Me And My Manipuri Things

Unicode has become the best way to display many writing systems of the world in browsers. Hopefully our language is included in the Unicode. Bishnupriya Manipuri uses Bengali script (বাংলা লিপি) which is a variant of the Eastern Nagari script, also used for Bengali, Assamese and Maithili.

Now you are able to see Bishnupriya Manipuri unicode text in your mobile phone. You can view Bishnupriya Manipuri in your mobile like in Facebook or Blogs or Wikipedia.

Opera mini version 4.1 onwards supports Bishnupriya Manipuri unicode even if your mobile phone doesn’t support it. All you need is a java enabled handset. It does it via rendering bengali text in the server, rather than on phone, and then displaying.

To activate the option you just need to do the 2 steps -

Step – 1: Install Opera Mini

Visit the address mini.opera.com using your phone’s default Web browser and download and install Opera Mini

PC download link:  http://www.opera.com/mini/download/

opers_am

Step – 2: Configure Opera Mini

    1. Start Opera mini and type in “opera:config” in the address bar

opera

    1. Look at option Use bitmap fonts for complex scripts. Make it “yes”

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Now I believe you can view Bishnupriya Manipuri in your mobile.

You can visit Bishnupriya Manipuri wikipedia, Facebook and many other Unicode compliant Bishnupriya Manipuri sites.

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For example:

http://bpy.wikipedia.org

http://imarthar.blogspot.com

http://somewhereinblog.net/blog/sorahalblog

http://www.somewhereinblog.net/blog/kungothangblog/28899290

http://manipuriblog.blogspot.com/2008/11/blog-post_24.html

A language with written literature can rightly be called as independent language. Today Bishnupriya Manipuri is recognized as an independent language all over the world only because of gigantic efforts of our godly forefathers to safeguard our language from extinction through various literary activities. Otherwise, like the historical records of Manipur, the history of the language is a story of deprive and exile.

Curiously enough, there is no authority goes beyond 13th century except the rain-songs, proverbs and other folk literatures. Sir GA Grierson treats this language in his “Linguistic Survey of India”. He calls the language Mayang although he uses the term Bishnupuriya Manipuri. He also refers to the vocabulary of the language in Lieut-Col W McCullock’s “An Account of the Valley of Manipore and other languages” published as early as 1859. Considering the authorities and evidences it can be safely said that the Bishnupriya Manipuri language is originated in the land of Manipur long before the advent of Hinduism in this valley. As the speakers of Bishnupriya Manipuri (ইমার ঠার, as known to the speakers themselves) had their headquarters at Bishnupur, they were called Bishnupuriyas, i.e, the habitants of Bishnupur, and Bishnupriya is only contracted form of the term Bishnupuriya.

Linguistic study however, creates a little confusion about the origin and root of Bishnupriya Manipuri language. There are different stories from different sectors of people opposite to each other hence difficult to draw any synopsis, resulting in controversies. Dr K P Sinha, who has done considerable amount of researches on Bishnupriya Manipuri language, described four theories as believed by different section of people. Dr Sinha, in his work “The Bishnupriya Manipuris” (1975), also tried to analyze the theories critically with due logic and justification. On the other hand GK Gosh in his work “Tribal and their cultures in Manipur and Nagaland”(1982) putted forth six different theories on the origin of Bishnupriya Manipuri language. There are several other beliefs too. The diverse theories on the origin of Bishnupriya Manipuri are summarized as follows -

  • The Mahabharata Theory
  • Meitei-Origin theory
  • 18th Century theory
  • Bengali-Origin theory
  • Far-Eastern theory
  • Khala-Chai theory
  • Indo-Mongoloid theory

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References:
1. Sir G. A. Grierson, Linguistic Survey of India, Vol-3,19
2. Dr. K.P. Sinha, Bishnupriya Manipuri Language, Calcutta, 1981
3. G.K. Ghose, Tribals and Their Culture in Manipur and Nagaland,1982
4. Raj Mohan Nath, The Background of Assamese Culture, 2nd Edn, 1978
5. S S Tunga, Bengali & other Related Dialects of South Asia, New Delhi, 1995

To be continued….

T.S.Eliot wrote in his famous poetic work “Four Quartets” that time past and time present are both present in the time future. To make the way for the future we should explore our past. It is history, which is the gateway to enter into our past.

