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The Bishnupriya and the Meiteis:
Although Manipur is a polyglot land inhibited by numerous tribes, the Manipuris as known to all, are broadly classified into two distinct races namely the Bishnupriyas and the Meiteis. The former group of the people are of Indo-Aryans origin and the later section identified themselves as the Kuki-Chin branch of the Mongolian stock. As regards the name Meitei and Bishnupriya, there is a story prevalent and found in a Meitei purana or puya called " Khumal Purana". This purana states that conversion of Meiteis in Hinduism by Shri Santidas Babaji in 19th century at the instance of the king Shri Pamhaiba was aimed at linking the with the Aryans, the mainstream of people of Manipur and their language too with Sanskrit. The Aryans, the followers of Lord Vishnu denied to accept the initiation by Shri Santadas Babaji and the others(accepted). And thus the Manipuri people Aryan and Kuki-chin group have been classified and renamed as Bishnupriya and Meiteis.

The People and the Origin:
It is claimed that the Bishnupriya Manipuris are the Kshatriyas and a fine stalwart race descended form Aryan blood with some admixture of the Mongloid stock. They derived form the successive waves of Aryan invaders have passed through the valley of Manipur in pre-Christian era. This people have sharp Indo-Aryan features and they are physically able bodied, and are exceptionally tall in figure in comparison to the other racial groups of the North-east region of India.

Different writers covers-up this ethnic group in their works with different names. Some call it Bishnupuriya or Bishnupriya or Manipuri Bishnupriya, the other refers to it as Kalachai or Mayang Kalisa and so on.

There is also a degree of mystery surrounding the name Bishnupriya. Bits of history , as recorded on old copper playes and manuscripts, tell us that in 8th century AD Meckley was divided into small kingdoms or chiefdoms. The Khalachai were living in the Khumal kingdom. Meckley (Manipur) at the time. Historians believe the Khalachais had been worshipper of Bishnu from very early times and had named their capital Bishnupur. The centre of culture of this people being at Bishnupur, so they were named Bishnupuriyas (inhabitants of Bishnupur) and thus Bishnupriya was a contracted form of Bishnupuriya. This tradition is confirmed with the name Bishnupriya Manipuri in the record of G.A.Grierson.

But there are several other beliefs about the origin of Bishnupriya Manipuri people. The orthodox bishnupriyas hold that Bishnupriyas are were carried over the Manipur by some immegrants from Dwaraka and hastinapur just after kurukshetra War during Mahavarata era (1500 BC).It is further said that hese people were led by Babhrubahana, the son of Arjun and Citrangada, who also brought a Vishnu image from Hastinapura and installed it in Bishnupur of Manipur.

The general facial characteristics of the Bishnupriya Manipuris are of Aryan type though some of them approaching mixed Aryan and Mongoloid features.

The Bishnupriya Diaspora:
There is a story that King Pamheiba ordered all his subjacts to bath in the Nongkhrang lake in order to purify themselves. The Bishnupriyas led by the Khumal chieftain initially refused, claiming that they were already purified through adopting the Bishnad faith earlier. Indeed, the influence of the Shankar Dev school of Vaishnavism can still be seen in Bishnupriya Manipuri culture (GK Ghosh, Tribals and their Culture) . This dispute only widened the existing rift between the Bishnupriyas and ruling Meithri class . Large numbers of Bishnupriya Manipuris began to migrate Assam, Tripura, Burma and Bengal areas.. This process was hastened by repeated Burmese attacks and soon the once-proud Bishnupriyas became a nation of refugees.


The Pancha Bishnupriyas

The Bishnupriya Manipuris are mainly divided into two sections, viz. the Brahmins and the kshatriyas. There are no Vaishyas and sudras in this community. Again the society is subdivided into five lokeis or clans; Kshumal; (2) Moirang; (3) Angom; (4) Luwang, and (5) Mangong. They are collectively known as the Pancha-Bishnupriyas inhabiting the five main region of Manipur Valley. Besides, there are nearly 70 Lokeis or clans of which Raja Lokei (Nighthou-Khongiya) or members of Royal family), Lempa Lokei (Thokchom) and Moirang Lokei (Moirang-them) are the dominating groups. Each of the groups have their distinct ethnic identity or Gutras.

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