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Ema Khunthok-haanbi, Guardian of Thangmeiband Area (Manipur, India)
Ema Khunthok-haanbi, Guardian of Thangmeiband Area (Manipur, India)
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Manipur, India
Puya / written in Meitei Mayek (Manipuri)

Sanamahism or Sanamahi Laining is the worship of Sanamahi, the eternal forces/cells responsible for the creations of the living beings. The Sanamahi referenced here is not to be confused with Lainingthou Sanamahi, the Supreme House-dwelling god of Sanamahism. The religion has a traditional history which has preserved the practice of worshiping ancestors as Almighty. Thus, it signifies that Sanamahism is the worship of eternal forces/cells present in living beings.

Sanamahism is one of the oldest religions of South Asia. It originated in Manipur and it is mainly practiced by the Meitei, Zeliangrong and other communities who inhabit Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Myanmar and Bangladesh, with small migrant populations in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada.


During the reign of King Khagemba (1597–1652 AD), the conqueror of the Chinese, it was revealed by Oracle that Lord Sanamahi had returned to the god's kingdom after ending his earthly life. As a consequence the king had faced or experienced lot of difficulties in the war against the Mughal army of the west and Mangsha of the Kabow valley (presently Chindwin valley of Myanmar).

According to the last census, about eleven percent of Manipur belong to religions stated as 'other'. Most of this population are followers of the Sanamahi religion (see link on other religion). This represents a significant increase over the previous census. The revivalism of Sanamahism is recognized by the census records of the government of India due to the efforts of R. K. Birendro Singh, I.A.S.

Religion in Manipur is thought to have passed through three stages.[2]

Form of worship

In assimilate features such as the worship of forces of nature like fire, water, mountain, ancestor worship (Apokpa), Lamlai (Outdoor Dwelling Gods and Goddesses), Yumlai (House dwelling Gods and Goddesses), Ningthoulai (King God) and Umanglai (Forest Dwelling God). Religion of antiquity – in its pure native form, it is as all as the history of Meetei/Meitei people from the time immemorial.


There is reference to the worship of Sanamahi by Ningthou (King) Kangba in the Hayi age. Manipur is a polytheistic land with Atiya Sidaba as the supreme god. Atiya Sidaba, Apaanba and Asheeba are the three manifestations or incarnations of God as the creator, the preserver and the annihilator of this universe respectively.

Pakhangba, Sanamahi and Nongpok Ningthou are the incarnations who play the role of the male deities of the Meiteis whereas Leimarel Sidabi and Panthoibi are the female deities.

In another way Lord Pakhangba circumambulate around the throne of Lord Shidaba Mapu as advised by his mother Lord Panthoibi whereas Lord Sanamahi set out to go around this universe by flying, starting in southwest direction. Lord Pakhangba justifying that the universe is not different from his father Atiya kuru Shidaba saying "the whole world is contained within Him." Same circumambulation story around Lord Shiva by Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartik around universe. Lord Shiva had instructed his sons, Ganesha and Kartik, to go around the world in the pursuit of knowledge. Kartik went all over the world by flying, while Ganesha as advised by his mother Parvati, circumambulated his father, Lord Shiva, justifying his act by saying that "the whole world is contained within Him". Both the supreme lords have two sons. Probably, depicting very old connection between Sanamahism with Hinduism.

Panthoibi is the Mother of the Universe and Nongpok Ningthou is her mate.[3] Besides those, three hundred and sixty-four deities with their consorts are the most important deities worshipped by the Meiteis.

The Plain Kabui are observed in worship of Sanamahi and Ima Leimarel.[4]

Sanamahi (also known as ASHIVA) has a creator brother (like him) named Paakhangba (Konjin Tukthapa).[5]

Some of the important gods and goddesses worshiped by the Meiteis are:

  • Shidaba Mapu (Immortal Owner)
  • Lainingthou Sanamahi (Supreme God of the Household Gods and Goddesses)
  • Ebudhou Paakhangba (Younger Brother of Lainingthou Sanamahi and the Ruler of the outside world)
  • Ima Leimarel Sidabi
  • Apokpa (Prime Ancestor God and Goddess, different according to different surnames)
  • Ebendhou Emoinu (Goddess of prosperity, wealth and kitchen)
  • Ema Panthoibi (goddess of valor and battle)
  • Yumjao Lairembi (Household Goddess)
  • Ema Phouoibi (Goddess of Bounty)
  • Ebudhou Marjing (God of sports and also the protector of North-East Direction)
  • Ebudhou Thangjing (God of power and also the protector of South-West Direction)
  • Ebudhou Wangbrel (God of rain, death and also the protector of South-East Direction)(Kumar 2004, 92)
  • Ebudhou Koubru (God of strength and also the protector of North-West Direction)

