Chieftainship among the Meiteis & Mizos – I

By Dr (Mrs.) Priyadarshni M. Gangte

Traditional political life of the Meiteis and the Mizos is deeply rooted to their customary laws in their respective societies. The socio political institutions are closely entrenched with other institutions. Their system of political institution is based on Kinship relations and is termed as a mere “Social Organisation” distinguished from “Political Organisation” of civilized community (Lewis Henry Morgan : Ancient Society, London, 1877, pp 65-67). Similar views were expressed by Durkheim (Emile Durkheim : Elementary Forms of religious Life, London, 1915) and Malinawski (Boris Malinawski : Freedom and Civilization, London : 1947; pp 263-266), whose authority on the primitive people is undisputed. They contended that primitive State was not tyrannical, as is supposed to be, to its subjects because they were always a body of people related by bonds of kinship and relationship, by clanship and age grades and that they spoke of themselves as a group where practically everybody was related, in reality or fictitiously, to everybody else. Customary Laws governed and regulated these relationships and ties of fraternity which emerged thereof.

Schapera (Issac Schapera : Government and Politics in Tribal Societies, London ; 1963; pp 14-15) contended that political system among primitive societies was based on kinship relation and that each tribe claimed exclusive rights to the land it occupied.( The tribal areas are often governed for all practical purposes by the customary laws. Normally a Customary Law or the other had jurisdiction over the village administration, village officials and ever the village boundary. The authorities therefore exercised their customary laws over the villagers or their kinship based society whenever disputes arose or in due course of performing right rites and rituals.) All people living therein were subjects to the chief, as head of the local Government, and only by moving away or migration could they escape his control. Outsiders might not settle in his territory without chiefs’ permission, who rehabilitated them wherever he wished.( For details see the aspects of Yek and Salai formation in Meitei society especially with reference to the Muslim Pangals and the Brahmanas.) Thereafter, they, the settled outsiders, became his subjects. In case they disobeyed him they were expelled. He not only regulated the distribution and use of the land but also decided the fate of his subjects on the basis of customary laws.

MacIver (R.R. MacIver : The Web of Government, New York : 1965; p. 165) said with conviction that in primary sense a tribe was “community organized on the basis of kinship who usually claimed to have descended from a common ancestor” and that “tribal Government was characteristic of simple society” and “was equivalent to Primitive Government”.

As a matter of fact, the study of Mizo and Meitei societies together is academically to our mind compatible due to the fact that though both are at different stages of societal birth, growth, development and civilization they have a common origin. Though the two societies are far apart from each other in all spheres of life, socially, politically and economically, the cultural legacies of the Meitei society can be studied deep into the historical period through their written documentary evidences, other materials available in oral traditions. Such evidences are recorded/seen down into the antiquated period of pre-historical civilizational periods with the help of archeological excavations that have been carried out and some antique evidences, which can be claimed as far back as about more than two thousand years of Meitei civilization stretching into the ages of ‘before Christ’ periods.

The Meitei society has long since gone through the processes of ‘de-tribalisation’ as can be observed in the evolution of chiefdoms that gradually resulted in the formation of the ‘Meitei State’ with the merger of the ‘Seven-Salais’ into the Ningthouja clan which assumed the dominant Royal authority at Kangla.

It needs to be highlighted here that Bhattacharjee (J.B. Bhattacharjee : Social and Polity Formations in Pre-colonial North-East India: 1991, p.1, Vikas Publishing House Pub. Ltd, 576 Masjid Road, New Delhi–14) observed that in the early egalitarian societies inequality stratification started with the emergence of private property and interest groups whose political organizations were founded on territory and property, that State as a higher form of political organisation came into existence when economic relations were further sophisticated by privatization of property and extraction of surplus by the dominant groups in the society and that growth of such a situation strengthened authority of the rulers to assume the theory, ‘divine right’, which was more susceptible to contributing the ‘Brahmanical myths’ that propagated ‘divine origin of the King’(Ibid.).

