Manipur, the land of jewels, is one of the North Eastern states which can proudly boast of its natural beauty as well as it’s diverse and rich cultural heritage, it’s festivals, dances, and folklore.

People, Language and Religion

The Manipuris, from a linguistic point of view, are divided into two groups – the Meiteis and the Bishnupriyas. The language of the Meitis is of Tibeto-Burman group while that of the Bishnupriyas is of the Indic group.

Although Meitei is the official language of Manipur, Bishnupriya Manipuri people have their own language, and belongs to the Eastern group of the family and is written in the Bengali–Assamese script, and though it is close to Bengali and Assamese, it is a distinct language.

There are different theories and schools of thoughts around the origin of the Meitis and the Bishnupriyas. There are also a number of unsolved issues between the Meitis and the Bishnupriyas that both the groups don’t agree on and it has remained a matter of conflict.

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The Meitis

Though the Meitei people are an ethnic group native to Manipur, they have also settled in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland. The Meiteis believed in a religion called Sanamahi before the Manipuri king Pamheiba adopted Hinduism in 1714 and declared it as the state religion. The Meiteis mostly follow Vaishnavism.

Sanamahism is focused on the worship of the Sun God or Sanamahi, the eternal force responsible for the creation of all living beings. Sanamahism worship elements of nature, such as fire, water and mountains. Ancestor worship is incorporated into this belief system.

In Manipur, missionary work was started by American Baptist Church in 1894. The Meitis were always against missionary work, and in recent years have asserted their rights as indigenous peoples. They have also demanded the status of “Scheduled Tribes” to be accorded to them.

Bishnupriya Manipuris

The culture of the Bishnupriya Manipuri people is identical with that of the Meiteis, except for a few folk practices which are prevalent among the Meiteis. The religious customs and traditions of Bishnupriya Manipuris are unique. They are organized in such a manner that reveal the festivity and reflect the character of socio-religious life of the valley.

In addition to Manipur, Bishnupriya Manipuri is also spoken in parts of Assam, Tripura and Sylhet(present day Bangladesh).

In recent times, The Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Mahasabha demanded that the Bishnupriya Manipuris living in Assam be treated as an “indigenous” community.

religious population of manipur
Religious Population of Manipur

Culture & Traditions

Lai Haraoba

Lai Haraoba means “Merry Making of the Gods”. This festival is celebrated to please Umang Lai and other traditional deities of Sanamahism. This festival includes traditional music, dance and narration of religious hymns. There are elaborate arrangements and rituals that govern this festival.

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Raas Lila

The Raas Lila which is the love story of Radha and Krishna is the most famous dance form of Manipur and is performed at the temples of Shree Govindjee in Imphal. The uniqueness of the dance can be seen in the costumes and in the postures.

It is said that Rajshri Bhagyachandra Maharaj had dreamt of Shri Krishna several times, dreamt of the union of Shri Krishna and Radhika and that he needed to make murtis of Shri Krishna and Radhika. He resolved to make his dream a reality and worship Shri Krishna performing Raslila as he had seen his dream. In 1779, he established the Shree Shree Govindaji temple, and also got the artists trained to perform Raas Lila.

The Manipuri Raas Lila are of five kinds: Vasanta Raas – performed during the full moon of March-Arpil, Maha Raas – only performed on the full moon period of November-December, Nitya Raas, Kunja Raas and Diba Raas – to be performed only during the day.

Image Source: Internet
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