Thursday, January 5, 2017

Unique Manipuri Marriage and sidelights ( 2016 )

05/11/2016 (Saturday)

I left for Imphal (Manipur) from Kolkata by Indigo airlines, by taking 11 am flight and reached Imphal at 12.15 hrs. Normally the fare is around Rs 5,000 : if you do not buy the ticket at the last moment. I had the unique opportunity to attend the marriage ceremony of my South Korean friend Kim Min Young (bride - we call her Mini) and Manipuri groom - Nongmaithem Robin – a Meitei, Vaishnavite. They are both students of history in JNU. They were waiting for me at the airport. No permits are required to go to Manipur. After an hour, we were joined by two Professors (one is from JNU) Kaustav Bannerjee (originally from Kolkata) and his wife Neha (Punjabi). We are the only three Non-Manipuri (apart from Min Young’s parents) to witness this unique marriage.


Manipur is a state in north-eastern India, with the city of Imphal as its capital. It is bounded by Nagaland to the north, Mizoram to the south, and Assam to the west; Burma (Myanmar) lies to its east.


The state covers an area of 22,000 square km approx. (one fourth of West Bengal) and has a population of almost 30 lakh (one-thirtieth of West Bengal) and comprises of the  Meitei , KukiNaga, and Pangal people. The state has witnessed ethnic conflict, like several other neighbours in the northeast, with its hills, inhabited by Nagas and Kuki tribes, in conflict with the Meitei, who live in the Imphal valley. The hill tribes (Nagas, Kukis, Zomi/Chin) resent the Indian government and Meitei. The Zomi/Chin would like to be united in an independent state with their co-tribes people in Burma. There are multiple competing tribal militias, who extort money from their countrymen, block roads, and occasionally erupt into warfare/killing.


Between 1917 and 1939, the people of Manipur pressed for their rights against the British Rule. By the late 1930s, the princely state of Manipur negotiated with the British administration, for its preference to be part of India, rather than Burma. Manipur was annexed and became a part of the British Empire, but as a princely state. During the World War II, Manipur was the scene of many fierce battles between the Japanese invaders and the British Indian forces. The Japanese were beaten back before they could enter Imphal, which was one of the turning points of the war. 

After the war, the Manipur Constitution Act of 1947 established a democratic form of government, with the Maharaja as the executive head. In 1949, Maharaja Budha-chandra was summoned to Shillong, where he signed the instrument of accession to merge the kingdom into India. Thereafter the legislative assembly was dissolved and Manipur became part of the Republic of India in October 1949.

Manipur has had a long record of insurgency and inter-ethnic violence. The first armed opposition group in Manipur, the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), was founded in 1964, which declared that it wanted to gain independence from India and form Manipur as a new country. Over time, many more groups formed in Manipur, each with different goals. 
In 1980, the central government brought the entire state of Manipur under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) . Since 1980, the application of AFSPA has been the major issue of rampant human rights violations in the region, such as arbitrary killings, torture, cruel, inhuman treatment and enforced disappearances. Its continued application has led to numerous protests, notably the long standing hunger strike by Irom Sharmila Chanu.

Ethnic groups

The Meitei or Meetei ethnic group represents 53% of the population of Manipur state. The main language of the state is Meeteilon (Manipuri). By comparison, indigenous tribal peoples constitute 20% of the state population. 


According to 2011 census, Hinduism is the major religion (41.4%) in the state closely followed by Christianity (41.3%). 

However, a large minority of Meetei people practices Sana-mahism (traditional Meetei religion) and Christianity. Folk religions are practised by 8% of the state's people. Sana-mahism is the ancient indigenous animistic religion. Sana-Mahi worship is concentrated around the Sun God/Sana Mahi. It is based on Umang Lai – regional deity. Meitei people are not recognized as scheduled tribe by India's constitution. 

Meiteis have their own written script, Manipuri (Meeteilon) and recorded civilization dating back to 33 AD. Vaishnavism school of Hinduism became a dominant force in Manipur in the 18th century when the king, Garib Niwas (1708–48), declared it as the official State religion. This was the Vaishnavism of Chaitanya-deb, the Bhakti preacher of Bengal, which stressed Krishna Bhakti. If you want to know more you have to read the book of Saroj Nalini Arambam Parratt. I was reading that book in Kakching, whenever I had free time. It is a very good book on Manipuri people and its history.