He was also convinced to attribute that social and polity formation processes in the North East India were more spontaneously influenced by its geo-political situation that readily absorbed pan-Indian traditions where a fine blending of Indo-Aryan and the Indo-Mongoloid traditions co-existed among tribal communities. Bhattacharjee (J.B. Bhattacharjee : Op. Cit.) was also emphatic to say that emergence of States from indigenous and immigrant tribal social bases in the medieval history of the North-East region was significantly common as could be evidenced in the cases of Koch, Kachari, Meitei, Jaintia and Tripuri who were settlers since early times in the region.(Ibid). On the other hand, in the case of Mizo society, in particular and all the tribal societies in Manipur in general, it is not so. Sources are limited, shallow and often controversial enough to establish their exact state of antiquity though they may be so. The limitation is more apparent in empirical study when there is no material evidence to authenticate probable findings. Whatever scanty, written materials available are from the British bureaucrats and anthropologists. We find that they do not go deep into the traces beyond their time of putting the records in writing. And these are the only documents available at our disposal to rely upon which unfortunately do not go beyond the 18th century, when the term ‘Kuki’ from which the word ‘Mizo’ was derived, first appeared according to Reid (A.S. Reid : Chin Lushai Land, Calcutta : 1893; pp. 5 – 7), when Mir Kasim, the chief of Chittagong, ceded the district to the British under Robert Clive in 1760 A.D. applying at the same time for a detachment of Sepoys to protect its inhabitants against incursions of the ‘Kukis’ as they were then called. This was soon followed with the first open attack against the British and their subjects dated as far back as 1777 A.D. since the days of Warren Hastings by the ‘Kukis’ when the Chins, the Thadous, the Lushais, etc. were included by the British under the said term mainly considering their distinctive similar characteristics.

Bhattacharjee said that they enjoyed considerable local autonomy, the Chiefs retaining their full traditional authority over their respective tribes and rules according to their own customary laws (J.B. Bhattacharjee : Op.Cit, p.72.) and that the Rajas did not interfere in the internal affairs of the Chiefs, living under cordial relationships (Ibid).

Dynamics of Chieftain- ship and Chiefdom :

The synthesis that emerges from discussions of the various aspects of chieftainship and evolution of their chiefdoms, and the views of eminent scholars on the subjects, clearly recognizes the extreme complexity and interdependence of the sources of power in society and the forces of instability and division that constantly threaten to tear it apart. Of particular interest are long-term local and regional patterns of expansion and collapse. It goes without saying that to understand the development of chiefdoms, the ways in which finance, control and ideology empower an emerging ruling class has to be thoroughly examined. While the linear causality that was once felt comfortable with, has certainly outgrown, the new synthesis offers a rich and varied interpretation of socio-political process. The Meitei society offers a fertile field for necessary interpretation and analysis.

Loosely defined a chieftainship is “a centralized polity that organizes a regional population in the thousands” said Carneiro, and Earle (Robert Carneiro, and Timothy Earle : A Theory of the Origin of the State : Science: 169: and Earle Timothy : Chiefdoms in archaeological and ethno-historical perspective : Annual Review in Anthropology, 1987 : 16 : pp. 279-308). The main characteristic is attributed to some degree of heritable social ranking and economic ratification. Origin of this polity, their development and their eventual collapse or transformation into states are its main features.

Kirch and Kristiansen (Patrice Kirch: The evolution of the Polynesian Chiefdom : Cambridge, California University Press: 1984, and Kristian Kristiansen: The formation of tribal system in later European Pre-History “In Theory and explanation in archeology : The Southampton conference; Northern Europe, 1982 : 4000-700 BC) have opined that research is imperative to focus on sequences of long-term socio-political, economic changes documented archeologically and historically and that chieftainship vary in complexity and scale of development, simple and complex.

Steponaitis (Vincas Steponaites: Locational Theory and Complex Chiefdoms : A Mississippian example : “in Mississippian Settlement Patterns” : Edited by E. Smith, 1978 : pp 417-453, New York, Academic Press.) convinces us that mode of financing is an important aspect for understanding the dynamics of Chieftainships. It is sine-qua-non.


Chieftainship among the Meiteis & Mizos – III

Terence and Earle (D’Altroy Terence and Timothy Earle : Staple Finance, Wealth finance, and Storage in the Inea Political economy, current Anthropology : 1985 : 26 : pp 187-206) are of strong view that in order to effectively finance dynamics of chieftainship structure of the institution, either group oriented or individualizing has to be ascertained, Colin (Renfrew, Colin : 1974 : Beyond a subsistence economy : The evolution of social organisation in Pre-historic Europe “in reconstructing complex society”: Edited by C. Renfrew and S. Shennan, pp. 1-9, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press) is of strong opinion that history of a particular type of chief-tainship has to be thoroughly looked into so as to effect proper implementation of the development plan envisaged and inherent in it.

