Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel by Hillel Halkin was mainly based on folklore and traditions of the B’nei Menashe. Amazingly, the most concrete evidences to establish the Israelite connction of the Bnei Menashe are yielded by the medieval literature of the Manipuris or Meeteis who are Vaishnavite Hindus and speak a Tibeto- Burman language clubbed within the Kuki-Chin sub-family by the Linguistic Survey of India. The Manipuri sources can be deemed to be authentic as they would have scoffed at any sort of Jewish affinity under the influence of Brahminical Hinduism. Jewish cultural traits would have been considered as “Islamic” and therefore unpalatable to the dominant Manipuri political and cultural elite. During the 18th century, Manipuri king Garibanawaz or Pamheiba, under the influence of his Vaishnavite guru Shanta Das Gossain ordered the burning of all Manipuri manuscripts related to Sanamahism or the pre-Hindu religion and racial origins of the Manipuris. This event known as Puya Meithaba or the burning of Puyas (manuscripts) is still commemorated by the Sanamahi revivalists who want to take the Manipuris back to their pre-Hindu faith. The theory of creation in Sanamahism has remarkable similarities with the Genesis account. The Poireiton Khunthok or the account of Poireiton’s migration records the same events narrated in the Thadou-Kuki legend of migration from “the bowels of the earth” and serves to confirm the Thadou-Kuki folklore used by Dr.Khuplam Lenthang and Hillel Halkin. These similarities can be dismissed as inconsequential co-incidences, if not for the “list of Muslim kings” in the Leithak Leikharon or the Manipuri Book of Cosmogony written in the style of a Sanskrit purana. It is astounding to find these “Muslim kings” having names similar to geographical places associated with the Biblical exodus route.
AN EXPLANATION ON THE LINEAGES OF MUSLIM KINGS IN THE MANIPURI BOOK OF COSMOGONY
The noted historian of Manipuri literature R.K Jhalajit Singh translates “Leithak Leikharon” as Of the Heavens and the Netherworlds and places its antiquity to post-1606. East Bengali Muslims migrated to Manipur from the year 1606 onwards . According to him, “ The book (Leithak Leikharon) shows familiarity with the Muslims, guns, bullets, tobacco and chillies. Now, the Muslims began to settle in Manipur in 1606 AD. What the book fancies to be a list of kings of the Pathans could not be dreamt of before the year 1606.” He further writes : “ The author of the Leithak Leikharon must have kept in view the classical concept of a purana while writing his book. So, he handled the theory of creation current in a section of the people of Manipur in his time, the genealogies of kings known to him instead of the genealogies of kings of the solar and lunar dynasties. He cast all these local materials in the mould of a Sanskrit purana”. In short, RK Jhalajit and all Manipuri historians consider the “chronologies of Pathan and Pasha kings” found in the Leithak Leikharon to be unquestionably “Muslim names” which found their way into the book after the arrival of East Bengali Muslims in Manipur. It is astounding to see that these names have striking resemblances to places in the Biblical exodus route.
The lineage of Muslim kings of the Pathal dynasty are
Paron Sa ( Wilderness of Paran ?)
Sin Sa ( Wilderness of Sin ?)
Kakpaton Sa ( Aqaba ?)
Et Sa (Land of Edomites? )
Tesaroth ( Hazeroth ?)
Tou-ut Sa (David ?)
The similarity of Pathal and Pithom and Pasha and Bashan is also notable. These names obviously can not belong to Muslim kings and the East Bengali Muslims who migrated to Manipur during the 17th century could not have been the cause of their entry into medieval Manipuri literature. The only logical explanation for this can be a connection between the author of the Leithak Leikharon and the ancient Israelite tradition as claimed by the B’nei Menashe and explained by Hillel Halkin in Across the Sabbath River.
MANIPURI THEORY OF CREATION
The Manipuri theory of creation or more appropriately, the Sanamahi theory is described as “local material” by RK Jhalajit Singh in the passage quoted above because he recognizes it as having a distinctly non-Sanskritic origin unlike many other stories in the Leithak Leikharon which he describes as “echoes of the Puranic traditions”. For understanding the Sanamahi creation theory, we may refer more to the Amailol Thilel Wakoklol Pukok . An explanation of the creation of man and the origin of the Manipuri, that is, Meetei race is given in this manuscript which we quote in the following passage. “As it resembles that in the pupil of the eyes of the Supreme Lord, it is called “Mi” or the image of God. As man was created looking at the image of God , it has been called “Mee” or Man. To know that Man is different from God himself, it has been called “Mee Atei” or the image of god which is not God himself. Man who is the incarnation of the image of God, born and dead on earth is called “Meetei”.” Wangkemcha Chingtamlen, a noted Sanamahi revivalist thinks that this passage is “the sum total of the theory of creation of the Meetei race” and that it is “very unique and very different from the theory of creation of man of other races”. Both RK Jhalajit and Wangkhemcha Chingtamlen believe this theory of creation to be distinctly indigenous to the Meeteis alone.
The theory of creation of man in the image of God is to be found in the Judaic tradition as well. In the beginning there was “nothingness”. The immortal Lord of the Universe decided to create the universe. He created the seven layers of heaven and the seven layers of earth. He created the space, heavens, the earth, space, creepers, water hyacinth, fish and everything. Finally, he entrusted Aseeba to create man and man is the last stage of creation. Other than slight variations in narration style and some interpolations, it can be stated that the theories of creation in the Meetei and Judaic traditions have similar outlines or that thay share the same structure.
