Contd from previous issue
In the course of this epic, the poet ascribes singularly divine quality to Senu. After Thoibi returns from Kabow, Senu comes to Thoibi’s place bringing an inordinately huge number of valuable thjngs. All the people who saw Senu carrying those items were wonder struck – “A divine daughter dame Senu is” (p. 377). In this epic the ancestry of Kao is given in pp’s 197-108. Kao is shown as the rebirth of a divine being. Shri Heisnam Mangoljao Singh in his book Khamba Thoibi Punshi Wari, Vol. II, 1981 writes about the Kao in this manner-The Kao was a birth of Pakhangba. Guru took birth as a bull and Leimaren as a cow. There were three brothers and sisters. To complete the Moirang drama Leimaren took birth as Langnubi. She went to stay at Moirang. Pakhangba became a calf. Puremba caught him in Moirang. He became a bull for dowry. About the Tiger, it is mentioned in the Canto “Khamba-Nongban Come Down To Catch The Tiger” it is written – Five hands in height six hands in length .… The body reddish coloured, the shoulder ridged coppery, it connotes a royal ancestry. Bushy tailed he is, indicates he belongs to the Luwang blood. The four feet spotted white as behoves a Mangang. The belly also is spotted white, indicates Angom blood. The white spot on the forehead is the sign of Khuman blood.
That the cow is a divine incarnate has been already mentioned in old IiteratuTe and prayers of the Meeteis. What remains inseparable from the idea of divine incarnation is the strong belief in one creator of the World who is above all and who remains invisible. The belief is reiterated in such books as Leithak Leikharol, Pudil, Langlon, Khunug Lichat Sajat etc. That Thangjing is the incarnation of Sorarel is mentioned in Moirang Ningthourol Lambuba as follows: 0 Mighty God, descending from the heavenly heights, following the path atop the Thangjing Mountain you came to stay at the place called Ngangkha Village in the kingdom of Moirang. Thus, deities incarnated into human beings to indulge in human drama is a strong belief in ancient Meetei mythology. For this reason the poet says at the end of the epic –
As the deities assemble – the gods Thangjing and all
Pleased they have becorne–“What I, Thangjing, did plan
Completed the drama is now” Thus did he declare
All the assembled had then applauded Thangjing.
The lives of Khamba-Thoibi then had become accomplished.(p. 1097. 3rd 2005)
The idea of incarnation as discussed above is very much closely linked to the idea of divine drama. In many places in the course of the epic Lord Thangjing’s hand, his creation and the execution of his will is shown to be the main reason behind the action or episode. It is openly mentioned in a certain context – Khuman’s support the Lord gives. Then in another context it is described – God’s creation it is/When God wills something does he need any charm/ any spell? Particularly the Gods rally in support of the virtuous Khamba and Thoibi, defend them in many occasions. In brief the drama as it is, remains in the hands of the gods, it depends upon their will.
In the Canto ‘At The Elephant’s Feet’ when the gods assembled to find a means to save Khamba from certain death, Panthoibi comes forward and offers her service to become a messenger who would break the news to Thoibi. As Thoibi threw her knife at Nongban, she saved him as well by letting the knife severe the earring of Nongban. Thangjing blocked Khamba’s pulse from exiting by breathing over his navel. Thangjing also makes many a character to speak as he likes by sitting on the lip of their tongues. During the Kang game in Kabow Panthoibi and Wangbren come to the aid of Thoibi and a fight between Thoibi and Changningkhombi was induced. The cloth that had been cut into two halves was made to join instantly with the help of Panthoibi. Not to break Khamba and Pheiroijamba’s slumber the gods put to sleep the people of Kabow till late in the morning. At the time of flower gathering the goddess Koirel Leima appeared as a tribal woman and pointed out the flower to be plucked. Lord Thangjing also induced five kinds of wind to rise. At the time of hiring dresses Lord Thangjing visited Khamnu’s dream to inform Puremba had kept the dresses with Thonglen for his son and daughter. When Khamba offered flowers Thangjing sent lightning. When Chingkhuba aimed and released his arrows at Khamba in the Canto ‘Ukai’, Thangjing saved Khamba’s life. Such instances abound in the epic.
Along with such episodes, there were instances of realistic dreams as well. This kind of intimation or divination are known to belong to folk belief. It is found in many folk literatures of various ancient nations. We find in other world literatures such instances of divine drama in which gods and goddesses take part. It doesn’t belong particularly to the Hindus or the Meeteis, it belongs to mankind in general. It is particularly found richly in old Manipuri literature and its tradition.
In this epic we find examples of reincarnation of lives in other forms of bodies. This example is found especially in the Canto ‘The Bull.’ Kao, the bull says in his last breath – I’ll go taking these three spirits to the meadow of Khoirentak, there I will remain transformed into a tiger, where I will take revenge for my son. The source of this discussion remains the theosophical belief that the soul is immortal. It is seen abundantly in Meetei tradition and its old literature.
In this connection Dr. M. Kirti’s words may be quoted –
it is the deep-rooted c011viction of the Meiteis to
hold that the soul survives the body and does
not perish along with the body ill the pre-
Vaishnavism as well as Vaishnavism times.
