The Origin Of Manipur (Meitei = KANGLEIPAK)
The empirical demands of history, much worse, prehistory, when it is allowed to assert them by its practitioners, drawing us to empirical evidence from archaeological evidence (if there is any) or texts, at least writings from non-archaeological contexts, is flawed with mistrust especially when it has taken a few decades emphasising the evidence. However, the usefulness of empirical work is that a hypothesis can be made from data collected that is essential to the research.
The present Manipur is home to the majority Meiteis who live in the Imphal valley. Manipur is also home to a variety of ethnic groups such as Tangkhuls, Kabuis, Kukis (Thadous), Paites, Gangtes and Hmars, koms and so on, altogether 36 tribes, who inhabit the surrounding mountain ranges.
I use the word ‘tribe’ as a biological noun to mean – a group of people related by blood or marriage, united by language and culture with shared lineages, and not as used in anthropological literature, which some people regard it as derogatory. This was exactly the concept of Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha/Congress Party, during the merger of Manipur with India.
As we know the total area of Manipur is 23.327 sq km. The valley accounts for only 2.238 sq km. Manipur shares 350 km of international border with Myanmar in the east.
The Meiteis constitute 60 per cent of the population but occupy less than one tenth of Manipur’s area in the valley only, because of ‘protective racism’. Immigrants from the eastern part of undivided Bengal during the British period, known as Pangals forming about 8 per cent, settle in the Imphal valley. The rest known as Mayangs (non-Manipuri Indians) came from different parts of India and also settle in the plain.
How the Meteis and other tribal peoples of Manipur came to live in Manipur is speculative. In the absence of a more cogent explanation, this article attempts to reconstruct the origin of Manipur from a geo/archaeological perspective.
To emphasise the prehistoric nature of Manipur – a Mayang word coined in the early part of the 18th century, I prefer to use the original name Kangleipak instead, until I come to the 18th century Kangleipak
To quote W Ibohal in his great book, The History of Manipur (An Early Period) – “The mountain chain where Manipur is situated belongs to the great Himalayas.” To prove his geological point he writes that ‘in 1952-53 AD one fossil of a sea living creature, cuttle fish, now extinct, was found at Kangpokpi in the northern part of Manipur.’
Further, he cites that recent findings in the tunnelling for Loktak Hydro-electric project, clays (representing the bottom of the sea) were discovered instead of hard rocks (expected from mountain ranges). The examination of different layers in the soil profile of the diggings strongly indicates that some 5,000 BCE the entire valley was submerged in water. He concludes: “so the land masses of Manipur is now 60 million years old since its birth from the bottom of the sea.”
I agree with Yumjao in the new light of the Theory of Plate Tectonics. What I try to do in this paper is to individuate a few aspects of geological and zoological analysis to draw a modicum picture of how Kangleipak was formed. Recent scholarship suggests that Manipur was part of the Himalayan belt.
Geology is a young science that is gradually growing up. According to geologists the Himalayas were formed fairly recently, compared to older mountain ranges like Aravallis in Rajasthan.
The accepted ‘Theory of Continental Drift” by German meteorologist, Alfred Wegener (1912) was that the earth was composed of several giant plates called tectonic plates. On these plates lie the continents and the oceans of the earth. The continents were a single mass. Today’s continents have “drifted” apart from each other over a period of million years.
About 220 million years ago India was an island, situated off the Australian coast and separated from the Asian continent by a vast ocean called Tethys Sea. About 70 million years ago the northward moving Indo-Australian plate with India firmly embedded, moving about 15cm per year collided headon with the Eurasian Plate in the “Tethys Sea” (it eventually became the Mediterranean Sea) forming the Himalayas. Geologists like Suess found fossils of ocean creatures in rocks in the Himalayas, indicating that Himalayas were once underwater. Marine limestone is found near the peaks of Everest.
The Indo-Australian Plate is still moving 67mm per year, and Himalayas are rising by 5mm a year.
