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 theĀ 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