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The Transcendental Role Of Women In Manipur History

Dr. M. C. Arunkumar & Irengbam Arun

3. Unconventional Origin of Womanhood In Manipur Patriarchal Society

The Manipuri people did emerge out of a very long process of evolution, partaking more of ethnic amalgamation than single-cell mitosis, in the fertile amphitheatre-shaped valley of Manipur. Various ethnic groups converged on this valley in successive waves of human migration from all directions ever since the very early pre-Christ days. These ethnic groups brought along different sociocultural traits and contributed to the emergence of an unique Manipuri society, one Manipuri entity, and its composite character. The historical development of Manipuri society received a powerful thrust once the process of the Manipur State polity formation became more or less complete in 33 A.D. under its first demigod king, Nongda Lairen Pakhangba.

Since its inception, the Manipur society had been essentially a patriarchal society, although many matriarchal (or matrilineal) characters, traits and elements did show up in some form or other at various stages of its long historical process of evolution. King Nongda Lairen Pakhangba was himself a semi-mythical personality who consolidated the then warring principalities of Manipur valley and started a long divine lineage down the two-millennia long history of Manipur. Quite interestingly enough, the ownership and inheritance of title, land and property in the Meitei society became fully patrilineal even by his time.

Both the crucible-forging process and the historical experience of the Manipuri people in the pre-state formative age produced two opposite forces in the personality of the Manipuri womanhood, which can be classified as:

(i) the ideal woman in a patriarchal society on one pole; and

(ii) the rebel on the other pole.

For purposes of a more realistic depiction of Manipuri womanhood, these two opposite forces can analytically be reduced to a dichotomy of two traditional deities: Imoinu and Panthoibi. On the one hand, the Imoinu womanhood is modelled on the values of the ideal woman as espoused by the goddess of wealth Imoinu Ahongbi. She is the submissive and obedient model of womanhood. But, the other is modelled on the legendary goddess, Panthoibi, who rebelled against her own hearth, kith and kin as well as all patriarchal norms of Manipuri society. She is the very embodiment of independent and assertive womanhood. What is noteworthy is however that both these two opposite forces are found permeated in the personality of the individual Manipuri womanhood, albeit in different roles vivifying as the occasion demands. The constant interaction of these two diametrically opposite forces has helped forge the modern Manipuri woman with all its complexities. One will find the submissive wife, the enterprising working-woman as also the demanding activist, all rolled into one in the individual Manipuri woman.

But one wonders as to how the ever-evolving process might show up at the end of the day. If the ideal womanhood characterizes her normal life, a time comes when the volcano in her erupts, and she becomes proactive, ever ready to confront gross injustice; social ills: drunken husbands; drug addiction; Army-excesses under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act; threats to Manipur's territorial integrity; or else, whatever may seize the fancy of women-proactivists.


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