'And That is Why': Manipuri mythological tales from a forgotten corner

These Manipuri mythological tales were often passed down from one person to the other, oftener than not while seated near the warmth and comfort of home and hearth.

Published: 18th July 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th July 2021 06:15 PM   |  A+A-

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For representational purposes

Here comes a book to beat away the blues by transporting you the wonderful world of 12 magical tales from Manipur, the mountain land in the north-east of India on the border with Myanmar. They have been passed down by scholars, balladeers and grandmothers over hundreds of years. These unknown myths are retold, enriched with beautiful paintings for the book by modern Manipuri artist Sapha Yumnam, as you take a deep dive into the calm waters of the never-seen-before art form of Manipuri manuscript illustrations. Though essentially aimed at children, it holds a wider interest for adults because these are pre-Hindu ballads that use text and oral sources from Tibeto-Burman language—Meiteilon. The backdrop of art from Manipuri manuscripts is seeing publication for the first time.

Out of the land of the blue-green hills and the lush valleys, come the tales of the gods and magic, and of brave heroes and courageous heroines. Tales that have been told down the ages by the elders to the children and grandchildren, from mouth to ear, from one generation to the next. There are animals and birds in each story—elephants, monkeys, cuckoos and ducks, all chatting and tattling; singing and grunting; quacking and meowing; but in magical ways that you will easily succumb to.

These Manipuri mythological tales were often passed down from one person to the other, oftener than not while seated near the warmth and comfort of home and hearth. Others dropped from the lips of balladeers as they sang their songs of distant lands forlorn; some were written on crumpled sheets of handmade paper in ink made from lamp soot that has been made by the writers themselves.

Told and retold again and again, tweaked and written by hand, they have been copied and recopied. With each retelling, you will find a teeny-weeny tweak added or deleted from each tale. Dear reader, have you ever wondered why the deer does not eat rice? Or, have you not been able to figure out how men get wrinkles and a stoop? Or, why does a cat bury its poop? Or, why a doll is worshipped in a village called Kakching?

If you have not been able to figure out why Manipur is the birthplace of polo, read about the Sky God, who falls in love with a beautiful girl. He wants to marry her and take her to live in his home in the Heavens. ‘But how will my parents live without me?’ pleads the girl, knowing that her parents will be heart-broken.What happens next? Your guess is as good as mine and I am not telling. Want to know how it ends? Get a copy of this book and take my word for it—you won’t regret it.


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