We find many references to the insight of soul and its nature in the old texts of the Meeteis. Some of the books are – Khangmoi Yamoi Sekning, Pakhangba Phambal, Pakhangba Langyensei, Ponbilang, Pombirol, Sakok Lamlen etc. The main thesis in these texts are that the soul is immortal and it integrates into the supersoul or the creator or God after death. Besides discussions are also found on the difference between Yaibi (soul) and Yaibiren (supersoul), the number of souls in the human body as well as the matter of salvation. In the text Klamlang Puwari Ahuiron it is clearly mentioned that the human soul merges into the supersoul after death. It is thus scribed in this puya in the following manner – Such gifted persons’ souls, after living in this world a life of plentiful, their souls after death reach as flowery scent to the place of the haloed presence ofthe supreme Lord. (S. Gourachandra Singh, Khamlang Puwari Ahuiron, 1977). Again in such old texts as Chothe Thangwai Pakhangba and Nongban Pombi Luwaoba it is written that when one’s life comes to an end the soul is called out by the God Thongaren.
Another relevant matter is the summoning of the human soul away from the body at the end of life. In this epic we find on two occasions Salang Maiba restituted the souls of Khamba and Nongban (in ‘The Elephant’s Feet’ and ‘Catching the Tiger’) and made them come back to life. In such old texts of the Meiteis as Mikouron and Sana Lamwok the act of recalling the soul is mentioned. It is believed that there are adepts in the art who could recall one’s soul after death. In this epic it is written that Salang Maiba, Puremba and Thonglen learnt the art from the same teacher.
Again there are few instances where transformation of soul takes place from a body to another. In the canto ‘Catching the Tiger’, Thonglen transforms himself into a tiger and starts jumping on his courtyard as a tiger would in order to teach Khamba the art of catching a tiger. In this manner we find many stories in Meitei folk-tales, mythologies and such stories of transformation as in the stories of ‘Sandrembi-Chaisra’, ‘Keibu Keioiba’ etc. It is a trait of Meitei folk belief. It is also found elsewhere as well.
This epic is filled with examples of beliefs in charms, in prophesies, and belief in the supernatural powers endowed in man. This line of belief is related with the tantric way of meditation and acquiring tantric powers. The epic shows that there is visionary power in the meditation of Thonglen. Thonglen meditated and tried to envision what was happening to Khamba and Nongban. He could clearly see that Nongban was already dead falling a prey to the ferocious tiger and the Khuman people were rejoicing. In the canto ‘The Bull’ Salang Maiba could also see through meditation, (Salang had closed his eyes. When Salang put the question, the answer came Your son is alright, the injured one is none but Nongban.). These people could put in the spirit to the dead bodies or again they could draw out lives from others. Thonglen knows the charms of catching tigers. In another canto ‘The Case of Khamba’s Visit to Kabow and His Trial’, Thonglen falls in a trance to envision whether anything befell on Khamba, but reported he could see none. When the boat on which they were sailing started to eat the weeds of the lake Khamnu said a charm on her knife and hit it on the boat’s head. The boat bled. She filled up the bleeding hole with a piece of cloth from her back. These show signs of ancient Meitei religious worship and culture was much influenced by the tantric cult. It is believed that ancient Meitei male and female shamans and spiritual leaders (eg. Khongnangthaba, Langol Lukhoi, Luwang Guru Punshiba etc.) possessed such powers.
The epic also shows that inanimate objects such as sharp weapons, spears, bows and arrows etc. possess extraordinary attributes. The weapons that were used by Thonglen and Puremba possessed such peculiar attributes. Chingkhuba’s bow and arrows were having special attributes. It also shows that such unseemly objects as the silken rope used in catching the bull, the spear used in catching the tiger are also extraordinary objects. This kind of thinking verges on animism. It is an old concept that every object possesses a soul of its own in the course of time. Ancient heroes worship their weapons with the belief that they could give omens. In the old tradition there are such objects as Khagemba’s Thang Khoubomba, the spear Khangsunaha etc. The sword and arrow in Tutenglon that were used by Taothingmang to finish Kakyel Mingamba are not ordinary weapons. Strong belief in the human body and its ability to perform extraordinary acts, and the belief in charms and invocations are found discussed in detail in books such as Khagemba Yumlep, Haklon, Ponbilang etc.
An ordeal is described in the dictionary of folklore in the following manner –
An appeal to the judgement of the gods, God on
the supernatural: a form of trial by pain, poison,
fire, water, combat, divination etc., after involving
the death of the suspect (on his accuser). Ordeal
tests the authenticity of the oath.
(Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, 1950)
The acts of catching the bull, catching the tiger, competition in weaving in Kabow between Thoibi and Changningkhombi all constitute divine justice and divine signs. In another canto when the King of Moirang could not judge between Khamba and Nongban he declares that they should undergo a divine trial-as a result both Khamba and Nongban had to go to the wilderness of Khoirentak to catch a man-eating tiger. If any of them gets wounded by the tiger that would amount to his own bad luck, but the person who comes out uninjured will get Thoibi as his reward. This is the divine justice. Again while Thoibi was in Kabow she was made to compete in weaving with the Kabow Princess Changningkhombi – You two must be judged by the gods. compete in ‘weaving clothes, the winner will be adjudged the victorious. When Thoibi was forced to go to Kabow she planted a bamboo plant and a banana plant side by side – the bamboo grew instantly. It was a divine sign. Again Khamba cut down a particular bamboo called teswa bamboo which has particular power to kill anybody who cut it down. As Khamba cut the bamboo to give to Thoibi to see a sign from God, nothing happened to him thereby showing that the Gods were affectionate to him.
Such cases of divining is already firm footedly found in ancient Meitei tradition and folk belief for instance people used diving from such acts as diving competition, boiling rice, to fix a flag on the ground to see whether it falls down quickly or not, to take oaths by touching the altar of god thereby making the god a witness, to swallow water in which gold or silver has been dipped, to let loose an elephant to choose someone to be the king such things are prevalent since time immemorial.
To be contd next week
The writer is a noted columnist and critic of Manipuri literature