If someone asks Union Home Minister Amit Shah to name the Indian states he loves visiting, Manipur will be among the top three. Not because it politically syncs with Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government’s focus on the northeastern region, but the BJP leader is genuinely impressed with the natural beauty and ethnic diversity of the hill state. In fact, during a private conversation recently, Shah talked about how he felt the Manipuri language was more expressive than even Sanskrit. Ironically, the home minister currently in Manipur not to enjoy the scenic beauty or to understand the nuances of the language and culture of the ethnic groups living in Manipur, but to chalk out a road map to bring peace to the state ravaged by ethnic clashes, primarily between Meiteis, plain-dwelling largely Hindu community and Kuki, hill-dwelling tribal group practicing Christianity.
The goal may be tough but Shah’s understanding of the socio-cultural and historical background of Manipur has given hope to many in the state that he will handle the crisis keeping in mind the sentiment and grievances of every ethnic group. During his stay in the state, most were pleasantly surprised with his knowledge about the state’s history, politics and intricacies around ethnic conflicts and grievances.
So, why is Shah impressed with the Manipuri language which is mostly spoken by the Meiteis. In fact, the Manipuri language is also called the Meitei language, a Tibeto-Burman language. Spoken widely in Manipur, it is one of the 22 official languages of India. It is also spoken in few pockets of neighbouring Myanmar and Bangladesh. Meitei was also used a court language in the historic Manipur Kingdom.
When he learnt about the language during BJP’s campaigns in the state earlier, what captivated him was the ever-developing, easy to create process of Manipuri language that has evolved due to the confluence of several languages and yet owns uniqueness in its usage.
Speaking to the India TodayNE on the significance of Meitei language, language expert Ningthouja Lancha said, “Manipuri is a very beautiful and expressive language, and the present language also helps us understand and identify other languages, showcasing the long history of our language. Such unique is our language that it can create and produce new words from the present one.”
Lancha adds that like other languages, Meitei or Manipuri language too has its share of abstruse quality as there are parts of the language which is yet to be deciphered even today. “The evolution and origin of Manipur language is a bit obscure. It has a history of minimum 2000 years and is likely developed due to the fusion and conglomeration of different languages”. While the conduct of rites and rituals continues to be a significant aspect of the Manipuri culture, usage of a few words and phrases of old Manipuri tradition in rituals remains undeciphered, thus making it tough for many to understand the true meaning of these ritualistic phrases.
With the advent of Hindu language and Sanskritization of Manipur language, new words are also evolving.
Upon being questioned on the impact of foreign language on Meitei language and its subsequent birth of the final script and the concept of identity with one’s own language, Lancha added, “There has been a great impact of foreign scripts on the current script of Manipuri language. Pali took birth from such confluence of scripts. It is said that Pali is derived from Prakrit which is nature. Some influence may be there, conceptually. Manipuri language is composed of seven strokes/lines. Within these strokes we can create all the scripts. We have uniqueness in our script which has nothing to do with Brahmi or Pali script”.
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