For several decades now, contemporary scholars have given North-East Bharat a separate geo-cultural identity. They have contended that the region has remained alienated from the traditional Sanatan Sanskriti, which forms the cultural bedrock of Bharat. This is due to several reasons ranging from the divisive agenda of separatists to the geopolitical agenda of communists to the religious agenda of Christian Missionaries.
However, this is far from the truth. The Sanatan roots of North-East Bharat are revealed with ample clarity when we delve deep into the roots of the multi-diverse cultures of the region.
Mention of Manipur in the Vedas and the Epics
Pandit Atombapu Sharma in his book Manipur Sanatan Dharma highlights: (1)
“Manipur means Navel or Nabhi in the Yoga Sastra. The repository of all the water drunk is called Nabhi in the Vedic language.
Vyasdeva names the country Manipur instead of nabhi, in accordance with the general definition of Manipur as obtained in the Yogasastra.”
The country is called ‘Pratnoukas’, ‘Pracina Bhavana’ etc. in the Vedas; and the Ramayana states it to be on the 24′ latitude in the North.
Pauranic Roots of Lai Haroba
The traditional folk dance of Manipur Lai Haroba finds roots in the Pauranic traditions, which goes as follows: (2)
“After the creation of the earth, Sada Siva came to ‘Manipur’ (the navel of the Earth)… in a place surrounded by ranges of mountains… (he) saw a vast expanse of water (where he) emptied the water and played dancing with Parvati on the navel of the Earth. All Gods joined in the dance.”
Similarly, the Meiteis used to record in their ancient books the meaning of the Rig Vedic mantras. There is evidence of the performance of the Sraddha ceremony by ancient Manipuris. (3)
The Meiteis thus conceived of the Earth and the Heaven to be Parvati and Paramesvara who are the female and male concepts of procreation respectively, known as Lai in the Manipuri language. (4)
The second act of “Laiharaoba” is called Paringalanga-sanga. The dance interprets the story that the nine gods named Laipurnthon gave earth from heaven. This dance illustrates the Adityastuti (encomium to Aditya) of the Rig Veda. (5)
Tradition of Varuna deva
The worship of Varuna by the Meiteis dates back as far as the Vedic age. Devas are also called Asuras in the Rig Veda and the Vedas mention Varuna Deva as Asura. The Meiteis believe him to be a very merciless god. (6)
The Mahabharata, in course of describing Manipur, says in the Galva Charitra that Varuna deva gained his prowess, glory and property in Manipur.
That particular place is still in Manipur and the Meiteis call it “Vambaren Khubam”.
‘Udayaparbatas’ and Nommaicim
There is a mountain range in the east of Manipur. All the Indians see the sun when it rises above the peak of the mountain. Therefore, this mountain range is called “Udayaparbata” in all the Shastras. (7)
The Mahabharata says that all the gods were born on this peak and that Indra was born, brought up, and crowned king of gods on this peak.
Such a mountain range is in the east of the town of Yumphal (First home) and is called Nommaicim.
The source of Manipuri Sanatana Dharma (The eternal religion of Manipur) is found in the Veda Samhita and the Brahmanas.
Similarly, in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Manipuri culture and tradition are recorded in abundance.
Idu Mishmi worship of Rukmini
One of the prominent tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, Idu Mishmi considers itself to be from the lineage of Krishna’s wife, Rukmini. (8)
Dances and plays of ‘Rukmini haran’ are common among them and the custom of “chulikata” (chuli-hair, kata- cut) is practised by them.
The name is derived from the tradition that Sri Krishna asked them to cut their hair as a punishment for not allowing him to marry Rukmini.
Idu Rukmini is deeply venerated by them as Inyi Maselo or the Great Mother.
The most important legendary account connected with the Arunachal tribe of Mishmis is that of the Brahmakunda. It is also popularly known as Parasuram Kunda as mentioned in the Kalika Purana. (9)
The sage Parshuram, on the advice of some sages, was said to have wandered the Himalayan ranges to atone for the sin of matricide initiated by his father.
The axe that was stuck to his hand fell away cleaving the mountain that sprang the Brahmakunda where the Parshuram Kunda Mela is held every year.
Khasis and Eklavya
The Khasi’s of Meghalaya are well known for their archery skills. However, their archery skills are peculiar because they only use two fingers in discharging the arrows much like the Bhils of Western India, instead of a finger and thumb as is conventionally done. (10)
Khasis do it in veneration of their ancestor who gave up his thumb in Guru Dakshina.
Dimapur and legend of Hidimba
Dimapur the largest city in Nagaland is said to have derived its name from Hidimbapur, depicting the city of Hidimba in the Mahabharata, the wife of Bhima and mother of Ghatotkach.
The Kachar dynasty is believed to be the descendants of the Kirat dynasty described in the Mahabharata, the kingdom conquered by Bhima as mentioned in the epic. (11)
The Dimasa-Kachari ruins comprising of huge chess pieces mark this to be the place where Bhima and Ghototkacha played chess. Prominent archaeological evidence linking the region with the Mahabharata tradition.
Bodos: Descendents of Brahma
Many in the Bodo tribe of Assam consider themselves to be descendants of Brahma and those not converted to Christianity practice Brahmoism. (12)
Karbi: Offsprings of Sugriva
The Karbis, another prominent hill tribe of Assam, claim to be the offspring of Lord Hanuman’s brother Sugriva.
They believe their ancestors came to the valley of Brahmaputra in search of “Purthemi Kungripi” (Sita Mata) during the Treta Yuga but failed to return to Ayodhya as per the “Sabin Alun”, a Karbi version of Ramayana. (13)
Thus, despite the various differences that appear to exist, the idea of Bharat as a single entity has permeated through every single village and among every janjati in the Northeast.