The Himalayas known as youngfold mountains run 2,250 km west to east from the Indus valley to Northeast. The Himalayan range that sweeps round the southern side of the Assam valley, throws off in latitude 26º longitude 94º a southern branch. Manipur lies in the northern temperate zone between 23º 58’ to 94º 45’ E longitudes and between 23º 50’ to 25º 42’ N latitudes and thus was once under the sea.
Palaeontologists also find Tethys Ocean (after Greek Sea Goddesss Tethys) important because of world’s sea shelves were found around its margins for such an extensive length.
Incidentally, cuttlefish is not extinct. It is very much alive and kicking. It is now native to at least the Mediterranean Sea, North Sea and the Baltic Sea. It lives on sand and mud seabeds. They spawn in shallow waters. Cuttlefish are not fish. They belong to the group of squid and octopus. They are closely related to garden snails and slugs than they are to fish.
These animals are unique in that they have a gas-filled bone within their bodies, which allow them to be buoyant. The bone is a body part of the animal called the mantle, and attached to the mantle is a head with eight arms and two feeding tentacles.
Some people in the UK and Europe keep cuttlefish as pets in fish tanks. The crushed bone is fed to budgies and other pet birds for its high calcium content. The Chinese eat them as a delicacy. My wife and I went to a Chinese restaurant to taste them- babies about 10cm long. They taste like squid ie bland.
Imphal valley is oval and flat, 60 km long, north to south and about 30 km wide, east to west, enclosed with long even mountain ridges, which is some 100 miles. It lies between 96º 42’ to 94º 11’ E and 24º 41’ to 25º 06’. The name Imphal valley comes from River Imphal that runs through the heart of Imphal City.
General scholastic emphasise that the Imphal valley was once under water. There is even a Hindu mythological story of its being under water until Mahadev drained it with its trident through Chingninghoot, to play Ras lila – but an utterly rubbish poppycock.
Imphal valley slopes from north to south. All the rivers such as Imphal, Iril, Kongba, Nambul and Thoubal run from north to south, depositing their alluvium in the valley instead of being carried off.
Years of accumulated silt and a warmer climate, helped by the slow drainage of the vast expanse of water through underground tunnels known as chingninghoot in south Manipur dried up the water leaving an elevated valley of Manipur, interspersed with many big to small wetlands such as the Loktak pat, Lamphel pat, Yaral pat, Waithou pat, Kekru pat and so on.
The recorded history of Meitei settlements in the Imphal valley dates back to 2,000 years – about the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. I have empirical proof that the Meiteis settled in Kangleipak about 3,000 years ago (cf. The Origin of the Meiteis, next article).
More convincingly, according to Wangkhemcha Chingtamlen, another Meitei scholar, the Meitei language existed since 2,000 BCE. That makes Meitei settlement at least 4,000 years.
A pioneering Manipuri archaeologist O K Singh et al discovered some artefacts from caves such as Kangkhui and Hundung in Ukhrul, Machi in Chandel, Tharon in Tamenglong and others. The archaeological evidence puts the cave dwellers to be Meitei ancestors who settled there in the Pleistocene Ice age, 20,000 years ago (cf. next article – The Origin of the Meiteis).
The traditional stories of Meitei settlements first in the mountain ranges surrounding the valley, expressed as myths or folklore – though a metaphor for fiction, are important jargon to identify and interpret these stories. There is no doubt that the proto-Meiteis first settled in the mountain ranges surrounding the valley that was under water.
There is further evidence from the discovery of artefacts of corded tripod wares etc from the Meitei village of Napchik at Wangu in the southern part of Imphal valley, dating the Meitei ancestors’ habitation to 2,000 BCE. An additional evidence is provided of Meitei settlement in the valley in c 2,000 from the deciphering of older puyas before some of them were re-written.
The incidental finding of similar pebble tools of Neolithic age in Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and the Philippines should not let us conclude that we came from one of these countries. The Austro-Asian speaking Khasis of Meghalaya are genetically proven to be the original inhabitants. They did not come from South East Asia. I believe the non-Tibeto-Burman speaking Meiteis are similarly the original inhabitants, pending the genetic identification.
From the data collected for this paper, I believe, it is these ancient proto-Meiteis who called the composite Manipur “Kang leipak” meaning dry land; as they came down to settle in it.