The family structure in Manipur has undergone and is undergoing a great many changes. In the 1950s and 1960s, most of the parents had more than 5 children, some even going beyond 10. Though child marriage was not common nor known in Manipur, a majority of the young population got married quite early in life (early by today’s standards). The normal age for boys for marriage was usually 20 years and above. For girls, the marriageable age used to range from 15 to 19 years. Marriage at a young age was an important contributor to having many children in the 50s and 60s of Manipuri society. Family planning was not known or almost absent in the earlier days. There was a strong belief that children were the gifts of God. As such, men had no power to limit the number of children. The family was patriarchal in structure and the senior most male member was usually the head of the family. Sometimes, when the senior most member of the family happened to be a female, may that be a widow, the female headed the family without any societal deterrence.
The Manipuri society in this matter can be said to be very liberal and progressive. A majority of the families were joint family systems. Members of the joint family were governed by a code of conduct mainly implemented by the senior most female member of the family. Discipline amongst the members of the family were strictly governed based on a senior and junior relationship, the old and the young. Even the language used in addressing one another was based on the elder and the younger relationship. Like other patriarchal societies, the parents commonly preferred sons to daughters. Compared to other patriarchal societies of India, the preference can be said to be of a lesser extent. In Manipuri society, daughters were also equally welcomed by the parents. Love and affection amongst the members of the family, close bonding among the cousins born of the same siblings (especially cousins born of brothers), smooth and peaceful relationship amongst the wives of the brothers were under the strict supervision and control of the mother-in-law.
This formed a major feature of many a families of the valley society of Manipur. Strong expressions of likes and dislike in the form of conflict, hatred and ill feelings amongst the members of the family were usually avoided. Aged and old members were generally well looked after by the sons and daughter-in-laws. The aged members also contributed to the moral growth of the family by teaching moral lessons, the various dos and dont’s in the family as well as in the society. The middle-aged women members of the family traditionally contributed in the financial maintenance of the family by working in the cultivation of rice and vegetables or simply by engaging in some small scale trade or by weaving clothes at home. Younger married women (usually the women between the ages of 35 to 40 years) were not exposed outside the family to do any work or business. They were confined at home to do household chores. In their leisure hours, they were engaged in working in the gardens inside their compounds (usually a vegetable garden), in weaving or in embroidery work.
Daily household duties like cooking, sweeping, washing clothes, taking care of small children, caring for the old in the house were performed by these young groups of married women in every household. It may be said that the basis of the attitude, manner and behaviour of the members of the family were based on certain moral or ethical principles. In course of time, particularly during the last three decades there has been a sea change in the family structure as well as in the norms and practices governing the members of the family. In the urban areas, the decline in the joint family structure has been rampant. In its place, many nuclear families have emerged in large numbers consisting of the mother and the father, who are mostly both working, and the children. The importance and significance of moral and ethical values also have somehow degraded with the decline in these joint systems. Today, both the husband and the wife are actively engaged in their occupation or profession or work, leaving very little time in their hands to teach the young children about attitude, behaviour and manners which are based on value and morality.
In poverty stricken families in Manipur, the female member, usually the mother never shies away from finding ways and means to support her family. Women have come out to work as labourers, vegetables sellers or as domestic helpers. Sometimes what she earns in one day is the only source of income for the family. It is heartening to note that, some of these hard working women even manage to send their children to school with the meagre amount of income they earn. Having stated that, cases of domestic violence (usually the husband beating up the wife) is also not less. A study shows that the participation of women in the decision making process of Manipur is 80 per cent and at the same breath, the domestic violence suffered by women in Manipur is 60 per cent. Thus, the emergence of nuclear families can be said to not contribute to the growth of the family and society in the presence of gross financial weakness. In the case of joint families also, the modern trend has brought in many features which has ended up affecting the peace and harmony which were usually associated with a traditional Manipuri joint family. Earlier the mother-in-law controlled and supervised her sons and daughter-in-laws with much ease and lesser effort, in bringing her daughter-in-law under the culture and norm of the family.
Mother-in-laws were usually associated with strong personalities. The daughter-in-laws were submissive, sacrificing their own norms and culture imbibed in her parental home and hence, could easily accommodate and assimilate into the culture of the husband’s family. The general interest and the greater good of the family always overruled any conflict which might exist within the members of the family. The mother-in-law had a significant role to play in maintaining this. Today, in an age where personal freedom and individual identities are liberally asserted, conflicts amongst married brothers of the same family have risen to such an extent that a single joint family may have as many as four separate kitchens. There are also many cases where the aged father-in-law and the mother-in-law are often left to their own means to manage their own affairs including the household chores and their financial maintenance. It helps if one or both of them have a source of income, may that be in the form of a pension. There have been cases where widowed mother-in-laws have to leave her son’s house and spend her last days at the home of her married daughter, forcing her to adjust to a new area and a new locality.
Manipur Faith & Belief
Manipur has a rich culture and tradition that is thousands of years old. They have their own distinct language, culture and religion that can date back to the 10th century. The religion of Manipur is recognized as the oldest one that is an organized religion in the whole of south-east Asia. There are around 40 ethnic groups in Manipur, with various languages and cultural practices. Yet we can find predominantly around three religions that are flourishing in Manipur. They are Hinduism, Maibaism and Christianity. There are other religions as well like the Islam and Buddhism. In ancient Manipur, the inhabitants also followed Animalism, which included animal sacrifice and worshiped those who were the strongest spirit. But with the Hindu rule, Chorai Rongba, Hinduism became popular, leaving behind only the weak traces of Animism. Garib NIwaj brought out various cults of Hinduism in Manipur, while the British were responsible for bringing Christianity here.
