Manipur: The Land of Jewel!

Dzukou Valley in Manipur
Dzukou Valley

Described by Jawaharlal Nehru as ‘the Land of Jewel’, Manipur boasts of an exotic landscape with gently undulating hills, emerald green valleys, blue lakes and dense forests. It is the tranquillity enveloping it, interrupted only by the soft breeze that sets it apart from the other northeastern states, and makes it an ideal gateway. Manipur, also literally meaning the Land of Jewel, is a paradise on earth where Mother Nature has been extra generous in her beauty.

Manipur has also other popular names like Meitei Leibak. According to the Kalika. Purana, it is the place where the waist of Devi fell at the time of Daksa Yajna. Another account states that her outer garment Mekhela fell to the ground here while she was dancing.

Manipur is famous for its rich culture and traditions, scenic landscapes, natural beauty, and mouth-watering cuisines, and is surrounded by nine hills with an oval-shaped valley at the centre resembling a necklace, justifying its name. 

Manipuri women
Manipuri women

People and Culture

The people are simple and welcoming, and speak softly and politely. People of different ethnic groups live together here, peacefully for centuries. These ethnic groups include Bishnupriya Manipuris, Naga, Kuki and Meitei-Pangal (Muslims), although the majority are Meiteis.

Manipuri folklore, myths and legends, dances, indigenous games and martial arts, exotic handlooms and handicrafts are filled with the mystique of nature. The hill tribes of Manipur, although divided into a number of clans and sections, can be grouped under two major divisions: Nagas and Kukis. Though Manipur is a mosaic of traditions and cultural patterns, it is best known for its many dance forms.

Gangte, Aimol and Kharam tribes
(l to r) Gangte, Aimol and Kharam tribes

Tribes of Manipur

While the different tribes generally communicate in their own dialects among themselves, communication between different groups is in Meitei, the official language of Manipur. Despite the socio-political and linguistic differences among them, all the tribes originate from the same Mongoloid group having similarities in cultural and traditional domains. The recognized tribes who made their home in Manipur for years are:

Aimol Tribe is listed under the Kuki tribes found living both in Assam and Manipur. They speak Aimol, classified under Kuki-Chin-Mizo language. They live in parts of Chandel and Senapati districts, and around Loktak Lake in Bishnupur. They practise slash and burn agriculture and are primarily Christians.
Anal Tribe is one of the oldest dwellers in the southern hills of Tengnoupal district. They were recognized as a tribe in 1951. Earlier, they were recognized as one of the oldest Kuki tribes; nowadays they identify themselves as a Naga tribe.
Chiru Tribe: Chirus are among the earliest inhabitants of Manipur and Assam. It was recognized as a scheduled tribe in 1956. They are found in the four districts of Tamenglong, Kangpokpi, Churachandpur and Thoubal, and speak Chiru, one of the Kuki-Chin-Naga languages.
Chothe Tribe: They are settled in Chandel and Bishnupur districts and speak a Kuki-Chin dialect. Their main occupations are cultivation, livestock rearing and weaving. Some of them are blacksmiths.
Gangte Tribe: One of the major Kuki-Chin tribes dwelling in Churachandpur, Tamenglong and Senapati districts. They have a very strong population with around 40,000 worldwide, as of 2018. The Gangtes are also one of the well-educated and developed lot, with 99% literacy.
Hmar Tribe: Belongs to Kuki-Chin-Mizo group concentrated mainly in Churachandpur district. Agriculture and weaving are their main occupations. They adopted Christianity in 1910. Hmar have their village administration consisting of Lal (chief), Khawnbawlupa (chief minister) and Khonbols (ministers).
Kharam Tribe: The Kharampallen village is their largest settlement. They were recognized as a scheduled tribe in 2003. Most of them follow Christianity.
Khoibu Tribe: One of the Naga tribes of Manipur, speaking Khoibu dialect and call themselves ‘Uipo’. Khoibukhullen is the oldest and their first Khoibu settlement is in Chandel district. The tribe was recognized as a scheduled tribe of Manipur in 1949.
Koirao Tribe: Also called ‘Thangals’ they are settled mostly in Senapati district. They are close-knit and live in villages located along the National Highway No. 2. Thangals, in general, may be grouped under two divisions — Nagas and Kukis.
Kom Tribe: Settled in Churachandpur, Tengnoupal and Senapati districts, they speak languages similar to that of Koireng, Aimol and Chiru and closely related to the Hmar. Their major festivals are Seling, Hlungphun, Belam and Lamkut.

