Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Dept of Environment and Climate Change
Depiction of a popular Meitei folk epic, Khamba and Thoibi

The Philosophy in “Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng”: An Amalgamation of Meitei & Hindu Thoughts – Part 4 (Last)

From previous issue

Khamba-Khamnu’s relationship as brother and sister, the love between them as such is one of its kind in the world. It grew out of Khamba’s dedication to his sister of his body and soul, his likes and dislikes, his everything. Khamba cannot will himself to do anything without the consent of his sister. If Khamnu said not to marry Thoibi, the possibility is dim of his taking her as his wife. Because for Khamba Khamnu is “Mother like elder sister! I’ll call you not a sister, but my mother!” – Thus he had symbolised his sister into the embodiment of a mother. This is a rare case indeed. It reminds us the poet Kh. Chaoba’s words-“When we look for a sister who had taken care of her brother after the death of their parents shall we find anybody greater than Khamnu? Who calls Khamnu a missed character in the story, a cry baby, a worthless person? Understand, each drop of tear from Khanmu’s eyes had contributed to the making of the most outstanding element of Khamba’s character.”

There is an amalgamation of the four qualities of love, truthfulness, patience and courage in Thoibi. Thoibi’s love itself is a rarity-there is no trace of vulgarity and lustfulness in her character. She is always for truth. She is courageous-she has a knife always with her as weapon. She remains ever ready to give up her life if the occasion calls for it. In patience she has no equals. The trait of disobedience to her father that we discern in her is not her fault – it has been created by Chingkhuba, her father. When Chingkhuba remained on the side of the evil and sinful party, Thoibi who wants to support the truthful naturally comes against it. When the quality of bravery and fearlessness are added, it may be said that those attributes already found in the person of goddess Panthoibi which may be said to be inherent in Meitei women have been given to Thoibi. It has given a separate identity to her other than those characteristic sanguinary to a Hindu sati in the form of a Meitei sati. The characters of Khamba and Thoibi were chiselled out from the block of ethical values that put an inseparably Meitei women into the fabric of Meitei national character they remain still alive today in the hearts of the people. There are other expression of ethical values in this epic e.g. the love of Thonglen and Chaoba for Khamba.

For those shown above we may conclusively surmise that the epic strives to dwell on Meitei ethical and social values. It has been contributed by the national history and cultural tradition. Manipur itself is made up of small Kingdoms. So, the people needs to be warrior like – brave and courageous – courage and fearlessness become high priority values. They face war at every corner of life literally as well as metaphorically. Then, Khamba and Nongban become living souls of their people and land. They may be said to constitute the two hands of the King. If there is no faith in the royal administration, if there is no devotion to the king and if there is no love for the land it becomes very difficult for a kingdom to go on existing, country and kingship have become to occupy supreme importance and are thought to possess highest value. In this epic Khamba’s extreme devotion to his king is exhibited. Every nobleman also shows the same devotion to the king. Therefore, the matter of trial in the Kangla or the royal palace takes a very serious turn. (As Chingkhuba and Nongban were by nature shameless, evil, disobedient and guilty to boot, they are shown as ripe for punishment.) To follow the right path, a virtuous way, to become a civil and obedient citizen is a Meitei’s ethical value. Hindu values and Meitei values sometimes show to fonow different paths. Meitei values particularly is more akin to Greek ethical values.

