While acknowledging the gods and
goddesses the Manipuri Meeteis exalt Sidaba Mapu or Atiya Guru Sidaba as the supreme.
He is the high God assumed as existing prior to anything. In the
mythology of Manipur, Atiya Guru Sidaba is described as forefather of
all gods, men, animals and planets and also the husband of Leimaren
Sidabi, the goddess of earth.
The name of Atiya Guru Sidaba means
literally "Sky-guru-immortal", the sky was personified here and
treated as the immortal Guru or sole breeder of all that bred. W.
Yamjao Singh has tried to trace the origin of Manipuri word 'Atiya'
from the Sanskrit word 'Aditi' or 'Aditya' in the meaning of 'Aditi'.
According to the myth regarding creations by Atiya Guru Sidaba as
recorded in the Leithhak Leikharol, when Atiya Guru Sidaba
decided to create man, a deity called Kodin emanated from him.
Kodin created seven frogs and seven apes, but Atiya Guru Sidaba was
not pleased enough. Kodin accordingly created a new shape
exactly like the shadow of Atiya and then Atiya gave it live. That is
how man came into being. He let loose the frog into water and the apes
into hills. Then Atiya Guru Sidaba created the Sun (Numit) and
the Moon (Tha) in the form of man. The Sun obtained the name of
Kanjin-tu-thokpa and the Moon Ashiba; afterwards Atiya Guru
Sidaba vanished from the earth.
Soraren or Sorarel came to be identified
with Atiya Guru Sidaba. Soraren (Sora=god and ren=the chief or the
highest) may originally have been a family god. Sorarel regarded as
the "Lainingthou" or the king of all Gods. According to the myth of
Manipur Sorarel killed the evil spirits with the help of his thunder-bolt.
Manipuri scholars like Atombapu Sharma tried to trace Soralel as a corrupted word of Surendra, who is
described as Indra in Vedic scriptures.
The myth and lore of Bishnupriya Manipuris refers to the supreme
deity as Dou Sidaba rubbing hands to create from the gods and goddess
the human being to people the new land of Manipur. The
most renowned ancient folk songs of Bishnupriya Manipuri refers a lot
about Sorarel. The
Songs(1450-1700) and also
songs(1500-1600), mentioned Soralel as the King of all
The ancient literatures of Bishnupriya Manipuri is represented by numbers of folk stories most of
which are related to the Saralel, like Soralel'or satgo jilok(
Soralel and and his seven daughters), Soralel baro pahangpa
(The story of Soralel and Pakhangba) etc.
Pakhangba is described as the
destroyer of the universe in the mythology of Manipur. Pakhangba means
"one who knows his father"; it also means "to be youthful". The
Cheitharol Kumbaba mentions that Pakhangba was a man, the unifier
of the people who is connected explicitly with the Ningthouja clan.
According to this account of Pakhangba arrived in Manipur during the
period of successive migrations associated with the name of
Ningthourol Lambuba describes Pakhangba as "God by day but man by
night". Another aspect of Pakhangba is in the form of a snake.
Several Manipuri scholars identified Pakhangba as Tha (the
moon), Ananta (the snake god) and Siva of Hindu myth.
The two most important of the myths make Pakhangba the brother of
Sanamahi, and both sons of the supreme God Atiya Guru Sidaba. Atiya
Guru Sidaba wanted to find out which of his sons recognize him not
only as his father but also as his Guru. So to test their knowledge he
took the form of a dead cow floated down a big river. Sanamahi (Kuptreng)
dislikes the dead cow, but Pakhangba (Shentreng) realized it might be
the god in disguise. Sanamahi asked how they could find whether this
was so. For an answer Pakhangba argued that it is not fitting for a
dead cow to move its tail. On hearing this Atiya Guru Sidaba, wishing
to reveal himself to the full moved his tails. Then Atiya Guru Sidaba
took his proper form and gave Shentreng the new name 'Pakhangba' (
pa=father, khang-ba=to know). Kuptreng came to be known as Sanamahi.
This myths ascribes a divine origin to Pakhangba, as
well as divine nature. The divine aspect is also shown in that worship
is afforded him by the ruling house, although with considerable
secrecy. It should be stressed that the worship of Pakhangba remains
prerogative of the Ningthoujas and intimately associated with the
throne, so no member of other yek is allowed to worship him.
