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ꯁꯅꯥꯃꯍꯤ ꯂꯥꯏꯅꯤꯡ
The Symbol of Sanamahism
TypeEthnic religion
RegionManipur, India
Number of followersapprox. 235,000[1]

Sanamahism (Manipuriꯁꯅꯥꯃꯍꯤ ꯂꯥꯏꯅꯤꯡ, romanized: Sanamahi laining, transl: Sanamahi religion, lit.'liquid gold religion'),[2] also known as Meiteism (Manipuriꯃꯩꯇꯩ ꯂꯥꯢꯅꯤꯡ, romanized: Meitei laining),[3][4] or Lainingthouism (Manipuriꯂꯥꯢꯅꯤꯡꯊꯧ ꯂꯥꯢꯅꯤꯡ) is an ethnic religion of the Meitei people of Manipur, in Northeast India. It is a polytheistic religion and is named after Lainingthou Sanamahi, one of the most important deities of the Meitei faith.[5][6][7] Sanamahi is the eldest son of the supreme god Sidaba Mapu and the supreme goddess Leimarel Sidabi. Traditionally every Meitei household, irrespective of the religion, worships Sanamahi and Leimarel Sidabi. Sanamahism does not have a religious head but has a body, the Maru Loishang, that oversees the main religious activities and governs all affairs of the religion, including the conduct of priest and priestess.[8] The Maru Loishang also acts a court for religious disputes.[8] There are three main departments under the Manu Loishang, namely, the Amaiba Loishang, the Pena Asheiba Loishang, and the Amaibi Loishang.[9] These departments have existed since the reign of King Meidingu Hongnemyoi Khunjao Naothingkhong of Manipur in 662 AD.[9] Sanamahi is the eldest son of the supreme god Sidaba Mapu and the supreme goddess Leimarel Sidabi.


The deities in Sanamhism can be classified as principal deities, ancestral deities, or apokpa, regional deities called Lam Lai or Umang Lai, and the ancestral deities worshipped by particular Meitei clans (Yek Lai) and families (Saghei Lai).

There are five main deities in Sanamahism:

Other important gods and goddesses include Panthoibi, Lainingthou Nongpok Ningthou, Lainingthou Koubru, Ibudhou Marjing, Thongalel, Wangbren, Eputhou Thangjing, Kounu, Nongshaba, Nongthang Leima, and Irai Leima.

The Umang Lais are often regarded as aspects or incarnations of the main deities. The worship of Umang Lais and the ritual that this entails, referred to as the Umang Lai Haraoba, is one of the main religious festivals in Sanamahism. The Umang Lais are associated with sacred groves, also called Umang Lai. There are similarities between the Umang Lais and the Nat deities of Myanmar.[10]

All the deities are denoted by the universal term Lai which means "god" in Meithei. When referring to a male deity, the terms Lainingthou, Ebhudhou or Epa are used while the terms, Lairembi, Ebhendhou or Ema are used to refer to a female deity. Lairembi is mostly used for the Umang Lais.


The first mentions are found in the Cheitharol Kumbaba, the Court Chronicles of the kings of Manipur, starting from the king Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, who ruled for more than a century, from 33 to 154 CE. [citation needed]

Kangla Pakhangba Laishang, the temple of God Pakhangba of Sanamahi religion inside the Kangla Fort, Imphal West, Manipur


The collective effort of the revival of Sanamahism is often referred to as the Sanamahi movement. The earliest accounts can be traced back to the formation of the Apokpa Marup by Laininghal Naoriya Phulo in 1930 at Cachar (present day Assam, India).[11] The movement spread to the Manipur Valley by 1934. Although the movement did not gain momentum due to the Japanese invasion in the Second world war, plans were initially made to intensify the movement under the leadership of Takhellambam Bokul (Sanamahi Bokul).[11] Phullo died in 1941.

Three years after the death of Phullo in 1944, the movement finally started gaining momentum in Manipur. Resolutions were made to denounce Hinduism and to revive Sanamahism in Manipur. Mass campaign were held to popularize Sanamahi religion at various places in Manipur. On the 14th of May, 1945, the popular Meitei Marup was formed. This marked the beginning of the revival of Sanamahism and the Meitei Mayek, original script of the Manipuri Language among other things. The term Sanamahism and Meitei Marup are often used interchangeably. The Brahma Sabha strongly opposed the movement and formally outcast 38 members of the Meitei Marup.

By the 1970s and 1980s, the Sanamahi Movement attracted more activists. Massive drives were held reclaiming shrines of deiteis and adverting Hindu practices or worship to ancient old traditions of Sanamahism. Notable movement was the seize of the idols of Sanamahi and Leimarel Sidabi from Hindu Brahmins which are now presently installed in the temple at First Manipur Rifles Ground, Imphal. On the 16th of February, 1974, mass convert to Sanamahism was held. The event is coined, Nongkhang Parei Hanba, symbolic to reversing the forced mass baptism into Hinduism in 1729, referred to as Nongkhang Iruppa.

