Jan. 23, 2016 – Thangting or Thangjing: What’s in a name? A...

Jan. 23, 2016 – Thangting or Thangjing: What’s in a name? A lot indeed! By: Joeseph Lhungdim & Simon Haokip, Ccpur (j_lhungdim@yahoo.co.in)

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Ours is a land of controversies and contending interests, boasting more often than not at high forums and banners about its well knit diversity to demonstrate a charade of harmonious, industrious and peaceable psyche of its natural and human factors. However, Manipur is now the anti-thesis of what the outsiders would be given to think of it. Bandhs, blockades, strikes, contentions and counter claims follow every claim, be it big or small, taking after the intractable Grecian hydra, as every issue acquires its own measure of communal tinge. One instance among myriad is the current indefinite bandh enforced by the Bishnupur JAC along Tedim Road starting 17.01.16, declared to continue unless the State Government rescinds its Cabinet decision of 07.08.2015 to inaugurate a new Thangting Sub-Division. The bandh assumes state-wide significance especially in the light of JCILPS and International Meetei Forum (IMF) supporting the bandh call thereby transforming the demand into one concerning the Manipur Valley. While it is a welcome sign for a state parched with vagaries and vicissitudes of life that now a semblance of real and balanced development is being attempted in the form of the cabinet decision to upgrade backward blocks to the status of Sub-Division, the malaise of communal strife and one-upmanship has nevertheless lived up to its fame, infamy rather, to test the resolve and  tenacity of the concerned populace of the proposed Thangting Sub-Division and the State Cabinet itself by holding out a narrow and absurd pre-condition of renaming the whole hill range based on Meitei tradition of Moirang Ebudhou Thangjing worship. Folklore as basis for renaming not sound: The demand to rename the existing Thangting to Thangjing by basing it on folklore and local mythology of the Meiteis is a direct step towards antagonizing and communalizing the whole developmental and peaceful co-existential issue. For the Thangting hill range has been the abode of the Kuki tribes since time immemorial and recorded evidence is available in various forms. The local historical works, neither exhaustive nor comprehensive, including the one written by Prof. Gangumei (The Koirengs of Manipur) have merely highlighted the transfer of deity worship from the Koirengs to the Meiteis, and not mentioned anything about the relocation of the habitations of the Thangting range Kuki tribes who have always maintained their traditional tribal life in the hills till today. The worship of Ebudhou Thangjing must have been the age old tradition of the Meiteis and there is none disputing its antiquity or historicity. However, it has become apparent that the worship of the deity did never occur at a dominated site in the Thangting range and, rather, the worship services sufficed at the Moirang temple, though the abode of the deity was considered as the Thangjing/Thangting peak. It is of recent phenomenon that the devout of Ebudhou Thangjing started trickling annually to the Thangting peak to pay obeisance and over decades this has attracted huge devotees, and hence the folklore and mythology long held dear in the minds of the devotees has now been afforded a facade of realism and derived antiquity by postulating that Ebudhou Thangjing worship always took place at the actual peak since ages. The factual and historical tradition has, however, always underscored the physical disconnect between tribal abode called Thangting hill range, on the one hand, and the abode of Meitei deity Thangjing, on the other. The link, if any, was more so in the realm of metaphysical conception portraying Thangting peak as the abode of Moirang Ebudhou Thangjing but not so much a spot of physical pilgrimage, then least required until the dawn of new consciousness about the need to dominate larger tracts of lands for one’s community at the cost of the innocent tribal simpletons. Thus, local geo-politics arose to augment the religious tradition with prospects of huge gains to the community. Thangting was named after the peak: The large hearted and liberal allowance of pilgrimage to the Thangting peak by the local chief came as a part of the hill-valley accommodative exchanges practiced since ages, so that the social and communal harmony as well as the nascent tribal-Meitei interaction could further gain traction in the emerging new socio-political scenario. It was a matter of immense pride for the tribal chiefs to welcome the neighbouring Moirang Meiteis to the hills to worship their revered deity, and that pride seems to beget a reverse emotion today. Etymological derivation of the word ‘Thangting’ is from a combination of