Archive for February, 2010

History of Meetei Mayak

Meetei-Mayek is the script which was used to write Meeteilon (Manipuri) till the 18th century. The script nearly became extinct as a result of a mass burning of all books in Meeteilon ordered by Ningthau Pamheiba who ruled Manipur in the 18th century. The main person behind this atrocity was Shantidas Gosain who had come to Manipur to spread Vaishnavism, on whose instigation the king gave the order. The king embraced Vaishnavism, took the name Garibnawaz and made Vaishnavism the state religion. Subsequently, Bengali script was adopted to write the language and is being used till date. Recent research has resurrected this script, and it is now being given its due place.
It is indeed difficult to trace the exact period of the origin of the Meetei Mayek. The burning of vital historical documents or the Puyas of Kangleipak (Manipur) written in Meetei Mayek during the reign of King Pamheiba in the early 18th century, made the effort all the more difficult. The earliest use of Meetei Mayek is dated between 11th and 12th centuries AD. A stone inscription found at Khoibu in Tengnoupal district contains royal edicts of Kiyamba – this was the beginning of Chietharol Kumbaba – the Royal Chronicle of Manipur. According to the very few Puyas that survived, such as, Wakoklon Thilel Salai Singkak, Wakoklol Thilel Salai Amailon, Meetei Mayek comprised of 18 alphabets. Even during the reign of King Pamheiba Meetei-Mayek is the script which was used to write Meeteilon(Manipuri) till the 18th century.

Mutua Bahadur Art Collection Part-2

Illustrated Manuscripts of Manipur
– Part 2 –

In 1825, Manipur’s Maharaja Gambhir Singh took refuge for some time in Sylhet (now in Bangladesh). Near his residence three temples were constructed to worship Meitei gods, the Pakhangba and the Nongsaba, and also the goddess Yumjao Lairembi.

On the left wall of the Pakhangba temple, there is an engraved picture of the Paphal with many heads and of a prostrate figure under each head. It signifies a synthesis of the Meitei indigenous cultural tradition and the Hindu religious tradition.

This tendency is also noticeable in a few indigenous martial arts manuscripts where both the Paphal and the names of Radha and Krishna are put together.

Traits of Austric culture which came into contact with the Meitei culture through the Mon culture of Myanmar can be seen in various Paphal illustrations. The Mons are believed to have settled in Manipur around 2000 BC and their traditions got assimilated into those of the Meiteis.

They, in turn, added some more dimensions, characterized by more intertwining of the body of the python, to the Paphal illustration. The Khmers, or the Khamarans as the Meiteis call them, are believed to have migrated to Manipur around 1000 BC. They also enriched the Paphal tradition by contributing more designs of their own.

There are some similarities between the Paphal and the snake motif of the Meenakshi temple at Madurai in south India. The differences are also obvious. In the Paphal, the tail of the python is almost always inside its mouth while it is not so inthose in south India. The Paphal is presented sometimes to look like a python, sometimes like a snake, and sometimes even with horns

Mutua Bahadur Art Collection Part-1

Illustrated Manuscripts of Manipur

– Part 1-


The precise historical period of the beginning of a written script in Manipur is not known. It is certain though that by 11th and 12th century many books were written on agarbak (bark of Aquilaria agallocha). During the reign of Khagemba (1547-1652 AD), the Meiteis had learnt making paper and begun writing on them.

According to Cheitharol Kumbaba, the royal chronicle of Manipur, many manuscripts were written during his reign in 1616 for learning. It is possible that illustrated manuscripts were in vogue by this time even though we are yet to come across such ancient illustrated manuscripts.

Whatever illustrated manuscripts that are now available are mainly associated with astrology. Perhaps an exception would be Paphal Lambuba as it depicts many forms of the Paphal. Indeed, the ancient manuscripts dealt with a variety of topics such as genealogy, climatology, geography, politics, healing, mineralogy, religious issues, and battle chronicles.

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The history of Manipur Meities is chronicled in Puyas or Puwaris (stories about our  forefathers), namely, the Ninghthou Kangbalon, Cheitharol Kumbaba, Ningthourol Lambuba, Poireiton Khunthokpa, Panthoibi Khongkul, etc. in the archaic Meitei script, which is comparable to the Thai script.  The historical accounts presented here were recordings from the eyes and the judgment of the Meitei Kings and Maichous (Meitei scholars).  Hill tribes have their own folk tales, myths and legends.

Manipur was known by different names at various periods in its history, such as, Tilli-Koktong, Poirei-Lam, Sanna-Leipak, Mitei-Leipak, Meitrabak or Manipur (present day). Its capital was Kangla, Yumphal or Imphal (present day).  Its people were known by various names, such as Mi-tei, Poirei-Mitei, Meetei, Maitei or Meitei.  The Puwaris, Ninghthou Kangbalon, Ningthourol Lambuba, Cheitharol Kumbaba, Poireiton Khunthokpa, recorded the events  of each King who ruled Manipur in a span of more than 3500 years until 1955 AD (a total of more than 108 kings). Ningthou Kangba (15th century BC) is regarded the first and foremost king of Manipur.  There were times when the country was in turmoil without rulers and long historical gaps in between 1129 BC – 44 BC.  In 1891 AD, after the defeat of the Meiteis by the British in the Anglo-Manipuri war of Khongjom, Manipur’s sovereignty for more than three millenniums was lost.  It regained its freedom on August 28, 1947 AD but did not last long. On 15 October  1949, Manipur was annexed into the Indian territory.

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