Language and Literature
Manipuri language can be divided in two groups; Bishnupriya and Meitei. Through years of struggle and conflict, Manipuri language is now an established medium of communication. It has even gained recognition as one of the official languages in India. Both in Bangladesh and India, Manipuri people are producing international level literature. This cover story is a chronicle of Bishnupriya Manipuri Language. The second part of the article on Meitei Manipuri language will be published in the next issue of Star Insight.
Considering the language, the Manipuri race in Bangladesh is divided into two groups; Bishnupriya and Meitei. Bishnupriya Manipuri language falls under Indo-Aryan language group. Researchers like Dr. Kalidas Singh distinguish the language in the borderline of Magadhi-Prakrit language. Some even tried to establish it as a Shauraseni-Prakrit language. In Bishnupriya Manipuri language, verb changes according to gender and number. For example–
Difference is gender
Thoiba is going - Thoiba Jarga
Thoibi is going – Thoibi Jeiriga
Difference is number
I am going – Mi Jauriga
We are going – Ami Jaranga
“No” usually comes before verb to establish significance, like; I am not going – Mi Na Jimga. When it comes to perfect pronunciation of the language, it can be said that there are few gasping phonetic in it.
Bishnupriya Manipuri language has faced many hurdles of assault and torment by the elements of the society. It is probably one of most suffered languages. Starting from the 50s of last century to its end, for 50 long years of bloody struggle this language has established itself as one of the official languages of India. Through the imprisonment of thousands of students, and the life of Bhashabiranogona (language war-heroine) Sudeshna Sinha (died in 16 March 1996), it was recognized as a medium of language in the schools of Assam and Tripura. Even after so, it faced unreasonable complaints and legal charges. After years of legal fight, on the 8th of March 2007, through verdict of Indian supreme-court, Bishnupriya Manipuri language regained its identity as a Manipuri language.
The epicenter of Bishnupriya Manipuri literature is India (Assam and Tripura) and Bangladesh. Boron Dahanir Ela (call for rain) and Madoi Soraleler Ela (songs of Madoi Soralel) are considered to be oldest found literature of the language. The songs are related to the agrarian society, and older than the introduction of Vaishnavism in the area. The first is based on a legendary story of a kingdom in drought, calling for rain. By the blessing of God Pahangpar it starts to rain in that kingdom. There are poetic hints using metaphors. For example;
“Girls floating in joy are calling
Long hair, with flowers on ear, there will be dance and song.”
On the other hand, in the songs of Madoi Soralel, a conflict of ideology is found between two ancient Manipuri Gods; Soralel and Madoi. An inter-religious conflict of a race comes out in the reading too. An ancient pattern is noticeable in the language, word and sentence structure. The divine and earthly relationship of Madoi and Soralel (soul) and their conflict is expressed various ways through the appeal of Madoi. Another folktale in Bishnupriya Manipuri literature is called Apangrawari (Tale of the fool). In 18th century, during the reign of King Garib Newaj, Bengali Hinduism, and later Gaudiya Vaishnavism began to infiltrate Manipur. From then, Manipuris began to translate various Sanskrit literatures and religious books, and thus accelerated the trend of religious literature.
Pre-modern period of the language can considered from 1930s to 1950s. In 1925, the magazine Jagoron was published in Assam – at the same time, an organization called Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Mohashova was established. A proud sense of racial identity began to brew among the Manipuris. During that period, Mahendrakumar Singh wrote “The ancient history of Manipur”. Gokulanondo Gitiswami composed songs, wrote lyrics of social reformation and performed them in different villages – he was called the Charankobi (wandering poet). He was transparent and adamant on his principle and ideology of society and politics. He took a clear stand against orthodoxy and superstition through his songs. He wrote–
“How long will you sleep in the darkness of ignorance
All wake up, light the lamp of knowledge.”
He also wrote–
“Follow trend of the time
The fire in the forest will not leave anyone.”