two tribal words namely ‘thang’ and ‘ting’. While ‘thang’ signifies ‘a great feat’, ‘ting’ is translated ‘the peak of the range’. Here the chiefs performed the Sa-ai, ie, commemorating/celebrating the great feats and events at the peak of the hill range. Hence, the name ‘Thangting’ for the whole hill range. At the most, it may be conceded that Meitei folklore overlapped traditional tribal life of the Thangting hill range. However, to attribute more to folklore that what empirical historical evidence suggests may border on unsoundness of reason and fairness. The Kuki tribes have always been the guardians of the Thangting hill range; their lives, customs, beliefs, mores and cultures emanated from and have been entwined with their hilly habitations though cut off from the modern development well into the twenty first century. Thangting range has now received some attention of the State government and its retarded growth has been the only reason why it has been considered for administrative upgradation. Any obstruction to the long coming upgradation can only be construed to be an agenda of the groups/communities intolerant of prospects of little progress conferred on the most backward hill tribals of the state. Variant names of places are common: Names do change with time and differ from community to community, region to region, though some words having common etymological roots are used in corrupt forms adjusted to local lisp.  Such are the cases with Thangting and Thangjing, Seitol and Saiton, Kangvai and Kangbai, etc. The Kuki tribes refer to Bishnupur town as Lamlhaangtuong, Imphal as Phai, Sendra as Tuikaang, etc. However, it would be most imprudent and ludicrous on the part of the Kuki tribes if they demanded naming these lands with those names they locally use, albeit for ages now and even staked out claim for its ownership based on their long held folklores and tales about these lands/towns where their mythological heroes and deities reign supreme. In like manner, the current call to rename Thangting range cannot escape this logic. In the name of brotherhood of hill-valley communities, the large hearted tribal chiefs accommodated the valley dwellers in nearby areas like Seitol/Saiton, Kangvai, Ukhagate/Kwakta, torbung, etc which are now themselves swallowed up by the inpouring populace from the valley- to cite one instance. However, in deference to the emerging socio-political scenario, the Kuki tribes have never insisted that these habitations be returned back to them. Interestingly, the petitions for inclusion of these areas under the original hill district have been constantly negated at all levels of governance and this happened concurrently with introducing the valley based panchayats and municipality to every next  Meitei household extended into these areas. Renaming Thangting possible only through chieftainship of the hill range: Thangting range today boasts of over a hundred villages in its kitty, and its legitimate seat of authority pivots around the chieftainship of the S. Nabil village. Any change, including the name, directly concerning the land under the tribal jurisdiction of the chief should be routed through him as sanctioned by tribal customary law and corroborated by the Indian Constitution. Given the backdrop of conventional practice and co-existential tact, mounting up pressure to rename a distant tribal hill range so as to attune it to local Meitei folklore and mythology is a far-fetched and irrational exercise, just in the same way if any tribal demanded renaming, say, the historical Moirang as Mongjang, Sendra as Tuikaang or Imphal as Phai. The most crucial need of the people of Manipur today is mutual trust and accommodation, sharing of benefits of the state machinery and governance, and building grounds for future generations to capitalize upon the unity and harmony rooted today, and setting examples no anti-social elements can subvert. As for the people of Thangting area, no spanner should be thrown in to disrupt the long coming developmental initiative of State government reaching them now. One and all should lend cooperative hands to bridge the otherwise hug gap and lack of parity between the backward hilly Thangting  and the far developed modern city of Moirang which are but a couple of kilometers apart. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet; unfortunately Thangting was not a rose, but a hill range. After all, a name means a lot in Manipur, meaning more than the name itself. Only mutual respect for the plurality and diversity of our mosaic existence in this tiny corner of the country rife with contentions and polarization can be the panacea for all clamour and rivalry which the modern realities of life within a society or among communities tend to thrust down upon us. The dawning of a new day awaits us only if we are willing to move forward together.