All the races or nations posses their own national history. History merely does not give an account of the rise and fall of kings or their kingdoms but it is a representation of the state of an entire civilization i.e the state of development of art and culture, literature, knowledge and science of a nation. The Bishnupriya Manipuris, being the part of a great Aryan civilization, were probably the first cultured race in possession of Manipur. Here I would rather impress upon you all to use the word ‘race’ than the word Nation. In the “History of Greece”, Dr. K.C.Choudhury said “The Greeks were rather a race then a nation since they lacked political unity which is regarded as the very foundation of national existence. The Greeks were divided into Ionians, Aeolians, Dorians and others smaller branches sprung from a single stock.” In the same manner as that of the Greeks we may say the Bishnupriya Manipuris consist of five dominant principalities under different clans like- Khumols, Moirangs, Angoms, Luwangs. Due to the ravages of time and historical misadventures the Bishnupriya Manipuri cronological history. If we go in search of the reasons behind this loss we find the following dominant factors:

Firstly, the Bishnupriya Manipuris like their Aryan ancestors lacked historical sense. Here I may recall the lines drawn by Arthur A Medonell in his “History of Sanskrit literature”: “History is one weak spot in Indian literature. It is in fact non-existent. The total lack of historical sense is so characteristic that the shadow of this defect, suffering as it does from an entire absence of exact chronology….”. The Bishnupriya Manipuris, like their ancestors, believed mostly on oral traditions.

Second, but the most dominant factor was the damage of historical relics, old records and other relevant information by the Meitei king Pamheiba or Garib Niwaj during the seventeenth century A.D.

Thirdly the three consecutive Burmese aggression to Manipur which have forced the Bishnupriya Manipuris to leave their ancestral home and settle down in different scattered locations in present Myanmar, Assam, Tripura and Bangladesh. During those dark days while people were struggling hard to save their own lives have forgotten to preserve the old records.

However, from such a virtual non-existence of any historical records some western and non-Bishnupriya Manipuri Indian writers (including historians from Manipur) have drawn brief sketches on the historical backgrounds of the Bishnupriya Manipuris. From their reference one can be sure that there were Bishnupriya Manipuris on the soil of Manipur. Among the western writers we may name Captain Pemberton, r.Brown, E.T.Dalton, T.C.Hudson, E.Gait, B.C.Allen, and Major Mc Cullock etc. But some of them quoted distorted facts under the influence of Meitei kings and intellectuals. Even the great master compiler of Linguistic survey of India, Sir G.A.Grierson could not free himself completely from referring to such distorted facts.

However, we express our heartfelt gratitude to him because with his justified statements we have won our war against the menace of a sested interests to cut out our existence from our historical roots. We pay our deep respect too to Late R.M.Nath who has highlighted certain facts on the history of the Bishnupriya Manipuris in his famous work “Background of Assamese Culture”.

History is a Science based on facts and reason, leading from hypothesis to thesis (from hypothetical knowledge to logical conclusion). Who will write history of this race? I may answer this question in the spirit of Bankim Chandra Chattapadhyaya that “It is I; It is you”. All of the Bishnupriya Manipuris should write their own history because in its truest sense only the Bishnupriya Manipuris can approach sincerely on the indepth and systematic study in this field.

Here we also remember with deep respect the works done by Late Mahendra Kumar Sinha. He is the pioneer in Bishnupriya Manipuri historical research. His work is compiled into three volumes of “Manipurer Prachin Itihas”, the first of which has been published earlier. We are awaiting eagerly the publication of the remaining volumes. Late Sena Singha contributed a lot with his work “Manipurer Itibritta”. But some of his findings are not free from controversy. We pay our deep respect to him too.Other scholars also contributed a lot in this field. They are Late Krishna Kumar Singha, Haridas Singha and other respected persons. There are other interested persons who have sincerely devoted themselves to the study of history. Most of their works are yet to be published. We are certain that one cannot be totally agree to all the findings by the earlier scholars as mentioned above. Moreover with the passage of time more informations are coming into light, which bring new spheres of speculations.