They also worshipped the Umanglais (forest dwelling gods and goddesses). Umanglais are the protectors, preservers of their corresponding areas/localities which includes houses, fields, welfare of the people, etc. In short, the Umanglais are the guardians of the outer world of the people and also these gods and goddesses are associated with each and every doings of the people in day-to-day life. Hence, They are considerrd to be very powerful.

Some of the Umanglais are:

  • Lainingthou Nongshaaba
  • Lainingthou Puthiba
  • Lainingthou Awaangba
  • Lainingthou Marjing
  • Lainingthou Khoiriphaaba
  • Ema Khunthok-haanbi
  • Ema Haoreima Sampubi
  • Ema Eereima
  • Ekop Ningthou
  • Thoubal Ningthou
  • Ema Kondong Lairembi
  • Nongpok Ningthou
  • Langol Ningthou
  • Ema Langol Lairembi
  • Ebudhou Naothingkhong Paakhangba
  • Ebudhou Khamlaangba
  • Ebudhou Oknarel
  • Ebudhou Thangnarel
  • Ebudhou Yangoiningthou

The title "Lainingthou" refers to the incarnation from Lainingthou Sanamahi and the title "Ebudhou" refers to the incarnation from Ebudhou Paakhangba.


Meiteis offer praying to the household gods and goddesses twice a day, once at dawn and once at dusk. They offer incense sticks/burner and candles/meiraa along with flowers and water.

Devout Meiteis offer food at sacred spots daily to the goddess of kitchen and prosperity, Ebendhou Emoinu.[6]



Cheiraoba, literally Chahihouba is New Year's Day for the Meiteis and is observed every year on Sajibu (April) - the first day of the first month - Sajibu of Meitei calendar. The Meiteis have their own calendar known as Thabaallon. A calendar year has twelve months. They are:

  1. Sajibu
  2. Kaalen
  3. Eengaa
  4. Eengen
  5. Thawaan
  6. Laangban
  7. Meraa
  8. Hiyaang-gei
  9. Poinu
  10. Waakching
  11. Phairel
  12. Lamtaa

Sajibu mainly falls during the month of March (last week) - April (first week). Cheiraoba is observed on the first day of this Sajubi month, which dates are random year by year.The Cheiraoba Festival turns up to be two every year, one the original Meitei New Year which is observed on the first day of the Sajibu Month, i.e., the day in which UGADI, south Indian Hindu New year falls and the other is observed every year on 14 April i.e. the day on which CHARAK PUJAH falls. The gate of every Meitei house are seen with offerings to three deities - Kumsana Kumliklai, Lamsenba Tusenba and Lammaba Tumaba (Cheiraoba Masil).

On the auspicious day of the festival, fresh vegetables are being offered to Lainingthou Sanamahi and the attire of the deities are also changed on this day. After getting blessings from Lainingthou Sanamahi, the vegetables are being cooked in clean, tidy kitchen by one cook into even number of curries (all should be veg). After session, the food is first served onto two different traditional plates. One is offered in the front gate and the other at the rear gate of the house. According to the custom, the offerings of the cooked food are done by males.

After offerings to the gods and goddesses, items are exchanged with relatives/neighbours which is called as "Mathel Laanba". It is believed that on the day of new year everybody should be healthy so that the whole year will be healthy i.e. why it is a must to climb the nearest hill to digest whatever the curries taken on that day. Again prior to the day of cheiraoba/meitei new year, there is a custom that a married woman should present a gift to her father and brothers.

Puya recorded 12 months named as in the embryological process and progress with a strong scientific foundation many centuries ago: Wakching, Failel, Lamta, Sachifu, Kalel, Eenga, Eengen, Thouwan, Langpal, Mela, Heeyangkei, Poinu.

