Manipuri literature is the literature written in the Manipuri language (i.e. Meeteilon). It is also known as Meetei Literature. The history of Manipuri literature can be traced back thousands of years with the flourishing of its civilisation.
But the Puya Meithaba (burning of ancient Manipuri scriptures) in 1729, during the reign of Meidingu Pamheiba (1709-1748), devastated the ancient Manipuri scriptures and cultural history. It began a new era of Manipuri literature.
The Meeteis had a long tradition of writing. It is not completely clear when the archaic Meetei Puyas (old scriptures) and Meetei Mayek (Manipuri scripts) first came into existence.However, the written constitution Loiyamba Shinyen (1110), during the regime of Meidingu Loiyamba (1074-1122), vividly connotes the practice of writing in this era. The Royal Chronicle, Chitharon Kumpaba, was kept meticulously and continued from the fifteenth century until the end of kingship (Meidingu Bodhchandra, 1941-1955).
The skill of writing was at first the prerogative of the professional scribes and scholars of the traditional Meetei culture, the Maichous. But later, as proliferation of religious, proto-scientific and astrological text suggests, writing was expanded beyond these professional scribal classes. However, most of the ancient Meetei puyas (scriptures) were anonymous and undated.
Early Manipuri literature consists of ritual hymn, cosmogony, history, or folktales in prose and poetry. A few of the notable works of ancient Meeteilon (i.e. Manipuri language) are: Numit Kappa, Ougri, Khencho, Sana Lamoak (6th or 7th century), Ahonglon (11th century), Khoiju Lamoak (12th century), Hijin Hirao, and Ningthauron (17th century).
One of the oldest literary works, Numit Kappa was written in archaic Meeteilon with Meetei Mayek (i.e. Manipuri script) in poetry verse. T.C. Hodson was the first to translate this archaic Meeteilon literary work into English in his book The Meitheis. Ougri (also Leiroi Ngongloi Eshei), is an anonymous and undated poetry written in archaic Meeteilon. But it is believed to have been written in the pre-Christian era.
A few notable works of ancient Manipuri literature in prose include Panthoibi Khongul, Nongshaba Laihui, Sakok Lairamlen, Poireiton Khunthokpa (3rd century), Kangla Haoba (5th century), Loyamba Shinyen (11th century), Naothingkhong Phambal Kaba (16th century), Khagemba Yumlep (16th century) and Cheitharon Kumbaba.
Modern Manipuri poetry distinctly falls into two groups—the poetry of Lamabam Kamal and his contemporaries representing the early phase and poetry of more modern and younger poets representing the Zeitgeist of the contemporary world picture.
The approach of Minaketan is fresh and individualistic. Nilabir Sharma, Gourkishar, R.K. Elbangbam are famous lyrical poets. Surchand Sharma mainly deals with some aspects of the great Moirang Thoibi legend while R.K. Shitaljit is a poet of nature and humanity. R.K. Surendrajit blends the symbolic and the allegoric with lyricism, while in the poetry of Nadia, the narrative is blended with sonorous rhythm.
The poetry of younger poets—Samarendra, Nilakanta, Padmakumar, Shri Biren, Ibomcha, Ibohal, Ibopishak, Madhubir, Jyotirindra and Ibempishak—gives expression to the deep sense of the immense panorama of futility, anger, questioning of traditional values and absence of faith and integrity in the society.
In the field of translation, Nabadwipchandra is famous for his translation of Michael Madhusudhan’s Meghanad Badha Kavya into Manipuri. Tagore’s Gitanjali has been translated by A. Minaketan and Krishnamohan.
The early dramatics and patriotic exploits of the heroes of Manipur, and the heroic and pathetic lives of legendary and mythological characters are the themes in drama. The early drama includes Sati Khongnag and Areppa Marup of Lalit, Nara Singh of Lairenmayum Ibungahal, Moirang Thoibi of Dorendrajit, Bir Tikendrajit of Bira Singh, Chingu Khongnag Thaba of Birmangol, Mainu Pemcha of Shymsundar, and Kege Lanja of Bormani.
The contemporary dramatists have come forward with plays new in theme and technique. They easily come across politics and socio-economic problems in their search. The foremost among these are G.C. Tongbra, Netrajit, M.K. Binodini Devi, Ramcharan, Kanhailal, A. Sumorendro, Tomchou and Sanajaoba. Ratan Thiyam founded ‘Chorus Repertory Theatre’ in Imphal, in 1976.
Early in the 20th century, as stated, Lambam Kamal, Khwairakpam Chaoba and Hijam Anganghal attempted the first original novels in Manipur. Names of R.K. Shitaljit, H. Guno, Thoibi Devi, R.K. Elangbam, Ram Singh, Ibohal, Bhagya, Nodiachand, Ibomcha, Chitreshwar, M.K. Binodini and Pacha Meetei deserve mention besides those of many other contemporary novelists. Surchand Sarma, Shymsundar, Raghumani Sarma and Nishan Singh may be mentioned among the prominent translators.
Short stories :
The short stories also made their advent along with the novel. R.K. Shitaljit’s stories, racy and plain, are narrated in simple, direct and unadorned Manipuri. R.K. Elangbam portrays ordinary people moved by the ordinary concerns and passion of life. Nilbir Sharma expresses the concerns of the poor and the neglected in society. H. Gonu probes into the ailing Manipuri society.
Stories of Nongthombam Kunjamohan are famous for their sentimentalism which is one of the predominant strains of Manipuri literature. Shri Biren, M.K. Binodini, E. Dinamani and Biramani are popular writers.
Critical literature :
Critical literature in Manipuri is gaining popularity. Arabia Manipuri Sahityagi Itihas by Pandit Khelchandra and Manipuri Shatyagi Ashamba Itihas of Kalachand Shastri survey the early and medieval periods of Manipuri literature. Meitei Upanyasa (vol. 1) of Minaketan and Manipuri Sahitya Amasung Sahityakar of Dinamani are critical surveys of prominent Manipuri novels.
Sahityagi Neinaba Wareng of Chandramani, Sheireng Leiteng of Kalachand Shastri, Sahitya Mingshel of Gokul Shastri, Alangkar Kaumudi of Pandit Brajabihari Sharma and Alangkar Jyoti of Laurembam Iboyaima are also well-known critical writings.
Manipuri Kavitagi Chhanda of Nilakanta, Chhanda Veena of R.K. Surendrajit and Manipuri Kavya Kanglon by O. Ibo Chaoba makes a survey of the prosody of Manipuri poetry adopting a scientific approach.