Nongpok Thong Hangba: The Revelation of Puya

By Shivachandra Rajkumar
26 August 2019
Nongpok Thong Hangba: The Revelation of Puya
Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh. Photo: N.Biren Singh/Facebook

In the galaxy of luminaries and parliamentarians from all over South East Asia that packed into the Conference Hall of the Pan Pacific Hotel, Yangon in early November 2017, Shri N.Biren, the Chief Minister of Manipur thundered from his podium "Unless the border between Myanmar and India opens at Tammu there will not be a deeper meaning of Act East Policy".. 

He continued "Act East Policy should roll on only when there is people to people contact on both sides of the border. Manipuris and Myanmar shared joys and sorrow for over two thousand years as good neighbours, and people of Manipur should be instrumental in strengthening the bilateral ties of India and Myanmar which together are trying to find great economic growth in the Asiatic map.” He attended the ceremony as the Chief Guest in the two-day International conference named 'India-Myanmar Relations: Way Forward', Parliamentarian from Sagaing Division and other parts of Myanmar also participated in the function. 

Later the Chief Minister invited Mandalay women Football team to have a friendly exhibition match with Manipuri women 11 during the Sangai Festival in November 2017. As anticipation to actualization of the agenda in the agreement between the two countries of having press interaction at regular intervals, Chief Minister also invited members of Myanmar Press Council to Manipur during the Sangai Festival to have interaction with the Indian press team. The Prime Minister mooted this idea of having good relations among the press fraternity of India and Myanmar. 

Earlier in September 2017, Shri Biren sent a delegation of Act East Policy Committee to Yangon to join the entourage of the Hon'ble Prime Minister's visit to Myanmar. His sole intention had been to exert pressure on the opening of the border sooner than later. The Hon'ble Prime Minister emphasizing the need for proper road improvement on the Indian Manipur side had announced the benevolent sanction of whooping 16,000 thousand crores in the majestic function held in Yangon. 

Later on January 3, 2018, the Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved the Agreement between India and Myanmar on Land Border Crossing. In anticipation to this Shri Biren sent a large contingent comprises of 58 members to Mandalay and Sagaing State in January 2018 where friendly women football exhibition matches between Manipur and Mandalay, Sagaing Division have exhibited pomp and gaiety.
The contingent besides having round of interactions with sections of business delegates of Myanmar side also called on the Chief Minister of Mandalay and Sagaing States and briefed them the urgency of the border opening and exerted pressure to take it up in the interest of both countries. Then in one fine morning on August 1st, 2018 the news of opening border on 8th August 2018 came and of course the news was a surprise gift to the people of Manipur and rest of the North East. 

The Nationwide Popular Pro-Democracy Protests also known as the 8-8-88 Uprisings, or the People Power Uprising, the People's Democracy Movement and the 1988 Uprising, were a series of nationwide protests, marches and civil unrest in Burma (Myanmar) that peaked in August 1988. Key events occurred on 8 August 1988. It is on this day a horde of pro-democracy protagonists of Myanmar intellectuals and students crossed over the Moreh Tammu border seeking asylum in the soil of Manipur in India thus begun the saga of revolution against the Military Junta. The opening of border on this day must definitely have a deeper relevance. 

Myanmar Government chose the 8th August 2018 to open it's land -route to India in a grand official ceremony. Mr U Aye Lwin, Permanent Secretary under Ministry of Labour, Immigration and population led the team from Myanmar side while in Manipur side the team comprises of R.K. Shivachandra, Convener of Act East Policy, Manipur and Nandan Singh Bhairosa, Consul General of India took part in the historic moment. 

The history of Manipur before the advent of the British had been a story of a struggle for supremacy between the people of Burma known to the Manipuris as Awa after the Ava dynasty that ruled Burma from Mandalay in upper Myanmar. In the fluctuating fortunes between the two sides, the Burmese had shown the might and thrusting power of the famed Manipuri Cavalry who, armed with the deadly Arambais, forced the Burmese to retreat. 

When the Burmese took their revenge and occupied Manipur, they returned home with members of these famed horsemen and they formed the advance thrust when king Alungpaya attacked Thailand in Chiangmai. The British, eager to save their interest from growing French influence in the Bay of Bengal, saw an ally in Manipur. Thus was born the Manipur Levy under the charge of Maharaja Gambhir Singh, which drove the Burmese away. 

But the Manipuris, who were taken as war captives to meet the Burmese requirements of skilled artisans, soldiers and scholars settled down in and around Mandalay and became part of the mosaic of Burmese people, treated a one and equal. Now all these have merely become the story of the past and the hatred, animosity and all hostilities have been swept away by the powerful force of time, the greatest healer. Since then the Manipuris have been separated without a link having barricaded by a political wall. 

Myanmar is a close neighbour yet it is a distant country to the Manipuris. Beyond Tammu it is not known and it still remains mystery for Myanmar authorities does not allow traveller to cross beyond Tammu. In recent years Myanmar authorities allow Indian nationals to travel inside Myanmar on a special permit which has to be obtained from Myanmar Hotel and Tourism Ministry. 

The procedure took about a fortnight and the file had to pass by the president of Myanmar's table. It was also made mandatory to hire a government official to accompany the visitor throughout wherever the visitor goes. This needs to be taken up by a registered travel agent in Myanmar. The whole cost happens to be very expensive affairs. The easiest route had been to catch a flight to Kolkata and obtain a visa from Myanmar consulate than to board a flight via Bangkok and to Yangon ultimately. 