While there are records in the Puranas of Vaishnavism 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 Vishnu chakra (the symbolic sudarshan chakra of Vishnu or Krishna) to Kyamaba, king of Manipur. So since the 1470s, the kings of Manipur started worshiping Vishnu.


In Manipur, the Meitei language has been written in the Bengali alphabet for centuries, though the Meitei script has been promoted in recent times. In fact, a movement is going to remove Bengali script. Though many Manipuris do not know this Meitei script. When I reached the airport, I did not see the Bengali script at the airport, because of this reason. Nowadays, there is an attempt to revive Meitei Mayek (Manipuri script) having 27 characters.  From 2006, the Manipuri script was introduced in schools. In the local papers a small column in Meetei Mayek are also published. The Huiyen Lanpao, a local newspaper, is also available in Meetei Mayek since 21st   September 2008. However, this is not done without reason. I am told that a person called Santidev Gosai came from Syhet and forcibly introduced Bengali script and burnt down literatures in Meitei script.


Manipur has primarily an agrarian economy. The land is very fertile. Manipur is home to many sports, the polo apparently originated from Polo.

The most famous boxer from India is also from Manipur – Mary Kom – from  Kom community. Manipur is also very good in football. Many footballers now playing in Big 3 in Kolkata are from Manipur.
If this is not enough, then probably they are pioneers of game of Rugby and Martial art (though Kalaripayatu of Kerala is probably older).

To know more about Manipuri sports, please refer to )


Manipuri dance is one of the 8 major Indian classical dance forms. Guru Bipin Singh is quite well known in Kolkata. It is particularly known for its Hindu Vaishnavism themes, and exquisite performances of love-inspired dance drama of Radha-Krishna called Raslila. However, the dance is also performed to themes related to ShaivismShaktism and regional deities such as Umang Lai during Lai Hara-oba

It is also home to rich theatre tradition. Ratan Thiyam from Manipur is very famous theatre personality from Manipur. Apart from him, Heisnam Kanhailal and his wife Sabitri of Kalakshetra is also well known. If possible see the documentary Ima Savitri directed by Bobo Khuraijam.

Manipur has a unique and fascinating culture. It is a pity , for most people in India, Manipur does not exist. It is India's loss.


Our destination is however Kakching (South East of Manipur) – where Robin stays. After taking some rest at Romina's (Robin’s sister’s) house in Imphal, we left for Robin’s house. Sister is called Iche in Manipuri. Mother is Ima and Father Babba. It takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to reach Robin’s house in Kakching. Imphal to Kakching is only 45 Km. The roads are generally good. Kakching is not very far from Moreh border of Burma - around 66 Km. Here almost by 4.30 pm it is dark.

On reaching Imphal, we learnt that economic blockade is going on from November 1, 2016. The blockade on National Highway 2 by United Naga Council (UNC) has been continuing since November 1, crippling normal life in the landlocked state. Thankfully Kakching is not on NH 2. The blockade started soon after creation of 7 new districts in the The Imphal Valley -- Jiribam, Kangpokpi, Tengoupal, Pharzol, Kakching, Noney and Kamjongin. A blockade was called by Naga groups to oppose the state's decision to create Sadar Hills and Jiribam as full-fledged districts. The UNC - the representative group of all the Nagas in Manipur, said creation of new districts would bifurcate the ancestral lands of the Nagas living in Manipur.  Naga body feels creation of new district is encroachment on their ancestral land. 

It was decided that the Naga people will launch democratic picketing in state government offices in Naga districts of Manipur.  Sadar hills has not yet been made a district due to the agitation. According to NSCN-IM, the creation of new districts out of Naga territory , without their consent is a deliberate act to suppress the rights of the Naga people. This is done to please the Meiteis at the expense of the Nagas. The Indian leadership must realize the futility of using armed forces against the Nagas lest the hard-earned peace process is rendered meaningless. The Government of India has deliberately chosen to support the Government of Manipur, some Meitei civil societies and Meitei insurgents - who “humiliated and destroyed properties of the Nagas in Imphal valley and are desperately trying to derail the peace process,”. 