Contributed By – Dils Lakshmindra Sinha

* Excerpts from the Welcome address by the convener in the seminar on the History of the Bishnupriya Manipuris

Physically, a fine race, the Manipuris is devoted to sports and games. There are number of traditional games that have their origin back in Manipur. One of the most popular indoor game among them is Kang. The game, Kang is known to the Bishnupriya Manipuris as Gilla (though Gilla is developed as a variant of Kang) and Kanga-Sanaba to the Meiteis. It is an indigenous Manipuri game played on the day between Manipuri New Year’s Day (Cheiraoba/Bishu) and the Ratha Jatra (Kang) festival.

A round object called Kang which is the seed of a creeper (Uri) is used in this game. It is about one and a half inch in diameter and ¾ of an inch in thickness. The game is played among two teams each of seven either males of females usually mixed up. A player has to Shoot a point from a fixed position. If the parties hit the target twice with the Kang then, Lamtha is adopted. Lamtha is played by propelling the disk on its flat side along the surface of the ground by the force of middle finger of the right hand acting the finger of the left.. At the end of half a duration of the play, interchange of the directions takes place. Of the two teams, the one who can hit the target for a greater number by two Chekpheis (shooting from a standing position) and one Lamtha is the winner.

There are tales, both legendary and mythological, that claim that Kang was played by gods and goddesses, soon after the earth was created. According to some sources Kang is played by the deity “Panthoibi”. It is believed that the seven players on either side represent the seven days of the week and the Chekphei and Lamtha kangkhul are believed to 15 in number on one side and both sides represent 30 days, making a complete month. There are evidences that the Manipuris began to play this game well before the arrival of Vaishnavism in Manipur. Earlier, the dignitaries of the Palace including the Maharani and the Maharaja also participated on social functions. In the old days Kang was played during summer starting from Cheiraoba/Bishu to Kang.

Presently, the game is played in several tournaments through out the year. Rules and regulation have been modified to suit the changing needs of the game. In Bangladesh a Kang Federation is formed to organize the game annually. Besides there are few individual attempts to preserve the cultural tradition of Manipur in some Bishnupriya Manipuri localities like Tilakpur, Ghoramara etc.

To download the special issue of Pouri Patrika on Bishnupriya Manipuri Kang celebration and the Game of Kang click here.

To many of us, the name Manipuri stands for colorful hand-woven saris and shawls. To other it is synonymous with classical dance. But the exotic images tell only part of the story, Beyond the colorful facade, the history of the Manipuri people is one of conflict, deprivation and exile. Following political intrigue in the eighteenth century, a large number of Manipuri fled their homes and took refuge in greater Sylhet, as well as the Indian states of Assam and Tripura. These people had Indo-Aryan features and called themselves Bishnupriyas. Long before their exodus they had lost control of Manipur to the rival clan of Meiteis. In their adopted land their lives and limbs were safe; but their language and culture began to lose ground against those of the majorette. Meanwhile, the Meiteis in Manipur became vindictive and imposed a de facto ban on Bishnupriya language and custom. The Bishnupriya Manipuris were caught between a rock and a hard place. Today, young Manipuris are no longer sure of their cultural identity. Elders worry that their rich heritage may not be preserved for posterity… 2nd part of the Article written By Syed Zainul Akmal Al-Mahmood, Sylhet, Bangladesh.

barton is being placed

Barton! Come One, Come All!!

A man comes into the front yard. He has in his hand something that looks like a large green leaf. He place it carefully under the Tulsi plant in one corner. Swapan looks pleased. I looked puzzled, “Barton” he says.

Barton. I learn, is the formal invitation to a function. In case of Ras Lila it consists of piece of Pan (betel leaf) and a few piece of Supari (betel nut). These have to arranged in a certain way and place under the inevitable Tulsi tree. “Without this time-honored ritual, the invitation is incomplete”, says Swapan’s mother with a smile.

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Rain Songs: the vanished memories

The Manipuris are craftsmen extraordinaire. It is difficult to find a Manipuri household without a loom. The weavers have traditionally been women. There are many skilled Blacksmiths and Goldsmiths among the Manipuri men. They are excellent farmers as well. This industriousness has seen them for centuries of turmoil.

Oh Sorelel! Singing and dancing is part and parcel of Manipuri life. From watching young children one feels that they have an instinctive sense of Rhymes and Rhythms. Their culture is a curious blend of Vaishnavism and orthodox belief. In between it is still possible to see glimpses of the ancient traditions that prevailed in the Pre-Hindu Manipuri society.