Kolkata- Yangon direct flight operates twice a week only so many travels via Bangkok to save time. This is the same case for the person living in Tammu who wish to visit Imphal officially in the early days. 

Now the barrier no longer exists and what the PUYA, the old scripture of Manipuri predicts thousands of years before has come to dawn. I had been to Myanmar on many occasions in the last twenty years. Travelling into Myanmar is akin to a journey to the past. For the Manipuris, it is rather a journey through the pages of history. 

Right from Khampat down to the river stream of Chin Win that Manipuris called Ningthi Turel, has all embedded with the unforgettable histories of Manipur. The Mighty River that flows 15 miles per hour will reveal a lot of tales as you cruise down the river. Sometimes when the twilight sank into darkness and as it engulfs over the river you would soon lose yourself thinking how our forefathers had forayed here with their mighty warriors. 

As we set foot in Mandalay we will be welcomed by the hospitable Manipuris and there begins to unfold chapters of the history. The Mieties in Yangon who stood the test of time for centuries have something to tell you too. For all these reasons visiting Myanmar is much more than a tourist. Yes, so many memories to capture in the brain and interaction to be made eyeball to eyeball with the people who migrated to Myanmar and bade adieu to their loving motherland some 300 years ago, long time down to the memory lane. 

Assamese have a melancholic past and a deep root in Myanmar too. The Tai Ahom in upper Assam are the descendants of the ethnic Tai people who followed a Tai prince named Sukaphaa in his migration from what is now the frontier regions between Myanmar and Yunnan Province in southwest China Into the Brahmaputra valley in 1228. Sukaphaa and his followers established the Ahom kingdom (1228–1826), which controlled the Brahmaputra Valley and the territory of modern Assam until the British gained control of the region through the Treaty of Yandabo after their 1826 victory in the First Anglo-Burmese War. 

Tai group in India, with a population of nearly 4 million in Assam, and are the majority ethnic group in the Upper Assam Division. Because of all these reasons Assamese have a strong desire to visit Myanmar via Manipur to trace back the missing link with the Tai people of the Shan state. There are also many Assamese who have been taken as war captives around the same time of seven years devastation (1819-1826) of Manipur. However, the population had been reduced to a meagre number following mass assimilation into the fold of Myanmarese. 

Numerous Naga tribes spread throughout the north-western hills of Myanmar. Most of the Naga are from the Chin State. But the festival place falls in the Sagaing Division, next to the Chin State. The places where the Naga inhabit are Khamti, Lashe, Lahel, and Nanyun in the Sagaing Division. There are 64 clans of the Naga tribe. Another aspect of this festival is a reunion of relatives, who are away from home. 

They worship their deities by sacrificing animals. The festival is usually in January, for this year it will be held on the 15th of January, 2019. To visit this festival, one has to travel from Kalewa from that point we need to sail upstream in Chindwin River via Homemalin to reach Htamanthi. From this point one can travel to Lashe by car again. 

The Sagaing Region Government has recently requested the Manipur Government to participate in the event with her colourful people. I hope the opening this event will definitely offer a joyous moment for the Nagas to interact with those cousins segregated by a political boundary.
Myanmar has reasons to be happy about more than anyone else. Myanmar is a Buddhist country and practised by 89% of the country's population. It is the most religious Buddhist country in terms of the proportion of monks in the population and proportion of income spent on religion. Every year hundreds of thousands of Buddhist travel to Bodhgaya via Yangon. However travelling to Bodhgaya is still a very costly affair and the journey expenses can be coughed up by some wealthy section only. However the pilgrimage tour always remains mandatory and everyone travels with all their available ways and means. 

The border opening will script a new saga in the pilgrimage circle. Now Imphal in Manipur offers a new route to Bodhgaya on a shoestring budget, that is unimaginable compared to the trip via Yangon. A large magnitude of pilgrim will now swamp over to Imphal and find a different route to Bodhgaya and other great cities of India either by Air or land. 

Manipur is now doing away with the infamous reference 'Land-lock' but proudly embarking on a 'land- link' venture with India's only corridor to South Asia. The new venture comes in a flash-flood way. This will make everyone busy. This needs to be noted down that every foreign visitor or Indian tourist visiting Manipur to further their journey in Myanmar or any other South East Asia destinations would demand a Manipuri tour guide. 

Hence the need for producing more tour guides who should be professional while dealing with the visitors. Numbers of Hotels and Home-stays need to be increased and traffic congestion will be more. Every single visitor will spend minimum three hundred dollars within their shortest sojourn in Manipur and it should be presumably more in case he prolong stay in Manipur. This will boost the socio-economy of the people to a great extent. 

But.......are we ready to accept the responsibility ahead? The never-ending BANDH culture in the hills that treated foreign visitors like their worse enemies and general strike in the valley that often kicks the poor masses below the belt would simply whisk- away the fortune track someday, I am simply worried. Perhaps Mizoram may be another route. The people of Manipur should evoke themselves more of an International Citizen rather than dancing with howling war cry in our own dark cocoon. It is very easy to go along with the stupidity but hard to deal with the men who proud of having it. 

The river of Act East Policy is flowing down by your corridor from Hills to the valley and it is the people of Manipur that should first get the benefit. And we need to live happily for we share the water of the same pond. Margaret Atwood says The Eskimos have 52 words for snow because it is so special to them; there ought to be as many for love. Sometimes I tend to ask within why we fail to know each other at least for the sake of love and brotherhood. And, I believe we should change ourselves for the sake of prosperity. Let Humanity prevails in the land that God took to dance.