Puya Manuscript Tradition


  • Manipur has a little-known but highly evolved Puya Manuscript Tradition .

  • Most of the roughly 40,000 manuscripts or puya are not illustrated, but those that are, come with some extremely beautiful drawings.

About Puya Manuscript Tradition 

  • The myths in the puya manuscript tradition might be relatively unknown as written stories, but their oral counterparts are likely to be more familiar, since Manipuri civilisation with its cultural high notes as embodied in nat sankirtan music, declared part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, or Manipuri dance, one of the classical dances of India is predominantly performative.
  • They are written mostly on handmade paper with some on leaf, bamboo and wooden surfaces in Meitei Mayek, one of a handful of Tibeto-Burman scripts. And they are in the Tibeto-Burman language called Manipuri, or Meiteilon, to use its endonym.
  • But manuscripts constitute the core of the patrimony of the essentially non-material civilisation of the Meiteis, who established the feudal kingdom of Manipur.
  • The court chronicle of the kings of Manipur called Cheitharol Kumbaba dates the kingdom back to the 1st century CE, on the basis of pre-historical early records written from oral traditions.

    Puya Manuscript Tradition
    Source: TH
  • Inscriptions in Meitei Mayek emerge in the 14th century, leading to more contemporaneous record-keeping and treatises on a variety of subjects.
  • The kingdom adopted Vaishnavism in the early 18th century but the myths taken from the puya tradition predate this conversion.
  • Puya Manuscript Tradition are a part of the pre-Hindu religious practice of the Meiteis, which is largely animistic and centred on ancestor-worship.
  • It continued to co-exist with Vaishnavism and is practised to this day.
  • Various genres of illustrated manuscripts such as subika — with individual puya such as subika laisabasubika khuthin, and subika choudit — and khutlou manuscripts like the khutlou cheithin, are used in fortune-telling, astrology and magic. People still consult them today. They are considered sacred, imbued with talismanic power.
    • In neighbouring Myanmar, the manuscript tradition was continued by Manipuri scholars called kathe ponna, who became a part of the Burmese courts from the mid-16th century onwards.

Tribal traditions like Puya Manuscript

  • There are other manuscripts of record besides the court chronicle, such as the Ningthourol Lambuba, and, interestingly, a history of royal women called the Chada Laihui. Manuscripts like Loiyamba Sinyen are on state administration.
  • Tutenglon, a treatise on water management.
  • Poireiton Khunthokpa, the manuscript source of a story with Shan origins, is a migration tale with toponymy — the study of place names — while Chinglon Laihui is about topography. 
  • Sanamahi Thiren and Pakhangba Yangbi cover religious practices and feature deities. Panthoibi Khonggul is a prominent literary text.
  • Each of the nine Meitei clans called salai, and their constituent lineages called sagei, maintain genealogies, which form the bulk of the manuscripts.
  • Even within it there are stories that feature tribal traditions of Manipur such as that of the Kabui, and stories from minor communities within the Meiteis, such as the Chakpa, Kakching and Moirang.

Source: TH

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