Among the original 9 districts, Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Chandel and Senapati are Naga-dominated. With this addition of 7 distircts, total number of districts are 16 in Manipur. Kaustav has a friend from JNU who stays in Chandel. They are planning to go to Chandel.

After meeting Robin’s parents, we had bachelor’s party. Robin’s friends came and they had some local drink : Sekmai Chamelei - the traditional Manipuri rice beer and spirits. Manipur is officially a dry state though! We also had some pork dishes. It goes without saying people from Manipur are very hospitable.
Later in the dinner, we had Iromba. The dried fish is their staple diet. Iromba is their most famous dish. There are various types of Iromba.  In Iromba, Vegetables, potatoes boiled with a lot of red chillies, dry fish are mashed together. They eat dried fish (or Shutki of Bangals) in almost every dish - often for the flavour.

One of Robin’s friend Ravi Singh came and we had a long chat and slept little late. Though the plan was to sleep in Robin’s sisters house - the plan was changed and we slept in Robin’s house only, so that we can chat whole night! He was narrating how they were intercepted by Naga insurgents inside Manipur. He was with his Christian friend (tribal). After knowing that he is Hindu and his friend is Christian - they wanted to set the Christian friend free. But his friend said to the insurgents, that the same treatment is  to be meted to both. They were lucky to be freed by them.

06/11/2016 (Sunday)

Today the main marriage ceremony will take place. First the bride got dressed up for garland making ceremony in the open courtyard. 

After that , it is time to wear the traditional Potloi dress(to know more read

It is a very elaborate process. Mini's parents witnessed the whole process. The way it was made is really interesting. 

After that, it was time for the main ceremony. Robin came with the beating of a band party!

It started around 3 pm. Everybody in the village came in traditional attire. All women wore their traditional dress. They decorate their forehead from upper part of their nose with white coloured chandan tilak - Mala Chandan (sandalwood paste) or gori mati tilak. 

All the men were wearing dhoti (except Kaustav !) 

A person was playing dhol (percussion) and two women are singer cum dancers. There is also a priest. The whole process of beating of Dhol with Manipuri dance and music is one of the most beautiful marriages I have ever seen. It continued for almost 1.30 hours. Nobody brought any gift! Instead they gave money to a person sitting inside near the groom.

No food was served today. Tomorrow food will be served traditionally. Today we slept in the house of Robin's sister - Romita. It is around 15 Km from Robin's house. She has married a police officer. Their son is in Bangalore - studying. I have learnt that most of the people go to Delhi for higher studies. JNU even has an admission "facilitation centre" here. Kolkata, which is much more North East friendly city, has not been able to tap these students ! In fact almost everybody I have met their son or daughter is studying in Delhi or Bangalore. What a missed opportunity.

07/11/2016 (Monday)

Today the close relatives of Robin came for having lunch. On the day of marriage, hardly any food is served, it is reserved for today. I left for Imphal with Suresh, to bring Mini's parents from Imphal to Kakching. On the way , the beauty of Manipur engrossed me. No wonder, it is a jewel in the crown : Mani-pur .

Today Robin and Mini took the blessings of the elderly people and parents as per their tradition. The food was served at a courtyard. The spread was good. But all of them are traditional Manipuri dish - mostly type of Iromba. Like yesterday we spent the night at Robin's sister's house. In fact, we had dinner in their house.

08/11/2016 (Tuesday)

Today Minyoung's parents went for a city tour of Imphal. I really wanted to see the city of Imphal, but because of the distance, it was not possible to go to Imphal from Kakching. Imphal has many places to visit.

One can start with the world famous Loktak Lake, which is about 45 kms to the south of Imphal. In this years Kolkata film festival (2016), there is a movie based on this lake (Lady of the Lake - ). I met the Director in the Kolkata film festival. He is an SRFTI passout. The view of the enchanting landscape from Sendra Hill is awesome.


Another place to visit around Loktak lake is the Keibul lamjao National Park, which is home to the Brow Antler Deer or Sangai deer which is also the only Floating National Park in the world (that's enough for a day).


