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The Historical, Archaeological, Religious & Cultural Significance Of 'Kangla': The Ancient Citadel Of Manipur

Pandit N.Khelchandra Singh


Related Notes of Interest while on this topic

2. The Evolution Of Meitei Polity:
According to the chronicles, the Meitei polity has evolved through a long process beginning with the Khaba-Pakhangba episode in the initial Christian era, in which the latter overcame the former. The end-process culminated as per same sources and various other evidences when all the seven salais ceased to exist and became vertically integrated into a single national entity, during the brief reign of king Charairongba (1697-1709). Since then all autochthones as also all newcomers became collectively known as 'the Meitheis' even to neighbours and since then to others in the outside world, as since confirmed by records and accounts from foreign sources.

At the initial stage the 'uni-clan' nature of the villages must have paved for the formation of the chieftaincy within the village itself from among the pibas, or the male head of the major lineage. The significant social position of the piba (male head of major lineage); pibaren (male stream head of maximal lineage); and ningthou (clan-head) used to be and are still recognized by the people on the basis of their genealogical positions. This obligation gave rise to social control, which in turn generated political power of the ningthou within the clan, and this is also in evidence in some of the uni-clan villages still surviving traditional enclaves in remote corners of the valley. Two factors, namely inter-clan marriage for getting girls in marriage and territorial aggrandizement for obtaining more land under control of each clan had been the main issues for inter-clan clashes. Thereby they felt the need for greater militia (wider population base) and more land for greater food supply and greater economic power in terms of tributes, food-stock etc. so as to sustain a greater hierarchy. They even seemed to realize that they would eventually have greater military might only through greater social and economic incentives _ provided direct to the feudal subjects. And as in other feudal systems the ordinary subjects or vassals would form the feudal base with the nobility up the chain of command with still greater incentives among others in terms of life-time land-grants.

And more by accident than by design, the Meitei clan happened to command the most fertile land in the valley. In this way power which used to remain with the various clan chiefs became gradually centralized in the kingship under whose personal command these inter-clan fights were undertaken. In the process the authority which was inherent in the genealogical structure itself became accentuated and elaborated and thereby more conveniently vested in the lainingthou (king). The end-result is that the Meitei _ originally one of the seven clan-names became identified as the Meitei nationhood _ the ethnic name of all the clan-members. There is near-perfect unanimity among different sources on this type and pattern of evolution of the polity.

As regards timing of the Meitei polity evolution vis--vis neighbouring systems there is a further view by way of a refinement from its structural synchronic analysis _ also confirmed by various chronicles _ that the Meitei kingship evolved at a time when the Meiteis had not come into contact with other people who had strongly developed kingship in the surrounding regions and that the reorganization of villages had taken place after the formation of kingship. It is therefore more plausible to infer that the Meitei kingship developed from uni-clan village organizations through an intermediary phase of clan chieftaincy. K. Manikchand distinguishes two dimensions viz. political and social; and concludes in The Evolution of the Meitei State (A Confederacy through the Last Two Millennia): Manipur Past and Present: N. Sanajaoba (Ed.), Vol. 1, Delhi, 1988: p.158.

"The ultimate formation of the Meitei nation may seem to suggest that the identity of each salai ceased to exist long back, thereby leading to the political extinction of the separate entities. But socially, the seven salais continue to exist till today as it was in the past. At the social level, the salais still play a very pivotal role in the social and religious life of the contemporary Meiteis." Besides the seven salais, Lois and yet other autochthones of smaller denominations, it is consensually held that Nongpok Haram and Nongchup Haram are the other ethnic groups which have also amalgamated into the present day Meitei community. Over and above the original Meiteis, a considerable number of people from the east and the west of the country were absorbed into the Meiteis. At various stages of the micro-history, a number of people came and settled in Manipur either as captives of war or otherwise as adventurous immigrants. Those who came from the east were purely Mongolians consisting of Shans, Burmese, Chinese etc. The settlement of these people and their subsequent absorption into the Meitei society took place much earlier than in the case of those who came from the rest of India.

This is because of the fact that the Meiteis established political and cultural connections with her eastern neighbours since the early stages of her history. The settlement of people from the east started since the time of king Naothingkhong (663-763) in the seventh century A.D. It is well known that Samlung, the younger brother of the Pong king Sukapha visited Manipur, during the time of Naothingkhong (Cheitharol Kumbaba). Further evidences also reveal that even prior to the visit of Samlung, friendly relations between the Meiteis and Pongs were already established (Khelchandra). It is therefore quite possible that the influx of people from the east started as early as the seventh century. This continued till the time of Maramba (1753-1759) in the eighteenth century. All these people were assigned to one or the other of the seven salais and some of them allotted even new Sageis (surnames), while the rest were merged into the existing sageis. Thus they were almost completely absorbed into the Meitei hegemony. The descendants of these people are still known as N ongpok Haram (Sangai Phammang & Nongpok Haram MSS). Absorption of people from the mainland of India came later on. Sangai Phammang cites that a lady from the west, known better as Chingurembi, married the son of Thangbi Lalhaba (1302-1324 A.D.) and brought over a large retinue of attendants who were all absorbed into the Meitei community. Since then regular waves of immigrants or war captives came over. Brahmins arrived since the time of Kiyamba (1467-1508), as also Lairikyengbam, Kshetrimayums who were also not assigned under any of the seven salais. All descendants of these people are since categorised as Nongchup Haram.

Fortunately the art of writing became known to the early Meitei society, whereby all those annals of the different sageis, salais etc. have been left behind as sources of such valuable information. Together, these successives droves of immigrants have transformed the human base of the erstwhile clan-based salai into such a milieu characterized by a simultaneously outward-looking as well as a differential thought-process. Truly, mankind would be required to inculcate his thought process, if he has to put it down in writing for the sake of record and posterity, rather than otherwise.

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