The Bishnupriya or Bishnupriya Manipuri (BPM) (ইমার ঠার/বিষ্ণুপ্রিয়া মণিপুরী) is an Indo-Aryan language spoken in parts of the Indian states of Assam, Tripura, and others, as well as in Bangladesh, Burma, and other countries.
History and development
Source and origin
The language is known to its speakers as Imar Thar
(ইমার ঠার ), meaning "Language of my Mother". They call themselves and their language "manipuri", and use the term "Bishnupriya" to distinguish them from other ethnic races of Manipur. The term "Bishnupriya" is most probably derived from "Bishnupur" along with the suffix "-iya", meaning "people of Bishnupur", the old capital of Manipur. Orthodox Bishnupriyas hold that the language was carried over to Manipur by some immigrants from Dvaraka
just after the Mahabharata
war. It is further said that these immigrants were led by Babhruvahana
, the son of Chitrangada
, the third Pandava. Some scholars and history writers came to support the Mahabharata origin from observation of the morphology
, the vocables
and the phonology
of the Bishnupriya Manipuri language. They hold that BPM is highly influenced by Sanskrit and Maharastri as well as Sauraseni Prakrits
. Sauraseni Prakrit was the colloquial language of the soldiers and the people of Kuru Panchal
including Hastinapura Indraprastha
etc. Dr. K.P. Sinha
, who has done considerable researches on Bishnupriya Manipuri, disagrees with the theory and is of the opinion that the language was originated through Magadhi
However, the Bishnupriya Manipuri language is certainly not one of the Tibeto-Burman languages, but is closer to the Indo-Aryan group of languages with remarkable influence from Meitei both grammatically and phonetically. At a different stage of development of the language the Sauraseni, Maharastri and Magadhi languages and the Tibeto-Burman languages exerted influence on it as well. It was probably developed from Sanskrit, Sauraseni and Maharastri Prakrita, making it comparable to Hindi, Bengali, Oriya and Assamese. The Sauraseni-Maharastri relation is evident from the fact that it has retained the dominant characteristics of the Sauraseni and Maharastri pronouns (declensional and conjugational endings are the most stable elements of a language; they undergo changes very slowly). A study of the pronouns and the conjugational and declensional endings of Bishnupriya shows that most of these forms are the same, as they are closely related to those of the languages which are derived from Sanskrit. The Magadhi attachment is also remarkable as the language retains many characteristics of Magadhi. It can further be noted that Bishnupriya Manipuri retains much of the old (15th century to 17th century A.D.) Meitei sound vocabulary, as the majority of speakers of the language left Manipur during the first part of the 19th century.
Bishnupriyas have two dialects, namely Rajar Gang ("King's village") and Madai Gang ("Queen's village"). Unlike the dialects of other tribes, these dialects of Bishnupriya are not confined to distinct geographical areas; they rather exist side by side in the same localities. In Manipur, however, these two dialects were confined to well-defined territories. From the viewpoint of phonetics, Madai Gang is more akin to Assamese and Meitei, whereas Rajar Gang is more akin to Bengali. In vocabulary Madai Gang is more influenced by Meitei while Rajar Gang is more akin to Bengali and Assamese. The morphological differences between the two dialects are negligible.
Like other Indic languages, the core vocabulary of Bishnupriya Manipuri is made up of tadbhava
words (i.e. words inherited over time from older Indic languages, including Sanskrit, including many historical changes in grammar and pronunciation), although thousands of tatsama
words (i.e. words that were re-borrowed directly from Sanskrit with little phonetic or grammatical change) augment the vocabulary greatly. In addition, many other words were borrowed from languages spoken in the region either natively or as a colonial language, including Meitei, English, and Perso-Arabic.
- Inherited/native Indic words (tadbhava):10,000 (Of these, 2,000 are only found in Bishnupriya Manipuri, and have not been inherited by other Indic languages)
- Words re-borrowed from Sanskrit (tatsama): 10,000
- Words re-borrowed from Sanskrit, partially modified (ardhatatsama): 1,500
- Words borrowed from Meitei: 3,500
- Words borrowed from other indigenous non-Indic languages (desi): 1,500
- Words borrowed from Perso-Arabic: 2,000
- Words borrowed from English: 700
- Hybrid words: 1,000
- Words of obscure origin: 1,300
Bishnupriya Manipuri Script
The orthodox Bishnupriyas claim that they have their own script, that is, the Devanagari
script, which was used to write in the Bishnupriya language in its early years. However, on introduction of modern education during the British period through the Bengali language the Bishnupriya Manipuri writers began to use the Eastern Nagari script
. The alphabet has consonant letters with dependent vowel signs (matras) as well as independent vowel letters. Punctuation marks and numerals are also used.
Bishnupriya Manipuri is written from left to right and top to bottom, in the same manner as in English. Some of the consonants can combine with one another to make orthographic clusters.
Vowels: অ আ ই ঈ উ ঊ এ ঐ ও ঔ
Vowel Signs: া ি ী ু ূ ৃ ে ৈ ো ৌ
Consonants: ক খ গ ঘ ঙ ছ জ ঝ ঞ ট ঠ ড ঢ ণ ত থ দ ধ ন প ফ ব ম য র ল শ ষ স হ ড় ঢ় য় ৱ ৼ ং ঃ ঁ
Numbers: ০ ১ ২ ৩ ৪ ৫ ৬ ৭ ৮ ৯
Places where Bishnupriya Manipuri is spoken
the language is still spoken in the Jiribam
subdivision. A large number of Bishnupriya Manipuri people settled in Assam ages ago, particularly in the districts of Cachar
. These people are counted as one of the major groups of people in the Cachar and Karimganj districts. In Tripura
, the Bishnupriya Manipuri population localities may be divided into a Dharmanagar sub-area, a Kailasahar sub-area, a Kamaipur sub-area and a West Tripura sub-area. In Meghalaya
, Arunachal Pradesh
, they have also a Bishnupriya Manipuri population living scatteredly in the State.