The modern period of the language starts from the start of 1960. Fagu (1960), Panchojonno Ajjurni (1970), Protisruti (1974) and many more magazines began publishing with new authors and ideas. In the field of poetry Brojendrokumar Singh appeared as a pioneer. He was later better known by his pen-name “Dhononjoy Rajkumar”. New idea, new lyricism and worldly sensibility, combined with ethnic tradition mixed with infinite artistic sharpness of his literary strength, he brought Bishnupriya Manipuri literature to an international standard. In his lyrics, common and individual grief was mingled in such a way that it took a clandestine form. He wrote;
“The day we went to the water, it was asleep. We didn't take bath because we took pity to wake it up. Not even our words from our lips took bath. Couldn't throw away the sorrow…” (taken from “Tell them”)
Such simple yet meaningful expression is found in his poems. Furthermore, in his another poem “Poth” he reminds and appeals in philosophical way;
“Put on a necklace to the path
We were born from the womb of that path.”
Again, maybe from individual or national resentment, he ironically wrote;
“The sleeping dog
In human veranda
The memorial built for me
I will give you away forever
Don't be sad.” (Taken from “To a dog”)
During his lifetime, Shonarup Singh, Modonmohon Mokhopddhay, Jogotmohn Singh and others appeared in Manipuri literature scene. Shonarup Singh's “Anoipi” is a flawless book of poetry. Its rhyme and lyrical synchrony is a wonderful reading experience. The strength of Modonmohon Mokhopddhay's poetic motion will touch any reader. Late Tripura health minister Bimol Singh is an important name for Manipuri prose. Although written in Bangla, the story “Ingeleiler Myer Biye” is a well discussed anthropological literary commentary of Manipuri society.
The next decade turned out to be more vibrant and multi-dimensional for Bishnupriya Manipuri literature. Publication of Tripura Che (1979 till today), Ebaka (1980, Nua Ela (1982 till today) and others started.
Currently, Loktat, Panchasree, Kakei, Soralel, Amar Pou, Chetona and many more little magazines and newspapers are in publication. Poets like Champalal Singh, Mothura Singh, Dils Lakhkhindra singh, Shamarjit Singh, Bishwajit Singh and Ranjit Singh created Manipuri literary monument with their innovative idea and language treatment, and also with racial-political pride. Binshnupriya was born in the 1980s in Assam. The allegorical subtle style of his poems take the reader from perceived world to a different sense of life. He wrote;
“They took the pieces of sunshine from winter morning
To the corner of a skyscraper
Left it for a citizen of 3-4 year old
And for the old intellectual” (Taken from “Story of Life”)
Samrjit Singh was also known in Bangla literature. “Techniques of Detachement” and “Marxist View” gave his poetry uniqueness. Ashukanti Singh, Shantosh Singh and Kanchonboron Singh of this century is experimenting withlanguage style in poetry.
In parallel, Bangladeshi Bishnupriya Manipuri lyrical practice starts from the 1970s. In the 1930, the Vanubil peasant-revolt, and later Manipuris were directly participated in the liberation war of Bangladesh.
After the liberation war, Bishnupriya Manipuri literature started to be practiced in a proper way. Literature magazines like Khongchel (1973), Mingal (1981), Imar Thar (1979), Sattyam (1981) began to publish. In lyrics, appeared the likes of Ranjit Singh and Gopichand Singh. Ranjit Singh, in his “Jege Otha (Waking up)” poem expressed his fear;
“The way river banks erode
The same way eroding the society, dream and tradition
We are all eroding…”
Shukhumoy Singh expressed the sorrow of a broken man through the appeal of love in his poem “Tor Nishingye”. In 1990s, Bishnupriya Manipuri literature gained its momentum. Journals and magazines such as; Pouri (1989), Jagoron (1991), Jebaka Jedin (1991). Ithak (1994) began to publish. Many young writers worked hard during that time to make Bishnupriya Manipuri literature more prosperous. Edited by Uttam Singh (currently residing in USA), the little-magazine “Pouri” the participation of young Bishnupriya Manipuri literature writers got accelerated. Today, “Pouri” is a national standard information-research organization, from which many books in Bishnupriya Manipuri language is published mainting high standard of literature. Its main contributor is Dr. Sukumar Singh Bimol, the man is a great patron of literature, and also by Shushil Kumar Singh. From the same organization, edited by Shushil Kumar Singh, “Pouripotrika” is being published once in every two months. Literature, criticism, non-fiction, translation etc. is immensely contributing to Manipuri language. Although not regular, “Gaorapar” released with many important writings of Shumon Singh. “Kumei” is being released once in two months. Shongram Singh is another important figure in journalism – he releases information and news of Bangladesh in his news magazine “Ithak”.
