Volume 6 | Issue 18| September 22, 2012|


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Meitei Manipuri

Continuing from previous issue's cover story, this article looks briefly into the literature of Meitei Manipuri language, and its history. A subdivision of greater Manipuri language, Meitei is spoken in Manipur state of India and Manipuri ethnic group in Bangladesh. Although it lost its alphabets through the course of time, it too has a rich history.

Shuvashis Sinha

According to Sir Grierson and Dr. Sunitkumar Chattopadhyay, Meitei Manipuri language falls under the Aryan branch of the greater Mongolian Tibeto Kuki-chin Language group. Meitei language has its own alphabet. It is known that the king of Manipur, Pakhangba invented the alphabet in 1st century A.D. At first, the numbers of alphabets were only 18. Later, king Khagemba introduced 9 more alphabets. An interesting characteristic of Meitei Language is that all the alphabets are named after different body organs. For example; the first letter of the alphabet is 'Kok', which means 'head'. In the beginning of the 18th century, Meitei Manipuri language adopted Bengali alphabets. Under King Garibnawaz, Hinduism began to spread in Manipur. Through the Bengali- Hindu proselytizers Bengali alphabets began to penetrate Manipur. Gradually Meitei alphabets began to fade. In tragic circumstances, many Meitei books were burnt during that period.

Poet and lyricist
Arambam Somorendra

The center of Meitei Manipuri literature is the Manipur state of India. There, the diversity of the language began to grow. The history of Meitei literature is divided into 3 periods. Ancient period starts before 1st AD to 1074 AD. Middle period begins from 1074 AD to 1825 AD. Middle age itself can be divided into two parts; 1074 to 1709 as the first part, and 1709 to 1825 as the second. Modern period is from 1826 till now.

A special lyric towards sun-god, called 'Oigi' is considered as the first Meitei Manipuri oral literature. Later, many chronicles of royal lifestyles, biographies and history of monarchs broadened the literature. Choitharol, Kubamba, Numitkapa, Poiriton, Khuntokopa, Panthoibi, and Khongul are various examples of ancient Meitei literature.

Through the Hindu proselytizers, the effect of Bengali-Hinduism in Manipuri was great. Later, followers of Vaishnav like Shantodas Goswami created a new religious culture in Manipur. This penetration of Hinduism introduced a different literary style to the Manipuris. A drastic change occurred in Meitei literature ­– most literature began to produce with Bengali alphabets.

Legendary love story in Meitei Khamba-Thoibi, turned out to be a popular piece of literature. Later, many plays and various other literatures were produced related to Khamba-Thoibi. Among them, 'Khamba-Thoibi Shoireng' written by Hijom Onganghol with 39,000 speeches turned out to be an epic. Besides its own literature, many translations of Homer, Tolstoy, Gorki and Shakespeare were produced during this period. Also, during this period, Meghdoot Ramayana and many other epics were translated, and transformed it into an asset to world literature.

An exemplary name in modern period Meitei literature was Elangbam Nilkanta. Winner of the Indian Literature Academy award, Nilkanta also wrote about the liberation war of Bangladesh. After the tragic murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, he wrote a poem that had been translated into many Indian languages that created stir in both India and Bangladesh.

When it comes to Manipuri play, Ratan Thyiam and Kanailal Hisnam is considered to be the most renowned. These two screenwriters and directors re-created ancient tales with contemporary ideas and thoughts. Re-creation of Ratam Thiyam's Chakrabuho, Ritushonhar Kanailal's Korno and Daakghor was an adventurous step to theatre drama.

It has been just a few decades that the practice of Meitei literature began in Bangladesh. In 1975, an organization called 'Manipuri Shahitto Shongshod' took essential steps in this movement. During the 70s, many young writers began writing in Meitei language. Nobokishor Sharma, Professor Shonamoni Singha and Thokachom Moinhar are among the young talented writers.

Published by Manipuri Shahitto Shongshod 'Dipambita' magazine was an important asset in Meitei literature. Later, inspired by ethnic pride, Meitei writers started publications like; Moira, Motom, Thaj, Anouba, Mongal, Manipuri Dorpon, Epom, Shojibu Ichel and Oigri.