During the ancient time, the Nagas worshiped stones, which they call the LaiPham and offer rice, flowers, leave and tobacco to the stone. The other tribe called the Maram Nagas worshiped Rain deity and the Quireng Nagas are said to have worshipped the Kampinu deity. The Dumpapoee deity is worshipped by the Kabuis. Therefore, you can see diverse religion and several deities that are being worshipped in Manipur.
Manipur, like most other parts of India, is very tolerant towards all religions and therefore Ramjan ID is celebrated by the Manipuri people with much grandeur. The Manipuri Muslims are known as Meitei Pangal and Ramjan ID is their most import important festival. Auspicious for the Muslims all over the world, Ramjan ID is observed very strictly by the Manipuri Muslims. Since the time of Prophet Mohammad, Ramjan ID is celebrated on the ninth day of the Hijri Year. At the end of the holy month of Ramdan, the Muslims of Manipur celebrate Ramjan ID. During the entire month of Ramdan the Muslims of the region practice self denial and refrain from any food and drink from dawn to sunset. After the end of the Ramdan month, with the appearance of the new moon, the fast is broken and is celebrated as Ramjan ID. Ii is an important day of celebration for the Muslims. They go to the Mosque to pray, greet each other and feast on delicious foods. The Muslims of Manipur, like the Muslims of the entire world, celebrate the pious festival of Ramjan ID.
Maibaism in Manipur is a very unique religious system. Very close to Purohitism of the Hindu religion, Maibaism is actually a hierarchy of priesthood. The Maibas are the traditional priests of the Manipuri society. Although it is considered as a fold of Hinduism, Maibaism is related to the old Manipuri religion. The Maibas are the male priests while their female counterparts are called Maibis. These priests are categorized into two types. One class of the priests performs rituals and other religious practices. The second type of Maibas is orthodox physicians and is known as Vaids.
The Maibas have their own distinct dress code. The Maibis wear white Phaneks with waist wrappers, white full sleeve blouses and shawls called Innaphis. The Maibas wear white dhotis, sashes wrapped around waist with jackets. They also wear turbans that are again white in color.The priests in Manipur have to undergo many restrictions and practices. They are not allowed to take touched food or eat in a house where a new born baby is residing. A married Maibi is supposed to sleep on her husband’s left side only. The Manaipuri or Meitei temple rituals are incomplete without the Maibas. Their rituals are believed to be the weapons of protection against the evil spirits. In remote areas where doctors and hospitals are not readily available, the Maiba Vaids are very much sought after. These traditional physicians are equipped with natural medicines and are highly respected by the tribes.
Hinduism in Manipur has witnessed three different stages. The people of the land used to practice Animism before the introduction of Hinduism in the region. Although Hinduism reached later in this part of the world due to geographical barriers, the religion has gradually emerged as one of the most popular religions in Manipur. The first stage of Hinduism in Manipur was witnessed during the reign of King Charai Rongba who ruled during the 15th century. A royal guru, Guru Aribom, was adopted by the king who preached and taught Hinduism to his subjects.
The second phase was during Garib Niwaj’s rule in the 18th century. During his rule different sects and cults of Hinduism like Vaishnavism and Ramanadi emerged in Manipur. His Guru Gopal Das propelled him to adopt Vaishnavism. The king popularized the Bhagwat in the region. During his rule a Hindu preacher called Santi Das introduced and spread the Ramanandi cult in Manipur. After the death of Garib, his successors Jai Singh accepted and promoted the Chaitnaya School of Vaishnavism. Today Hinduism is among the leading religions in Manipur and is followed by a large number of people. The Manipuri Hindus follow the Vaishnavism sect and do not eat meat. However, they eat fish and wear Tilak on their foreheads. They strongly believe in the holy books of Hindus like Gita, Mahabharata and Ramayana. They observe festivals like Rathyatra, Diwali, Durga Puja, Ras Lila and other Hindu Festivals.
Christianity in Manipur has emerged as one of the main religions of Manipur. The Europeans, especially the British missionaries, were highly responsible behind the popularity of Christianity in Manipur. They went to the less visited hilly areas of the state and helped them to receive modern education and improved lifestyle. As a result of their overall growth, they developed a complete faith on the religion. The missionaries imparted education in English as well as in the local languages. The holy Bible was published in languages such as Thado, Lusahi, Meitei, Tankhul etc. Today the Christians of the state who are mostly tribals celebrate Christmas with great fervor. They are very fluent in English but use their own dialects as the written medium. With their closeness to the western world they are very fond of western music. Not only in Manipur, Christianity is very popular among the tribal population of other northern states also.
Sanamahi is another religion followed by many people in Manipur. Sanamahi are worshipped in all the houses of Meiteis and other communities in Manipur and several other states and Myanmar. There are almost 5 lakh people in Manipur who follow Sanamahi religion. It is also recognized by the state government. Various religions have contributed to the culture and tradition of Manipur and have provided diversity to the culture and tradition of Manipur.