On ensuring these aspects, dynamism of chieftainships as political institutions can be understood and achieved. For this purpose outlining the various strategies with which rulers tried to extend and maintain political and social control through economic measures or even religious rites and rituals and the conditions that affected the success of these strategies need to be determined in the light of the customary laws which always remained an inseparable part of any society, tribal or otherwise, as an effective tool for social control. It appears that unstable and cyclical characters of most chieftain-ships were apparently inherent.( Feinman Gary and Linda Nicholas, 1987 : “Labour, surplus and Production – A regional analysis of Formative Oaxaca Socio-economic organisation” in Anthropological research papers.)

A question arises relating to power relationships of followers’ evaluation of the cost of compliance with the demands of leader relative to the cost of refusal as contended by Jonathan (Haas Jonathan : 1982, The evolution of the pre-historic state, New York, Columbia University Press). He strongly felt that construction of a complex polity required a leader to find a following to himself. Simply, he must control people’s labour, and lead in difficult situations. Meitei history is replete with factional leaders – an unwanted factor, towards regional integration.

Johnson (Allen John-son and Timothy Early : The Evolution of Human Society; Standford, Stand-ford University Press, 1987) has questioned as to what keeps such leaders from moving away from the centres of power and attraction. Historically we know larger groups do not form centres of power. Technological and social adjustments are necessary to concentrate and co-ordinate increasing numbers of people. The quality of leadership lies therein. The traditional answer to this question has been to point to the management functioning that leaders perform. Much of new-evolutionary thought since the 1950s has emphasized the function of leaders in maintaining their groups. To understand the evolution of chieftainship is to identify the new conditions created by technology or population growth that require central management for their effective and efficient operation. Often it is true but there are other parameters which must also be taken into consideration e.g. control and use of land for food production and settlement for new incumbents. The inheritance of land in the Thadou group is through patrilineal laws of primogeniture. All the land in a Thadou village often belongs to the Chief who exercises absolute power over it. He distributes the cultivable land to all the villagers at the beginning of every year after having consulted the village elders, Semang Puheng, for each elder represents different kin group in the village. Customarily spea-king he is not compelled to abide by the decision of the Council of elders but the power of the council is real and irrefutable for the simple reason that the individual household has no right in land. He cannot alienate the plot of land nor transfer it when one has been allotted to him. The most important aspect is that the land is not inherited by the individuals. So the chief often enters into politics and tries to marginalize a section of the community which does not honour him or pay taxes as per the customary laws. The next result is that several families migrate to set up new settlements.

Population growth has received considerable attention since Ester’s (Boserup Ester : The conditions of Agricultural Growth, Chicago, Aldine : 1966) work in 1965 on condition of agricultural growth which served as a catalyst in the most recent theories about the general synthesis of cultural evolution. Johnson and Earle (Allen Johnson and Timothy Earle : Opo. Cit.) in their work on ‘Evolution of Human Society’ have contended that population factor has received little support as a prime mover. Drennan, Feihman and Steponaitis have attributed the low population densities as revealed from the intensive surveys documented for the chiefdoms.( Richard Bradley : The Social Foundations of Pre-historic Britain, London, Harlow, 1984. Several countries in the Oaxaca Valley of highland Meso-america, for the Black Warrior Valley of Alabama and for the Valle de la Plata in Columbia. Population density appears also to have been low for the early chiefdoms of southern England, said Richard Bradley.) In every case customary laws have prevailed over constraints in demographic propagation in the tribal belts. However, in case of Manipur population has indeed been a prime mover since the seventeenth century. The substantial immigration of Muslims and the Brahmanas compelled the societal managers to reorganize the settlement pattern and the increase in the formation of the sub-sub-clans. It was a force, which developed into organized sectors and got channelized through the clan and the Sagei/Salai formations at the operative level.

Thus, we see that population increase is certainly associated with evolution of political systems in Manipur (Patrice Kirch : The population of the Polynesian Chiefdoms ; Cambridge, Cambridge University Press : 1984. On the Marquesas, population growth and resulting environmental deterioration created a susceptibility to drought that bound a local population to its leader and his breadfruit stores, contended Patrice Kirch. In Greece, population growth accompanied Mycenaean State formation and, following the precipitous “Dark Age” decline contributed to the emergence of the Polis, added Ferguson).


Chieftainship among the Meiteis & Mizos – V

However, it is interesting to note that the Moirang Chiefdom and the hill tribes continued to maintain their independent status all through despite the fact that they were defeated and subjugated in the 18th and 19th centuries. (Ibid). The Moirang chiefdom was represented to the Royal Court of Ningthouja which had become Meitei Kingdom by their ‘Ningthou’ or ‘Chief’.

