Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Meetei Mayek

Meetei mayek


Meetei-Mayek is the script which was used to write Meeteilon (Manipuri) till the 18th century. The script nearly became extinct as a result of a mass burning of all books in Meeteilon ordered by Ningthau Pamheiba who ruled Manipur in the 18th century. The main person behind this atrocity was Shantidas Gosain who had come to Manipur to spread Vaishnavism, on whose instigation the king gave the order. The king embraced Vaishnavism, took the name Garibnawaz and made Vaishnavism the state religion. Subsequently, Bengali script was adopted to write the language and is being used till date. Recent research has resurrected this script, and it is now being given its due place.


It is indeed difficult to trace the exact period of the origin of the Meetei Mayek. The burning of vital historical documents or the Puyas of Kangleipak (Manipur) written in Meetei Mayek during the reign of King Pamheiba in the early 18th century, made the effort all the more difficult. However, Meetei Mayek experts and authorities say the script dates back as early as 3900 years ago. (Kanglei Eeyek Wari, Kangjia,1996).

According to the very few Puyas that survived, such as, Wakoklon Thilel Salai Singkak, Wakoklol Thilel Salai Amailon, Meetei Mayek comprised of 18 alphabets. Even during the reign of King Pamheiba (1709-1748), all documents were written in these 18 alphabets. Pamheiba embraced Hinduism in 1717. Few years after this, he ordered the destruction of pre-Hindu places of worship and the burning of all the Puyas of the Kangleichas or the citizens of Kangleipak. After the massive destruction of the pre-Hinduism records of Meetei philosophy, literature and history, the king and his descendents tried taking total control over the cultural, literary and religious affairs of the people. But the official effort of the Konung or the Royal Palace to impose a concoction of Bengali, Devnagri and Gurumukhi script on the people was not welcomed by one and all. Between 1709 to 1941, Bengali script replaced Meetei Mayek and subsequently became the official script of the Konung. During this phase, there were many voices of dissent.

The most strident voice of dissent came from a Meetei scholar, Laininghan Naoria Phullo (Naorem Phumdrei). Naoria started the movement to revive Kanglei or Meetei tradition in 1930 from a village called Jaribon, Laishramkhul in Cachar in Assam. He developed a script and named it after him. The Naoria Mayek challenged the script imposed and propagated by the Konung in Kangleipak (Manipur). It had 24 alphabets. The voice of revivalism and the new script soon spread to the entire Kangleipak.

An organization called the Meetei Marup was formed in 1947 in Kangleipak to propagate the Naoria Mayek. Serious debates on the script began in 1950. A state level committee called the Mayek Lupteen Committee (MLC) was formed in 1958 to conduct a study. A sub-committee of the same group concluded that there are only 18 alphabets in the Meetei Mayek. Though the effort of Naoria Phullo was appreciated, another conference on Mayek in 1969 discovered that some of the alphabets of the Naoria Mayek were Bengali and Devnagri. The same conference also found out that not a single ancient Meetei Puya was written in Naoria Mayek. After a thorough study of an original Puya called "Wakoklon Thilel Salai Amailon Pukok" the participating judges recommended that the actual genuine Meetei Mayek had only 18 alphabets.

The most significant development in the history of the Meetei Mayek happened in 1976. During the "Writers Conference" in the same year, all the groups working towards the development of Meetei Mayek officially endorsed the 18 alphabets and urged the government of Manipur to popularize the script. The supporters of the Naoria Mayek did not oppose the move. Thus the present Meetei Mayek re-emerged with new vigor. The nine letters called the Lom Eeyek, which are derivatives of the previous 18 were added so as to incorporate additional phonetic sounds present in Meeteilon as a result of historical changes. On the 19th of January, 1983, the Education Department of the Government of Manipur, prescribed "Meetei Mayek Tamnaba Mapi Lairik" as text book for students of class VI.

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