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The Transcendental Role Of Women In Manipur History

Dr. M. C. Arunkumar & Irengbam Arun

7. The Rebel Panthoibi

In strict theory it is inconceivable how a girl could ever emerge out of the rigorous disciplines and kernel of a patriarchal society. Particularly in the closed patriarchal Manipuri society, daughters do not have freedom of choice and it is for the parents to decide even a proper mate for their daughters. The existence of a woman is either in relation to her father (pre-womanhood); her husband (womanhood); or her son (if widowed). And she does not have any independent status or existence whatsoever. For instance, a woman cannot marry twice, should she ever become a divorcee or a widow, while there are no such restrictions on man. Hence, any assertive woman would be a rarity, when quite naturally frowned even by her own kith and kin, and of course by one and all.

The legendary woman Panthoibi rebelled against this sort of submissive situation and denial of independent choice. She rebelled against her father and all the norms of patriarchy in Manipuri society. She became a voluntary actor and stood out even as the rallying point for other seekers of independence among counterparts. Once she would put her foot down and make a determined choice, no amount of coaxing or persuasion could deter or waive her from her trajectory. She would go through all the trials and tribulations of a rebel to ultimately emerge as a Goddess. The Manipuri annal, Panthoibi Khong-gul focuses on the story of Panthoibi. She is depicted as in love with Nongpok Ningthou. Her parents, however, would not approve of her maiden love and gave her away in betrothal to Khaba. Even after her marriage to Khaba, Panthoibi would meet Nongpok. Naturally her in-laws and their other kins would not approve of her escapades and illicit relationship. Ultimately, Nongpok and Panthoibi would elope. Khaba and his kin-group would take it as an insult and a slur to their pride. They would chase and hunt out the couple everywhere, but fail to catch up with them. At last, Nongpok and Panthoibi become deified as Manipuri pantheons. Panthoibi has embodied the presiding deity of many Manipuri households as counterpart of Durga with Nongpok enshrined as Siva.

The patri-oriented society seldom considers woman as an independent social actor. The voice of woman is not socially recognized. The social status of a woman is always determined with reference to a man as being her husband, father or son. A barren woman or a woman who cannot bear a son is considered a nonentity. A woman, whose first offspring is a son, is considered an ideal in terms of fertility, hence a good omen and she is handpicked to lead the procession in social functions especially marriages. These patri-oriented norms and values that favour male and his interests are challenged by Panthoibi. Such women assert and raise their voice in the patriarchal system so that they may be recognized and heard. Though not antithetical as such to patriarchy, it denies selfless submission of women to the patriarchal ideology.

If Imoinu represents the gentle, sober, cool and home-caring bottomline of womanhood, Panthoibi would thus embody her occasional upfronts when she assumes the role of a daredevil to fight the evil in society or cleanse the system of otherwise harmful elements. Thus if the former depicts the generally upcoming traits, the latter would herald the particular role demanded from the female in critical junctures. In other words, if Imoinu characterizes the all-time mode, Panthoibi would stand out as the opposite all-time high watermark or an extremity she might give vent to.


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