Consolidation of Meitei ‘Seven Salais’ created

Myths for marriage codes and ultimately customary laws :

Having achieved his political objective to occupy the throne at Kangla that have covered the chiefdoms of Mangang, Angom and Luwang clan territories and defeat of the Khaba and Nganba, Nongda Lairen Pakhangba became the recognised legendary head of the Meitei confederation, Khumans and Moirangs still remaining outside the confederacy though they were very much part of social life of the Meitei society. This was no mean achievement on the part of Ningthouja Salai to bring the seven clans under the Meitei confederacy. (Gangmumei Kabui : History of Manipur Vol. One : Pre-Colonial period, 1991; p. 84)

Here it is expedient to highlight as to how the rites and rituals in regard to an occasion relating to coronation of a kind were performed, commen-surately with customary laws thereof. Having consolidated his position to confederate all the seven ‘Salais’ to constitute into Meitei State after the defeat of Khaba and Poireiton of Khaba Nganba and Khuman Chiefdoms respectively, Puleiromba, the Chief of Angom Chiefdom, Luwang Lang-maiba, a priest of Luwang Chiefdom, Ningthem Apanba of Mangang Chiefdom and many other leaders of Chakpa tribe, invited Pakhangba to Kangla, the ancient capital of the Meitei Kingdom (Kh. Yaima : Pakhangba Phambal : P.26-27 ). To convey the invitation, according to Chakparol, Kansural, a leader of the Chakpa sent four persons, namely, Chakmaringba, Langmaringba, Mung- maringba and Ngang- maringba to Pakhangba (Gangmumei Kabui : Op. Cit.). They guarded Pa-khangba during the coronation ritual proceedings as per customary laws.

Strictly following the rites and rituals as prescribed for the purpose by the Customary Law, Pakhangba performed a march between Heingang hills and Nongmaijing hills located to the northern part of north-east of Im-phal along the Iril (Lilwai) river, passing through Lishi, Thangwai, Mu-cheng, Keihon, Naokel, Haomu, Tangkhul, etc. villagers of which accompanied him upto Kangla. The three Chiefs who invited him provided arms and weapons, and servants and attendants, as also officials like Pukhren, Nongthon, priest (Amai), poets, singers, torch bearers, swordsmen, umbrella or parasol bearers, gold and silver, precious stones, clothes and food.( Gangmumei Kabui : Op. Cit; p. 84)

At Kangla, Puleiromba, Luwang Langamba and Ningthou Apanba, the three Sorarens, greeted him with all necessary arms and weapons, and coronation robes and costumes. Even for the coronation ceremony all the people were invited when Pakhangba was formally coroneted to the investiture (Ibid; p.85) accompanied by the queens.

Thereafter, the priests and Singers gave the ‘regral’ title of ‘Tubi Yoinungda Nongda Lairen Pakhangba’(Kh. Yaima : Pakhangba Phambal : P.26-27). The coronation took place, according to ‘Sanglen Puba Puya’ (reproduced by Manijao Singh, Shandrembi Chaisra), (Gangmumei Kabui : Op. Cit.; p. 85) on the 1st Saturday of the Meitei Month of Kalen (June/July). Puleiromba, Chief of Angom, Khunthiba of Luwang, Ponglaben of Moirang and Arong of Khuman Clans drew water from Nongjeng Pond (Pukhri) on the Kangla and poured on the body of the King and the queen in compliance with provisions of the Customary Law. Scholars and priests, singers and poets, and 64 nobles were present in the coronation. The King and the queen were made to sit under the shade of ‘Parasol’ (light coloured thin umbrella) after having changed their dresses that were drenched with ‘Nongjeng Pond’ water. Puleiromba, the Angom Chief, presented Pakhangba his coronation robes. He was entitled to perform so, because of his higher ritual status than Pakhangba despite his titular secular position in the court of the latter. This was soon followed by the resounding noise of drum beatings. In the midst of unceasing drum-beat, the king and the queen were lifted to the royal ‘Palanquin’ (Kanglamen) to mark close of coronation investiture (Gangmumei Kabui : Op. Cit; p. 85).

Now, it must be understood that there were good number of ethnic groups and tribes other than the clans of seven chiefdoms that constituted Meitei confederacy who accepted political supremacy of Ningthouja retaining at the same time their status of distinct clans within the greater Meitei societal fold.( Ibid.) Indeed, consolidation of Meitei confederacy was the greatest political support for Pakhangba and his Ningthouja Salai, which was now on the top hierarchical ladder of political achievement that reigned a Meitei Kingdom.(Ibid.) This prompted writers of later chronicles under the direction of rulers to describe Pakhangba as the head of seven clans and King of the Meiteis, though it led to the creation of myths, so as to mystify origin of the clans or ‘Salais’ bringing such mystic beliefs into marriage rules known as ‘Yek Salai system’ that formed clan exogamy, prohibiting marriage within the same ‘Salai’. This ultimately resulted in drawing up of strict socio-religious codes which were given concrete shape that were incorporated in the common customary laws of the Meiteis.( Ibid. p.87) Some believed that according to tradition ‘Yek-Salai’ was attributed to have been adopted during the reign of Pakhangba. And, ‘Yek-Salai’ stands for kinship relationship between members of clans, lineages and sub-lineages claiming a common ancestor.

