Meitei people

Meitei people
Meitei people
Total population 1,648,000[1]
Regions with significant populations Manipur
Language Meiteilon (Manipuri)
Religion Hinduism, Christianity & Sanamahism

The Meeteis or Meiteis are the majority ethnic group of Manipur, India, and because of this are sometimes referred to as Manipuris. Generally speaking, Meitei is an endonym and Manipuri is an exonym. The Meitei people are made up of seven clans, who trace their written history back to 33 AD.


Land and people

Meiteis occupies only 10% of the total geographical areas of the present day Manipur State. It is situated in the far Eastern part of India, bordering Myanmar in the East and South-East. The majority of the people of Manipur are the “Meiteis” who mainly inhabit in the plains which is roughly only about 10 % of the total geographical areas (2238 km2) whereas the Nagas and Kukis dominate the hilly areas which form the rest 90 % of the land (20089 km2) .The valley people were ruled by their Meitei kings but their ruled never extended beyond the Valley and the Hill areas remains under various chieftain of the Tribes. Meitei is also written as Meetei. There is a large number of Meiteis living in Cachar (Assam), Chittagong hill tracts of Bangladesh, and in the interiors of Myanmar. The Meiteis fled to Cachar in Assam and Chittagong in Bangladesh due to seven years' devastation also known as Chahi Taret Khuntakpa in Meitei language around 1815 AD when Burmese under General Bandula invaded the then Manipur Kingdom. Cachar was once a part of the great Manipuri empire when Chandrakirti Maharaja defeated King Gobind of Cachari kingdom in early 17th century. One can still find a temple dedicated to Radha Krishna of (Vaisnavite) stream of Hinduism which was constructed in 17th century. Folklore is that the wood used for crafting the idol of the temple is from the same Jackfruit tree from which the Krishna idol of royal temple of Manipur was crafted. There are many folklores about Maharaja Chandrakirti visiting this temple in the early 19th century.


The Meitei society has shared with the Nagas and Kukis, the other two dominant communities settled mainly in the hills. The seven clans of the Meiteis ruled in different principalities, mainly in the valley. The Meitei feudal kingdom started in 33 AD when King Pakhangba of the Ningthouja Dynasty united all the seven clans and ascended the throne. The term Meitei now refers to five social groups[citation needed] now - the Meitei marup (believe in only Meitei culture and God), Meitei Christians, Meitei goura (believe in both Meitei and Hindu gods), the "Meitei" Brahmins[citation needed] (locally called Bhamons) and the Meitei Muslims (called Meitei Pangal or just Pangal). All of them has Meiteilon as their mother-tongue.

Meitei women have always enjoyed high economic and social status in Manipur, and today they work in nearly every social and economic sphere of society. In particular, they control traditional retail, including the Meitei markets and the trade in vegetables and traditional clothing. 'Nupi Keithel' are markets run by Meitei women only, the most prominent one being the royal market, Sana Keithel (also known as Ima Keithel) in Imphal.

The traditional dress of the women folk is a sarong called "phanek". It is worn at the waist down to the ankles, or under the arms, covering the upper torso and down to mid-calf. Traditionally women do not wear a blouse when the phanek is worn in the higher position. This is complemented by a blouse and a wrap. Men wear a "khudei" which is similar to the Thai and Khmer men's garment which is a knee-length cloth wrapped in folds at the waist. In recent years, men's formal wear is a longer and ankle-length version called a "pheijom" which is similar to the Indian "dhoti".

The Meitei people are well known for their sporting prowess, hockey and polo are traditional and the Meitei form of martial art, thang ta, has recently been recognised as one of the official forms of international martial arts. 'Polo' which has well known place in international sports is known to be originated from Manipur which original name is 'Sagol Kangjei' a royal game used to be played by kings and royalty of Manipur


The majority of the Meiteis follow Vaishnavite Hinduism, mixing it with their ancient Meitei religion, known as "Sanamahi Laining" (or simply Sanamahi). Most of the Meiteis view Sanamahi as a part of their livelihood. Vaishnavaism was made the state religion in 18th century by King "Pamheiba" and it remained as that till the defeat of Manipur by the British in 1891. Close to one-fifth of the Meiteis follow Sanamahism, estimated from the 2001 Census where nearly 11% of the population of Manipur were categorised under 'other ' religion.