Chumpha Festival, Gang Ngai Festival and Kut Festival
(l to r) Chumpha Festival, Gang Ngai Festival and Kut Festival

Festivals

Lui-Ngai-Ni: A collective festival of the Nagas observed on the 15th day of February, this is a seed-sowing festival after which the Naga tribes begin their cultivation. Social-gathering, songs and dances are the highlights of the festival.
Yaoshang: Celebrated for five days commencing from the full moon day of Phalguna (February/March), it is the premier festival of Manipur. The Thabal Chongba, a Manipuri folk dance, where boys and girls holding hands together sing and dance in a circle, is a special feature of this festival.
Cheiraoba (Manipuri New Year): People clean and decorate their houses and prepare special dishes which are first offered to various deities. Celebrated during April, a part of the ritual entails villagers climbing the nearest hill tops believing that it will enable them to rise to greater heights in their lives.
Kang (Ratha Yatra of Manipur): One of the most important festivals of the Hindus, and is celebrated for ten days in July.
Ningol Chak-kouba: A social festival of the Meiteis. Married daughters of the family come to their parental homes along with their children to enjoy the festivities. It is celebrated on the second day of the new moon in the month of Hiyangei (November) of the Manipuri calendar.
Kut Festival of Kuki- Chin-Mizo: This is an autumn festival of the different tribes of Kuki-Chin-Mizo groups. Celebrated on 1 November, it is a happy occasion for the villagers whose food stock is bountiful after a year of hard work.
Chumpha Festival of Tangkhul Nagas: Celebrated for seven days in December, it is a great festival of the Rangkhul Nagas, held after the harvest. It lasts for three days.
Gang-Ngai: Celebrated for five days in December/January. Gang-Ngai is an important festival of the Kabui Nagas. It opens with the omen-taking ceremony on the first day and the rest of the days are associated with a common feast, dances of old men and women and of boys and girls are devoted to social gatherings.

Manipuri dancer in Krishna attire, Thang Ta Dance, Jagoi Dance
(l to r) Manipuri dancer in Krishna attire, Thang Ta Dance, Jagoi Dance

Dances

Just as Manipur is called the Land of Jewel, it is equally known as the Land of Dances, as Manipur has a wide variety of dance forms (both classical and folklore), that is intrinsically linked with its religious traditions of the past.

Manipuri Dance: Known also as Jagoi, it is one of the major classical dances which gets its name from the state of origin — Manipur. It is multi-faceted, ranging from the softest feminine to the vigorous masculine, making it a true absorbing and exhilarating experience. The term “Manipuri dance” is a generic name, covering all the dance forms of the land, some of which are listed below:
Raas: Also known as the Jewel Dance, its themes mostly centre around the different episodes in the life of Lord Krishna, Vasant Raas, which is the most popular of all “Raas Leelas” depicts the eternal love of Radha (Krishna’s devotee and consort) for him, and is performed on Chaithra Purnima in the full moon night of Chaithra (April-May).
Dhol, Dholak Cholam: It is performed using dhol, dholak and a variety of drums. and is specially performed during Holi, known as Yaoshang in Manipur. Dressed in colourful costumes, the dancers perform a variety of rhythms, showing some acrobatic feats, as well.
Punk Cholom or Drum Dance: A very unique form of Manipuri folk dance which involves dancing, and playing a drum simultaneously. A combination of sound and movement it demands acrobatic skills, as well.
Luivat Phezak Dance: It is one of the most popular dances of the Tankhul Naga community. It depicts different stages of cultivation and simple lifestyle of the people and is performed during the traditional festivals of the state.
Shim Lam Dance: Also known as the Fly Dance, Shim Lam is the traditional folk dance of the Rongmei community. Decked in bright colourful traditional attire, the performers spin in circles around each other, following the rhythm of the chanting singers in the background.
Thang ta Dance: Known as the art of sword and spear, this traditional dance form features a wide range of martial arts and weaponry in their performance like metallic swords and wooden spears.

