By: Dr. K. P. Sinha
[This is one of the oldest articles in the Internet written by Dr. K.P. Sinha (1937-2011) for Kangla Online.]
1. Controversy between the Meiteis and the Bishnupriyas:
There has been a great controversy between the Bishnupriyas and the on the use of the nomenclature 'Bishnupriya Manipuri' to identify the Bishnupriyas and their language. According to the Meiteis they are the 'real Manipuris' inhabiting the land of Manipur from centuries before Christ, while the Bishnupriyas are the descendants of some Bengalese who entered the land only a few centuries back. Accordingly, the Meiteis call the Bishnupriyas (Mayang's, i.e., 'foreigners' or 'westerners' and hold that the Bishnupriyas should not use the term 'Manipuri' either before or after the term 'Bishnupriya' to identify themselves and their language. This issue has been taken for discussion here.
It should be noted that the Bishnupriyas also, quite contrary to the view of the Meiteis, hold that, they are the 'real Manipuris' inhabiting the land from the time of the Mahabharata War and that the Meiteis are the descendants of some immigrants from the surrounding hills. The Bishnupriyas, accordingly, call the Meiteis 'Khai's, i.e., 'the people of the Chinese group' and hold that the Meiteis should not use the term 'Manipuri' to identify themselves, and their language.
Thus, the people of each of these two sections try to identify themselves as the real Manipuris and regard those of the other section as non-Manipuris. In this encounter, the Bishnupriyas have been -put in a disadvantageous position because of the fact that their language is now extinct in Manipur and that the Govt. of India has recognized the Meitei language as 'Manipuri'. Some Bishnupriyas are even now against the use of the term 'Manipuri' to denote the 'Meiteis' or 'Meitei language'. But the Bishnupriyas in general are not so much against the use of the term 'Manipuri' in the sense of 'Meitei' as for the defense of the use of the term 'Manipuri' either as a 'Prefix or as a suffix-along with the term 'Bishnupriya.
2. The Concepts of 'Manipur' and 'Manipuri'
Historians without any prejudice will agree that the concepts of 'Manipur' and 'Manipuri' are not very old. No old record of Manipur has retained these names. It is quite lively that the land was known as Manipur towards the 17ch century, and the people were called Manipuris after that time. Formerly, the present Manipur was divided into small territories occupied by different clans, such as, the Khumals, the Moirangs, the Angoms, the Ningthoujas(Meiteis) and the Luangs, and the different territories 'were known by the names of the respective clans. The people of these clans used to identify themselves and their languages by the names of their respective clans. Towards the 15th century A.D,, the Meiteis occupied all the territories and established a sovereign kingdom which was known to the Meiteis as 'Mcitei Leipik' or 'the land of the Meiteis'. As a result of this Meiteisation, the languages of the different clans got intermixed and consequently the modern Meitei language was formed. In other words the Meitei language, as it is understood today, was formed after the 15th century A.D.
The Bishnupriyas were living in the valley of Manipur from centuries before the period of Meiteisation. A full discussion on the controversies on this point will lead us a long way off. To avoid this at present, this much can be said that, the Meiteis call the Bishnupriyas 'Mayang' and the history of the Mayangs in Manipur goes back to the 7th century A. D. That does not mean that the Bishnupriya language, as it is understood today, is the language of these Mayangs of the 7th or the 8th century. Bishnupriya is a New Indo-Aryan and most, as such, it could not be formed before the 11th or 12th century A.D. It can, however be said that the Bishnupriya Language is a developed form of, or somehow related to, the language of those immigrants who entered Manipur before the 12th and 13th centurey A.D., The Mayangs or Bishnupriyas in Manipur spoke different forms of Late Middle Indo-Aryan or Apabhrangsa, of which Eastern Magadhi was pre-dominant. And the present form of Bishnupri!ya language, as it is understood today, was formed towards the 14th and the 15th centuries as a result of the mixture of those different dialects of Indo-Aryan and Meitei.
We may summarize the position thus: First, the different clans of the Mongoloid people and the Mayangs or Bishnupriyas were living side- by side in Manipur for centuries before the 15ch century. Secondly, the Meitei language was formed after the 15th century A.D., and the Bishnupriya, language was formed towards the 15th century A.D. both on the soil of Manipur. On the other hand, the term 'Manipur' was attributed to the land, in all Probability, after this period, i.e., towards the 17th century when the land was on way to full Aryanisation, in consequence whereof the term 'Manipuri' was attributed to the people of Manipur. So, when the terms of 'Manipur' and 'Manipuri' came into use, both the Meiteis and the Bishnupriyas had 'equal right' to them. And, practically, people of both these sections used these two terms, i.e., 'Manipur' and 'Manipuri', without any reservation to identify their land and themselves respectively.
