Evolution of Meetei state- Emergence of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba


Meitei (Meetei) are the children of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, a Naga who was a Tai and Laisna, the youngest sister of Poireiton, a Chin-Kuki tribe who belongs to the Old Kuki group belonging to the Tibeto-Burman group of Mongoloid race. Meitei is also an element of Old Kukis. There were some routes through the mountain ranges connecting Manipur with the Burma Valley, the Brahmaputra Valley and the Kabow Valley in olden times. The Meitei (Meetei) had been known by different names by peoples of other countries –“Kathe” by the Burma, and also equally meant the people Moglie, Mekhlee by the inhabitants of Cachar, Assam and Cassay by Shans or those inhabitants of the country east of the Ningthee or Khyendwen river. “Kathe”, the Burmese term is a corrupted one. And Ponna to the Meiteis settled in Burma.

“With the FOUNDATION OF THE Ningthouja dynasty, the social and political development of the Meiteis was centered around the ruling dynasty. The reconstruction of the history of Manipur in the early period was based on the chronicles of the Ningthouja dynasty supplemented by other clan genealogies and some literary sources. This approach is definitely lopsided as the history of other ethnic groups or clan principalities is to be integrated into the gradually expanding history of the realm. This process of the evolution of the social, economic and political system of the Meiteis should not be projected as a mere narrative of the skeletal political history based on the chronicles. Yet the inadequacies and limitations of these sources confine the reconstruction of the history to the evaluation of Kingdom of Manipur from the primitive tribal state to feudal state in the fifteenth century A.D.”, said Prof Gangmumei Kabui.

The Meiteis living in the centrally located amphitheatre like valley of Manipur since time immemorial had developed a monarchical form of government with the dawn of history, different from the legendary period during which elements of ‘Salai’ were found absent despite literary texts referred to. And in the historical time, the Meiteis are found to have been divided into seven clans the credit of which was attributed by Prof. Gangmumei Kabui to King Nongda Lairen Pakhangba. Herein, it has to be said that the Meiteis have their own system of religion which has its own myths and legends, gods and goddesses, priests and priestesses, rites and rituals, festivals and ceremonies, etc., which revolve round their belief in a Supreme Being called TAIBANG MAPU SIDABA who is a Formless Divinity having powers of myriad manifestations. It is the belief of this faith in that there are two progenitors (i) God the Sanamahi and (ii) God the Pakhangba.

(i) Salai Confederacy: The Meitei ethnic group, as we find it today, was formed by amalgamation of seven different but closely knit and allied clan principalities, settled in different parts of Manipur, independent of each other and constituted the Meitei confederacy. They were the Meitei, Khaba-Nganba, Chenglei, Angom, Khuman, Luwang and Moirang. Besides these, there existed several other clans, such as, Mangang, Manding, Chairen, Khende, Heiren Khunja, etc., all of which were in course of time, merged into one or the other of the seven major principalities. These seven principalities underwent an age-long struggle amongst themselves till the Meitei or the Ningthouja finally triumphed over others, established supremacy over them and absorbed them one by one in a period that covered several centuries. After their assimilation, the name Meitei became the common nomenclature for all of them. Yet, the seven major clans mentioned above were what are now known as the seven Salais of the Meitei Society like that of hill tribes.

(ii) Sagei: Each Salai consists of a number of Sageis (lineages) or Yumnaks (Surnames) which in turn consist of a number of families. Most of these Sageis (clans) were so named after their trades or occupations, place of habitations, etc. Prevalence of such Yumnak system for the Ningthouja group started since the time of King Sameirang, sometime in 518-568 A.D. The number of Yumnaks of each Salai varies according to the size and strength of the Salais. Ningthouja, the ruling Salai, has 125 Sageis, including Kanghujam, the lone Sagei of Ningthouja Ariba; the Angom 62, Khuman 67, the Luwang 58, the Moirang 67, the Khaba-Nganba 21, and the Chengleis (Sarang Leisangthem) 35. Thus there are all altogether 465 Sageis of the original Meiteis belonging to the seven Salais. However, Prof Gangmumei contended that there is a discrepancy in the total number of Sageis or Yumnaks as given by him with that of Hudson and Ibohal are 448 and 712. Each of these Sageis is descended from a common ancestor, the founder of the Salai (Salai-apokpa). The founder of each Salai also had his own ancestry but being the first and foremost leader of the Salai, political or otherwise, he was regarded as the progenitor of the Salai. Thus the founder of the 1) Ningthouja Salai was ‘Nongda Lairen Pakhangba’; 2) the Angom ‘Pureiromba’; 3) the Moirang, ‘Nganghunthok’ and 4) ‘Ngangningshing’; the Khaba-Nganba; 5) ‘Thongaren’ the Chenglei, Nungou Yumthangba – Mangang. But the progenitor of the Khuman and the Luwang Salais was ‘Poireiton’, a contemporary of Pakhangba.

In view of their common ancestry, marriage within the same Salai or Yek is still prohibited. In former days, those who violated such social norms were punished by exiling them to the Loi villages. In certain cases even marriage between two different Salais is prohibited. For example, the Ningthouja Salai does not marry two Sageis of Moirang Salai, namely, Mungyangjam and Lairenjam as these Sageis are also the descendants of Pakhangba. The Khumans and the Luwangs also do not marry as both of them are descended from a common ancestor. The exogamous Salai system of the Meiteis is, however, different from the caste system of the Hindus.

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