During the course of our research with reference to the sources of history of Manipur which is basically history of Meiteis as is reflected in the Royal Chronicles, the coronation ceremonies of Meitei Kings after that of Pakhangba which had been discussed above in detail, reveals a set of customary laws which are the bases for the formation of Meitei State. It may appear theatrical but these laws have sustained the Meitei society through ages.

The customary laws relating to coronation of the Kings of Meiteis after Pakhangba as discussed hereinabove are crucial to his acceptance by the people. If customary laws had been violated at any stage the ‘priest’ and the ‘Chronicle writers’ are apt to refuse to accept them as genuine Rulers or Kings and therefore they are deprived of their status being mentioned in the royal chronicles, ‘Ningthourel Lambuba’. This itself speaks volumes of importance of not only of coronation in the life of Manipuri Kings but also as part of customary articulation.

Place of Coronation:

One spectacular dimension where importance of or indispensability of Customary Law articulation is the cave of KANGLA, believed to be the naval of ‘Taoroinai’ (Bodyguard and conveyance of Lord Pakhangba (Naoreoibam Indramani : Coronation of Manipuri Kings: Sanathong Monthly Journal; June 2001, Volume VIII No.4; pp 15-18: 8th Anniversary Publication). It is also believed that the placenta and amniotic covering (Naopham and Naoyom) of the forefathers of the seven clans of the Meiteis are inside the Kangla cave (Naoreoibam Indramani : Op. Cit.). That is why the cave is known as ‘Melkhom Yaikhom’ or ‘Kangla Men’(Ibid). It is on this Kangla Men that the King sits in the ceremonial proceedings of coronation as per prescribed formalities and rituals of the customary laws pertaining to such solemned occasion. It is believed that as per oracular directive of Lord Pakhangba, incorporated in the formal rituals meant for this purpose in the Customary Law was performed at Kangla only from the time of King Nao-phangba till the last King Bodhchandra Singh (Ibid).

Shape of Coronation Chair :

Customary laws relating to coronation spelled out that as per oracular instruction the coronation chair of Pakhangba was three legged with round shaped platform made in imitation of the circular shape of the sun and the moon (. Later on, the coronation chair was changed into an angular (four cornered) shaped platform as introduced during the reign of King Khagemba. (Ibid). The Kings coronated on such shaped coronation chair were Khunjaoba, Paikhomba, Charairongba, Pamheiba, Maramba, Chingthang-khomba, Talemkhomba and Mayangamba. During the reign of King Paikhomba some amendments and alterations were made under the directive of customary laws in respect of ceremonial part of the coronation in a moderate scale (Ibid). However, the rites and rituals of the coronation were so elaborate and grandeur from the coronation of King Nao-thingkhong as per direction of Luwang Ningthou Punshiba, the King of Luwang Principality(Ibid).

Under this innovative ceremonial coronation, ten Nobles of the royal court (Ningthou Panba Tara) fetched water from three canals and the Kings take bath with the water. The King sits on a wooden seat made of UNINGTHOU plank. He collects water in a trough made of WANG wood. (Ibid).

Another very significant feature is the indispensable Customary Law element in regard to the parts to be played by each ‘Salai’ and as also to ensure participation by several tribal groups as could be evidenced from different kinds of wood used in the construction of Kangla and of coronation platform, water to be drawn from different water-pools (lakes) belonging to seven different ‘Salais’, use of different designs of clothes both from the seven Salais of Meiteis and also from the tribal groups, such as, practice followed since the reign of Pamheiba for wearing of Tangkhul customary dress by the King during the coronation ceremony. (Ibid). These are seen as attempts made to depict universal characteristics of the occasion so as to project the King as supreme authority of all the people living both in the Valley and the hills and in expression of solidarity and integration of societies with the blending commonality as the King of Manipur is. The concept of divine Kingship of the Meiteis has it that the Meitei Kings got their divine power and strength from Supreme Being and as also from the ancestral gods of the clans through certain processes, such as, consecration, sacrifices at the time of coronation and the yearly ceremony of ‘Cheithaba’.

