Me And My Manipuri Things

A People Besieged (Part II)

Posted on: June 25, 2008

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.

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.

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.

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!


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.

15 Responses to "A People Besieged (Part II)"

Excellent! Great!! Wonderful!!!

If the BM want to live in Manipur, they have every right. But to say that the meetei are invaders and the aboriginal are the BM is seer nonsense and must be crust at atll cost. Mr. Ashim Singha must not invite trouble.

The secta Excavation clearly shows that Mongoloid people are the oldest settlers of these part of the world now called Manipur since 18 century. The burial style of Secta is clearly mentioned in the ancient meetei scripture. we are not uncivilized and unscriptured people like the BM. The gazetere of India also clearly mentioned that the word Manipur was adopted only in teh 18 century and in the original Manipuri scripture the there is no mention of the Mabharatta or ramayanna. If land can cliamed based on unfounded myth and intellactual shaloownes like the Bishnupuria Manipuri, india can still cliam Singapore as part of it, because Singapore originates from the Sanskrit word Singha Pura. And many lands named after English Languaes can be still cliamed as part of Britain.

abey chinki ki aulaad..saaale ek to tumhari aankhe nahin khulti theekse tumhari akal kaise khole hum betichodo saalo..tumhe khani ki tammez nahin hai gai ko khate ho kire makore khate ho ..aur apne ko manipuri bulate ho…kutte ka peshaab ikattha kat loute mai aur doob mar bhosriwale

Dear NRM, Thank you for your concern but I cant get why Mahabharata comes over here. There are so many different theories about the origin of Manipur, the Mahabharata theory is on of most prevalent, it is needless to go too death about Mahabharata. In fact myths are universal, occurring in almost all cultures. It seems that your paranoid about your own identity makes you reluctant to understand the truth about other races living in the valley from the grand time. There is nothing to be obsessed with mayang terms like Manipuri, as it was came to existence only after 18th century.

Looking for patience when thinking and writing about your neighbors and for culture of dignity of humanity and language every time, everywhere…

PURE BULLSHIT. Nothing called Bishnupriya Manipuri. Go look for your Mahabharata in Bihar or UP. Your chances are good there.

I am grateful to you for bringing into focus the unique Bishnupriya Manipuri customs and social graces along with its rich heritage of Ras leela. Being born and raised in a Cosmopolitan urban city with minimal access to roots, my knowledge on customs was quite limited. I vaguely remember hearing words like Barton but thanks to you, I now know it significance. Hopefully now I get to see a Ras leela someday.


Mr Bullshit Detector need to get himself/herself admitted at Rachi Mental Hospital. He/She need some psychiatric help.

dear bullshit detector,try to detect yourself before i deport your ass back to your village and make you lick the toilet seats. next time if come you here,come with some logics and facts,otherwise your ass will be screwed.

Mr Bullshit detector, I think all of you have dared to go too far. You are not the authority to judge who is a Manipuri or who is not. The Ariyan invasion theory or tha Mahabharata crap have nothing to do with bishnupriya manipuri.

Manipuris are those who preserve the culture of Manipur and historically, culturally, ethnically, linguistically Bisnhpriyas are involved with Manipur from the grand time since their ancestors tried to build a civilization and when the Meiteis were in tribal state and most probably hunting heads in the jungles. It’s more than history that, like the Meiteis , the Bishnupriyas also fled away from their homeland Manipur and took refuge in Assam, Tripura, Sylhet and Cachar during 18th and 19th century due to Burmese attack.

The High Court as well as the the Supreme of India clearly declared that Bishnupriyas are subjectively and objectively Manipuris.

Not all bishnupriyas claim to be the original,its some fanatic religious leaders of Bishnupriya claiming this holding the mahabhrata decentdent theory, to get some petronage from the indian hindus, like many of the Meiteis like Damodor(ISKON) did. Today many Bisnhpriya Scholars who dont claim such manipulated and absurd views.

Personally I feel pity for those idiots who spend their precious times over useless and needless issues. Your government is begging to Delhi when you pathetic morons spending all the money surfing the net and posting senseless comments here and there. You should rather try to be a civilized human by liberating and educating yourself.

Khai killer lets screw this chinkis out ….and dig there eyes out so that they can see little bit nicely..already their eyes are fucked up…

hey you fucking idiot, do you want to die?

I feel sad reading your post. Seeing the girls in their Mapan neiba phanek and all the other traditional kanglei dresses makes my heart reach out to you guys in Bangladesh and elsewhere who have fled from Manipur. Well, as I live in Imphal, Manipur, I am very proud of who I am and does not suffer from any root/origin problems as you guys over there did.

And I feel sad for you guys, because of your ignorance of the history and origin of your race. Manipuri Bishnupriyas, are the first, those cowards, {who were close with the kings and had access to confidential infos}, to fled manipur before the burmese invaded our land. But that is history. But the origin theory in your post are absurb and looks very stupid. India and things Indian have no relations whatsoever with Manipur/kangleipak before the coming of the pyromaniac Shantidas, who destroyed our culture, religion, et al to a great extent.

If you want to know your origin, come to Manipur, you are most welcome, and see for yourself where your forefathers used to live.

yes i also doubt the india or hindu connection. pure bullshit and rubbish. me a bishupria but i still remember my grandfather used to bow downto apokpa, not any mahavarata god. i dont beileve my community came from one big pig penis of a hindu god. give us a break please.

I agree Meiteimacha. Even the costumes in the photos give wrong picture of meitei culture Bishnupryas are these days taking advantange of chaos and trouble in Manipur are trying to hijack the Meitei culture and tradition as their own by making this kind of propaganda. if Bishnuprya are so confident of their identity and culture, they should give authentic proof about their distinct culture without taking Meitei community culture and identity.

GO back those mayang who destroy our culture and love with the trival people.

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