Manipuri Proverbs and Riddles – Its importance in our society –

Oinam Anand *

Spoken form of language is the best form of communication between man to man. One can express one’s wish, desire and other feelings best with the help of spoken language.

Unlike other lesser animals man always tries to seek beauty in all the objects of Nature. And in order to express their beautiful feelings which he derives from the beauties around man does not fail to seek finer and better words to express his feeling. This habit of man made him to invent many beautiful words and thus enriched his own language.

From time immemorial, every race, every nation, every society had its own way of expressing puzzling questions, statements or descriptions which comes down from generation to generation till today. In every society, irrespective of time and space, there were men of exceptionally great mental or creative ability which we can call men of genius.

They with their inborn quality can foretell would-be-happenings of the future by examining the past and the present. They wrote and expressed their feelings, their knowledge and the fruit of their experiences in a very delicate but intricate ways of expression.

These expressions were kept in a way that it is not easy to detect or describe but only to unfold when a similar situation or a similar happening arrives. At that time only we come to know the meaning of what those men of genius had concealed behind their sayings and those words are what we call proverbs, maxims, truism and riddles.

The soothsayers, who were believed in their days to be linked with the spirits, the gods had kept certain words and phrases as mysteries.

They believed that they could see the future and knew the seeds of time in advance and could predict which seed would grow and which would not.

What they had seen in their crystal balls (or senmit used by Meetei Maibis), they kept it in the form of puzzling questions, statements or descriptions especially to test the cleverness of those wishing to solve, that is they kept it in the form of riddles.

Other men of genius or philosophers or poets had put in the form of short well known saying that states a general truth or give advice, that is what we come to know as proverbs in our days.

Philosophers and poets while expressing their thoughts coined beautiful words which automatically become proverbs and came down from generation to generation through the writings and carried in the lips. “The books of Proverbs” is one of the books of the Old Testament containing the proverbs of Solomon.

Famous English poets used beautiful words and phrases which naturally become a proverb in our days like, – “A thing of beauty is Joy for ever” – (John Keats), – “All that glitters are not Gold” (Shakespeare), – “If winter comes, Can spring be far behind” – (Shelley) etc.

In our Manipuri Society we have got plenty of riddles and proverbial sayings which come down to us from generation to generation since the pre-historic era. In the monarchal days of the history of Manipur, many witty and clever men adorned the courts. Riddles and proverbs were the tools of palace intrigues.

Noblemen, Priests and Court jesters tried to show their cleverness by inventing obscure words in order to please and amuse the king as well as the courtier. So palaces were the place where many beautiful riddles and proverbs of today originates. Such as “Tongjei Marilda Shamu lit-hallu”, “Wasasu chaba Lalupsu kaba -Ningthou Manai Chaobra pikpra yeng-u.

In the olden days many fables which ended in a lesson coined in a proverbial saying did come when a family sat together near the nightly fireside while the stories were narrated by the grand-fathers -grandmothers and elders waiting for the dinner.

There were plenty of proverbial sayings in the form of lesson to steer the course of the family into a right direction. This was one of the best place to make and invent proverbs and riddles especially to shape the younger generations. Now the best bond of affection that binds a family together seem to have been lost altogether and with this the spring of proverbs has been dried also.

Let us now come to the influence, impact and influence of riddles and proverbs in our cultural and religious ceremonies. Proverbs and riddles are those words pregnant with meaning and expressed in a very subtle ways and at other times with the ironies of the prevalent social norms.

In ‘Lai Haraoba’ the traditional way of worshipping and performing rites and rituals of ‘Umang-Lai’ riddles and proverbs are mostly used as a part of sermon.

There comes a moment when certain obscene and ugly words are to be said as a part of the ritual. But it is so neatly ironed out with the help of riddles and proverbs that the beauty of the surface words as well as the meaning lies under the expression can be known at once for example in the proverb

Ngaprum-na U-kaba U-tol lommee da
Tharoina Mee-Chikpa sharu phang-ngee
And the beauty in the proverbial lyric can be tasted:
– Heirang khoineeda
Chanaba heineeda
Shibu Thoina haoba heidee
Chindamba heineeda
“When a lover expresses his longing for his beloved, “chekla paikhrabana – pombi hanjilakpada…”

Again proverbs and riddles that are kept as a prediction or prophecy for the future has its impact and importance in our society today.

Whenever an incident or happening which goes out of normal ways happens, we often open the pages of ‘Puya’ to see what our philosophers (Maichous) had foretold.

For example the famous riddle “Sha Mamangda Angouba Kok Kenba” is a riddle which prophesied the beheading of Englishmen before Kangla Sha in 1891.

Other riddles of similar prophecy are “Uton- Watonda Lamja Shara Kaplakhini” (orphans will cry at the treetops) which came true when loudspeakers are placed at the roof tops.

“Shorokta Ungam Taoranee” (Rafts will sail at the roads) means the present automobiles on the streets.

“Nung taoranee-Lashing Luplanee” (Stones will float on water while cotton sinks) – this riddle comes true now because we have lost our cotton plants once grown in the hills and instead we have get pebbled roads in every nook and corner of our villages and highways.

Riddles and proverbs are still part and parcel of our lives and it will be in the generations to come. It is our bounded duty to preserve and enrich this treasure house which had been preserved by our forefathers so that we can hand it again to the generations to come.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the language and the cultural heritage of Manipur is still intact because of these riddles and proverbs.

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* Oinam Anand writes regularly for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on June 27th, 2007.

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