Chieftainship among the Meiteis & Mizos – VI

For this reason coronation of Kings is made as far wide participation of the seven Meitei Salais and as also the tribal groups to make it sure that coronation bears testimony of the multitude as per instruction of or in compliance of their customary laws. (M. Lokendra :Divine Kingship in Manipur: Proceedings of North-East India History Association: 10th Session, Shillong, 1989, p.258.) In addition, as they are not actual during the Kings are to re-establish their solidarity with the divine forces as a mandate of the Supreme Being through consecration sacrifices at the time of coronation and the yearly renewals of ‘Cheithaba’. They could not utilize their power beyond the jurisdiction of custom, tradition and culture of the Meiteis. In such societies legal norms and customary rules were highly respected by the Kings. Under these circumstances, the growth of certain legal codes such as ‘Loyumba Shinyen’ were favourable (Ibid). If the King acted against norms, mores and social institutions, there was every possibility to withdraw from them the mandate of Supreme Being who also represent the entire Meitei population through religio-cultural system (Ibid. p.259). By this, it is clear that coronation of Kings is one of the mandates of customary laws that has necessarily to be fulfilled.

Manipur from 18th century to 1947: Manipur from 18th Century till 1947 witnessed different historical events which are very significant in many dimensions. It was a time turning point that shaped the society. During this period, several kings ruled who brought about changes in the traditional customs which had great socio-cultural impact. Several customary laws emerged therefrom. The following two great kings have been selected for brief discussion in this regard. They are (I) Garibniwaz, and (II) Bhag- yachandra, whose contribution to the growth, development and innovation in various aspects of customary laws of the Meiteis had no parallel and cannot be marginalized.

(I) Garibniwaz or Gopal Singh or Pamheiba (1709-1748): Garibniwaz ascended to the throne of Manipur on Wednesday 23rd Thawan (about August) 1709 according to the Royal chronicle though Pem- berton and Gait contended that it was in 1714. Jhaljit Singh over-ruled their contention (R.K. Jhalajit Singh: A short history of Manipur: 1965; p.144) on the ground that in such controversial issues, the Royal Chronicle should prevail. He abdicated the throne after reigning for forty years in favour of his son, Chit Shai on Wednesday the 10th May (Kalen), 1748.

Khelchandra maintained that the administrative decrees issued by him were incorporated in the customary laws of the Meiteis, claimed to become the first ever written constitution. ‘Loiyamba Shilyen’, ‘Loina Shilon’ and ‘Phamlons’(N. Khelchandra (ed) : Pham- lon (1987), Imphal.). He subdivided his administration into four departments such as (i) Lourungshang (Revenue), (ii) Urung- shang (Forest), (iii) Keirang (Civil Supply) and (iv) Justice.

As far as justice is concerned, Garibniwaz changed the customary law or traditional system (Upto the reign of Pitambar Charairongba, the kings administered justice sitting on a slab – their regular seat. Panthoibi Khonggoon Kangla Ningthouba thoudu nungpak wa- yenba) of dealing with justice. He made himself as the Executive Head while the rest entrusted upon the nobles. Thus, equal treatment through nobles was started.

He made the literary progress, such as the translation of Maha- bharata into Manipuri (Gangmumei Kabui, Op. Cit; p.258). He initiated a new religion under the guidance of one Shanti Das. As a matter of fact, adoption of Gotras of Hindu caste system in the Salais (Clan) system followed and the intermingling of Meitei festivals with Hindu festivals incorporated. These were done in accordance with the customary laws. Social stratification which was non-existent at all had come to exist and also the practice of Sati gained momentum. (Ibid)

(II) Bhagyachandra (1762 – 1798) : Bhagya- chandra or Jai Singh or Chingthang- khomba ascended the throne in 1759.

According to Hiranya (R.K. Hiranya, Ningthou Ama Oina Bhagya- chandra Sahitya, Vo. 25, No. 49), he systematized the customary law in respect of traditional judicial order with special interest to revamp the administrative departments including Judiciary, such as given hereinbelow:

(i) Landai Kaibiron Shanglen;
(ii) Ngamdai Sat Nga Thaba Shanglen;
(iii) Cheirap (Court);
(iv) Kuchu,
(v) Gandiya Shinba Shanglen (department of religious affairs)
(vi) Apan Shanglen (department of Women’s affairs).