Pakhangba also known as "Pahangpa" to the
and regarded as the destroyer of the Manipuri trinity (i.e., Atiya
Guru, Sanamahi & Pahangpa) whom they worship on many important
However historical records regard Pakhangba as a
human ancestor. According to Cheitharol Kumbaba he reigned for
a period of 120 years with equality and justice, and established a
strong kingdom in Manipur. Varieties of bronze coins (of year
164 Samveda, i.e., 107 AD) discovered by archeologists bear Sanskrit
legends in Devanagari script, claimed to be coins of Pakhangba.
W. Yamjao Singh says "in the collection of coins there are a few
pieces of the 2nd century A.D. of the Christian era, its legend is in
the Devanagari scripts" (An Early History Of Manipur,
Page-127). Several Bishnupriya Manipuri Scholars attempt to establish
a connection between Pakhangba and Khalachai or Bishnupriyas, the
Aryan settlers of Manipur Valley. Their claim is based on the point
that as in the first century A.D., Devanagari scripts are used in the
reign of Pakhangba, so Pakhangba was an Aryan settler. The view of Aryan origin of Pakhangba is mentioned by W. Ibohal Singh
and also in the footnote comments of Cheitharol Kumbaba as .."they,
therefore, believe that the Aryans passed through Manipur and
established kingdoms in Burma. Thus they hold the view that Pakhangba
was an Aryan settler and gave the name Yavishtha Pakhangba."
The most important of the household deities is Sanamahi. Literally
Sanamahi mean “Liquid gold”. The Manipuri puranas make Sanamahi a son
of Guru Sidaba and Leimaren Sidabi, and elder brother of Pakhangba.
The myth related that he created the universe, moral beings,
frogs, animals, etc. he created man in the image of the Almighty
father. The Guru infused intelligence into it in order to adore him.
It is most
significant that the name “Sanamahi” does not occur in Cheitharol
Kumbaba until the time of Garib Nawaz (1709-1748), by which time
Vaishnavism has already a strong hold in the land. It is mostly likely
that Sanamahi was formerly known under different names. Sanamahi is
also regarded as an important household deity of the Bishnupriya
Manipuris. Some of the people termed Sanamahi by the name Senamanik (Golden ruby) . Sanamahi
is molten gold in complexion like the Sun-god. Some scholars
suggests that the name is derived from “Senmhya” of the Vedas. Also
some of Manipuri writers have regarded him as sun god. This view seems
to be influenced by the counterparts of Vedic deities in early
5 Divining Sanamahi Coins
family has a Piba(chief) whose main function is to officiate as a
priest in the Puja. He is propitiated on the last day of the year. The
image of Sanamahi is ceremoniously washed in the morning. Rice
offering of cake offering is made to him to the accompaniment of
worshipped together with his mother Leimaren, but seldom alone. He is
also worshipped in every house and identical procedure is adopted. A
particular place is set apart in the south-west corner, termed as
Sanamahi Kachin, of the house. The people burn incense and wave lamp
before Sanamahi and Leimaren. He is god of all those who desire life
and energy. He is prayed for removal of disease. The festivals like Cheiraoba,
Sanamahi Chemhomba etc. celebrate the glory of Sanamahi.
is the most important goddess worshipped by the Manipuri Meeteis. The earth
goddess under the name of Leimaren or Leimarel ( the great princess)
is a fascinating one. Her worship and her place in the house
explicitly connect her with Sanamahi.
According to the myth she was originally the wife of Atiya Guru Sidaba
and was subsequently married to Sanamahi. This was the punishment to
her for her partiality to Pakhangba in advising him to walk around the
Gurus Throne and bow down in order to obtain the succession.
The myth is concerned with the kingship. Atiya Sidaba announced that
he would appoint as king the brother who returned first after
circuiting the whole world. Sanamahi started off from the southern
side of the Royal Kangla. Pakhangba, on the advice of Leimaren,
circumambulated his fathers throne seven times regarding it equivalent
to going round the world. Atiya Sidaba gave the throne to him. But
returned and found
Pakhangba ascending the
throne, burst into fire in anger and tried to kill him. The frightened
Pakhangba took refuge among the Lairembi's (The Goddesses). But angry
Sanamahi declared that if his brothers advisors were a man he would be
killed and, and if a women he would marry her. But the Lairembi's
include his mother Leimaren too, thus the matter of Sanamahi marrying
his mother Leimaren is explained.