The pre-Christianity Greek ethical values (particularly in Socrates, Plato, Aristotle’s writings) give emphasis on service to society, and leading a virtuous life. What they aim at is a good citizen. They are strict observers of the land’s law. Socrates was imprisoned as a result of unjust trial and was sentenced to death by poisoning. Socrates was well aware of the injustice meted out to him. But when friends insisted he should run away from the prison he had said – ‘I will respect the judgment of the court however wrong it might be.‘ The Greeks believed in the immortality of soul. They thought “Man is a soul imprisioned in a body.” They did not believe in spiritualism but they believed in ethical values. They thought that the body that the encapsulated soul resides must be in a pure state. Meiteis also believe in leading a virtuous life, and living for the welfare of the state. As the Greeks say “Know thyself” Meiteis also believed in the same idea i.e, “Know who am I.” The idea behind is – try to become a good person by knowing the soul inside you. Like the Greeks, the Meiteis also had firm belief in ethical and social values. It is written in the book Sakok Lamlen – “Calm of mind, thinking good thoughts, giving good judgement,. courageous on good grounds, defending lives, firm minded, unforgetfull of prayers are the seven rules and ways of life that lead surely to salvation.”9 These maybe regarded as the ethical code of the Meiteis and moral values play an important part in it. In the book Chainarol, Leima Namun Khambi whose marriage was even less than a year had prayed to her husband not to face Heirem Kangbishu in a duel, her husband Chakha Moiremba had said– Of death and humiliation the stories tell us that death is the younger brother where humiliation is senior to him. I am not going back once J had accepted the challenge.As he had made the promise in the royal court he regarded it more important to face death than to break his promise. Here we find traces of the Hindu philosophy that insists one goes straight to heaven of one dies fighting in the battlefield thus the Meiteis regard to sacrifice his own life for the sake of the land. Then, in truth, to save from humiliation is a highly regarded value. Besides, Meiteis also have faith in the greater path of life, as well as the lesser path of life, crooked or inferior life.

What we acquire after a consummate study of Mahakavi Anganghal’s Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng is an effort to amalgamate Hindu spiritual philosophy with the already existing high ethical and social values of the Meiteis. It is known that Hindu ethics and philosophy are highly spiritual in character. ‘Whereas Meitei, particulary, of the old period may be said to be not that much. They regard the creator, the supreme being as singular in nature. His creative hand is in everything, they believe that is to say there is one common consciousness in all things, reflection of oneness and manifestation of oneness is found in all, and from this love, cosmic love grows. We love beasts, lower animals, female and children, the poor, the humble because we know that they are the reflections of the supreme being. In the Upanishad Rishi Yagnavalkya told Meitreyee, his wife – “Behold, my dear, not indeed for love of the husband is the husband dear, for the love of self is the husband dear.” In this way Hindu ethics progresses towards self-realisation.

Hindu philosophical elements found in this epic consist of – making Thoibi a sati. Then, to die in battlefield without retreat, is the means to attain heaven, one reaps as one sows and rebirth and most important of all the virtuous is always victorious. Nongban surrendered and asked for forgiveness from Khamba when he was about to die falling a prey to the tiger. What Nongban says at his last moment (‘Inside the Arena For the Last Time’) needs a close study from which we come to understand that – 1. Nongban accepts all his faults; 2. Nongban knows from the start that he was in the wrong, because the whole play in the epic consists of two players only – Khamba and Nongban in which Nongban’s part is that of a villain; 3. That is why Nongban surrenders to Khamba and prays to forgive him. He also seeks the road to go to heaven. As he had not retreated in the battle, he prays to Khamba to wish him enjoyment in the abode of Vaikuntha.

