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Iboyaima Laithangbam
Date of Publish: 2017-10-03

Manipuri script is fast replacing the Bengali script in Manipur


Manipur with its over 2000 years of written chronicle has the unique history of replacing its over 3500 years old script with the Bengali script in the 18th century. And it is being restored with the Manipuri script which is now taught even at the college levels. On June 20, a reorientation course of the college teachers on the Manipuri script was completed. Education Minister T. Radheshyam, who was associated with the programme, had also launched an e-book for thestudents. He said, “The Manipuri language is taught in our script up to the college level from this year. In due course it will be taught up to the university level". He further said that there is no problem in teaching this script to the students since all the materials are there. He said that there is a hitch for the dance and other stream students since they had studied up to the 12th standard in the Bengali script. Manipur Speaker Y. Khemchand recently announced that one copy of the Assembly proceedings shall be recorded in this ancient script and it was widely welcomed by one and all.

The students at the schools were taught the language in the Manipuri script from 2006 onwards. These students cannot read the books and newspapers published in the Bengali script.

Though some sections term the script as "Meitei script" late Lt Col (Retd) Haobam Bhuban, a former Minister said, “This should be termed as Manipuri script for three reasons. First it is the script for the royal chronicle of the kings of Manipur. Secondly, King Gambhir of Manipur signed the Jeeree Agreement of April 18, 1833 in this script. Thirdly, and most importantly the Manipur Assembly in 1979 under the leadership of Yangmasho Shaiza, belonging to Tangkhul tribe, approved the 27 alphabet Manipuri script”. The Manipur government accepted the 27 alphabet script in 1980. (Gazette No. 33, 1980).

It was Shantidas Gosai, a Hindu missionary, who had spread the Vaishnavism in Manipur in 1709 while Pamheiba was the king. The king who assumed the Sanskritised name, Garib Niwaz decreed the replacement of the Manipuri script by the Bengali one. Books and other written materials were incinerated. Those who objected as in case of the new religion were penalised in the most deterrent way.

The Manipuri language has no use for several Bengali alphabets and the Manipuris cannot pronounce correctly some alphabets. Writers have been using the Bengali alphabets whimsically with the result that different writers have different spellings for several words. Linguists are not happy that university professors are also imposing their own spellings on the research scholars and students thereby worsening the problem. The Manipuri is one of the few communities who have its own script.

Many sections deplored the way the script was buried as a part of the spreading of the new religion. The language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan family. It is the lingua franca in Manipur and is spoken by the Manipuri Diaspora at many places and countries including Assam, Tripura and other NE states, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Script activists had formed an organisation, MEELAL ( Meetei Eerol Eeyek Loinasinlon Apunba Lup ), for the reintroduction of the forgotten script. Naturally some groups started claiming their own scripts as the genuine one. There were 18 alphabet, 27 alphabet and 34 alphabet scripts.

However after proper examination by experts the Manipur Assembly accepted the 27 alphabet script in 1979. In view of some litigations and reservations from some groups the government dragged its feet in reintroducing the Manipuri script. There were protests from the activists. Sign boards without having the Manipuri scripts were defaced by daubing with tar. The plaque at the city flyover using unrecognised script was damaged. The government library in Imphal had a considerable number of books in the Bengali script. One night the library was burned to cinders by some unknown persons.

The Manipuri language newspapers had to publish at least one news item in the front page in this script. Some others volunteered to run editorials also. Hoardings, bill boards and other publicity materials for all public functions must have this script. Those who defied or “forgot” to write the words in this script were made accountable and the organisers had to tender public apology. Vehicle owners had to display their registration numbers in the Manipuri script. In short, the reintroduction of the Manipuri script which has not been in use since the 18th century is complete.

‘Manipuri language newspapers having mass circulations have felt the pinch as all young people up to the college level had stopped reading them since they do not know the Bengali script. Long sighted publishers had started publishing English or Manipuri script newspapers some time back. Almost all writers had stopped writing in the Bengali script while others are rewriting their old books in the Manipuri script. It is no accident that the public sign boards do not have Bengali scripts.

Manipuri script activists say that there will be no variation of spellings once the Bengali script is completely replaced. This is because of the fact that there are no alphabets with very slight sounds and the 27 alphabets are well suited to the Manipuri language. Education Minister T. Radheshyam said, “It is a must that the college and university teachers are also well acquainted with the Manipuri script since now they have to teach the students in this script”. MEELAL activists are also conducting free classes to those who wish to learn this script.

Iboyaima Laithangbam

( Iboyaima Laithangbam is an Imphal based journalist and he can be reached at imphalreport@gmail.com )


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