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Manipuri Literature: Modern Period

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Modern Period

In 1872, the acting political agent, Nuttal, began an English medium school. Later political agent Lt-Col. Sir James Johnstone established the first Middle English School. William Pettigrew's, the Christian missionary, contribution to western education in the country was also a remarkable one. In the valley of Meitrabak, the common language of instruction was Bengali, and this led to use of Bengali script for writing of Meeteilon. As a result of this, the substantial amount of earlier literature in Meetei Mayek became inaccessible to the western educated elites and next-generation Meetei peoples.

Renaissance Of Culture And Literature

He is honoured as a Meetei Maichou and prophet by the Meeteis, and his literary works for the spiritual discoveries considered him also as a poet. His great contribution in Manipuri literature in poetry were –Yumlai Lairon1930, Apokpa Mapugee Tungnapham 1931, Tengbanba Amashung Lainingthou Laibao 1933, Athoiba Sheireng1935, etc. The important works in prose were –Meetei Yelhou Mayek1931, Meetei Haobam Wari1934, Aigee Wareng1940,etc..

There was a tradition in Meitrabak Manipur of dramatic presentation of ancient legends in the form of "Sumang Leela". The Dramatic Union was founded in 1905 for religious theme for Bengali language, and later Manipur Dramatic Union was established in 1932.

By this decade too modern Manipuri literature was becoming a recognizable force with the appearance of works by Khwairakpam Chaoba, Dr. Lamabam Kamal and Hijam Anganghal. This flowering of the literary activities resulted into the foundation of the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, Imphal, Manipur, which was devoted to the development of Manipuri literature and culture.

The names of most important Meetei writers in the 20th century are –Hijam Anganghal Singh 1892–1943, Khwairakpam Chaoba Singh 1895–1950, Lamabam Kamal Singh 1899–1935.

Hijam Anganghal Singh 1892–1943 – besides being a poet, he is a well-known essayist and dramatist, renowned for his magnum opus, Khamba Thoibi 1940, which is a poem of 39,000 lines considered to be a 'national' epic of the Meeteis.

Khwairakpam Chaoba Singh 1895–1950 is one of the best-known writers of modern Manipuri literature. His historical novel Lavangalata 1939 is considered as an outstanding work in Manipuri. His other prose works include: Wakhalgi Icel, Wakhal, Phidam, Kannaba Wa and Chhatramacha.

Lamabam Kamal Singh 1899–1935: His Madhavi 1930 is recognised as the first modern Manipuri novel. His collection of poems called Lai Pareng 1931 has been acclaimed to be 'the most significant poetical works of this century'.

Modern Poetry

Modern Manipuri poetry distinctly falls into two groups – the poetry of Dr. Lamabam Kamal and his contemporaries representing the early phase and poetry of more modern and younger poets representing the Zeitgeist of the contemporary world picture. The late Dr. Kamal is now acknowledged as the representative poet and writer of the present day in Manipuri literature. The predominant atmosphere in his poetry is rather somber and gloomy and in keeping with this he expresses his sentiments in elegies. Writing about Hijam Anganghal, Dr. S.K. Chatterji observes:” … One great Manipuri writer, the late poet Hijam Anganghal Singh 1944 has composed a huge poem of some 39000 lines in Meithei i.e. Manipuri on a popular theme, old ballad about which in Manipur are still sung..” Language and Literature of the Modern India. Nabadwipchandra’s poems depict a somber atmosphere of fatalism while those of Irabot and Mayurdhawaja are marked by lyrical and didactic overtune. Dorendra wrote his Kansa Badha on the style and technique of Michael Madhusudhan Dutta’s Meghanad Badha Kavya.

Approach of Minaketan is new and quite individual.

