Two centuries back, the priestly Vaisnavite king popularized Vaishnavism, not as an alien faith, but as an indigenous tradition of the Meiteis. Artistic elements in Manipuri martial arts (Thang-Ta) and indigenous games (Mukna Kangjei and Kang) were nicely inserted in the art forms like Nat Sankirtan, Pung-cholom andthe Ras Lila. Hence, the Vaishnavite cult in Manipur is an indigenous creation and product of Manipur soil.
Hill inhabitants called him Ching Thang Khomba. Known to the Ahom people and the British as Jai Sing, he was called Karta by followers of Bhaisnavism. After the installation of Lord Govindaji Idol and innovation of Ras Lila dance, he became known as Bheigyachandra. For his being a highly spiritual and able ruler, he was given the title Rajarshi, which was very rarely set among Indian kings of the past.
As the 54th king, Bheigyachandra ruled Manipur for forty years. When the Burmese assisted by his uncle Chitsai attacked Manipur in 1762, he fled to Assam and took shelter under the Ahom ruler, Rajeswar Singha. However, due to instigation by his uncle Chitsai, the Ahom king had to conduct a test for Bheigyachandra’s authenticity. The unarmed Bhagyachandra had to tame and catch a wild elephant.
As Bhagyachandra prayed to Krishna, the Lord appeared in his dream and gave instructions to enable him to tame the elephant. The Lord told him to install an idol of Lord Krishna by carving out an old jackfruit tree from the Kaina hill and also to arrange the performance of a Ras Lila, in which Krishna would be worshiped with song and dance. Upon regaining the Manipur throne, Bheigyachandra installed the idol of Lord Govindaji along with six others namely Bijoy Govinda, Shri Nityainanda Prabhu, Shri Madan Mohan, Shri Anuprabhu, Shri Gopinatha andShri Abdeitya Prabhu. They are being worshipped at different places including Nabadwip, West Bengal.
His unique creation Ras Lila dance was first performed in 1777. He also started the tradition of Sankirtan in Manipur. Rasesori Pala, the only all-women Sankirtan performance for the service of Lord Govindaji started during his time with his daughter Rajkumari Bhimvabati as the main performer. He was a great patron of the arts and religion, and an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna.
After abdicating the throne, he spent his last few years on pilgrimage to various holy places including Nabadwip before his death in Murshidabad, West Bengal in December 1798. The 214th death anniversary of Rajarshi Bheigyachandra was observed at Nabadwip in Nadia district of West Bengal from October 16 -18 last with a cultural extravaganza. A symposium was also conducted on the intellectual estimation of the relevance of Bheigyachandra’s thinking in the 21st Century.
Renowned personalities like Padmashri Ratan Thiyam, Smt. Debjani Chalitha and Dr. Ch. Jamini Devi delivered lectures on the contributions of Rajarshi Bheigyachandra. Director of JN Manipur Dance Academy L. Upendra Sharma and Manipuri culture patron Shri Prabir Bhattacharya of West Bengal also highlighted strong religious vision of Karta Bheigyachandra.
Various Nat Sankirtan performances of renowned Gurus Laishram Ibohalmacha, L. Lakpati Singh and Th Haridas were attractions of the programme organized by the Shri Shri Anumahaprabhu Sebait Samity in collaboration with JN Manipur Dance Academy and Department of Art & Culture, Manipur. Nimai Sanyas dance drama under Guru Memcha Devi and Goura Lila dance led by Guru Brindashabi also featured during the observance. Govindaji Barti Seba and Govindaji Raseshori Pala Marup presented women Sankirtan while Maha Ras dances were performed under the guidance of Guru B. Gopal Sharma. The three days of the observance were named as Rajkumari Bimbati Dias, Maharaj Chourjit Singh Dias and Rajkumar Nitaipatsana Singh Dias respectively to pay tributes to these late royal lineages who had contributed to preserve Manipuri culture beyond Manipur territory.
Although there was apparent mismanagement at the three-day programme, the observance had strong relevance to contemporary Manipur. The host lacked necessary hospitality due to the hundreds of visitors from Manipur. The symposium also seemed not fruitful as it there was nobody in the chair to conduct the business. The valuable speeches of the resource persons were lost in futility, without any fruitful record. It would have been better, had the valuable points of the symposium been recorded and published for future reference.
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