The place of Leimaren in the house explicitly connect her with
Sanamahi. She is venerated at Tin-Lai-Thaba during the marriage
ceremonies. She is also afforded public worship on the first day of
Manipuri new year.
Divining Coins used by the Maibis
found in Bishnupriya Manipuri, mainly the Madoigang’s (or Laim-nais)
culture in the form of Ima Githani or Githanipung.
The Ima Githani is such a important deity to the Bishnupriya
Madoigangs that every house must have the Githanipung corner and her
religious significance become visible in every social or religious
The Githanipung has her place in south-western corner of
their house near the Baron or crop godown. An earthen pot or a pot made of
metal brass , full of water with a lid is kept here on the platform
and it is considered good to fill up the pot with new water every
Tuesday or Thursday. The presence of water, which is one of the most essential
domestic elements, is not surprising. The symbolic importance of water
had its parallels both in the Vedic and Puranic literature and more
widely in many ancient cultures.
The Phunga Lairu is an
important place, rather than a person, has a great religious
significance in every Bishnupriya Manipuri house, also in most Meetei
houses. “Phunga” means fireplace and the Phunga Lairu refers to the
fireplace in the main room of house. It consists of a small hole and
fire is kept burning in the hole by the help of husks, fuels and other
Orthodox Bishnupriyas used to
offer to Phunga whatever they have to eat food before they eat. Phunga
is also used in household works like burning dried fishes,
dried beans and dried chili to make suitable dishes. There is a ritual
that Phunga should kept firing in a house at least five days at the
time of formal entry to a new house.
The Apokpa, originated from the
word ‘pokpa’ meaning “to beget or to give birth to". These domestic
Lai’s are the ancestors of the immediate family circle. They are
deceased males of the previous three generations (the father, the
grandfather and great-grandfather), who look after the interest of the
family. Worship of Apokpa is carried out by each household as a
closely knit group.
The foods for the offering are mainly Kabok (puffed
rice), Larou (sweetened parched rice) and different kind of
sweets and fruits. Also verities of different offerings are set out,
which consists of the followings –
Nine Tingthou ( A kind of
Nine seeds of Thoiding (
Nine grains of rice,
An earthen pot,
A beeswax lamp,
A coin, usually represents the deity,
Betel leafs, Etc, etc.
Maiba and Piba enter the house and utter Mantra's and bows( Khurumba)
to Apokpa. A clean surf cloth kept behind the entrance.
Apokpa Khurumba ( meaning ‘bowing down to Apokpa') is
observed in a detailed
series of rituals. The various offerings to Apokpa buried in the house
between the Phungga and the Lairu, and covered with seven layers of
The offering includes three sets -
The food offerings
A Khudei (Cloth), a Chang(containing an odd number of pairs) hand of bananas, a whole betel leaf and a betel kuwa (Nut).
A Srang ( a large edible fish) , some
vegetable and Dal
After arrival of the
Maiba the raw food is
first offered to Sanamahi, and then cooked by the Piba. Then
the Maiba and Piba enter the house and utter Mantra's
and bows( Khurumba) to Apokpa. Actually Apokpa Khurumba
is the worship with appropriate food offerings of the ancestors who
are conceivably within living memory.
It needs mention that another cult of ancestor
spirits termed as ‘Kasalai’, closely connected with the cult of
The rice cooked never be eaten by those outside the Sagei
since it has been offered to the Lao of that Sagei
The cult of
Apokpa, is the cult of the ancestral spirit worshipping, called “Goror
Dou Homadeni” (Goror Dou literally meaning “God of the
House”), is the most important religious ceremony of Manipuri
Bishnupriyas. The religious significance of Apokpa is so important
that every Bishnupriya household must perform this ceremony before
introducing the new paddy in the house. This ritual is performed in a
total non-Hindu pattern and the performance doesn’t requires a
Brahmin, any kind of Vaishnavite songs or any reading from Hindu
The domestic deities, which are
the possession of particular clan or family groups. These are properly
called Yamjao lai’s.
There are traditionally 445 Sagei’s in Meetei
community, each of which has own lai. Although these are regarded as
the ancestors or ancestress of the sagei this is not be constructed as
implying an ancestor worship. Examples of such lai’s are Soibam
Lairema of Soibam sagei; Hijam leirema of Hijam sagei and so on.