Appreciation of his poems requires a background knowledge of old Manipuri myths, tradition and legends and also mastery over archaic Manipuri. Surchand Sharma mainly deals with some aspects of the greate Moirang Thoibi legend while R.K. Shitaljit is a poet of nature and humanity. In the Poems of R.K. Surendrajit the symbolic and the allegoric are blended with lyricism, while in the poetry of Nadia the narrative is blended with sonorous rhythm. Poems of Nilabir Sharma are actuated by an intense love of Manipur. Kh. Ibohal writes with intensity of passion and appears best in voicing the feeling of a dejected lover. Poets like Gourkishar and R.K.Elbangbam belong to this group of romantic lyrical poets. The poetry of younger poets gives expression to the deep sense of the immense panorama of futility, anger, questioning of traditional values and absence of faith and integrity in the society. Samarendra, the most forceful and talented of this younger group of poets, shows his ingenuity and perhaps and unrivalled skill in the use of the language. His poems are modern in outlook, conception and technique. The poetry of Nilakanta is characterized by intense emotions, felicity of expression, scholarly erudition and intellectual atmosphere. Among the younger poets of this group, mention may be made of Padmakumar, Shri Biren, Ibomcha, Ibohal, Ibopishak,Madhubir, Jyotirindra and Ibempishak.

In the field of translation from other languages, the name of Nabadwipchandra may be remembered for his translation of Michael Madhusudhan’s Meghanad Badha Kavya into Manipuri. Tagore’s Gitanjali has been translated by A. Minaketan and Krishnamohan in their own inimitable ways. Gourkishar has done Kalidasa’s Meghdoota into Manipuri. Kumar Sambhava, Kiratajuniam, Raghuvansa Kavya, Mahabharata of Kasiramdas, Ramayana of Krittibas and Bhagvad Gita have been translated into Manipuri in verse form. Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucree has also been translated by Minaketan.


The patriotic exploits of the heroes of Manipur, the heroic and pathetic lives of legendary and mythological characters from the inexhaustible stock of Moirang Kangleirol. These are the main and almost invariable themes of the early dramatics. They include: Sati Khongnag and Areppa Marup of Lalit, Nara Singh of Lairenmayum Ibungahal, Moirang Thoibi of Dorendrajit, Bir Tikendrajit of Bira Singh, Chingu Khongnag Thaba of Birmangol, Mainu Pemcha of Shymsundar, and Kege Lanja of Bormani, from among the galaxy of such plays, as good instances.


Early in the 20th century, Dr. Kamal, Chaoba, Anganghal attempted first original novels in Manipur. The name of Dr. Kamal remains ever fresh for his deep and lively description of nature. His novel Madhabi breathes with the indomitable nature of human hope, the high ideal of sacrifice and the fathomless cruelty of man. Chaoba in his historical novel, Labanga Lata recalls the pomp and grandeur of the reign of the historical past during the reign of king Khagemba 1597–1652. Jahera, a voluminous novel of Anganghal depicts the love between a Manipuri Hindu youth and a Muslim girl. He can be true both to the gentle feeling of love and complex social problem.

R.K. Shitaljit is a purist and moralist. His is certainly a moral and religious approach. Names of H. Guno, Thoibi Devi, R.K. Elangbam, Ram Singh, Ibohal, Dr. Bhagya, Nodiachand, Ibomcha, Chitreshwar, M.K. Binodini and Pacha Meetei deserve mention besides those of many other contemporary novelists.

Surchand Sarma, Shymsundar, Raghumani Sarma and Nishan Singh, may be mentioned among the prominent novel translators. Novels of Bankim Chandra, Sarat Chandra, Rabindranath Tagore, Premchand, Bhagavati, Charan Varma, etc. have been translated into Meeteilon.

Short Stories

The short stories also made their advent along with the novel. R.K. Shitaljit's stories, racy and plain, are narrated in his own characteristics, simple, direct and unadorned Manipuri. Each story is a self-contained unit and progress like the flight of arrow. R.K. Elangbam portrays ordinary people moved by the ordinary concerns and passion of life, particularly the passion, love and all its consequences of joy and sorrow. Nilbir Sharma is the mouthpiece of the poor and neglected humanity. H. Gonu probes into the ailing Manipuri society in his stories. Stories of Nongthombam Kunjamohan, using the colloquial are colourful. He also exploits sentimentalism which is one of the predominant passions of Manipuri literature. Names of Shri Biren, M.K. Binodini, E. Dinamani, Biramani deserve mention, besides those of many other contemporary.