In prose, particularly in short stories Amarendra Singh, Brojendro Kumar Singh (Sikadini), Bimol Singh, Anukul Singh (Boshonter Khollik), Sritikumar Singh (Sritikumrar Choto Golpo), Jyotiprokash Singh (Bana Panir Shale) Geeta Mukharjee and many others brought out the life, its distress using myth and cotemporary incidents. Anukul Singh's “Not light but darkness” tells a story of an excited older woman over the introduction of trains in her area runs over by a train. From this story a self-conflicting effect of development is expressed. In Sritikumar Singh's “Dhojor Mistiry Moron”, a carpenter has to dismantle his home he built himself. It shows the extinction of older-traditions in a sensitive language. Story writer Shurendra Kumar was born in Ghoramara village of Moulavibazar district. His writing style is subtle yet sharp and objective. He is a flawless writer of women form living on the edge. Several of his writing like; “Matir Shongshar” and “Kishanpurer Maya” he created tales of rural life, inner lives of women, complications in relationships takes him to an elevated level in literature.
The youngest of Bishnupriya Manipuri literature, Najan Singh focused on the Marxist sentiment and its sufferings of the race. “Bedi” is heart-felt story of Sudhesna Singh .
Linguistic Dr. Kaliprosad Singh is the first person to perform a methodological research on Manipuri Language. Furthermore, Barun Kumar Singh Brojendro and Kumar Singh are among the other major contributors. In Bangladesh, Dr. Ranjir Kumar comes first in essay and research. Among his best writings are; “Shadhinota Shongrame Bangladesher Manipuri Shomaj” and “Nighshing Nirole”. The research and the other writings on root of ancient popular beliefs is regarded as an important document. Moreover, Rajkantha Singh Roshmohon Singh, Chandrakumar Singh, Hemantakumar Singh, Shyamshundor Singh, Stayajit Singh and Shajalkanti Singh are other young and prime writers who write essays both in Bengali and Bishnupriya Manipuri.
Indrokumar Singh comes first when talking about playwrights. In a subtle comedic style, “Meikei”, 'Jorashondho” “Sensus” expresses the social imbalance and the flaws of human character. Brojedrokumar Singh, Ashwani Kumar Singh, Nandershwar Singh and Ranjit Singh are of high standard play writers, and their work gave momentum to theatre drama.
There are barely few novels in Bishnupriya Manipuri. Socio-political environment was never in place for the practice of novels. Yet, Provash Kanti Singh, Jyotiprokash Singh and Shomorojit Singh produced novels, where a picture of the complexities and conflicts of race and the state and drawn.
Dhononjoykumar Singh comes first in translation. Apart from Sophocles, Kalidas and Rabindranath, his two- volume “Onubadkolpo” can easily be considered as one the best translated literature. Dils Lakhkhindra Singh is another name in the field.
But the pioneer in playwright from both Bangladesh and India must be the “wandering poet” Gokulanondo Gitiswami”. He, with his heart-lifting plays “Matrimongol Kabbo” and “Shomaj-Sonhskar” wandered around the villages, and created a revolution in drama scene. Currently, in Bangladesh, the dram-group called “Manipuri Theatre” is staging drama programs in Manipuri Language, in the areas of Manipur and the rest of the country, and abroad as well.
The last half of the article, will be published on the next issue of Star Insight.
Translated by Zia Nazmul Islam
Cover Art by Ujjal Ghose
(R) thedailystar.net 2012