1. Wakching
The word "Wakching", the name of the first month of the Kangleipak Meetei race is a derivative of the combination of two words/concepts "wakon" + "Ching". The first syllable of the word wakching, that is "Wak" may mean "Wakon", "Wakonpung", the abode of the universal God father. The second syllable of the word Wakching, that is "ching" may mean "Konching", "Wakonching", "ching" mean chingkhatpa, pulling up, etc. Therefore, the meaning of the first month of the 12 months of the Kangleipak Meitei race, Wakching is pulling up and storing in the Wakonpung (human head, head of all living beings) of the semen including the sperm. Now in the 21st century everybody on the Earth agrees that reproduction starts from the head.[citation needed]

2. The second month is Failel (Fairel). The meaning of 'Failel' is Fai+lel. Failel = Fai + lel, here Fai means Leipa further means stay, staying + lel, means here lelpa, further means staying for further doing works for improvement or perfection.

Now science agree that the human body system takes about two months in manufacturing a sperm perfectly from the best elements from the foods and drinks, ate and drank by the subject.From these facts, we generally say that mapana tha ani nou pui (Father is pregnant for two months before the nou(child) comes to the womb of the mother).

In the last five days of the two months when the sperm stays in the head of the human father, just before the sperm comes to the mother-would-be woman, the pupils of the human Father bifurcate into two, showing one part will go to mother-would-be woman for a new Lang-on.

3. The third month is Lamta. Lamta = Lam + ta, here lam means a part of the earth commonly. In the concept of the puya, human body is called 'Leipak Ahingpi'. The human seed (sperm) is shown to the body of the "eema" (Leipak Ahingpi), in the quotation above 'Chalot' means womb 'ta' here means tale=tare on the 'Leipak Ahingpi'.

Therefore, the meaning of the third month Lamta is that the human seed (sperm) has fallen well on the body of the would-be-mother woman for a new langon after 10 months in her body. The fourth month of the Kangleipak Meitei race is Sachifu (misnamed Sajibu after the advent of Hinduism).

4. Sachifu = Sa + chi + fur, sa here means the body part of the living beings including of the human, meaning the 'sperm' with the liquid portion, in another meaning the 'Shanamahi', chi here means chisillakpa, further means coming of the shanamahi in the womb to transform into Ha chak, konchak and langpa chak in the womb, fu here simply means chafu, that is, womb. The puya is very categorical about the naming and the process and progress of the 4th month in its life journey in the transformation beginning from the head of the human father to the womb of the human mother and finally as man and woman on the Earth. Here "Sachifu leikhun Toulakpa" means the journey of the human sperm to come directly in the womb after fertilization and "milel papot lonpa" means the human mother has two lives – one her own life and the second new developing life in the womb.

5. The fifth month is Kalel. In the Sachifu the human embryo comes inside the womb, the puya calls chalot, and stays in the womb for one month. After this one month in the chalot, in the month Kalel (a rough duration of 30 days) the foetus in the womb has developed its main organs. Kalel = Ka + lel, ka means here Ka of the human body, here means the organs of the human body. The Puya, Wakoklon Heelel Thilel Salai ama-ilon Pukok says that there are 11 (eleven) 'kayats' in the human body, though we do not know generally what are the 11 'kayats'. Ka means here the 'Kayat' of the human body. Lel, the 2nd syllable of the word, Kalel means here the best, most important ka or kayat of the human body. Therefore, in the Kalel month of the Meetei race, 5th in the 12 month series, the foetus in the womb has developed the main kayats of the human body.

6 and 7. The sixth month is Eenga and the seventh month is Eengen. The most important part of the embryonic development during these two months, Eenga and Eengen is played by the blood of the human body. The blood to the foetus is supplied by the mother in whose womb the foetus is developed. During the 60 days of these two months almost all organs are developed and blood is supplied to all the organs. Most probably the nervous system is completely developed during these two months.

8. The 8th month is Thouwan. Thouwan = Thou + wan, thou here means the physical function of the organs developed in the foetus in the womb + wan here means functionalisation of all organs in the foetus. In common parlance, it may means that all organs in the foetus begins to perform their own different and peculiar functions.

9. The ninth month is Langpal. The ninth month Langpal conveys exact and unambiguous meaning. Langpal = Lang + Pal, the Lang here means Lang-on or Saion, the process and progress of the development of the sperm to a full human being is complete in this month, Langpal + Pal here means oire and masak oire, further means the foetus is now a full human being to comeout from the mother on the open lap of the everloving and ever caring mother earth.