Literary Criticism Linguistics And History

Critical literature in Manipuri are fast coming up. Arabia Manipuri Sahityagi Itihas by Pandit Khelchandra and Manipuri Shatyagi Ashamba Itihas of Kalachand Shastri survey the early and medieval periods of Manipuri literature. Meitei Upanyasa vol −1 of Minaketan and Manipuri Sahitya Amasung Sahityakar of Dinamani are critical surveys of leading Manipuri novels. Sahityagi Neinaba Wareng of Chandramani, Sheireng Leiteng of Kalachand Shastri, Sahitya Mingshel of Gokul Shastri, Alangkar Kaumudi of Pandit Brajabihari Sharma and Alangkar Jyoti of Laurembam Iboyaima are also critical writings in Manipuri. Manipuri Kavitagi Chhanda of Nilakanta and Chhanda Veena of R.K. Surendrajit and Manipuri Kavya Kanglon by O. Ibo Chaoba makes a survey of the prosody of Manipuri poetry along scientific lines.

Pandit Khelchandra's Manipuri-to-Manipuri and English Dictionary is the first modern Manipuri-to-Manipuri dictionary and also Ariba Manipuri Longei is an authoritative dictionary of archaic Manipuri. Khununglongi Artha of Pandit Dinachandra, and Manipuri-to-Manipuri and Hindi Dictionary by Narayan Sharma are of the same genre. Panthei Paorou by Narayan Sharma, Meitei Panthei Paorou by ChandraShekhar, and Paorou Paotak Akhomba are collections of idioms, phrases and proverbs.

The Manipuri Vyakaran Kaumudi of Kalachand Shastri is an advanced Meeteilon grammar. Meitei lonlam by Bokul, Meiteilon Vyakaran by Dwijamani Dev Sharma, Manipuri Vyakaran by Narayan Sharma and Meiteilon Vyakaran by Nandalal Sharma,Lonmit of M. Ningomba,Meetei Wahauron of Naoria Amusana are of noteworthy about the Meeteilon grammars.

Among the works in the history of Manipur, Asamba Manipur Itihas by Yumjao, Manipur Itihas by R.K. Sanahal, Manipur Itibrita by Kaomacha, Meitrbakki Wari by H. Bijoy, and Manipur Puwari by Naorem Sanajaoba are a few among the galaxy of such work.

The most important contribution towards the literature on law is the publication of the translation of Manu Samhita with Sanskrit text by Surchand Sharma. Some of the works in the field include: Foujadari Aain Practice by Jyotindra, Indian Penal Code by Gaurachandra, Police Act 1961 by Budhachandra, and Meeoibagee Hak by Naorem Sanajaoba.

Modern Manipuri Writers

  • Arambam Dorendrajit Singh 1907–1944 is another pioneer poet and dramatist whose works include three dramas, viz. Miorang Thoibi, Bhagyachandra and Kaurav Parajay and two epic poems, viz. Kansa Badha and Subhadra Haran.
  • Laishram Samarendra Singh b. 1928 is one of the forerunners of modern Manipuri poetry. He is renowned for his poetic collections Wa Amata Hiage Telanga, Mamang Leikai Thambal Satle and Khun Amagi Vari.
  • H. Guno Singh b. 1927 is an acclaimed short-story writer in Manipuri. His important works include Khudol, Langjim Mangkhrabi Kishi,Laman, Aroiba Paodam and Aikhoigi Tada. He also translated Sukumar Sen's History of Bengali Literature into Manipuri.
  • Pacha Meetei 1940–1990 set a new trend in Manipuri novel by introducing contemporary social problems in place of the romantic and passionate atmosphere prevalent in the Manipuri novel in the first half of the 20th century. He is acclaimed for his novel Na Tathiba Ahal Ama.

Other distinguished modern Manipuri writers are:

  • G.C. Tongbra, Ngabongkhao, Sahitya Akademi Award, 1978
  • Elangbam Nilakanta Singh, Tirtha Yatra, Sahitya Akademi Award, 1987
  • Ningthonbam Kunjamohan, Ilisa Amagi Mahao, Sahitya Akademi Award, 1974
  • Ashangbam Minaketan, Aseibagi Nitaipod, Sahitya Akademi Award, 1977
  • M.K. Binodini Devi, Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi, Sahitya Akademi Award, 1979
  • Ningthoukhonjam Khelchandra,Maheidi Atangba Lanni, National Literary Award, 2002
  • R.K. Shitaljit, Lamabam Viramani Singh, Chekla Paikhrabada, Sahitya Akademi Award, 1984
  • Keisham Priyokumar, Nongdi Tarak-Khidare, Sahitya Akademi Award, 1998
  • Arambam Memchoubi, Idu Ningthou, Sahitya Akademi Award, 2008

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