So far in Bangladesh, more than 20 books have been published in Meitei language. Manipuri Shahitto Shongshod and Inat publications published most of these books.

Some of the notable books published in Bangladesh in Meitei language are; in poetry – Mong Mopoi Morokta by Sheram Nironjon, Thoraigee Nungshire by Shonaton Hamom, Rakhalgee Nachom by Homom Promod, Innafi by Khoirom Indrajit and Monglanee Atiyada Numit Thokpa by A.K. Sheram - in story, Nongoibee by A.K. Sheram ; in feature, Mochu Naiba Mong by Khoiram Indrajit and Forngjai Rakhal, in poetry - compilation, Bangladeshi Manipuri Shoireng, edited by A.K. Sheram and Ek Boshonter Bhalobasha, translated and edited by Motum Opu.

There is also some journalistic literature. In both Meitei and Bishnupriya, there has been more work done in poetry than in narrative.

Playwrite Ratan Thiyam

In the 90s, like Bangla literature, a change in style came about in terms of language and style. Complexities of life, ethnic tensions and individual emotions came to in the form of metaphor. Homom Promod and Sheram Nironjon are two of the famous poets of this period. At the end of the last decade and the in the beginning of the new decade new poets with new styles emerged; Thongam Sanjay, Konthoujom Suronjit, Shaymal Singha and Sheram Ripon are among them. They tried to accelerate and bring richness to Meitei literature in parallel with Indian Bishnupriya Manipuri Literature.

Like Bishnupriya Manipuri literature, in Meitei, a view of a detached modern human being and its decaying ethnic conflict is expressed. This sense can be found in its own style, for example; in Sheram's poem 'Ondhokar (darkness)', the fear of darkness is conveyed in the following manner-

“A twisted view of the darkness
Darkness of wit, feelings and insight…”
Again, at the end of the poem he writes-
“The lowly hyacinth is also in the darkness
Exploding, like the God of fear, Lai”.

In the traditional style of Homom's poem, a combination of the beauty of women, nature and the expression of untold desires can be found. But, in the end there is always the defeat of the individual; an introvert rhythm and concealed sadness of music can be found in his poetry. In another of his poem, 'little sister and her doll', he expresses the sadness during cremation of a doll. Using the doll as a metaphor, he tried to state the cruelty of human race. He writes that the doll wants to say something, but her voice is lost in the midst of sounds of Shankha (conch shell, trumpet-like musical instrument). Konthoujom Suronjit, a poet of this century, wanted to see the face of the modern individual mind and its complexities.

Amongst the greater Manipuri race in Bangladesh, there is another smaller Muslim Manipuri group called the Pangon. They too speak Meitei, yet their practice of Manipuri culture is absent. Yet, in the Pangon group, because of language, a similarity in clothing and jewelry can be found with the rest of the Manipuris. Although the Pangons hardly practice Manipuri culture, through the activities of different organizations, they have a high literacy rate. Recently, a gradual movement in Manipuri cultural practice is starting among the Pangons. First published in 1990 'Anouba Khongdang (new beginning)', edited by Sajjadul Haque Shopon is the sign of this new drive. Another magazine, 'Prottoy', is regularly being published by Sajjadul Haque since 2004. Moreover, Md. Abdul Majid, Khurshed Ali has written features about the possibilities and conflicts of the Pangons. Although a full book has never been published, the Pangons, a small group with a different religion with internal conflicts are trying to create a new style of literature. They have taken the initiative to publish books from Manipuri writer's forum. It is certain that a new style of literature is soon to emerge from the Pangons with including their internal conflicts of religious-cultural identity.

Translated by Zia Nazmul Islam


Certain technical difficulties resulted in few errors in the first part of the article published as the Cover Story of Star Insight Vol 06 Issue 04. Star Insight team deeply regrets the errors. The corrections are listed below;

On page 3 1st Paragraph line 3 - instead of Dr. Kalidas Singh it should be Dr. Kaliprasad Singha.

On page 6 line 4 - instead of “The research and the other writings on root of ancient popular beliefs is regarded as an important document.” it should be “The research and the other writings on root of ancient popular beliefs by Ashim Singha is regarded as an important document.”

All the names with Singh should be Singha.


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