Outside of India, Bangladesh has the largest Bishnupriya Manipuri population. The main localities are Sylhet, Moulbivazar, Habiganj and the Sunamganj district. There are also a considerable number of the Bishnupriyas Manipuris living in local cities like Mymensingh, Rangamati of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and also at Tezgaon, Manipuri-para in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.
In Myanmar Tbangdut, Mawa Kalewa and Bumnuk etc. are the Bishnupriya Manipuri areas. And in case of the United States of America, Canada, Germany, Middle East and Austria, there are a considerable number of Bishnupriya Manipuris settled there.
Number of people using Bishnupriya Manipuri
- 300,000 in Assam
- 60,000 in Tripura
- 60,000 in Bangladesh
- 2,000 in Meghalaya
- 1,000 in Arunachal Pradesh
- 1,000 in Myanmar
- 150 in Nagaland
- 100 in Mizoram
- 1,000 in New Delhi
- 11 in Australia
- 1 in Philippines
- 20,000 in US, UK, Canada, Middle-East countries and other overseas countries
Not a dialect of Bengali or Assamese
Though there is a relation between the denotative words of BPM and those of Bengali and Assamese for regional and periodical reasons, it does not mean that the original language is lost by the influence of the surrounding languages nor it reasonable to think that the BPM language is the formative language of the plain people of Assam, Bengal and Manipur as unwisely viewed by certain phoneticians. The phonological and syntactical mainstream of the BPM language was never hampered and still has its distinct identity. Moreover, the plain people of Assam, Bengal and Manipur were not culturally, linguistically and politically united; nor conscious that they mutually might have formed a language like Bishnupriya Manipuri, in the Valley of Manipur.
Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, a recognized Bengali phonetician, listed the BPM language to be a dialect of Bengali, whereas Dr. Maheswer Neog and Dr. Banikanta Kakti claimed it as a dialect of Assamese. Their assumptions later caused contradiction about the origin of Bishnupriya Manipuri language. But the assumptions were proven incorrect by scientific research and observation of morphology, vocabulary and phonology of BPM.
Firstly, mere similarities of a few elements are not sufficient to prove that BPM is a dialect of another language. Secondly, Dr. Chatterjee, in his phonetic analysis, had used a peculiar version of Bishnupriya Manipuri, which is much different from the original BPM that is spoken in the Bishnupriya Manipuri localities in Assam, Tripura, Manipur or Bangladesh. For example, ’’Manu agor Puto Dugo asil....’’ is neither syntactically nor grammatically the correct form of BPM. Thirdly, there are numerous dissimilarities between Bengali/Assamese and BPM in the context of syntax, semantics and morphology. In fact, Bishnupriya Manipuri is a complete language itself and cannot be called a dialect of any other language.
A good stock of folk literatures of Bishnupriya Manipuri, which are older in origin, are handed down to this day through oral tradition. The ancient literature of Bishnupriya Manipuri is represented by folk stories, folk-songs, folk-poems, rhymes and proverbs. A rain-invoking song called বরন ডাহানির এলা (Boron-dahanir Ela
, 1450-1600A.D.) and a song relating to the conjugal life of Madai and Soralel known as মাদই সরারেলর এলা (Madai Soralel Ela
, 1500-1600 A.D.) are sometimes considered the most important. The language of the songs are archaic and are replete with words of Tibeto-Burman origin. These two songs are very important for the study of the cultural and linguistic history of Bishnupriya Manipuri. Besides these, there are songs which are sung by women who work in the fields. Proverbs form another important part of BPM folk literature.
The Bishnupriya Manipuris have established Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Sabha, Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Singlup, Pouri, Manipuri Theatre and many other organizations to encourage literary activities among the people. Serious literary culture of the BPM language began during the 2nd quarter of 20th century. In fact, the history of Manipuri literature began in 1925 with the literary magazine Jagaran
(জাগরন) edited by Falguni Singha who was a Bishnupriya Social worker; this magazine published articles both in Bishnupriya and Meitei. The Manipuris of Surma valley formed their first formal association, Surma Valley Manipuri Society (later called Surma Valley Manipuri Association) in 1934. The members included the Meiteis, the Bishnupriyas and the Pangals
(Manipuri Muslims). From 1933 a number of journals, e.g. Manipuri
(1938) and Kshatryajyoti
(1944), fostered nationalism as well literary and cultural activities.
Bishnupriya Manipuri poetry
A branch of modern BPM poetic literature, namely Vaishnava Padavali
, based on Vaishnava philosophy, deserves special mention.
- Vasatatvar Ruprekha/ Dr. K.P. Sinha, Silchar, 1977
- Manipuri jaatisotta bitorko: ekti niropekkho paath /Ashim Kumar Singha, Sylhet,2001
- G.K. Ghose / Tribals and Their Culture in Manipur and Nagaland, 1982
- Raj Mohan Nath / The Background of Assamese Culture, 2nd edn, 1978
- Sir G. A. Grierson / Linguistic Survey of India, Vol-5,1903
- Dr. K.P. Sinha / An Etymological Dictionary of Bishnupriya Manipuri, 1982
- Dr. M. Kirti Singh / Religious developments in Manipur in the 18th and 19th centuuy, Imphal, 1980
- Singha, Jagat Mohan & Singha, Birendra / The Bishnupriya Manipuris & Their Language, silchar, 1976