Is the Manipur mentioned in the Mahabharata epic the present-day border hilly State? More importantly, did Arjuna of the Pandavas come to present-day Manipur and marry Princess Chitrangada? Did their children participate in the war?
The replies Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Chief Minister N. Biren Singh may elect to give, if at all, to these questions are eagerly awaited, because the royal chronicles of Manipur spanning over 2,500 years do not record anything in this regard.
Amit Shah had courted controvery when he declared during a function in Imphal on January 7 that Arjuna had come to Manipur and married the “Manipuri princess Chitrangada”. On the other hand, N. Biren Singh had said in 2018 while speaking at the Madhavpur fair in Gujarat: “In those days there was no Manipur, Assam, or Arunachal Pradesh. The region was a part of India. Lord Krishna had married Princess Rukmini of present- day Arunachal Pradesh. As such the people were Hindu.”
When many sections criticised him, N. Biren Singh told reporters on the sidelines of an official function in Imphal that his poor knowledge of Hindi had caused the confusion. However, neither Amit Shah nor N. Biren Singh have issued any official clarification.
R.K. Nimai, retired bureaucrat and writer, said: “This is not the first time that some persons have been saying these confusing things.”
Keisham Meghachandra, Congress MLA and Pradesh Congress Committee president, said: “Both Shah and Biren had distorted Manipur’s history and this is simply unacceptable.”
Some years ago, angry students’ bodies banned a book titled A Short History of Manipur” written by the late R.K. Jhalajit that carried references to Arjuna’s reported arrival in Manipur.
Soon after the ban, R.K. Jhalajit spoke to Frontline on the issue but he could not give a satisfactory explanation as to why the epic did not record anything on Arjuna’s journey from Kalinga (Odisha) to Kangleipak (Manipur).
Names and misinterpretations
Nimai said that the name Manipur replaced Kangleipak during the reign of King Pamheiba (1709-1757).
Dr Kangjia Gopal, in his book Mahabharat’s Manipur is not today’s Manipur, says that the epic had been translated wrongly. The Mahabharata says that Arjuna walked the sea shore looking at the Mahendra range. The Manipuri translation inserted some words to “bring Arjuna” towards today’s Manipur. Some influential sections laboriously prepared the ground for linking Manipur with Arjuna. From nursery rhymes to school and college songs, there are references seeking to connect Manipur with the epic.
Some persons had even deliberately misinterpreted the names of some places in and around Imphal to give credence to the “Arjuna-Chitrangada” episode.
For instance, the horse of Arjuna was supposedly “lost” at a place called Sagolmang simply because the first five letters mean horse.
Manipuri men and women were using the Singh and Devi surnames respectively for some time. But many educated sections of society have started discarding these surnames. Those who rubbish the Arjuna connection with today’s Manipur say that from the very beginning, all royal members had purely Manipuri names. However, Sanskritised names like Chitrangada were introduced out of the blue around the Arjuna was supposed to have reached Manipur. Even the name Manipur came along with a new creed: Vaishnavism.