Rajkumar Jhalajit Singh’s (1924-2021) contribution in the historiography of Manipur

Kakchingtabam Ruhinikumar Sharma
Contd from prev issue
The theory of Manipur having a connection with Aryabrata has been severely criticised and rejected as a mere concoction by later scholars. This model of history writing too was followed by later scholars like Wahengbam Yumjao (Manipur Itihas, R.K Sanahal (Manipur Itihas, 1947). Jyotirmoy Roy, who joined the history faculty of Dhanamanjuri College, Imphal in 1951 made a substantive contribution in the study of Manipur’s past by the publication of “History of Manipur” in 1958. J. Roy’s book truly filled in the long-felt need of a standard book on Manipur History. But on major weakness of J. Roy’s work is his ignorance and near absence access to the local sources written in local language resulting in his scant treatment of ancient and medieval Manipur up to the beginning of 18th century as ‘Puranic’ and ‘Unaccounted Period’ which mars the quality of this otherwise highly readable account.
An alternative approach which may be considered a paradigm shift in studying Manipur’s past history was the publication of R.K. Jhalajit Singh’s A Short History of Manipur (1965), which was mainly based on indigenous sources, particularly Cheitharol Kumbaba and Ningthourol Lambuba. Jhalajit’s objective of writing history was to present a history of Manipur in the perspective of the growth of the Meitei kingdom and expansion of Aryan culture in Manipur. It was mainly a history of the Ningthouja dynasty from the early period to the middle of the twentieth century. The publication of the history may be considered as another important landmark in the historiography of Manipur in the post-independence period. What Professor Gangmumei Kamei had observed about Jhalajit’s work aptly describes the importance of the scholar, “The history covers all the periods of history, ancient, medieval and modem from the first century to the Merger of Manipur to the Dominion of India (1949). He utilized the indigenous sources in Manipuri language and the British archival sources. His objective was to record the expansion of Aryan culture and Hinduism to Manipur. He was under the influence of Brahmanical School of history writing that the Meiteis are ethnically and linguistically Indo-Aryan”. Thus R.k. Jhaljit’s celebrated work continues to receive acclaim and condemnation from many quarters. However, Jhalajit and other scholars who followed the Brahmanical tradition of writing Manipur history got a mild rebuke from the celebrated Indic scholar R.C. Majumdar who rejected the theory of Aryan connection with Manipur while delivering the Pandit Raj Atombapu Memorial Lecture at Imphal in 1966. Later scholars also rejected the Aryan connection with early Manipur history as concocted and now it has become an exploded myth.
Then how do we situate “A Short History of Manipur” as a path-breaking work and appreciate its contribution in the study of Manipur history? To be honest, Jhalajit by writing this important piece of history has considerably widened our Weltanschauung of Manipur’s past to a higher level. It was he, who showed to the outside world that the history of this land could be written based on the available native sources as done in other parts of the world. He served with sincerity the cause of Clio, the muse of history. Late Professor Gangmumei Kamei, my teacher confided me in private that his most referred and widely read work on pre-colonial history of Manipur is the result of his continuous engagement with Oja Jhalajit’s work while teaching the Post-Graduate students at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Imphal Centre and later at Manipur University.
It may be that some of the ideas contained in “A Short History of Manipur,” may no longer remain tenable to the scholars of our generation but there are certain insights in this work which deserve the attention of aspiring historians. Because what we called new genres of history writing like environmental history, history of disasters like famine and flood and diseases etc. would find mention in many pages of the book long before historians of the region considered it worthy of highlighting. Thus at the end, simply setting aside this work as outdated, outmoded and concocted, we might be charged with doing a grave injustice to the discipline of history itself. If history is all about questioning and continuous engagement between the past and present, Oja Jhalajit has made a permanent mark of his own.  With these few lines it is prayed that may Oja Jhalajit’s soul rest in peace.

(The author is a faculty member, Department of History, Ideal Girls’ College, Akampat, Imphal-East. He can be reached at [email protected]).