Then one can head out to see the All Women market at the heart of the city Ima keithel (Ima means mother in Manipuri, Keithel means market). You will be astonished by the wide variety of articles sold in the small market. The market stalls are all run by women and it is reportedly the only such market in the world. 
One can buy famous Cane and Bamboo Crafts of Manipur, which are widespread due to the wide availability of the raw material. There is large number of artisans associated with creating bamboo craft.
Pottery is an acclaimed craft of Manipur being produced by coiled technique. Potteries in Manipur come in different shapes and styles reflecting their socio-cultural background. Pots are handcrafted and painted using different bright colours.

Border crossing to Burma/Myanmar

If you still have time and want to taste a little piece of Myanmar air, one can visit the border town Moreh, which is only just 110 kms from Imphal and only 66 Km from Kakching. This is the cheapest border crossing from India to Burma. From Kolkata to Yangon round fare is around Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000/-. Here it is Rs 5000/- return fare upto Imphal and upto Moreh around Rs 2000 x 2 + and Overnight bus to Yangon. There is a shuttle service which goes up to Moreh border from Kakching Market in the morning from 5 am to 8 am. After 8 am there is no direct bus to Moreh, you have to go to Pallel (in Thoubal district, on NH 39 : Coordinates: 24°27′0″N 94°2′0″E) by shared Auto from the Kakching Market auto stand (ample autos are there). From Pallel you can get bus which goes to Moreh. In Moreh there is one day permit which lasts from 6 am to 4 pm without passport. But Manipuri people sometimes overstay in Burma, I have been told. For others it is very risky.

If you carry your passport, they give you visa without much hassles and does not take much time. After crossing the border you can take bus from Tamu or Tuimu (transport hub for cross-border traffic, being just across the border from Moreh.It is also a hub for smuggled goods from Thailand and China which are transported to Indiawhich goes upto Yangon. It takes around 14 hours to reach Yangon. The distance is 1076 Km. But from Tamu it takes 9 hours (476 Km) to reach Mandalay. Your main  area of Interest should be Bagan/Mandalay.


In fact the whole economy of Kakching appeared to be based on Myanmar. Everything comes from Moreh border. Since I did not have that much of time, so I could not go there.

Today is the sacred thread ceremony (Upanayan or paite) of one of the neighbours of Robin. I decided to see the market of Kakching, after spending some time at the ceremony. It appeared to me that most of the markets are run by the woman - known as the Ima Market (I have seen at least 5 such markets). So, in a way the woman control the economy of Manipur to some extent. They sell veggies, fish, fruits and perishables on one side and garments and decorative items on the other — all the stalls are run by women, or Ima (mother).  The women — almost all of them dressed in the traditional wrap around phanek and sporting the mandatory tilak — were a happy, thriving community. I spotted three of them playing ludo on the side.


I decided to have lunch at Parkway restaurant near the bridge . The food is really cheap and reasonably good. After I came back, we (Mini, Robin, Kaustav, Neha and the cousins) left by a car for nearby Kakching garden. It is on a hill. The view from the top is really worth all the effort. 

One can also relax and sit. On the way, back we spent some time at one of Robin's relatives house near the base of the hill.

Today we had some special sausage of Kakching. I did not find it that good. I heard that Robin's father makes very good Sausage.  

Before dinner we realized there is no food left , so we went to have dinner together by a car to a place around 7 -8 Km from Kakching - since all the restaurants in Kakching are closed. The food in the restaurant was good.

When we came back it is already late (1030 pm) and we left for Robin's sister house for spending the night there.

09/11/2016 (Wednesday)

Today we left for the airport around 9 am from Kakchin along with Minyoung and Robin. Mini's parents will also leave today. So, they left little early from Kakching because of me and after dropping me at the airport, they left for the Imphal hotel where Mini's parents are staying. I reached the airport at 9.50 am and my flight is at 11 am. Their plane is around 1 pm.  After an hour or so I landed Kolkata safely.


1 comment:

Kerry Schultz said...

wow.. it seems that you already have a great trip to Manglajodi. yeah, i have visited there last year. it is really a good place to visit, and when it comes to travel, the train is the best ride.

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