Vaishnavism of Manipur
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Vaishnavism of Manipur, an east Indian state, has extended history.
While there are records in the Puranas as to account of the pre-historic forms of Vaishnavism or Bhagavatism in the area of present state, the modern history of Vaishnava practices in Manipur started with a king of the Shan kingdom of Pong gifting a murti of Vishnu chakra (the symbolic disc of Vishnu or Krishna) to Kyamaba, king of Manipur, so since 1470s the kings of Manipur started worshiping Vishnu. Many brahmana priests from the west, main areas of India, came to Manipur and settled there. The account of the arrival of the members of brahmanas is found in the records of the book Bamon Khunthock. King Kyamba (1467–1523) built a Vishnu mandir in Vishnupur, a notable architectural monument. In 1704 King Charai Rongba was initiated into Vaishnava tradition and since then Vaishnavism became the state religion. This consolidated the cultural contact with India even further. King Gareeb Nivaz was ruling from 1709 to 1748 and he was initiated into Vaishnavism of Chaitanya tradition, by followers of Narottama Dasa Thakura, who worshiped Krishna as the supreme deity, Svayam bhagavan. He practiced this religion for nearly twenty years. Preachers and pilgrims used to arrive in large numbers and cultural contact with Assam was maintained. Its believed that the wave of devotion that turned the entire kingdom Krishna conscious took place during the reign of Gareeb Nivaz’s grandson Bhagyachandra.
The Manipuri Vaishnavas do not worship Krishna alone, but Radha-Krishna. With the spread of Vaishnavism the worship of Krishna and Radha became the dominant form in the Manipur region. Every village there has a Thakur-ghat and a temple.
Bhagyachandra ascended the throne in 1759, however in 1762 the Burmese invaded Manipur, and the king, with his queen and a few attendants, fled to the neighboring state, now known as Assam. The dispute over real identity of the king, called for a demonstration of supernatural powers, believed to be attributed to the king. It is believed that Bhagyachandra had a revelation from Lord Krishna in a dream; based on this revelation, he committed himself to making worship of Govinda the state religion on return to power in Manipur. Its believed that the deity of Govinda was to be made of the specific sacred tree and carefully planned Rasa-lila dances to be instituted in the country, which was regained with the help of the king of present day Assam. On reinstating the throne, a Govindaji deity was installed and regularly worshiped; later a Radha deity was installed and worshiped next to it.
Geographical Isolation of Manipur
According to some researchers the geographical isolation of Manipur seems to be the major factor to resist the immediate indigenous transformation from the animism to any sect of Hinduism and Vaishnavism, and even Buddhism. On the other hand the migration that continued no doubt was with its modification due to addition of new religious fold and practices.
The Bisnupriya Manipuri were initiated to the religion of Chaitanya during the middle of 18th century AD. But even before that time, they followed some other form of Vaishnavism as is known from the Khumal Purana. It seems that early form of Vaishnavism followed by Bishnupriya Manipuri had some relation with the Vaishnavism of Sri Sankardeva; and the religio-cultural affinities between the Assamese and the Bishnupriya Manipuries are due to that religious impact. Thus we may say that Manipuri were traditionally Vaisnavites but, there is a fact of conversion during the 18th century was only from Sankara school of thought to Chaitanya school of thought.
With the adoption of Gaudiya Vaisnavism the life style of Bengali Vaishnava society of 18 th century AD gained acceptance to this society as an integral part of Vaishnavic way of life. Rasa Lila and Nata Sankirtana became the important features of religious function. The impact of Chaitanya Vaishnavism was very deep in all sphere of the Bishnupriyas. In all rituals non-vegetarian foods is completely prohibited. It has no exception even in the case of disposal/ cremation of dead bodies.
It can be conclusively said that the formation of Bishnupriya language and development of religious concept, culture, heritage etc. definitely took place in the soil of Manipur. Great majority of Bishnupriya Manipuri people fled away from Manipur and took refuge in Assam, Tripura, Sylhet (Bangladesh), and in Cachar during the 18 th and 19th century due to internal conflicts / turmoil and repeated Burmese attacks. During the mass exodus that the Bishnupriya manipuri carried their culture and heritage with them at their new settlements.
Impact of other local traditions
In Manipur, their culture being gulped by non-Bishnupriya Manipuri culture, in Cachar and Bangladesh it is by Islamic culture while in Assam by Assamese culture.
References and notes
- Medieval Indian Literature: An Anthology. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. 1997. ISBN 81-260-0365-0.p.327
- Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature - p. 4290, Amaresh Datta, Mohan Lal,1994
- Shanti Swarup (1968). 5000 Years of Arts and Crafts in India and Pakistan. New Delhi: D. B. Taraporevala. p. 272.p.183
- Rini Sinha, Guwahati. MONDAY, 10 DECEMBER 2007 A short history of the Bishnupriya Manipuri and their religio-cultural consciousness