10. The 10th month is Mela. In the Mela (Mera) month of the foetus as a complete human being in form and the organs doing the full functions as in an ordinary human being, takes rest.

11. The eleventh month is Heeyangkei. The name of the eleventh month, Heeyangkei also conveys the exact nature and development of the foetus in the womb of the mother. Heeyangkei = Hee + yang + Kei, Hee here means the best thing as medicine, the best thing as food to develop life, human mind etc. + yang means Yangna, further means quickly + Kei means barn, here means human body (the developed foetus). Therefore, Heeyangkei here means the foetus as a fully developed human being prepares for a debut in the open world to play in the Life stage as man or woman collecting the best things for its body from the blood streams of the mother in the womb.

12. The 12th month is Poinu. Poinu = Poi+nu, Poi here means Leiba, to live further means living spending life (for example : Lampoiba = vagabond) + nu means man, common gender, nu + pa, nu + pi. In the last month Poinu, the foetus from the womb of the mother comes out as man or woman to live among the human beings to play his or her role on the life stage as desired by the God Father.

Lai Haraoba

Lai Haraoba is the festival of the recollection of the creation stories played by all deities with the first origin of this universe and evolution of the plants and animals through the will of Atiya Shidaba. Shannamahi and Leimarel are worshiped in every house of the Meiteis and other mentioned Indigenous community of Manipur and nearby states including Mayanmar. The other gods and the 364 deities are worshipped in the Umanglai Laisangs (temple of gods in the reserved woods with spacious grounds) in the villages.

Origin of the name

The puya, Wakoklon Heelel Thilel Salai Ama-ilon Pukok, says very clearly that at the beginning of creation, the ultimate universal god, the father of all living beings, Ipung Loinapa Apakpa as the Kanglei ancestors called Him, gave a Talang Laipao (God's message from the open space) to the effect that he will come down to the Earth to create living beings.

The universal Father clearly says in the Talang Laipao that He will be found as a 'three-day- child' (not three-day-old child) in the colour of 'Sana'.

The Talang Laipao was heard by gods. The Salailel Sitapa (space personified as male person) Ima Leimalel Sitapi (the earth personified as female principle) also heard it. As predicted by the Talang Laipao, a 'three-day-child' was found in the Isaiphu' of the Salailel Sitapa (space – Ipa sorarel).

What is actually written in the puya is this: "Numit humni supaki Angangki Matam- Kumna Sanaki Masak Malpa Nouwa Ama oina Leilamke". The word or concept 'Shana' was first used by the universal Father, and was also first heard by the gods (lesser gods) before creation.

What is known from the puya scripture up to this stage of creation, we have now the knowledge that the concept of 'Shana' used in the puya in relation to the theory of creation, is never related in whatever way to the 'Shana', yellow metal gold which is a product of scientific age of the world.

The word/concept Shana is described in the puya, Wachetlon Pathup as "Wakonpungta Leipa Tongsaki Machuti Shana Ahingpa Machune| Fisetti Angoupane||" A rough translation of the passage from the puya scripture may please be seen : "The colour of the muscle in Wakonpung (Head) is living Sana colour, dressed in white."

Further, please see what are actually written in the puya, scripture, wakoklon heelelthilel salai ama-ilon pukok

"asum oipa laipaoki matung inna sitapaki Isaiphu illon nungta numit humni supaki nouwaki ma-ong oina Sanaki machu manpa nouwa ama leilamle|| Nouwa atupu yenglaka sanaki masak manpa angangpa machuna leitengpa maahi atupu upata shanamahi haipa mingthonpu pituna machaki matamkumna Loukhatle|| Asum touna loukhatlapaka lailelpi sitapi Lailem mata pishille ||0|| Lailem mana yenglaka ngangleinapa nouwa atupu upata angang mingthon phangtuna chetna channa konsille||" Please read carefully to above quotation from the puya, scripture.

The scheme of creation of God is shown in the passage of the scripture. The universal Father God sends the life-seed to the Earth and the seed is preserved in the male person. This time when the life-seed is preserved in the male person, it is called Shanamahi. The Shanamahi is given to female person, then it becomes Angang.

