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A tale of Love Amidst Manipur Ethnic Clashes

A tale of Love Amidst Manipur Ethnic Clashes

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Manipur's ancient legend of Khamba and Thoibi

Amidst the increasing violence in Manipur, we would like to remind our fellow brothers and sisters about the inspiring epic poem “Khamba Thoibi Sheireng”. This beautiful poem speaks of love and hope, and we hope it can serve as a beacon of peace during these troubled times. Let us strive for a peaceful tomorrow.

Were you aware that the third longest poem in India is from Manipur? Yes, after the Mahabharata and Ramayana, Khamba Thoibi Sheireng written by the great Manipuri poet Hijam Anganghal sometime in the 17th Century is the third longest poem in India. It tells the story of a Moirang prince who falls in love with a Ningthouja princess. The two clans were constantly at odds with each other due to their ethnic differences. It is particularly relevant to recount this story now, as the state is currently experiencing severe unrest and ethnic clashes.

On May 3rd Skirmishes broke out in the state capital Imphal after thousands of people from the Naga and Kuki tribes took part in a rally against the majority Meitei ethnic group being afforded special status under India’s “Scheduled Tribe” grouping. This led to clashes and the death of at least 58 and tens of thousands more homeless.

Amidst this unrest, I share the story of Khamba Thoibi Sheireng to remind my Manipuri brothers and sisters that we are ‘A rainbow race and it is too soon to die’.

The poem as we find it in its current form may have evolved over a period of time. It begins with the episode of ‘Tending the Bull’ and ends with ‘The Marriage of Khamba and Thoibi.’ Before it was written down by Anganghal, it was already being sung as a Pena song since the time of King Chandrakirti, who ruled from 1834 to 1886.

The songs of the Moirang Kingdom, known as Moirang Kangleiron, were first sung during King Chandrakirti’s journey outside Manipur to meet the British Viceroy on the Barak River. During this time, the Pena singers of Manipur likely added many details to the story of Khamba-Thoibi and shaped it into its current form. Some scholars believe that the episodes of ‘Catching the Bull’ and ‘Khamba Meets Thoibi at Kabow’ were added to the story during the time of King Chandrakirti.

Whatever may be the origin the poem ‘Khamba Thoibi Sheireng’ narrates the love story of Khamba, a prince from the Moirang clan, and Thoibi, a princess from the Ningthouja clan, two powerful clans of Manipur.

The poem has a rich and complex structure, consisting of 63 stanzas or shairengs, each composed of four lines with a regular syllable count of 16-18-17-16. The language used in the poem is Manipuri, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken mainly in the Indian state of Manipur.

The poem begins with an introduction to the two clans, Moirang and Ningthouja, and how they are at war with each other. Khamba, the prince of Moirang, falls in love with Thoibi, the princess of Ningthouja, after seeing her in a dream. He then sets out on a journey to find her and bring her back to Moirang as his bride.

Khamba’s journey is full of obstacles, including crossing treacherous rivers, fighting wild beasts, and facing the wrath of Thoibi’s father, the Ningthouja king. However, Khamba’s determination and courage help him overcome these challenges, and he finally reaches Thoibi’s palace.

Thoibi is initially reluctant to leave her family and elope with Khamba. However, she is moved by Khamba’s love and devotion, and they both run away from the palace. The Ningthouja army pursues them, but Khamba and Thoibi manage to evade them and reach Moirang safely.

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The poem ends with a celebration of Khamba and Thoibi’s marriage and the union of the two clans, which ends the longstanding feud between Moirang and Ningthouja. The poem is not only a love story but also a political allegory that celebrates the unification of Manipur under a single ruler.

“Khamba Thoibi Sheireng” is a masterpiece of Manipuri literature and is regarded as one of the greatest works of art in the region. The poem’s lyrical language and vivid imagery transport the reader to the world of ancient Manipur, and the love story of Khamba and Thoibi continues to inspire generations of Manipuri people.

So may the love of Khamba and Thoibi be remembered for the rich culture of the state of Manipur and may peace prevail in Manipur.


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