When we study the character of Nongban in this epic, he falls short of the real character of a true Hindu Kshetriya warrior. We do not find the warrior’s virtues that we find in Duryodhana, Karna, Ravana, Abhimanyu, Kumbhkarna etc. He is found guilty of cheating in many contexts like in the race, catching the bull, catching the tiger etc. When he came fleeing to save himself from the bull, it was Khamba who saved him. Khamba had saved his life in many other contexts as well. So, we cannot feel pity for Nongban as we feel the same for Duryodhana at his death-bed. In the Mahabharata Duryodhana said many bad things against Shri Krishna before he died but at the penultimate moment he came to understand – Janaami dharma: na cha me prabriti: janaami dharma: /na cha me nibriti: … ‘ (I know I love not dharma, nor do I repent this adharma, Rishikesh who are in my heart, I obey as you wish.) Duryodhana came to understand all of it was the enactment of Shri Krishna’s wish, he surrendered ultimately to his will, he sacrificed himself to him. From such spiritual realisation he could achieve salvation. In the Ramayana, Ravana fought with Shri Rama at the close with all his best. He died a man, like a pure Kshetriya son. He also came to know Shri Rama as the incarnation of Vishnu. Thus he could rise to the top of the rungs of spirituality. In Arambam Darendrajit’s Kangsabadha epic Kansa came to understand at the last moment of his life that Shri Krishna was none other than the Supreme Lord. Kansa therefore went to heaven in chariot of flower with this understanding. It is described as follows – “At the end getting his mind opened/ Started thinking the King, this day this moment/The end is here for me, the Supreme Lord to end/My life has incarnated as Krishna.” (P. 203) On the other hand Nongban could not climb up spiritually except other than knowing that he committed a mistake against a friend. Though the poet Anganghal had addressed Khamba as Mahaprabhu or Superior Man he could not add any sort of divine quality in him. Again though he had described Khamba as a Vaishnava he could not attain the stage of total surrender to God as a Vaishnava should; so, he had called him a Vaishnav in the sense that he follows a path of righteousness.

It must be said that Meitei morality, ethics and social values belong to a high level. These values pave the way to self realisation as well as spiritual realisation. They also help a man to lead a life of virtue. That the epic Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng laid its foundation on these lofty ideals and philosophy can be understood from a study of the sub-stories and episodes, the characters and the different sets of values. We find in this epic efforts to mingle Hindu Gods, thoughts and philosophy mainly from Hindu influence. But they remain afloat unable to be absorbed into the main framework of the story. He fails to coalesce the Hindu spiritual elements in plot construction and characterisation found in the epic. These idioms, metaphors, gods and goddesses of Hindu religious origin seem to remain foreign to the story, episodes and gods of Meitei origin. While trying to Hindunize them instances crop up of incongruity, maladjustment, disparity of thought and contradictory ideas. There is every possibility of a new kind of Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng should a glorious writer write one day the divine drama of Thangjing sans these vocabularies related to Hindu religion and names of Hindu gods and goddesses. This story of Khamba and Thoibi is not the end in epical creativity. We would like to communicate with a Thoibi without chundan tilak mark, without golden nose ring (a golden nose ring studs her sesame like nostril) – Loikaba (P. 273.) We would like to talk with the Meitei Thoibi – a real Meitei Chanu.



  • Khamba-Thoibi Sheireng; Hijam Anganghal Singh, 2nd Edition, 1986, Introduction
  • Khamba-Thoibi Punshi Wnri (The Lives of Khamba-Thoibi), Part I, Heisnam Mangoljao Singh, 1973, Introduction, P. 21-22
  • Moirang Kangleirol (Moirang Topography) Sabita Devi, 1982, Pp. 19-23
  • Khamba-Thoibi Wari Amasung Mahakavya (The Story of Khamba-Thoibi and the Epic), Wareng Akhomba, Khwairakpam Chaoba Singh, 1965, Pp. 1-18
  • Moirang Ningthourol Lambuba, Part 1, Oinam Bhogeshwar Singh, 1982, P. 4
  • Religion and Culture of Manipur, M. Kirti Singh, 1988, pp. 21
  • Old Manipuri Poetry: A Study in the mold of Cultural & Poetry: 2″d Volume, Oinam Ibochouba Sing, (Unpublished PhD Thesis of “Manipur University. 61h Chapter “Laining Lichat Amasung Laining Lol”)
  • Sakok Lamlen, VV. Bhagya and Sunder Moirang Ngamba, (From the writings of Khunaijam Kumar)
  • Chainarol, Ningthoukhongjam Khelchandra Singh, 1968, P. 14
  • All About Hinduism, Swami Sivananda, 1977, pp. 8687, and some other books
  • Greek Ethics, Huby, Macmillan, 1969
  • The Mahabharata: A Literary Study, Krishna Chaitanya, 1985
  • The Ramayana Tradition in Asia, by V. Raghavan, 1980
  • Development of Moral Philosophy in India, Surama Dasgupta, 1961


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