This affinity can also be dismissed as a remote similarity and co-incidental had the Meetei theory not contained a word of Hebrew or Aramaic origin. The Meetei language is classified as a part of the Kuki-Chin sub-family of Tibeto-Burman languages by the Linguistic Survey of India conducted by G.A Grierson. The Leithak Leikharon account of creation refers to a god called Haraba or Maharaba who caused disturbance to God’s work of creating the earth. The god Haraba had destroyed God’s creation two times and he had tried to destroy it again the third time. Therefore, the Supreme God, after concurring with the other gods created a mesmerizing woman Nongthang Leima who distracted Haraba’s destruction work and thus enabled the completion of creation. It is remarkable that historians of Manipuri literature do not recognize the term Haraba or Maharaba as of “Muslim” origin. The terms are Aramaic words for the “Rebel”, “Evil”, etc. and in Hebrew Hara’a also means “Evil”. Haraba or Maharaba is meaningless in Manipuri and judged from his destruction of God’s creation at least twice, he appears to be “evil” or “rebellious” indeed. We may not credit the East Bengali Muslims who arrived in Manipur during the 17th century as the cause of this word in the Meetei lexicography again as other texts related to Manipuri cosmogony too contain this word and they were written prior to the 17th century.
POIREITON’S MIGRATION FROM THE LAND OF DEATH
The Poireiton Khunthok, which W.Yumjao Singh and many other Manipuri scholars believe to be one of the earliest Manupiri manuscripts deals with a person who is believed to be the ancestor of two Meetei clans-the Luwangs and the Khumans. W.Yumjao Singh in his Early History and Culture of Manipur places the antiquity of this book to the 3rd century AD. This book opens with the following verse : “Changing allegiance to the old religion is forbidden, Changing allegiance to the old culture is forbidden, A change in the old religion and culture came about due to the dear separation of our beloved Lord Poireiton of the Foothills”. The verse is written in Old Manipuri and the term for religion is Kha which M.Chandra Singh translates into Modern Manipuri in many word and phrases as the way of walking, way of behaving and way of worshipping God. The archaic term for “culture” is Mikon translated into Modern Manipuri in many words as courtesy or way of addressing people. The term for “Lord” is Yuwa ! Beginning with this opening verse, the book narrates the story of Yi Yuwa Poireiton’s migration from the Land of Death or Khamnung Sawa. Basically, the account of his migration and the events associated with it are the same as the Thadou-Kuki legend of migration from the “bowels of the earth”. The unknown author of the book concluded his writing with the following passage : “ He Liklai (Great King of Gods)! Thy servant I am a psalmist possessing an incomplete language. I have never gone to the Land of Khamnung and I have never been to the Land of Sawa. I conclude my writing by turning my head towards Pangpalam which is next to the hill called Thonglel Iman where there is the god Nongnem. Haya he Liklai-o!” Many words of non Tibeto-Burman origin are found in this account of migration and scholars like Atombapu Sharma, the erstwhile royal pandit of the Manipuri king, W.Yumjao Singh and W.Ibohal Singh believe that Poireiton and his horde of migrants came from the northwestern direction. The doyen among Manipuri Brahminical scholars Panditraj Atombapu Sharma thought that Poireiton came from the region of Mithila in present day Bihar. W Yumjao thinks he came from Sylhet in eastern Bengal and W Ibohal Singh believes that Poireiton belonged to the wave of Sakya or Moriya migration to upper Burma during the 5th or 2nd century AD and that he brought with him a form of pre-Buddhist Vedic religion. RK Jhalajit observes that the race of Pakhangba, the supposed Indo-Aryan founder of the Manipuri kingdom looked down upon the race of Poireiton because of the practice of levirate marriage among his race.
It is interesting to note that the name of the Lord in Poireiton’s language is Yuwa and the word Kha is similar to the Judaic concept of Halakha . the term Pangpalam is also interesting as it is not located in or near Manipur. Poireiton and his horde constitute a considerable section of the Manipuri population today and they can be rightfully credited with the presence of the Biblical exodus route and other elements of the Judaic tradition in the medieval and early Manipuri literature. The archaic Manipuri phrase Haya he Liklai-o found in the Poireiton Khunthok and many other Manipuri manuscripts is translated into modern Manipuri as O God, O King of Kings. Haya itself is a name of the Lord in Hebrew and Liklai is rhythmically similar to Elai or Elohim . In Thadou-Kuki, Liklai or Lilai literally means the a deep part of the river or a cascade and it is believed to be the abode of the supernatural powers. Haya he Liklai-o is quite similar to the phrase Haya he Elohim . Other Manipuri names for God are Taoroinai and Khoiyum. Taoroinai is quite similar to Adonai.
These affinities in the Judaic and Manipuri traditions are not limited to the points discussed in this paper. More efforts in studying Manipuri texts and cultural traditions will possibly yield more concrete literary evidences of the Israelite connection of the B’nei Menashe of Northeastern India and Northwestern Myanmar. There are good grounds to conclude that the pioneering work of Hillel Halkin and Dr.Khuplam Lenthang on the B’nei Menashe are in the right direction and that the lost footsteps of the Bnei Menashe can be fully traced back to the land of the ancient Israelites.