One of the last surviving original Bishnupriya Manipuri culture is the ancient Rain Song. Translated into English it would something like this – Oh Soralel, the king of Gods! / The land of Khumal become barren because of drought / Oh king of Gods, pray and send us rain! / Pahangpa (Pakhangba) was angry because Chamei was insulted… It is a long song with impressive rhythm and deep feeling. It was composed long before Hinduism took place in Manipur. Manipuri elders testify that there were many other important songs, but they have vanished from memory, never to return.

GK Ghosh said of the Bishnupriya Manipuris, “In Manipur their culture is being gulped by Meithei culture, in Cachar and Bangladesh it is by Bengali culture, while in Assam by Assamese culture (ref : Tribals and their culture in Manipur and Nagaland). The erosion is easy to see. Even since Santidas won over the population, the influence of Bangla has steadily been growing. The Manipuri alphabet has been replaced by Bengali letters. Traditional Manipuri names like ‘Thoibi’ and ‘Senatombi’ has given way to names such as ‘Suchitra’ and ‘Sunetra’. Many traditional costumes have been lost. Those Bishnupriya who remained in Manipur have lost their language, now they speak Meitei. Many experts believe this rich culture is headed for extinction.

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Costume making a semi-religious job!

costume making

The Ras costumes to be handed out with a brief ceremony. It’s called Bar Silkorani. Are you interested?” I already have one foot inside a shoe, “Lets go, where does it happen? The temple?” Swapan shakes head, “At the costume maker’s house.

Costume making for the Ras is a semi-religious job. Traditionally, before every Ras, the costume maker unveils his work (with every bit as much pride as Legerfeld showing off his spring collection) and makes prediction about how the Ras will go. All the dancers came and pay homage to him before collecting their costumes.

The costume maker is spry, middle-aged man named Kangress Singha. His family has the business for three generations, he tells me. The costume itself is a gorgeous affair. Red, Green, Yellow –all the colors of rainbow in fact. And some besides. The costume has 10 different parts and known as ‘Polloi’.

The dancers step up one by one First up is Krishna. I surprise, he is a young boy not older than six or seven. “This must be a joke”, I whisper to Swapan. “ This child is too young to dance!”

No, he’s not.” Swapan whispers back. “You’ll see!

Next come Radha, a young girl of same age. Then, in single file, a bevy of teenaged girls who will be Radha’s companions, the Gopis. Subhasini is among them as earnest as the rest. Clearly this was a big occasion.

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In the Ras Mandav

It is approaching midnight, the dancers are struggling with their costumes and make ups. Subhasini is being helped on with her jewelry by willing hands. She is a great dancer, pupil of a dance teacher who trained in Allahabad. But most of the dancers have no formal trainings.
They learn by watching their seniors”, says Jharna, “According to tradition each Ras is sponsored by a particular household. And a girl from the house must be the lead dancer. I’ve performed the lead, so has my younger sister. And Swapan was Krishna once.”

Swapan squirms in embarrassment, “ That was a long time ago, Everyone knows I cant dance!

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Ras

At Last, the watching hour. The Ras start off at a quarter past midnight. The sequence of dramatic scenes shows Radha nad Krishna in the idyllic Vrindaban cavorting with the Gopis. The songs are part Bangla, part Manipuri and part Brajabuli. Sameer Singha, student of dramatic Art at Jahangirnagar University, sits by me and explains the lyrics. The young Krishna dances beautifully; it’s an amazing part of a child so young. Amazing performance, period.

the young krishna performed too well

The Ras Lila ends just as the first streaks of dawn appear in the sky. As I trudge back, mission accomplished, I can’t help the thread faced by the flamboyant people. They badly need a new dawn, a new beginning. Unless current trends are reserved, their exotic culture may become extinct in near future. Our cultural landscape will be poorer for it.