Mary Kom, Bombayla D Laishram, Anuradha D. Thokchom, Kalpana Devi, Khumanthem Ninthoinganba, Ngangbam Soniya Chanu
(l to r) Mary Kom, Bombayla D Laishram, Anuradha D. Thokchom, Kalpana Devi, Khumanthem Ninthoinganba, Ngangbam Soniya Chanu

Sports Personalities

Mary Kom: Chungneijang Mary Kom Hmangte, popularly known as Mary Kom, is the most popular Olympic boxer. She is the only female to set a six-time record of winning the World Amateur Boxing Championship and the only female boxer to win a medal in each of the total seven world championships. Mary Kom became the first Indian woman boxer to win a gold medal in the Asian Games in 2014 in South Korea and is also the first Indian woman boxer to win gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The Government of Manipur has conferred on her the title “MeethoiLeima”. She has also been felicitated with the Padma Bhushan, Arjuna Award, Padma Shri, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and many more. A Hindi film Mary Kom was released in 2014 about her.
Anuradha Devi Thokchom (Hockey): She has more than 80 international cups to her name and even scored 3-1 over Canada which happened to be India’s final match before the Rio Olympics. Earlier, she won the bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games.
Bombayla Devi Laishram (Archery): She represented India at the Beijing, London and Rio Olympics. She started archery in 1996 and made her international debut in 2007. She received great recognition after winning a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Kalpana Devi (Judo): At the age of 9, in 1998, Devi won the silver medal in the Sub-Junior National Championship. She later won four gold medals at the Junior National Championships and also managed to bag a gold medal at the Asian Junior Judo Championship.
Ngangbam Soniya Chanu (Weightlifting): She won gold twice in 2009 and 2010 at the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships in Malaysia. She won silver in the 48 kg weightlifting category at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Coming from a poor rural family, Chanu has overcome many hurdles to achieve her goals.
Khumanthem Ninthoinganba (Footballer): Because of his hard work and skill he was selected for the Under-17 FIFA World Cup coaching camp held in Goa to form the Indian team. Fortunately, he was selected to represent India at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017.

Andro, Leimaram Waterfall, St Joseph’s Cathedral, Bishnupur, Tamenglom, Senapati
(l to r) Andro, Leimaram Waterfall, St Joseph’s Cathedral, Bishnupur, Tamenglom, Senapati

Places of Special Interest

Imphal: Imphal is the most beautiful capital city of Manipur and is recognized as a tourist place in the far north east of India. Modern Imphal has undergone tremendous change with the rise in the tourism industry along with the other industries prevailing in Imphal.
St Joseph’s Cathedral: Located at Mantripukhri, on the outskirts of Imphal, the church was built in 1999. The architecture is an Anglo-Manipuri fusion. The splendid architecture makes it one of the unique landmarks of Imphal, with the Hills in the background and beautiful buildings enhancing the view.
Senapati: The District is endowed with kaleidoscopic landscape of blue hills, green valleys, serpentine streams and rivers flowing through mountains and deep gorges. Rich varieties of flora and fauna adorn the land. Agriculture is the main occupation of the people here.
Andro: Located 25 km towards the east of Imphal, Andro creates an authentic Manipuri village along with the cultural complex established and run by the Mutua Museum Imphal.
Tamenglong: Tamenglong is one of the biggest of nine districts of Manipur. It is located on the western boundary of the state having a north-south spread bordering Assam and Nagaland state.
Leimaram Waterfall: Leimaram Waterfall is a scenic waterfall which has become a major tourist spot in the past few years. The place is said to have not only one but three waterfalls, but only the first (the lowest) is the most visited one.
Bishnupur: Bishnupur is one of the smallest districts in Manipur, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in its natural beauty, historical and cultural attractions. A tourist looking to have a peaceful but quality time will find it a great place to visit.

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C. Joseph
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C. Joseph

C. Joseph is as a counsellor in St Joseph’s College, Jakhama in Nagaland. He has written a number of articles and has produced several music albums in English and Tamil.