Y.K. Shimray’s Poem ‘Tangkhul Ngalei’ – National Anthem

By: AS Shimreiwung

The poem Tangkhul Ngalei written by Y.K. Shimray’s has remained as one of the canonical works in Tangkhul literature. It has been popularly known for paying hefty tribute to Tangkhul’s life and identity. It is performed as an anthem during important occasions. This poetry was being used as a school textbook, that was included in Y.K Shimray’s poetry book Tangkhul Poetry: Book 1 reprinted in 1978-79.  Most of the Tangkhuls will find that the verse of this poetry is in Khokharum Laa ( Tangkhul hymn book) and mostly used by Baptist denomination, with the title ‘National Anthem’. It appears that these three verses  were originally written as poetry and make into hymn later on. 

The poem represents Tangkhul’s identity, culture, and social position that is not exposed to the outsider, as Shimreiwung (2014) stated “the significance of Y.K. Shimray’s  Tangkhul Ngalei lies in finding the place of Tangkhul’s identity in the universe of social condition marked by cultural diversity and wider exposure to the outside world, a time different from the past generations where the community had no encountered people from other cultures, especially the West”. 

The first verse of this poetry marks the identity and status of Tangkhuls in a modernist’s vision as reproduced below:

Kaphungtungli dolan sada.

Awon eina sari shaksai.

Kathar masi khanim ura;

Nawui naobing kalamahai.

(English free translation)

Palace built on mountain.

Dressed in flowers.

Fresh wind swirls around;

Your children are blessed.

The geography and wealth of Tangkhul are coming to the fore in this verse, where the author has indeed marked out the territory of Tangkhul country in the first line. The first stanza of this verse has distinctly stated that Tangkhuls are hill-men; they live in high mountains, which is a direct reference to the actual habitation choice of Tangkhul villagers. Further, the use of the word ‘dolan’, which can be translated as ‘palace’, high rise building, or storey house, indicates wealth and modernity. This term as not commonly used in folksongs or folktales; even if it used it  was in reference to the deity’s palace or Meitei maharaja’s residence in the Valley and not in references to common housing patterns of the Tangkhuls. If we look into the decade when this poetry may have been written, specifically the living conditions of Tangkhul during the 1960s and 1970s, it was an era marked by drastic changes in their standards of life. Historically, during this period, Tangkhuls had started to build a highrise house, or at least double storey buildings and relegates the old housing style. The context clearly shows references to modern living conditions of the Tangkhuls. Metaphorically, the term ‘dolan’ has also been used here to venerate the Tangkhuls as a wealthy community, which implicitly would also mean that Tangkhuls now are living in equal terms with the raja in the valley and deity’s of yore.

In the second stanza, flowers being used as metaphor for dressing patterns of the Tangkhuls have to do with wealth again. But, if we flowers for further relations with actual practices, Tangkhuls did use flowers forest trees in headgear for males, and also during Luira Phanit (Seed Sowing festival) flowers have intrinsic relations with festivities, which of course have been changing over time. The third and fourth stanzas have been changing over time. The third and fourth stanzas have indirect reference to nature and land of the Tangkhuls; looking into the punctuation styles, these two stanzas have been connected as one as well. Reference to ‘fresh winds’ clearly indicate the unpolluted natural habitations and forest in Tangkhul country.. However, the guardian of Tangkhuls has been ambiguous presented here, remaining as silent overseer; which the guardian is undoubtedly the ‘land’ of the Tangkhul country. But, the god, and not just as guardian in literal sense or symbolic reference. Deification of land and forest was not uncommon in traditional belief systems of the Tangkhuls, and in folksongs and folktales there were extensive reference to such notions, but here it may have certain elements of Chritian pantheon being projected in veiled manner. However, the true benefactor and main emphasis in these narratives is the Tangkhuls, ‘who live in palaces on high mountains’ ‘dressed in flowers’, and breathe ‘fresh air’. They have been projected as being ‘blessed’ and living happily in the laps of their loving guardian motherland.

The third verse in Tangkhul Ngalei further puts the Tangkhul in the highest position, of being at the top in everything. It can be considered as a ‘dream’ about the future, and artistic imaginations that have much to do with surrealistic images, rather the real situations.

Kaphung nawui chuimeithui

Horchamri yirkhamayei!

Nanaobingla chuimeithura

Leiyachingra tekhamatei!

(English free translation)

Your mountains are highest.

Bright and harmonious!

Your children will be tallest

Glory will remain forever!

The expressions being made and showered upon the Tangkhuls here indicate that this poetry is an ode to the land. The lines here are filled with comparisons in terms of height and glory, which the author has tried to exemplify land its children in tallest order. There appears to be no indirect connection, and an attempt to create semblance between land and people, when the authors described the mountains in Tangkhul country being the ‘highest’, and proclaiming their children will be ‘tallest’. It is not just a matter of stature between  the two, but an elevation of the community at the top order, making a proud claim that Tangkhuls and their land is higher than others. Then, there are the superfluous venerations of its glory, which no comparison and remaining in eternal state. It is indirectly a reference to the notions were common or popular in folktales, it must have come through the Christian ideas and texts as the author himself was a devout Christian like others converted Tangkhuls.

The fourth and last verse of Tangkhul Ngalei ends with the thumping assertion of Tangkhuls being the centre of the universe, and the land where all things begin. From the present context such claim, even if it is in artistic representation, may seem a little far fetched, but we also need to look into the context to make sense of such imaginations.

Kathemla haophok khavai ram.

Kahorla shophok khavai pam.

Nawui eina haophoksera.

Tangkhul Ngalei, Ishava Ram!

(English free translation)

Land where knowledge began.

Place where lights arise.

Everything begins from you.

Tangkhuls Land, My MotherLand!

In these lines, where the status of Tangkhuls is being constructed as being the beginning of all things in the ‘universe’, the claims made by the author about the ‘honour’ of the tribe may seem superfluous from contemporary points of view. However, looking into the context when this poem was written, the expressions here are based on certain historical circumstances that have happened during the colonial period. If we take the princely state of Manipur during the colonial as a ‘universe in itself’, then the superfluous claims being made here will make sense. The Tangkhul were the first were also the first community to be converted to Chritianity. The metaphor, ‘Beginning’ of light and ‘knowledge’ is in direct reference to these historical facts in Manipur’s past. Geographically, Ukhrul district is located in the eastern side of Manipur. So seen from the other parts of Manipur, it is the place where the ‘sun rise’, in view of which the author maybe making reference to this as well. The final assertion ‘ Tangkhul Land, My Mother Land’ is the culmination of every emotion being described, and presented in the above stanzas. 

The imagination of Tangkhul as ‘beginning’ of everything, and as a singular body is something that was absent in the oral narratives. Without much ado about the diversities that are apparent to any observer, Y.K Shimray made the astounding narration in written form about the life and identity of the Tangkhul as it has never into an ‘anthem’ and becoming part of Hymn book reserved for another testament to the fact that the readers and literate Tangkhuls have honoured such narratives as being sacred. The focal point has been ‘land’ being personified as ‘guardian’, ‘deity’, and finally declared as ‘mother’. Rootedness to one’s native place and deriving the ‘unity’ out of such is not uncommon in other cultures or patriotic songs. 

Disclaimer: The Arek do not claim ownership of this article.

This article is excerpt from: 

Shimreiwung, A. S. (2014). Print Culture and the Rise of Identity Consciousness in Oral Society: Trajectories in Conception of Community Identity in Tangkhul in Tangkhul Literature. In Encountering Modernity Situating the Tangkhul Nagas in Perspective. New Delhi: Chicken Neck.

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