An outstanding feature of Bhagyachandra’s reign was the preparation of calendar by Maniram Pandit Sidhanta and his associates based on the Customary Law that was called Kangleipak Sak or Manipur Era. It was started counting from 78 A.D. and was renamed as Chandrabda. (Ibid)

Moreover, several socio-religious and also cultural events took place such as the adoption of Vaishnavism. And to that effect many aspects had been gradually started to evolve the Hinduised culture, the establishment of religious institution, the installation of Govindaji image and also the Ras Leela (Gangmumei Kabui, Op. Cit. p. 76). New customary laws related to the construction of the God’s images and the materials of creation were formulated. Customary laws of worshiping animism underwent drastic changes.

Loyumba Shinyen: the Great Law Giver: Although the provisions as mentioned in Loyumba Shinyen are not followed by the ethnic groups, economic compulsions have lured them away from their traditional work. Yet in some cases especially in the rural areas these laws have come to stay. It was basically written to organize the division of labour and to avoid social conflict within the community and even outside it. The customary provisions of the Loyumba Shinyen should be discussed although it is of later date. It has a significance of its own.

Before 1709 A.D. there was monarchy according to Chatlam Lutin. Under the system, Nobility exercised tremendous influence over the King. However, they were bound by the rules of ‘Chatlam-Lutin’, Law of the land. When Garib Niwaz ascended the throne in 1709 A.D. royal absolutism became a dominant rule. No one could violate command of the King. As such command of the King became the law. Therefore, to obey command of the King was to do justice. After Garib Niwaz, nature of law was a mixed and mediatory one in which supremacy of the rule of Chatlam-Lutin and the royal absolutism was blended. The King in consultation with the nobility enforced the rules of ‘Chatlam-Lutin’. Accordingly, justice was administered publicly. Thus so far as nature of ‘Chatlam-Lutin’ is concerned, it appears to be supreme upto the reign of Charairongba (1697-1709). Because, no one, may he be the King, the priest, the noble or the servant, could transgress the rule of ‘Chatlam-Lutin’. The Meiteis have their own Customary Laws. These laws are still in vogue or valid unless they infringe the provisions of the Constitution of India and any legislation enacted thereunder. Article VIII(3) of the Manipur Merger Agreement lays down that these customary laws shall be preserved (The Manipur State Merger Agreement to the Dominion of India dated the 15th October, 1949 in Shillong).

Lallup System: The Meiteis, and for that matter, the Mizos, have their own customary laws which shall be valid and preserved unless they infringe provisions of the Constitution of India as per Article VIII(3) of the Manipur Merger Agreement (M. Ibohal, J.M.S. : The outlines of the Constitutional History of Manipur: Manipur before 33 AD : Manipur Past and Present, Vol.I, 1988; p.293) and so also Chin Hills Regulations, 1818 in the Hill Areas of Manipur. Monarchy was the form of Government in early Manipur when the subjects venerated their King as the regent of God which was characteristic of Theocratic State wherein Law and Religion were so closely intertwined and blended that both could hardly be distinguishable from each other.


Chieftainship among the Meiteis & Mizos – VII

In those days, the King administered his country with a system called ‘Lallup’ under which system the entire Meitei population was divided into Pannas, each Panna consisting of a number of families and tribes. The head of each family or tribe would select from his family or tribe the men who could render service, called ‘Lallup’, to the King on behalf of the Panna to which they belonged.

This system, according to Cheitharol Kumbaba, was in practice since the reign of King Loyumba (Ibid, p.294). It was pivot of the Government Machinery of the early Manipur. Lallup was abolished on September 29, 1892, the day of coronation of Sir Churachand Singh, which was substituted by an annual tax of Rs. 3/- per house. Besides Lallup, there existed another system which assigned work allocation to each of ‘Seven Salais’. Such similar systems existed in other primitive communities as well. This system is called ‘Yumnak Mashin’. Khelchandra pointed out that another ‘text’ known as ‘Mashin’ has been added by the Editor of the published text. Added to this it is observed (Gang-mumei Kabui: A Note on “Loyumba Shinyen” (1110 A.D.) : (The First Written Constitution of Manipur): Manipur Past and Present, Vol.I, 1988; p.307) that ‘Loyumba Shinyen’ had been mixed up together with ‘Mashin’ in ‘Loina Shinyen’,( O. Bhogeshwar Singh : Loina Shinyen, 1967, Imphal) and further observed that despite a little confusion, ‘Loyumba Shinyen’ and ‘Mashin’, if read together, give a mine of information on the social and economic history of Manipur.

