Described by Lord Irwin many years ago as the ‘Switzerland of India’, Manipur is the 20th state of the Indian Union. Of the total area of 22,327 sq km, 20,126 q km are hilly terrain. Imphal is its capital, situated at a height of 790 metres above sea level. The plains area comprising about 2,200 sq km is surrounded by hills on all sides. The 1991 census turned up a population of 1,837,149. The state is bounded on the north by Nagaland, on the south by Mizoram, on the east by Myanmar and on the west by Assam?s Cachar district. The oval-shaped valley is surrounded by an aura of mystery which has its roots in legends and folklore. Ancient legends say that the discovery of Manipur was the result of the delight that the Gods took in dancing.
Relatively untouched, Manipur is a land of blue-green hills, valleys and azure lakes that have inspired many wanderers. The average temperature in January, which is the coldest month, remains around a maximum of 200 Celsius and does not plummet below 40 Celsius either. The highest temperature is recorded in April at 340 Celsius. Even the summer nights are pleasant.
History and people
The 29 tribes that inhabit the hills of Manipur have separate dialects, customs, practices and dress codes. The Meiteis who inhabit the plains are mostly Vaishnavite Hindus and speak Manipuri, a highly-developed language with a rich and ancient literature of its own.
Social scientists have classified the communities into three broad linguistic groups: Naga-Bodo group of Manipuris of the north district, eastern Naga group of the north and west districts, and Chin-Kuki group of the state?s south districts. Literature is available on the Puram, Tangkhul, Sanamahi, Paite, Thadou, Mao-Maram, Chiru, Vaiphei, Hmar, Kom, Maring and Monsang groups. The Purams are a patrilineal tribe and have a complicated marriage and kinship system. They have undergone considerable change and prefer to be known as Chote.
The Tangkhuls are the biggest Naga group of the area. They were the first to embrace Christianity in the state and are among the most educated and developed communities.
It is the folklore, myths, legends, dances, indigenous games and martial arts, exotic handlooms and handicrafts of these people that help make Manipur so unique.
Art and culture
Manipur reflects a mosaic of traditions and cultural patterns. In the field of art and culture, the state is best represented by its classical and folk dance forms. Raas Leela songs and dances depict the leelas (sports) of Lord Krishna as a child with the Gopis (milkmaids) of Brindavan, and express their yearning for communion with the Lord. The Raas dances are lyrical and graceful. A spring festival, the Lai-Haraoba, celebrated in April-May and symbolised by a traditional, stylised and ritualistic dance, is performed for peace and prosperity. The hill tribal folk dances of Manipur are expressions of nature and creativity of the tribal way of life.
Manipuri women weave intricately-designed fabrics on their looms. Popular lore has it that the Goddess Panthoibi drew inspiration for weaving after seeing a spider making cobwebs in a corner. While almost every household has a loom, womenfolk alone are the weavers. Colourful designs are woven on sarees, sarongs, shawls and bedspreads. Handloom is the state?s largest cottage industry.
A unique feature of the state?s pottery is that it is crafted without a potter?s wheel. Watching these potters at work in Andro, Thongjao and Nungbi is a rare experience. Beautiful cane and bamboo ware also form an important part of the state?s handicrafts. Lifans, phak (weed mats) phiruk, Manipuri dolls and a host of eye-catching articles from wood, papier mache, shells and ivory form other exotic varieties of indigenously-produced wares.
Traditional sports date back to a period when small kingdoms were perennially at competition/war with one another. Wars between Manipur and Burma culminated in a martial tradition such as Thang Ta (sword play) which also gave an impetus to the promotion of sports.
The game of polo or Sagol Kangjei originated in Manipur. The game flourished under royal patronage. It is still popular and sees international players participate in tournaments at Imphal. The small Manipur pony, used for polo, is the most versatile, swift and agile species of its kind in the world. Wrestling-hockey or Mukna Kangjei is also another very popular game where players attempt to carry a ball towards the goal. Yupi-Lakpi is played by using a greased coconut which the players must carry to the goal line.
Manipur has been troubled for decades by insurgency and militancy. The People?s Liberation Army (PLA) and the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) are among the groups that dominate the valley region, while the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN-I&M) holds sway in the hill areas. There are smaller outfits as well including the Kuki National Army (KNA), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), People’s Revolutionary Army of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP).
Manipur is an area of high rainfall and humidity. Agricultural production is much below its potential as the area under cultivation is not well-irrigated and use of fertilisers and other modern agricultural technologies is low. Women share the work on farms. Jhum cultivation is still practised in the hills, although terrace cultivation has gained popularity over the years. Manipur is an example of the fact that realising the region’s economic potential lies in harnessing its agricultural resources. There are obvious hurdles to be overcome. For example, land ownership by the community or the village chief in some cases and the land tenure system often act as a disincentive for proper development and maintenance of agricultural holdings.
Besides the present food and fibre crops, the capacity to grow a range of other economic crops too exists. Vegetables and fruits such as banana, pineapple, peach, plum, pears, apples, apricots and walnut are grown at different altitudes. Among the spices, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and tezpatta (cinnamomym tarnata) do well. Similarly, timber, fuel trees, as well as cane and bamboo are also sources of income.
The prospect of industries based on natural chemicals, agro-waste utilisation of arecanut husks, livestock feed, ethanol, natural wax, resin and lac besides cultivation of medicinal herbs, to name a few, are areas which hold promise. Poultry, piggeries, dairying and pisciculture are also popular.
Sericulture, handloom and cottage industries are among major revenue earners and income generators. Agriculture and allied sectors provide employment to over 75 percent of the state?s work force.
Any information on Manipur will be incomplete without mention of the only floating national park of its kind in the world on the Loktak Lake – the Keibul Lamjao National Park. This is the last natural habitat of the sangai – the famous dancing or brow-antlered deer of Manipur. In this unique wetland of floating reeds, the sangai has been brought back from the brink of extinction. The wetlands are also home to hog deer, otter, water fowl and a variety of avian life.
The list of attractions is extensive: Lake Complex and Sendra Island, Shaheed Minar at the Veer Tikendrajit Park in the heart of Imphal, Shree Govindajee Temple adjoining the Royal Palace of Manipur?s former Maharajas, War Cemetery, Zoological Garden, Khonghampat Orchidarium, INA Museum at Moirang, Bishnupur Temple and the historic palace, temples and architecture of Langthabal. Moirang near Imphal is the site where Subhas Chandra Bose set up the provisional headquarters of the Indian National Army. He gave the call “Delhi chalo” from this small town where the Indian tricolour was first hoisted on liberated soil. The hills are covered with forests ranging from tropical to sub-alpine. Wet, temperate and pine forests occur between 900 to 2,700 metres above sea level.
Visitors should be in touch with the state Department of Tourism or the district administration concerned for reservations in guest houses, hotels, circuit houses and dak bungalows.