On 14 May 1945, the Meetei Marup (Organisation of Meetei Body) was formed in Manipur, which led to the revival of Meetei traditional, cultures, scripts(Meetei Mayek), customary practices, and traditional religious ceremonies related to the Meetei society. Old beliefs and religious bindings were untied and the beliefs of emerging movement began to take their place. Many books on how to conduct religious ceremonies with rites and rituals are being published. Holy Books for Sanamahi religion were selected. On the other hand the influence of other religion like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam are increasing day by day in the Hills and Valleys which is simply indicated by the growing number of Hindu Temple, Church, Mosques etc. According to the Sanamahi mythology, the Meiteis are the descendants of the Lord Pakhangba, one of the Son of the Meiteis Almighty God Sidabamapu, the creator of the Universe.

The Meitei Hindus arguably belonged to the Kshatriya division (which is a sub-division of Meitei ) as they are thought to be the descendants of Lord Arjuna.[2] But there are also a considerable number of Brahmins (known as Bamon) and Sudras (known as Loi and Yaithibi), who being originally Bengalis, were assimilated in to the Meitei community.[3] Hindu Meitei under the leadership of Maharaja Churachand Singh formed the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha to regulate their religious activities during 1934.

Around 8% of the Meiteis are Muslims (Pangal), and are thought to be the descendants of Bengali Muslims who immigrated to Manipur.

Hindus are mostly concentrated in the districts of Imphal West (74.48% of the population), Imphal East (60.87%), Bishnupur (71.46%), Thoubal (60.72%) and parts of Senapati (19.45%).

Manipur is a communally volatile state, having witnessed a number of communal riots. Most tension follow ethnic lines between the Hill tribes ; Naga and Kuki, Kuki and Zomi. In 1993 however there was large scale riots that consumed the Valley between the Meitei Hindus and minority Muslim Pangal community.

Caste System

The Ancient people of Manipur had no caste system. However, the Manipuri Hindu community is subdivided into five castes, although the largest subdivision (Kshatriya) forms the vast majority of the population.[4]

  • The Meitei Kshatriya (Ningthouja) forms the top most division in caste hierarchy. They are divided in to seven exogamous clans (yek-salai): Mangang(Ningthouja), Luwang, Khuman, Angom, Khaba-Nganba, Moirang & Sharang Leishangthem. These clans are further divided in to several subclans or yumnaks. Each subclan is further divided in to lineages or sagei. The Meitei call themselves Khatriya and usually wear the sacred thread across the chest. Traditionally meat dishes were avoided, although fish was permitted. However nowadays consumption of meat is very common. Orthodox Meiteis eat food outside only when it is cooked by Brahmins. They usually refuse to have food cooked by other castes.
  • The Meitei Brahmin (Bamon / Lairikyengbum) is one of the higher ranking castes, distributed throughout Inner Manipur. Most of the Bamon are ethnic Manipuri, but a small fraction are the descendants of immigrants from Bengal and Orissa. Most common surnames are Sarma, Singh, Basu and Das.
  • The Bishnupriya (Mayang / Katacheiya) is the second Kshatriya community after the Meitei. Like the Meitei, they call themselves Khatriya and wear sacred thread across the chest. There is a bone of contention as whether they are Meiteis or not.
  • The Loi (Chakpa) is one of the five Manipuri Hindu castes. The Loi are considered to be Sudra and are having status lower than that of the Meitei.
  • The Yathibi is a very small endogamous group found in Thoubal and Bishnupur. Yaithibi is the major Dalit community in Manipur and lives in peripheral areas.


