Contd from previous issue
At the end of the epic an episode is mentioned in which Khamba and Nongban were made to face one another in duel. The reason was – when Thoibi returned from her exile to Kabow she first came to Khamba’s house having made her escape good from the hands of Nongban at Kumbi Tera Kha. In anger the Angom clan revolted thereby worsening the situation. A trial ensued in the royal palace. Consequently Khamba and Nongban had to face one another in duel to see the truth–
At the mound of duel the two had to face
Experts old of the royal court had measured
The distance, thereby had made two mounds.
Hand-picked spears Khamba-Nongban have picked up
They now mounted the duelling mounds people
stood to see their fight. (‘Kangla Trial’, p. 391)
Duelling is already an old institution of the Meiteis which is used to find out the culprit from the innocent. A duel is governed by well laid rules. The two fighters are supposed to enjoy a meal together before they fight. After the fight is over the winner may bury the head of the defeated person or give it to his relatives according to the wish of the vanquished. Such are given in the book called Chainarol edited by N. Khelchandra Singh and published in 1968 in modern Manipuri. He writes – In the past people Iiving in Manipur such as Meitei, Moirang, Khuman, Heirem Khunjam, Thangnga Kambong, Khende Chairen etc. had for the sake of the tribe and their land indulged in duelling when controversy arose that was hard to solve normally. (Introduction)
Following the tradition and popular belief Thonglen the great warrior of Moirang is believed to die as a result of a duel. In the Introduction to his book Khamba Thoibigi Ahanba Punshi Wari’, (Book I, 1971) Heisnam Mangoljao Singh writes – Thonglen could boast of four lives, he was a native of Kanglei, his clan was Ningthoukhongjam and he died after duelling with a Khuman warrior called Thokpa. He met Thokpa at Loktak. It was nearing the close of Thonglen’s life and he had been thinking of finding a means to end it. He offered Thokpa to hurl the spear first who did the same. The spear now struck the big toe of Thonglen. According to the rules of duelling Thokpa took Thonglen’s life by beheading him. (p. 24)
The ideals of duel is not to kill the opponent just for the sake of killing. The fighters eschew any thought of enmity at the time of the duel. It seems they were just following a divine will which man could not bring to a solution. It just showed a fearless drive to search out the truth. Khelchandra writes-“The motto of the then peoples was like this – the law of man is not inevitable like God ls law; man has to submit himself both to nature’s law where there is no court of appeal and also to man-made laws for which there is appeal. They preferred obeying Divine law or decision to man- made laws.”
The epic depicts the beautiful tradition of duels in the Meitei context. Khamba’s characterisation also is filled with the ethical values found in duels. Khamba had never seen Nongban as an enemy and had not tried to seek revenge on him in that capacity. Nongban had many a time sinned against him, but Khamba had forgiven him each and every time he came across his path. Khamba could have forfeited Nongban’s life on many occasions, but he never did so. He was stopped from doing such things by the brunt of the ethical values inherent in him and his graceful sense of sympathy. Helping the tiger wounded Nongban, giving him water to drink while shedding tears to see the critical state of his friend-foe such is the rare quality of Khamba. The scene in which the dying Nongban confessed his evil intentions while entrusting his wives and dependents to look after them after he is gone is heartrending indeed. The facet of Khamba’s magnanimity, his boundless sympathy, his humanism – these are all constructed on the tradition of duels. It is different from the spiritual humanism shown in Hindu spiritual books, this kind of love is not seen in Khamba’s show of sympathy. Khamba shows human love, not divine love.
There are many instances in this epic when the Princess Thoibi, daughter of Chingkhuba was awarded again and again to Khamba, e.g. at the end of the race, at the successful harnessing of the bull etc. Then again, there is the story of Puremba’s wife Ngangkhareima being taken to wife by the King of Moirang. This may be regarded as a tradition peculiar to the Moirangs. To present a wife, a daughter to a king, or a high official may be regarded as the highest form of present as they regard women to be the most precious object. It is not that they are giving a woman to anybody as if she were a fruit or a flower to be plucked off the way a person likes.
In this epic Senu is maid-servant to Thoibi. There was a custom of endowing somebody with a female slave. (Senu is the Prince’s blood. She is born of an illicit relationship with a women slaves as dowry is also found mentioned in the book Panthoibi Khongul. At the time of Panthoibi’s marriage she says-“Don’t make a dowry of a long haired girl.” (2nd Edition, 1972, P. 38)
There is the custom of gifting women in Greek history too. There is such an example of quarrelling over a maid-servant in Homer’s renowned epic Iliad. Briseis is a war captive from the land of Bresa. She was gifted to Achilles as a tribute of war. But Agamemnon claimed her for himself. Agamemnon says – “As for this trouble about Briseis, tell Achilles that I will give seven Lesbean women down, and I promise him that, we take Troy, he can pick out twenty Trojan women, only twenty excluding Helen.”
From the above considerations we may safely conclude that the epic Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng has been composed of old customs of the Meiteis, beliefs, folk beliefs as well as folk traditions. The epic is spirited by the age old lofty ethical values of this long tradition of the Meiteis. It has been complemented by the old prayers and folk traditions that identify the high standard of the ethical values of the Mei teis. Such things have determined the exalted character of the epic and have seeded it with the deep ideals of its literary creation. The ethical values in this epic are further shown as follows.
The lofty values in this epic are – the exalted love of Khamba and Thoibi; the high standard of friendly affection among Thonglen, Chaoba, Puremba and Salang Maiba; the fraternal love between Khamba and Khamnu; Khamba’s loyalty to the King and his virtuous nature; the affection between the mistress (Thoibi) and maid (Senu); the courageous nature of Puremba, Thonglen and Khamba; and the love shown towards beasts and nature etc. Above all it is shown that truth is always victorious at the end. Therefore the chief ideals shown in this epic are moral truth and moral justice which are manifested in the characters of the protagonists Khamba and Thoibi.
Khamba stands a symbol of truth and devotion. The tiger sees Khamba, but thinks a Vaishnav (a virtuous man) has come to face him. Nongban also says at the end of his life – “You are a Vaishnav and I am the foolish person.” Khamba has many other assets – humility, proper shown of civility and decorum, devotion to the king, willingness to lay down his life at a command of his king, bravery, the ability to love his own enemy Nongban. Whatever he did-participating in the race, playing the game of foot polo, tending the bull of Prince Chingkhuba, catching the bull, catching the tiger, whatever struggle he faced during various stages of his life-were not selfish acts and not done for self appeasement. He says that he had participated the race for the sake of his sister Khamnu. He caught the bull as his own property that he had inherited from his parents – It is a son’s virtue to follow the lead of his father. So his acts did not count as means to seek vengeance against Nongban and to get Thoibi, his beloved alone. At the time of catching the tiger Khamba remarked to the Moirang King-“Let my friend (Nongban) be the person to catch the tiger/Taking it to the royal palace/ Marrying the Princess in its premises/Let him take her from my poor hut to his royal mansion/Kindly bless us the same.”
to be continued next week
The writer is a noted columnist and critic of Manipuri literature