The Bishnupriya Manipuris have also their clan lai’s. There are nearly
70 Lokeis (or sagei’s) or clans in the Bishnupriya Manipuri Society .
Among these Lokei’s Raja Lokei (Nighthou-Khongiya) or members of Royal
family), Lempa Lokei (Thokchom) and Moirang Lokei (Moirang-them)
are the dominating groups and each of these groups have their own clan
Thangjing is one of the four popular Lai’s associated with a
particular geographic location, widely known by the Manipuri Meeteis
as Maikai Ngakpa; i.e, “guardian of directions”.
at Thangjing Temple at Manipur
specially associated with the Moirangs; he was the guardian of
South-West of Manipur Valley. The love literature, legends and stories
of Moirang clan attributed to him. In the later Puranik works Marjing
is identified with the Aryan God Aswini Kumar. He has agricultural
traits as he controls the vernal rain. There is a temple dedicated to
Thangjing at Moirang.
Marjing is another deity regarded
as the guardian of North-Eastern direction of Manipur.
His main importance in the
Manipuri myth is that he invented polo or Kang-jei, the
national game of Manipur. According to the myth, Kang-jei
played originally by the gods, grouping seven deities on each side.
invented polo or Kang-jei,
the national game of Manipur
Cheitharol Kumbaba records that in the year 1618 there occurred the
death of an inflant prince, Mayamba. Immediately following this
Marjing was appeased by offering of domestic animals. The people
invoke his name and worship him with polo stick and ball at the time
of domestic animal epidemic.
Wangbaren is another tutelary
deity associated with the South-East direction. Wangbaren had his
shrine in the south of Shungu on the bank of Imphal river(40 miles to
the south of Imphal). The worship of Wangbaren has been associated
with the warding off of sickness and disaster.
Wangbaren is black complexion, black
garment and a black tiger as his carter. According to the Bishnupriya
myth Wangbaren is the most short-tempered deity; He can be
displeased very easily and people who died of drawing said to be
killed by Wangbaren.
Atombapu Sharma was greatly
impressed by the similarity of Wangbaren and Vedic god Varuna.
Khongba Leithong Patpa
can be identified with Kaal or Kaalthakur, the
river deity of Bishnupriya Manipuris. ‘Kaal’ (>Kala) laterally
meaning the black deity. According to
Bishnupriya myth, Kaal is very fond of black colored fishes and
people are advised to avoid purchasing black fishes from the market.
The worshipping of Kaal performed by offering Chapal’s,
which if mainly made of green grasses, sesame seeds, rice, milk and
cow-dung displayed on a Banana leaf.
believe to have his abode in the peak which bears his name, situated
the northern end of Manipur. He occupied the position of Kubera, does in the vedic
pantheon. His abode is Mount Koubru (900 ft) named after him. On
number of occasions, Cheitharol Kumbaba portrayed Koubru by the
phrases, “ Koubru fired a gun” , “spreading a white cloth”, “having a
white cloth spread for him” etc.
This deity, Koubru, is considered to be the god of country-side and he
is worshipped annually. Temples dedicated to Koubru are to be found
among the Loi villages ( Sekmai, and Phayeng).
Bishnupriya’s have their own tutelary deities widely known by them as
“Lamor Dou”s; i.e, “deiteis of particular places”. The
“Lamor Dou” of a place include two deities mainly -
tutelary deity of that particular place and the female tutelary
deity of a particular place, termed as The Lam-Laima.
The Lamor-Dou's are one form of soul worshipping. The foremost male
and female souls are given the honor to be the Lam-Lei and the Lam-Leima
of a particular place. The Lamor Dou’s are worshipped
annually, during start of a new year, in good admiration by following the decorum’s and formalities
in different localities.
The Cult of Planets and Stars...
The cult of planets and stars was very popular in Manipur and the
puranic stories testify to this. It is said that the seven Gods who
came with Sidaba Mapu in human were identified with seven planets.
They are -
- Nongmaijing (Sun)
- Ningthoukaba (The Moon)
- Leipokpokpa (Mars)
- Yumsangkeisa (Mercury)
- Sagolsen (Jupiter)
- Irai (Venus)
- Thamja (Saturn)
The planetary deities are regarded as animal
headed. Mars has the head of a buffalo, Mercury that of an elephant,
Jupiter of a stag and Venus of a tiger. According to another myth the
Seven Goddess who were married to the seven Gods gave birth to the
seven sons, who were the progenitors of the seven clans of Manipur.