Unlike the neighboring Nagas and Kukis who are ST, most Meitei come under the General Category, with some as Schedule Caste (SC) and Other Backward Class (OBC) under the Constitution of India.[5]

During the censuses taken during the British rule, the Manipuri Kshatriyas were the only recognized Kshatriya community within the Assam Presidency, as the census takers refused to recognize other Kshatriyas like Ahoms.[6] The 1901 Census of British India counted 185,597 Kshatriyas in Assam, almost all of them Manipuri.[6]


The language used is called Meitei-lon. It belongs to the Tibeto-burman family of languages. Literally it means the "language of the Meiteis". But for some time now, it has been known as Manipuri. Since 1992, the language is in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution. Commonly the text is written in the Bengali Script. The original script, called Meitei-mayek, has been out of use for a long time but revived recently. The script and language is taught in the schools and colleges at this time in Manipur and has been implemented compulsory with an aim to replace the Bengali script completely within few years.

This much improvement was strongly gain after the Meetei leader Mr. Chingshubam Akaba, who was murdered in connection with the development and popularity of his name in the state on the 31st midnight of December 2006 at his resident gate in Imphal.

People are trying to bring this script up to the international standard as it is the only lone script of NE India.

Martial arts

The Meeteis introduced two Martial arts in the human society i.e., " Sarit Sarak" and "Thang-Ta". The self defence art "Sarit Sarak" is a martial art which is very important among the Meetei people who love to defend themselves from a foe's attack.

Thang-Ta is the most popular Meeter Martial arts which is at present seen in most part of the state and outside the state as well. This are also seen in various Meets across the world through demonstration in cultural programs. Fight with the equipment including sword, spear, axe, etc.

The history of Thang - ta and Saris - Sarak can be traced to the 17th century. Thang - ta involves using a sword or spear against one or more opponents. Sarit - Sarak is the technique of fighting against armed or unarmed opponents, but on many occasions there is a combined approach to the training of these martial arts. These martial arts were used with great success by the Manipuri kings to fight against the British for a long time. With the British occupation of the region, martial arts were banned, but post - 1950s saw the resurgence of these arts.

Thang-ta is practiced in three different ways. The first way is absolutely ritual in nature, related to the tantric practices. The second way consists of a spectacular performance involving sword and spear dances. These dances can be converted into actual fighting practices. The third way is the actual fighting technique.

Legend has it that Lainingthou Pakhangba, the dragon god - king, ordained King Mungyamba, to kill the demon Moydana of Khagi with a spear and sword, which he presented to the king. According to another such legend, God made the spear and sword with creation of the world. This amazing wealth of Manipuri martial arts has been well preserved, since the days of god king Nongda Lairel Pakhangba. The fascinating Manipuri dance also traces its origin from these martial arts.

Games and sports

The Meeteis play a version of polo called Sagol Kangjei. "Sagol" stands for Horse and "Kangjei" stands for hockey stick.

Mukna-Kangjei wrestling-with hockey stick is also a game which is much older game still playing in Manipur. It is a big competition with a group call "Pana" where clubs like body compete this game.

"Kang-Sanaba" it is an indoor game play in every locality at present too.

"Khong Kangjei:"

Like polo, Khong Kangjei, is also a very popular game for the Manipuris. The game is played with seven players on either side and each player is equipped with a bamboo stick about 4 ft. in length made in the form of modern hockey stick. The game is started with a throw of the ball made of bamboo root in the field of 200 x 80 yards in area. A player may carry the ball in any manner to the goal, he may even kick it but he has to score the goal only by hitting the ball with his stick. There is no goal post and a goal is scored when the ball crosses the goal line fully. A player often encounters with an opponent in his attempt at carrying or hitting the ball towards the goal. The encounter may develop into a trial of strength which is indigenously known as Mukna. The game requires much physical stamina, speed and agility. In the olden days players excelling in the game received royal favours and prizes.