Shanamahi is the life-essence given by the God preserved in the male person for endless creation. A male person is called Pali in Kanglei vocabulary. Pali = Pa + Li = Pa means universal father, who gave the life-seed to male person + Li means Leeba, Leeduna thamba, that is, preservation in English. In such scheme of creation of the universal God Father, can there be any possibility of the 'Shanamahi' in the Male Person to be a 'gold liquid', yellow metal liquid.

In the above quotation from the puya, scripture, the words "Isaiphu illonnung" means in the body of the Salailel sitapa (the space personified as a male person), and "Lailelpi Sitapi Lailemma" means the Earth personified as a female person.

Isaiphu = I + Sha + iphu = I means blood, human blood + Sha means Hakchang. Human body + Iphu = I means blood + phu means chaphu, further means pot. Therefore, Isaiphu means human body, full of blood. Illonnung simply means in the blood of the body.

The using of an Isaiphu in every religious ceremony as a symbol of the universal lord in the Kanglei tradition comes from this 'Isaiphu' in the puya, the scripture. As a corollary of this knowledge of "Isaiphu" in the scripture of the Meitei race, we come now to know that to keep an "Ishaiphu" at the Phampal of Ima Leimalel sitapi at the left side of the house is patently wrong, may be an arrangement during the Hindu rule since 18th century C.E.

In the Kanglei Lai Haraoba, "Ningthourelgi Sagoldi mamei jum jum Laoyida, Angouba Sagol Tongbara?" is heard generally. There the "Ningthourel" means the ultimate universal God Father, 'Sagol' means Sakol = Sa + Kol means the creative, procreative life-seed in always with the 'Ningthourel'; nothing can give, nothing can have the life-seed with, except the 'Ningthourel'.

So, the sentence means the white colour Shanamahi is with the 'Sagol' of the universal God Father "The 'Ningthourelgi Sagoldi mamei jum jum Laoyida' means the 'Sagol' with the Ningthourel becomes numerous in the long rung, meaning the increasing living beings in the long run in the process of creation.

Lastly, the writer show a verse from the puya scripture showing in a nutshell the philosophy of the Kanglei creation theory: Malem Leimana Lumpala, Palem Immana Malum-ee; Koilou Nongmatonna Wangpala, Panthou Ipana Mawang-ee.

The above four-line verse indicates the heights of Kanglei Wang-u-lon (philosophy) of the Kangleipak. The last two lines say that 'Panthou Ipa' is higher than the Koulou Nongmaton (the top of the space, the sky, the Ating-aa, the Atiya in different languages of the same word/concept).

The sky seemingly round above our heads is called 'Koilou Nongmaton' by the Puya, the scripture of the Meitei race. The 'Panthou Ipa' in the above verse is the universal father god creator who gave the Talang Laipao for creation. The Kanglei Mietei call him Panthou Ipa or simply Ipa (father roughly in English) who is higher than the Koilou Nongmaton.

See also


  1. 2001 Census
  2. P. 199 Social Movements in North-East India By Mahendra Narain Karna
  3. P. 4290 Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature By various
  4. People of India By Kumar Suresh Singh, S. B. Roy, Asok K. Ghosh
  5. P. 82 A History of Manipuri Literature By Ch Manihar Singh
  6. P. 62 Feminism in a traditional society by Manjusri Chaki-Sircar


  • Kshetrimayum, Otojit (2014), Ritual, Politics and Power in North East India: Contextualising the Lai Haraoba of Manipur, Ruby Press & Co., ISBN 978-93-82395-50-8 External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hodson, T.C. (2015), The Meitheis, Ruby Press & Co., ISBN 978-93-82395-56-0 External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Singh, Dr. Saikhom Gopal (2015), The Meeteis of Manipur: A Study in Human Geography, Ruby Press & Co., ISBN 978-93-82395-21-8 External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Singh, Dr. Saikhom Gopal (2015), Population Geography of Manipur, Ruby Press & Co., ISBN 978-93-82395-25-6 External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • Meiteis Surname
  • The Revivalism of Shanamahism
  • Sohini Ray's 2000–01 project The Body-Cult in Shanamahism: A Case of the Revival of an Indigenous Religion Among the Meiteis in Manipur [1] is an ethnographic study of the sacred myths about the human body among the Meiteis, a community in Northeast India, and on how these mythological beliefs play a pivotal role in a socio-religious revival movement now occurring in the community. Sohini Ray recently received her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Discovery of Kangleipak by Wangkhemcha Chingtamlen