On April 23, 1992, the then Maharaja of Manipur, Okendrajit Sana declared that "I open the Lubak Tabu and abandon Hinduism as state religion and recognition is hereby withdrawn by the Royal Customary Law of the Country, instead the Royal Customary Law revives the Lainingthouism as the state religion and do herby give recognition as state religion."[12]

The 2011 census of India places the Sanamahi followers to be 8.19% of the total population of Manipur, India.

Official status[edit]

On 5 August 2022, the Manipur State Legislative Assembly re-affirmed a resolution to record the Sanamahi religion in the census data with a separate unique code as an officially recognised minority religion of India. In the past, on 31 July 2002 and on 1 August 2003, the Manipur State Legislative Assembly had adopted similar resolutions to allot a unique code for the religion but did not get approved by the Central Government of India.[13]

In the previous decades, many social, religious and political activists, associations and organisations struggled through violent agitations and protests to include the Sanamahi religion as an officially recognised minority religion of India.[14][15][16]


Many Sanamahi practices are focused on food offerings to deities, combined with hymns, as well as oracular ritual in which priestesses become possessed by a god or goddess. An offering formula to call up the gods, uttered by a priestess over a body of water during the Lai Haraoba festival, goes:

Incarnate Lord, Lairen (Lai- God, Len- Supreme) Deity Pakhangba, O golden one,
Goddess of the waters, Ruler of the rivers:
Golden Goddess (Laisana) fair and beautiful one:
For you, Lord and Lady, in order to call up your souls,
We have poured the rice on the finest of banana leaves,
And on it have placed the fertile egg and the langthrei buds.
We do not offer you the ordinary khayom (offering packet), we offer you your own khayoms,
And we have tied them with the seven bamboo strips.
Which (represent) the seven days of the week.
We offer you the khayoms as they are tied thus.
Lord and Lady, we beseech you,
Ascend from within the khayoms, riding along the hiris.[17]

Some esoteric practices are also a part of Sanamahism, such as the use of mantras for various purposes. The mystical text Sanamahi Naiyom provides several formulas, such as a mantra that is believed to stop rain.[18]

Religious festivals[edit]

Associations and organizations[edit]


  1. ^ 2001 Census
  2. ^ Meitei, Mayanglambam Mangangsana (6 June 2021). The Sound of Pena in Manipur. Marjing Mayanglambam. p. 30. ISBN 978-93-5473-655-1.
  3. ^ Meitei, Sanjenbam Yaiphaba; Chaudhuri, Sarit K.; Arunkumar, M. C. (25 November 2020). The Cultural Heritage of Manipur. Routledge. p. 185. ISBN 978-1-000-29637-2.
  4. ^ Zehol, Lucy (1998). Ethnicity in Manipur: Experiences, Issues, and Perspectives. Regency Publications. p. 79. ISBN 978-81-86030-51-6.
  5. ^ Gourchandra, M. (1982). Sanamahi Laihui.
  6. ^ "The Revivalism of Sanamahism". e-pao.net. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  7. ^ Nilabir, Sairem (2002). Laiyingthou Sanamahi Amasung Sanamahi Laining Hinggat Ihou.
  8. ^ a b "Maru (Pandit Loisang)". Maru (Pandit Loisang). Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  9. ^ a b "IGNCA's Workshop on Maibi Culture of Manipur | IGNCA". ignca.gov.in. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  10. ^ "Myanmar Nat and Manipuri UmangLai Nat Festival". e-pao.net. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  11. ^ a b Meitei, Langonjam Chingkheinganba. "Apokpa Marup_ Naoriya Phulo". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ "The Revivalism of Sanamahism". e-pao.net. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  13. ^ "Separate code mooted for Sanamahi religion : 06th aug22 ~ E-Pao! Headlines". e-pao.net. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  14. ^ Chingkheinganba, Salam (14 February 2020). "Okram Joy threatens to throng at assembly if house fails to recognise Sanamahi as minority religion - Imphal Times". www.imphaltimes.com. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  15. ^ "Minority religion status sought". www.thesangaiexpress.com. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  16. ^ "Government should declare Sanamahi as minority religion, says O Joy". www.thesangaiexpress.com. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  17. ^ Saroj Parratt (1997). The Pleasing of the Gods: Meitei Lai Haraoba. Vikas. p. 77. ISBN 8125904166.
  18. ^ Soibam Birajit (2014). Meeyamgi Kholao: Sprout of Consciousness. ARECOM. p. 103.


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