Hiyang Tannaba:

The sport, which arouses most enthusiasm among the audience with an "apparent lack sporting interest", is the Hiyang Tannaba (The boat race) in which the different Pannas often compete. It receives direct royal patronage with the king once sitting in the boat. The royal boats, two in number, carry the symbols of Chinglai (dragons) at the helm. To see this race with spectacular audience on both sides of the ditch where about seventy rowers display their skills is indeed an experience. The object of the race is for one boat, to foul the other and bore it into the bank. The boats are thus close together and the race is generally won by a foot or two only. This kind of game is patronaged by the kings of Manipur and is regarded as one of the greatest popular sport in Manipur. Thang Ta & Sarit Sarak (Manipuri Martial Arts)

These are the Manipuri Martial Arts, the traditions of which had been passed down over the centuries. It is a very energetic and skillful art and is a way to hone one's battlecraft during the peace time in the olden days when every Manipuri was a warrior who is required to serve his country at the time of war. Long and precise practices is required and only the brave and athletic could excel. The art as seen today observe elaborate rituals and rules which are strictly observed by the participants. Besides, the above, there are other games like Lamjel(foot race), Mangjong (Broad jump) etc.

Sagol Kangjei (Polo)

The Manipuri Sagol Kangjei has been adopted by the International Community as Polo and is now being played worldwide. The 'PUYAS' trace it to the mythological age when the game was played by gods. The game is played with 7 players on each side mounted on ponies which are often not more than 4/5 feet in height. Each player is outfitted with a polo stick made of cane having a narrow angled wooden head fixed at the striking end. The ball, 14 inches in circumference is made of bamboo root. The mounted players hit the ball into the goal. Extremely vigorous and exhilarating the game is now played in two styles - the PANA or original Manipuri style and the International style i.e. Polo. It is exhilarating to see the Manipuri players in their sixties and even seventies riding ponies at full gallop and playing Sagol Kangjei with gusto. The ponies are also decorated fully with various guards protecting the eyes, forehead, flanks etc. The British learned the game of Sagol Kangjei in the 19th century from Manipur after refinement it was transplanted to the countries as Polo.

Yubi Lakpi (Manipuri Style Rugby played with a Coconut rubbed with edible oil)

Yubi lakpi means "coconut snatching" in Manipuri. It is played on the beautiful green turf of the palace ground, or at the Bijoy Govinda Temple Ground. Each side has 7 players in a field that is about 45 x 18 metres in area. One end of the field has a rectangular box 4.5 x 3 metres. One side of which forms the central portion of the goal line. To score a goal a player has to approach the goal from the front with his oiled coconut and pass the goal line. The coconut serves the purpose of a ball and is offered to the king or the judges who sit just beyond the goal line. However, in ancient times the teams were not equally matched but the players, with the coconut had to tackle all the rest of the players.

Mukna (Manipuri Wrestling)

The game is the Manipuri style of wrestling played between two male rivals for trial of strength by sheer physical strength and skill. Athletes of the same or approximately the same physical built weight and, age are made rivals. The game is an absolute must for the closing ceremonies of the Lai Haraoba festival. Mukna is a highly popular and prestigious game. In the olden days the game enjoyed royal patronage.


Played on the mud floor of a big out-house, fixed targets hit with "Kang" which is a flat and oblong instrument made of either ivory or lac. Normally each team has 7 male partners. the game is also played as a mixed-doubles contest. Played strictly during the period between 'Cheiraoba' (Manipuri New Year's Day) and the Rath Yatra festival. Manipuri religiously adhere to its time-frame as popular belief holds that if the game is played beyond its given limit, evil spirits invade the mind of players and spectators.


Meeties men and women use [Khamen Chatpa Phi] (a printed cloths with seven different colours)a traditionally very important cloth during the ritual ceremonies. This cloths are in form of Shirts -(kurta) and cloths- (kumis). There are seven different colours of Khamenchatpa with a single colours in each Cloths based on the colour code of seven clan of the Meetei. These types of cloths are rare and keep with care.

And for the casual Meetei women created their designs in the form of Wangkhei Phi, Moirang Phi etc.



  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Naorem Sanajaoba (2003). Manipur, past and present. Mittal Publications. pp. 1–. ISBN 9788170998532. Retrieved 1 August 2011. 
  4. ^ Sipra Sen (August 1992). Tribes and castes of Manipur: description and select bibliography. Mittal Publications. ISBN 9788170993100. Retrieved 1 August 2011. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b India. Census Commissioner; Edward Albert Gait (1903). Census of India, 1901. Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India. pp. 566–. Retrieved 1 August 2011. 

External links

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