism and relationship with neighbouring principalities have been already found included in the long tradition of the Meetei people. We find in the cultural tradition of Moirang a high regard, an almost awe filled regard of the teswa bamboo plant. Instances were there of the ritual of cleaning the teswa bamboo grove of its old foliages and of praying in such a grove by childless parents. All these had been amalgamated with the story of Khamba and Thoibi’s lives. If there were freshly created strands in this story, the fibres had been already found in the history and cultural tradition of the Meeteis.

The story of Khamba-Thoibi given in this happened to have been written during the time of King Churachand when the tradition of Hindu religious practices had already taken firm roots since the time of King Chandrakirti shows a strong manifestation of Hindu religious tendencies, way of looking at things, related vocabulary, terms etc. in abundance. The poet Anganghal being himself a devoted Manipuri Vaishnav shows a strong tendency of humility and devotion in the course of the composition of this epic. He regards Khamba as the incarnation of Lord Shri Krishna who had come down on this earth from his heavenly abode in Golokdham. So he surrenders himself to the feet of Khamba Mahaprabhu. The story to him is supposed to be the enactment of the same by Lord Vishnu on the earth. And he regards Khamba and Thoibi as the incarnation of Shiva and Parvati. His main objective is to show the victory of virtue. He brings in fate and the consequences of one’s actions. The poet refers to many gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. His description and vocabulary are filled with many words commonly found in Hindu religion. Examples are aplenty, such as – ‘prayer to Vishnu, to take the name of Hari, blessings of Vishnu, devotion, Vaishnav, meditation, invitation (ninumtran), to put the sacred mark on the forehead, forms of marriage, flute (banshi), nose-ring (nathani) , gong, cymbals, monetary present (dakshina), bor yatra (setting out of the bridegroom), Hari-Gouri in Kailash, Mahaveer Arjun, the fight between Rama and Ravana, gods scattering down flowerlets from Paradise, beheading Ravana, Vishwapita, the play of nature, fasting of Yogis, soul (pran), incantations (mantra), living being (jeeva) , Kshetriya by caste, blessings of Hari, Vaikuntha, victory or defeat, sin and virtuous, to sin, to bestow blessings, the bird Chakravak, woman of virtue (sati), royal punishment, to put in trial (bichar) , buffoon (murkha), man of low caste (chandal), compensation (pratikar), the god called lndra, Yama (the god of Death), duhon (water provider) etc, etc.

The poet had made efforts to present an inclusive whole of the Manipuris’ firm faith in Hinduism in the periods between King Chandrakirti and King Churachand. It was a time when old Meetei gods and goddesses were given equivalent names of Hindu gods and goddesses such as Nongpok Ningthou and Panthoibi became the equivalents of Shiva and Durga, Thangjing became the equivalent of Vishnu – such thoughts had taken a strong hold in their heads and as a result Khamba and Thoibi were regarded as the incarnation of Nongpok Ningthou and Panthoibi which has been mentioned frequently in this epic. It also turns the story as the wilful creation of Thangjing’s wish. At another point, Panthoibi is declared to be equivalent of Durga, the goddess of battles. It becomes apparent from these descriptions that the whole concept is the result of pre-existing elements to which later creations had been added or mixed together.

As Mahabharata has been regarded the ideal epic of the Indian nation and its tradition has been widely prevalent since the 18th century in Manipur, when the story of Khamba-Thoibi was composed such elements from the Hinduistic tradition as conducive to the contemporary mind set were incorporated into it. The main aim of Indian epics–Purushartha meaning dharma, artha, kama and moksha though philosophic in nature were drawn into the fabric of the Khamba-Thoibi story’s main structure. Along with this incursion, we find other philosophical exposition such as leelavad, avataarvad, karmaphal, thoughts on the Sati, rebirth, virtue and sin as dictated by religion are found claiming their riches in this epic. The Manipuri poet and first literary critic Kh. Chaoba had extolled the story of Khamba-Thoibi for the first time as a work which is in no way inferior to the Mahabharata. He wrote – Thus in the wilderness of Khoirentak there took place the Mahabarata between Khamba and Nongban. Thus the battle of virtue was exhibited on the Khoirentak plains as it had taken place in the Kurukshetra plains in Mahabharata. The high ideals of both are being shown here at Khoirentak as it had been already equally shown in the field of Kurukshetra. Where there is virtue there lies victory.”

 We had already seen that Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng had already been coloured with an extra covering of deep Hindu philosophy. What we are going to look into at present is to seek out the old Meetei thought, the high morals and social values. Certainly the work contains visceral folk traditions, high ideals and precious values that had already been inseparable from the flesh and blood of Meeteis. For this reason the epic undoubtedly is able to claim the heart of the Meetei people. Thus it has proven an epic much closer to Meetei ethos. In the following passages some such high idealistic thoughts of the Meeteis, their moralistic idealism as well as common beliefs are taken up for closer study.

The characters in this epic are said to be the incarnations of gods and goddesses. Anganghal says – 

Of this Khamba born of late into the land of Moirang

In the old books written ’tis not a simple Moirang he is.

An incarnation of the God Shiva on earth he is.

His counterpart on one hand Kege Nongban Kongyanba

He too not a Moirang but a god taking birth is.

Thoibi’s incarnation that of Durga goddess is.

They were not mortal beings but all divine.

Lord Thangjing had planned all these.

The rest of the Gods were spectators.

As the most worthy of audience enact these parts

It was the play of Khamba and Thoibi the most significant of the powers.

Divine beings the players were also the audience all divine beings. (The Race, p. 267 3rd 2005)

And in different places Thoibi is mentioned to be the incarnation of the goddess Panthoibi. Khamba is mentioned to be the incarnation of Nongpok Ningthou. Besides them he describes Thonglen Athouba, Senu and non-human beings like Kao, the Tiger etc. to be the incarnation of divine beings.

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