To many of us, the name Manipuri stands for colorful hand-woven saris and shawls. To other it is synonymous with classical dance. But the exotic images tell only part of the story, Beyond the colorful facade, the history of the Manipuri people is one of conflict, deprivation and exile. Following political intrigue in the eighteenth century, a large number of Manipuri fled their homes and took refuge in greater Sylhet, as well as the Indian states of Assam and Tripura. These people had Indo-Aryan features and called themselves Bishnupriyas. Long before their exodus they had lost control of Manipur to the rival clan of Meiteis. In their adopted land their lives and limbs were safe; but their language and culture began to lose ground against those of the majorette. Meanwhile, the Meiteis in Manipur became vindictive and imposed a de facto ban on Bishnupriya language and custom. The Bishnupriya Manipuris were caught between a rock and a hard place. Today, young Manipuris are no longer sure of their cultural identity. Elders worry that their rich heritage may not be preserved for posterity… An Article written By Syed Zainul Akmal Al-Mahmood, Sylhet, Bangladesh.

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The Village of Ghoramara, 5 miles south of Bhanugach rail station in Moulvibazar district, is buzzing with excitement. It is the eve of Durga Puja and there is to be performance of Ras Lila, beginning at midnight. The Ras is a unique Manipuri function – the dance drama that put Manipur firmly in the cultural map of subcontinent.

“Ras Lila depicts the love affair between Srikrisna and Radha” said Swapan Kumar Singha, interne doctor at Sylhet Osmani Medical college Hospital. “We attach a lot of importance to this dance. It is one of the highlights of our social colander.”

In times of yore, the Ras may have been performed by the Sevadasis of temples, but these days it very much a socio-religious ritual in which amateur artists perform with gustho. A group of fifteen has been practicing behind closed doors for weeks.

We go on a tour of the Mandap, the covered area in front of the temple where the Ras will take place. Workers are busily constructing a fancy stage – a round enclosure, all frills and intricate designs. Elder look on with solemn attention while small children, rosy-cheeked with excitement, dance and play.

The Manipuris follow the Vaishnavite faith. They are worshippers of Bishnu(Vishnu). Singing, dancing and the love of Radha Krishna are a way of life with them. But I’m intrigued to see the goddess Durga holding court on a low dais. How is it, I asked Swapan, that they observe Durga Puja following Shakto rites? He shrugs, “ Its all part of the general mix-up!”

“Mixed-up” is the right phrase to describe the society. The most controversial class of people”, said GK Ghosh in his book ‘Tribal and their culture in Manipur and Nagaland’, “ having no homeland of their own, subsequently losing their identity are Bishnupriyas. Rival clan claim they are not “real” Manipuris. The clues of this riddle lie in the checkered history of Assam.

 

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Children of the wide Lake

Manipur is situated in on the eastern flank of present day Assam. It has quite a long history, although the name itself appears to be of relatively recent origin. In the Allahabad stone piller inscription of Samudra Gupta(4th century AD) there is no mention of Manipur, although the neighbouring kingdoms are named. According to the Mahabharata, the anicent name of this country was ‘Meckley’ and this is the name that was used when King Gaursham signed a treaty with the British in 1763. Manipur-or Meckley -is actually on a tableland surrounded by hills. It has a large lake-eight miles by five-called Logtak. The people of southern China called this land Meung-kha-la (Meung=Land ; Kha=Lake; La=Wide) and it is clear that this is where the name Meckley derives from.

In the plains beside the lake lived a race of people who had sharp Indo-Aryan features and used a language, which was similar to the Kamrupi tongue rather than the Burmese-Chinese group. These were the Bishnupriyas. For centuries these people have been called ‘Khalachai’ which in southern Chinese dialect menes ‘Children of the wide lake’ (Kha=Lake; La=Wide; Chai=Children). The other race in Manipur, the Meitheis, moved in from chinese territory and this is reflected in the name. Meithei means,, in Chinese, ‘people of this country’ i.e., Chinese territory. “It is quite probable that the kalachaias are the first cultural race in possession of the Manipur valley,” wrote Rajmohan nath in’The Background of Assamese Culture’.

Vaishnavism arrived in Manipur in 1737 in the form of Santadas Babaji ,an enterprising Bengali Baishnad of the Sri Chaitanya School . He came over the hills from Sylhet and captivated the entire population, including the king, with his melodious Kirtana, depicting the life of Radha-Krishna . Overnight, Vaishnavism became the royal faith. It is said that Santadas instigated King Pamheida alias Garib Nawaz to burn all the historical documents in order to make a clean break with the past . Thus, between a ruthless king and ambitious gurn, the history of Manipur was obscured.

