The Imaginative Manipuri


An issue that has been lurking in our minds in recent times is the sense of vulnerability of our society in the face of cultural invasion and migration as invoked constantly by certain groups. By saying this we are not implying that we should shy away from protective measures. We have to seriously apply our mind on the impacts of these continuing threats of cultural invasion and migration. But, the solution surely does not lie in putting up walls or road-blocks for it would rather have negative spills. As one plugs the hole to stop seeping water it will subside for some time but it will find another weak spot and seep in. It will go on forever and we will be left exhausted and thoroughly drained with the firefight leaving little time to ponder upon the final solution. As in the case of prohibition, the flow of liquor and country spirits does not stop in states where there is prohibition. It simply flows in using other channels. But, the liquor and country spirits from the backdoor is always adulterated to cover the backdoor expenses and people are dying on a daily basis. This is to simply assert that walls and road-blocks are not the solution. For answers on the question of vulnerability we need to fall back on history. The Manipuris had their own set of core values which have stood the test of time. Our land lies at the crossroads of South Asia and South-East Asia and waves of migration from both east and west had taken place throughout history. And it is but natural for the migrating peoples to bring or leave residues of their culture. For Buddhism to spread far and wide from India to South East Asia and the Far East Manipur was one of the natural land routes. Although Buddhism failed to sweep the Manipuri population at that time it left residues of its culture behind. Did the Buddhists try its hand in Manipur? It is a question for the scholars and researchers. Perhaps the inner strength and the value system of the Manipuris could have been a problem to get through. We all understand that the composite Meitei identity was forged out of the clans through a long historical process. Many tribal elements from the hills and many streams of migrating people had naturally become a part of the cultural melting pot. One of the basic qualities of the Meitei population is its innate power of assimilation and absorbing other peoples and cultures within its fold. Combine it with an accommodative capability or strength which had help successfully forge the Manipuri nation. A steady migration of non-Mongoloid peoples from the Indian subcontinent, Brahmins and Muslims in particular, began in the 16th century. They were subsequently assimilated into a larger Manipuri society. Under the impact of these migrations, a pluralistic society and polity emerged. Although the Manipuris were able to withstand the Buddhist incursion in ancient times, it was not that easy in the case of the Hinduism which received the royal patronage of King Pamheiba. Leaving aside various theories, one of the factors for Pamheiba’s decision could also have been political compulsions of widening territories and a changing world-view. But, the Ramanandi cult that he introduced died out for lack of a plausible compromise of cultures. In King Bhagyachandra’s time, the Hindu Vaishnava faith was fashioned so as suit the cultural needs of the pluralistic society. It indeed was a brilliant case of social engineering while keeping its value system intact. If the Manipuris could achieve such a feat in 18th century what are we waiting for in the 21st century. Why should we bathe ourselves in self-pity for lack of imagination? We have enough imaginative people in our midst. Just give them the freedom to conduct brainstorming sessions for a collective imagination to follow.


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