Guru Nanak in Manipur

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Manipur is a small State of Indian Union comprising an area of 22356 sq km with a population of 10,72,735 as per 1971 census and bounded on the north by Nagaland, on the east by Burma, on the South by Mizoram and on the west by the Cachar district of Assam.

Being a multi-religious State, Hindus, Muslims, Christians live in the State with Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Mr Brown, who was the British political agent while Manipur was an independent kingdom, narrated that several other foreigners reside in the valley as Hindustanis and Sikhs.

Though he did not mention the number of Sikhs living there then, but it is interesting to note that even in the later part of 18th century the Sikhs began to live in the Manipur valley lying in the Eastern border of India.

In Manipur Hindus belong to major religious group which constitutes about 59% of the people living in the State. The Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists together account for only 0.27 per cent.

Following is the data as per census of 1961 and 1971.

        1961	   1971
Hindus  481112    632597 
Sikhs 	 523	   1028

The above figure shows that only 1028 persons belonging to the Sikh religion were living in the Manipur valley in 1971.

Guru Nanak

But it is narrated in the Sikh Chronicles like Janam Sakhi that while Guru Nanak Dev was travelling in the North East part of India, he entered Manipur, met two disciples there, established a Sangat and went to Cachar through Imphal. It is a news to me as I have never heard before that the Manipuris before embracing Vainavism embraced Sikhism directly from Guru Nanak.

According to the account narrated in Himalayan region, Guru along with his disciple Mardana, a Muslim youngman came down. From Prayag they came to Varanasi and to Patna. From Patna they proceeded through Terrai tract and reached Cochbehar.

From Cochbehar they came to Kamrup. The old Janam Sakhi describes how Guru defeated Shah Noor, the queen of the tantrik cult. The Puratam Janam sakhi also narrates that he travelled extensively in Assam and delivered the message of love and song dohas (prayer songs) which pleased many people. He met Sankaradeva at Dhubri, from Dhubri, Nanak reached Guahati and entered the kingdom of Manipur.

"Here he and Mardana were received with strange apathy. The people showed them scant attention. One Jhanda, the carpenter, a man of devout disposition, saw what some other had failed to see. He took the Guru home and found unmeasured joy in his company. He shared happy tidings with Indersen, a follow seeker, who was the nephew of a local chief. Both became disciples. Jhanda was entrusted with the responsibilities of looking after the Sikh Sangat in this part of the Country after the Guru's departure. The Guru now returned taking a South-western route through Imphal, Silchar, Sylhyet and Deccan. Reaching the Bay of Bengal, he made a coastal voyage and arrived at Puri, the city of the temple of Jagannath".

Here Mr. Singh describes the analogy of his conclusion about Guru's visit to Manipur in a foot note in which he wrote. "According to Puratan, Guru Nanak was now in the country of Bisiar. The geographical location of Bisiar has been variously identified. Macauliffe (The Sikh Religion Vol I, page 93) recognises Bisiar in the Simla Hills. Giani Gyan Singh (Twarikh Guru Khalsa, p. 184) takes it to be the country around Manipur. In the sequences of the Guru's travel, this appears more reasonable. Bhai Vir Singh (Guru Nanak Chamatkar, part I, Page 262) accepts this view.

To justify his analogy he also cites the picture of Deccan. In another foot note he writes "outside Decca there were until recently the ruins of a Sikh Monastry and a well which marked the spot visited by Guru Nanak. In the city, there was a shrine called Charan Paduka, literally, wooden sandals from holy feet. Shrines similarly known and preserving sandals said to be of the Guru were also existing in other places such as Srinagar, Kutdwar and Junagah."

Now let us try to find out the time of his entering Manipur and establishing a Sikh Sangat there. It is recorded that Guru Nanak met Sri Chaitanya Deva at Puri and sang Dohas (Bhajans) and dance with him. It is narrated in the Chaitanya Bhagabat of Iswar dasa, an onya devotee of Srichaitany that:

"Sri Nibas O Biswambhar kirtana madheya beteare
Jagai Madhi ekatra karanti a nritya"
"Nagar Purusotham and dasa Jangali nandini tapasa
Nanak Sahitegahen Gropal Guru sanga tena
sangeta matta Balaram bbihar Nilgiri dham." 

Dr Biman Behari Majumder also accepted this episode on the basis of the above noted evidence that Guru Nanak met Chaitanya Prabhu at Puri and sang and danced with him.

Here 'saranga' means Mardana who used to play a sharengi with the songs of the Guru and Matta Balaram means Prabhu Nityananda who is said to be the incarnation of Balaram of Dwarpar age. Chaitanya Deva came to Puri in 1431 saka in the month of Falgoon or first week of Caitra. If he had gone there after 8th Caitra then the saka would be Changed to 1432.

Another scholar Ganda Singh wrote that 'according to Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak visited puri in the Bikrami year 1566 which falls within April 1509 AD to March 1510 AD'. 1431 sakyear corresponds to 1509 AD. 15th or 16th March is the corresponding date of 1st Caitra. So there were possibilities of meeting of those two great religious personalities at Puri.

Now if Guru Nanak had reached Puri in the month of March 1510 AD, he might have been travelling through Assam, Manipur and Bengal in the year 1509-1510 AD. We find in the history of Manipur that after the death of Kyamba in 1508 AD, his son Koiremba ascended the throne in 1508 AD at the age of 20 and ruled upto 1512 AD when he died at the age of 24 only.

After the death of Kyamba in the early years of 16th century the name of Koirengba is mentioned at the top of the list of kings of Manipur by IM Ray also. So it may be preserved that if Nanak Dev had entered Manipur at all in the year 1509-1510 AD, the ruling King of Manipur was Koiremba.

During the rule of Kyamba the worship of Vishnu began in Manipur again. A little image of Lord Vishnu was presented by th King of Pong when he concluded a treaty with the king of Manipur in 1470 AD. Kyamba built a brick temple at Bishnupur and installed the image there.

In this way the worship of Lord Vishnu began in Manipur again. But "in spite of regular worship of Vishnu Kyamba was not initiated to Vaisnavism by a preceptor."

The presence of Aribam Brahmins who worshipped Vishnu during Kyamba proves that 'Varna bebhag' or caste discrimination of the Brahmonical order of Indian caste system was there in Manipur at that time and Vaisnavism which discarded 'Barna bebhag' had not yet entered in the Manipur society. That was why the poeple of that particular area of Manipur washed the spot where Guru Nanak and Mardana sat considering them to be low caste human beings.

Again if we see the picture of the different language speakers of Manipur as shown in the census of 1971 AD we shall get the following:

Mother tongue       Male     Female 	Total
Manipuri            339013   339289    678402
Bengali             7944     7081      15025
Hindi               9081     2613      11631
Punjabi 	     1149     426	1575

If at all a Sikh Sangat was established in the year 1509-1510 AD and if the local people embraced Sikhism from that time, the number of believers and speakers of Punjabi language can not be so meagre after a long period of 450 years or more, yet I invite the attention of Manipuri scholars to throw light on this episode as claimed in the Janam Sakhi regarding the establishment of Sikh Sangat at Manipur in 1509-10 AD for truth will be revealed only after proper and in-depth research.

References

  • Dr. Dwijendra Narayan Goswami wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on July 10, 2008.