In the Lallup system, the male adult selected to render service to the King attends royal office, while the ‘Yumnak Mashin’ attends to the work assigned to each ‘Yumnak’. Thus, all the ‘Yumnaks’ of the seven Salais played their respective roles as assigned for specific work in the life and well-being of their society (M. Ibohal, M.J.S.:Op cit; p.294). The names of Yumnaks or assigned surnames of each of the Salai are given below (T.C. Hudson : The Meitheis, Neeraj Publishing House, Delhi, 1984, Reprint).:

Salai Yumnak

1. Angom 74
2. Ningthouja…. 131
3. Luwang 69
4. Khuman 111
5. Moirang 80
6. Khaba Nganba 23
7. Sarang- Leishangthem …. 50

Incidentally, ‘Salai’ is derived from ‘Sagei-Lai’, ancestor of Lineage. Salai has been described by many as clan. Perhaps, this is not exactly so. S.N. Pratt (Religion in Manipur) traces the origin of the Salai to a tribal ancestor (Gangmumei Kabui : Social and Religious Reform Movement in Manipur in 19th and 20th Centuries:, Bulletin of History Div., JNU, Imphal 1974-75.)

In this system, there was a branch office called ‘Khundin’. This office looked after the men liable to ‘Lallup’ so that they performed their work well. The jurisdiction covers the whole State dividing into Pannas. In times of peace it worked for economic development of the State and in times of war it did military services. The liability to Lallup commences as soon as a man attains the age of seventeen when he also is entitled to cultivate one part of the land with tax in kind imposed by the King or Raja.

It is a royal edict (Constitution) and is an important historical document for the reconstruction of the social, judiciary, political and economic history of Manipur. It is also the first written Constitution of Manipur as promulgated by Meidingu Loyumba during his reign from 1074 to 1112 A.D.( Cheitharol Kumbaba, p.4) and that the decree was issued reliably in 1110 A.D., according to Chei-tharol Kumbaba. (N. Khelchandra Singh : Ariba Manipuri Sahitya Itihas, 1969, Imphal). The Constitution was in force with some modifications from time to time, codifying “… the ancient customary laws of Manipur. It embodied the traditions and customs that were followed by the Kings who reigned before Meidingu Loyumba”, incorporating features, such as, the early Meitei polity, the land tenure system, the administration of justice and social organisation, “… besides throwing sidelights on various aspects of life. The Constitution also embodied both theological and legal norms” (M. Ibohal, M.J.S.: op. cit; p.295)

Whatever the King ordered was obediently complied with and followed by his subjects as if that was law provided, of course, without elements of disregard to traditions and customs that were then prevailing and that the form of Government as laid down in the Constitution was absolute Monarchy based on Theocracy.

Loyumba Shinyen was expanded further as innovative dimensions were added by the kings to effectively deal with such emerging situations during the reigns of Kyamba from 1467 to 1508, Khagemba from 1597 to 1652, Garib Niwas from 1704 to 1748, Bhagya-chandra from 1763 to 1798 and Chourjit from 1803 to 1813. This expanded original text of the decree of Loyumba was published in 1975 (Khulem Chandra-sekhar Singh : ‘Loyumba Shinyen’ published by All Manipur Umanglai Lai-haraoba Committee, 1975, Imphal; pp. 16-27). The decree deals with the distribution of occupation according to Yumnaks, assignment of duties to priests and priestesses, assignment of works for maintenance of abode of Village deities (Umanglais), creation of administrative departments (Loisang), duties and functions of Kings and Queens, royal etiquettes, titles and decorations awarded to the nobles, administration of justice, keeping of standard time. It was expanded also to include royal painters, court singers, procedures for delivery of royal children, feudal dues and services to be rendered by different tribes, etc.

Land Revenue : It was one of the main sources of royal incomes. Land records for which duties in cash were prepared and collected at the rate of hundred coins per PARI of land. As for virgin lands, reclaimed for cultivation were also subject to payment of revenue at the rate of five hundred coins per PARI of land. Revenue in kind at the rate of sixty pots of paddy per PARI was exacted in case of unauthorized reclamation ( M. Ibohal, M.J.S. op. cit, p.295).

Administration of Justice: The principles of criminal laws were very severe. Cattle-theft was punishable with mutation of the legs. Burglary was punished with mutation of the hands. Giving of false statement and false accusation were punished with deprivation of tongue. Indecency towards the queen or King was punished with deprivation of the eyes ( M. Ibohal, M.J.S. op. cit, p.296).

Services of Pana : There were eight Panas under Meidingu Loyumba (Cheitharol Kumbaba : p.8). They were – Khongchalup, Nongmaillup, Angoubalup, Leichol-Lakpa, Tolongkhombalup, Khurailup, Lipphambalup and Khangjenglup.

Source: The Sangai Express


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