3. Formation of a Homogeneous Culture:
Culturally, the Meiteis and the Bishnupriyas cannot be distinguished from each other. As to religion, it goes without saying that these two sections have formed a unique religion. The Bishnupriyas accepted all the prominent gods of the Meiteis, namely, Saralel, Pahanpa, Senamahi, Apokpa and others, just as the Meiteis adopted numerous Hindu gods. At the next step, when the Vaishnavism of Sri Caitanya entered Manipur, people of both these sections. excepting a very few, adopted the religion. This religion 'brought a radical change in the Manipuri society, and both the Meiteis and the Bishnupriyas were equally influenced by it. As a result, they developed a homogeneous culture, and the concept of one community grew among them.
This can be testified by the fact that there was no bar to matrimonial relation between the two sections. A girl of any section could formally be stated into the other section without any propitiation. Even now, members of theses two sections jointly take part in religious and social feasts and ceremonies. 'Kirtana' and Raslila, the greatest features of Manipuri culture, have got equal, prominence in both the sections. Members of both the sections equally take part in them, and equally feel proud for them. Artists of any section participate with equal status and with a feeling of kinship in the kirtana's of the other section. Marriage, dress,, ornaments and others are all common to both the sections. Thus, it is clear that the Meiteis and the Bishnupriyas have formed a homogeneous culture.
The only impediment is, as ill luck would have it, the difference of language. The Meitei language is of the Tibeto-Burman group, whereas the Bishnupriya is of the Indo-Aryan group. In Manipur, there is no problem, because the Bishnupriyas living there have adopted Meitei as their mother tongue. But the Bishnupriyas who had to leave Manipur before the final unification, have retained their language outside the land. Yet, none can deny the fact that these two sections are culturally one.
4. Conventional use of the Terms "Bishnupriya', 'Meitei' and 'Manipuri' and present situation
Any person without prejudice will agree that no person belonging to any of these two sections uses the term 'Manipuri' to introduce himself and his language to one of the other section. People of both the sections simply use the terms 'Meitei' and 'Bishnupriya' for the purpose. It is only when they want to identify themselves and their language to one of any other community that they use the term 'Manipuri'. Both the sections with equal force use this term; any section never monopolized it. And, to be frank, the Meiteis are more in favor of the term 'Meitei'. They call their land 'Meitei Leipik', their dance 'Meitei jagoi', their language 'Meitei' and so on. In the Calcutta University also their language was recognized as 'Meitei (Manipuri)'.
The Bishnupriyas, on the other hand, are more in favor of the term 'Manipuri'. Even a few years back, a Bishnupriya would identify himself as a 'Manipuri, not as a 'Bishnupriya'. In pursuance of their tradition, they call themselves and their language 'Manipuri' even now, and use the term 'Bishnupriya' to distinguish either from 'Meitei, just as the Meiteis use the term 'Manipuri' to identify themselves and their language and the term 'Meitei' to distinguish either from 'Bishnupriya'.
5. Probable solution of the conflict
To summarize the whole position -
(1) Both the Bishnupriyas and the Meiteis were inhabiting Manipur side by side for centuries,
(2) Both Meitei language and Bishnupriya language were formed on the soil of Manipur some five or six hundred years ago,
(3) Both the sections have a common stock of culture and,
(4) Both the sections use the term 'Manipuri' in common to identify themselves.
So, the solution would have been to use the terms 'Meitei Manipuri' for 'Meitei' and 'Bishnupriya Manipuri' for 'Bishnupriya' respectively. But the course of events has changed the position. I have nothing to say against the use of the term 'Manipuri' for 'Meitei', but be finds no reason why the Bishnupriyas should not be allowed to use the term 'Manipuri' along with the differentia 'Bishnupriya'.
The tradition behind the term 'Manipuri' is embedded in the hearts of the Bishnupriyas. They are proud of the Manipuri culture, its dance, Kirtana, dress etc. If, in spite of all this, they are not allowed to use the term 'Manipuri' to identify themselves and their language, they will be cut off from the mainstream of the culture and civilization of Manipur, of which they feel so proud.
If the Meiteis consider these factors with a liberal and sympathetic heart, they will find that the, Bishnupriyas love for the term 'Manipuri' is quite reasonable and that it is not a mere emotion. The Bishnupriyas have every right to use the term 'Manipuri'. If they are not allowed to do so, we shall have reasons to think that some subversive factors behind are at work. I think that if the Meitei intelligentsia comes forward with a considerate attitude, the problem will certainly be solved, and the brotherly fee-ling between the two sections will be regained.
Dr. K. P. Sinha
M.A., Ph.D., D. LIT,
Reader, Sanskrit Department
University of Guahati