There is a story that King Pamheiba ordered all his subjacts to bath in the Nongkhrang lake in order to purify themselves. The Bishnupriyas led by the Khumal chieftain initially refused, claiming that they were already purified through adopting the Bishnad faith earlier. Indeed, the influence of the Shankar Dev school of Vaishnavismmcan still be seen in Bishnupriya Manipuri culture ( GK Ghosh, Tribals and their Culture) . This dispute only widened the existing rift between the Bishnupriyas and ruling Meithei class . Large numbers of Bishnupriya Manipuris begen to migrate out of Manipur. this process was hastened by repeated Burmese attacks and soon the once-proud Bishnupriyas became a nation of refugees.

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Back to the village…

Meanwhile back in the village, Ghoramara, preparations for the Ras are going smoothly. Swapan’s cusin Subhasini will be one of the performers. She returns from the final drees rehearsal to report that everything is fine. There is a bit of worry regarding the young boy who will play Krishna, “Krishna is very naughty”, says Subhasisni., “ he’s constantly needling the master ‘Give me another sweet or I wont dance!’ that sort of thing.”

Ghoramara is no dearth of bright young faces. Manipuris in Bangladesh acquired themselves well. There are Doctors, Engineers, and University students. Kungo Thang is a final year computer science student of BUET. He is resentful of the influence of Brahmins in the society. “We are Vaishnavs”, he says, “So we shouldn’t have a caste system. The Brahmins have undue influence because of view that only Brahmins can be priests. The system should be done away with.”

Amulya, a stenographer of the TNO office in Moulvibazar, disagrees, “ The social structure ensures stability. If we were dismantled overnight, we will be thrown into turmoil.” But Ashim is insistent, “ A lot of things don’t make sense,” he argues, “ There is rules that forbids marriage within clans. You can see, in a limited society like ours, this can pose problem. If you are a member of the biggest clan, finding a suitable mate can be difficult.” Swapan sighs theoretically, “ It’s a tragedy!”

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Khamba Thoibi

Forget Romeo and Joliet, in Manipuri society Khamba Thoibi has grabbed center space. In 15th century AD, Khamba, a prince of the previously routed Khumal Royal family (probably a Bishnupriya ) fell in love with Thoibi – a princess of the Moirang clan ( probably a Meithei ). The union have been to the political advantage of both Khumals and Moirangs ; but the Moirang chief resisted on purely personal grounds. The result was tragic not only for the young lovers but also for the feuding tribes of Manipur.

To this day, popular Ballads are sung in the memory of the love affair between Khamba and Thoibi. Who knows if the affair hadn’t ended in tragedy, the couse of history might have been altered; perhaps the Bishnupriyas wouldn’t have been in exile today.

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Literacy and the Identity Issue

It is staggering to learn that in Ghoramara, 100% of the population is literate. There are no millionaires but there are no beggars, either. Everyone works. The women work hardest of all. Swapan’s sister Jharna is a schoolteacher. She is also homing in an MA in Bangla. In between she helps with the housework’s and also finds time to play active rule in Adhunik (Now Manipuri Theatre), the village drama society.

Weaving Industry

Rajkanta Singha, headmaster from a local high school not far from Ghoramara. He talks at lengths about the problem facing Manipuri society.

“Our problem is not poverty, or literacy”, he says, “A Manipuri never starves because we are clever with our hands. The problem is that we have been so preoccupied with mundane day to day that we have forgotten who we are. We’ve neglected our sense of identity and some people are taking advantages, claiming we don’t have one!”

“ Do you know the Meiteis have passed laws in Manipur, forbidding the Bishnupriya Manipuri Language? Can a civilized people do that? They are trying to rob us with our identity. They talk about ‘Real Manipuri’ is rubbish! They should live and let live.”

Rasmahan Singha, principal of Manipuri Fine Art Academy, who went England during the Bangladesh festival, strikes a similar notes. “ we have been asleep too long. Now our very existence is threatened. Do you know if you ask me the name of a scholar among us, an authority on Manipuri matters, I would be at a loss, We have no one!”

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To be contd…

Rabindranath Tagore (রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর), the Nobel laureate poet, writer, philosopher is probably the most prominent figure in the cultural world of Indian subcontinent and also was the greatest patron of the Manipuri dance and culture. It was him who popularized the Manipuri style of dance with its high zenith among the people of the world. He deserves the honorable place in the style and regarded as the “Pioneer of Manipuri dance and culture”.

From Tagore’s writings and other historical accounts we can learn a little bit about his visit in Sylhet (in present day Bangladesh) . It was 1919 when the historical event had taken place. In November 6th, Rabindranath had a visit in the Bishnupriya Manipuri (বিষ্ণুপ্রিয়া মণিপুরী) village of Machimpur(মাছিমপুর), a remote village not far away from the town situated on the bank of the river Surma. He was given a warm reception there from the Bishnupriya Manipuri people. He was so impressed after seeing a dance composition, the Goshtha Lila presented by the Bishnupriya Manipuri women. After seeing the demonstrations Rabindranath introduced himself to the people and wanted to be informed more about their dance and culture. He also met that time exile superintendent Mr Tanu Singha and looked for a Manipuri Oja (dance teacher) who was capable of communicating in Bangla. Mr Tanu Singha introduced the poet with great Guru Nileshwar Mukharjee (গুরু নীলেশ্বর মুখার্জ্জী )of Baligaon. Tagore intended to bring the dance teacher to his idyllic institute, Shantiniketon. In November 7th 1919, in the speech in a historical gathering of students at Sylhet M.C. College hall, Rabindranath mentioned about his experience in Machimpur and the Bishnupriya Manipuri people. The speech was published in a literary journal “Akangkha” of Shantiniketan (1920).

Tagore brought back Guru Nileshwar MUkharjee to serve in his Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan. He immediately decided to open a new department of Manipuri Dance in Shantiniketan. Later many other Bishnupriya Manipuri Oja’s and danseuse like Guru Senarik Rajkumar, Nabakumar Singha, Muhu Singha, Guru Bipin Singha, Sri Bihari Singha and Sri Adityasena Rajkumar was invited to Shantiniketon in presence of Rabindranath. They assisted Tagore to choreograph several of his dance-drama. After that period Manipuri dance took its special place in Shantiniketon with Bhatnatyam, Kathak and Kothakali, the other classical dance forms India. In fact Manipuri dance was not as popular as the other classical dance forms. But the subtlety of the tender dance form and the variety of the rhythm impressed Rabindranath Tagore so much that he is credited with introducing this enchanting style to the other parts of the world.  Later many other  renowned gurus from Manipur and Assam were invited from to teach this dance form in Shantiniketan. Gradually the practice of this dance form extended outside the Manipuri community and was practiced with great enthusiasm, especially among the Bengalis and other indian people.

There is also influence of popular Manipuri tunes in many songs of Rabindranath. There are many Rabinra Sangit’s which involves Manipuri dance and dance –

1) Sribas kache theke dure… (শ্রীবাস কাছে থেকে দুরে..)
2) Aji basanto jagrata dware… (আজি বসন্ত জাগ্রত দ্বারে..)
3) Rodono vora a bosonto… (রোদন ভরা এ বসন্ত..)
4) Baki ami rakhbo na… (বাকী আমি রাখবো না…)

The compilation of the dance drama, “Chitragada” was fully based on various elements of Manipuri dance. Another of his literary work “Bhanusingher Padavali” depicts the influence Manipuri songs and philosophy. The Vasihnavite work “Bhanusingher Padavali” was compiled during Tagore’s visit in the state on Tripura and during his contact with the king Virchandra Manihya. The King of Tripura was married to a Manipuri princess named Monomohini Devi alias Thoraleima. Queen Thoraleima contributed a great deal in the movement of
wiping out Satidaho, a discriminating Hindu custom for women.

No doubt, Rabindranath Tagore provided a vital link towards the progressive cultural revivalism to the Bishnupriya Manipuri people and produced a band of local artists who enriched their culture. Rabindranath was the source of inspiration for the stimulation of our own dance, songs and music which were on the path of extinction.

Sources and references :
1. Kothika Matek – Prof Ranjit Singha, Sylhet 1992
2. Gayotri Chatterjee / Bharoter Nritokola
3. Tarun Kumar singha / Manipuri Nritya Probesika, 1968
4. Nripendralal das / Sribhumi sylhete Rabindranath
5. Manipuri Rasleela Udyapan Parisad, Bangladesh / Suvenir, 1996

Photographs:
Weekly Desh
Assam tribune

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