Manipur: Discovering Northeast India's Cultural Gem

ManipurDiscovering Northeast India's Cultural Gem

Located in northeast India, Manipur is a state filled with cultural richness and historical significance. Its capital, Imphal, serves as the anchor of this region, bordered by Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam, and parts of Myanmar.

Spanning over 22,327 square kilometres, Manipur is a melting pot of cultures, with the Meitei language as its official tongue, reflecting its diverse linguistic landscape.

Over the centuries, Manipur has been a vital hub for trade and cultural exchange across Asia. Despite its scenic beauty, Manipur has faced challenges, from princely rule to integration into independent India, which have shaped its unique blend of heritage and aspiration.

Let's delve into the captivating world of Manipur to explore its distinctive essence and significance further.

Historical Overview

Manipur, also known as the "city of jewels," has a long and colourful history. It was once called Kangleipak and has roots dating back to ancient times, even mentioned in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The stories of Manipur's past, written in books called Puyas or Puwaris, tell us about its dynasties and folklore.

From the time of Ningthou Kangba to the period of British rule, Manipur has seen many changes in leadership and culture.

Even though it was colonised by the British and later became part of independent India, Manipur's resilience shone through as it managed to hold onto its unique heritage, a testament to the strength of its cultural identity.

Manipur's History
Manipur's HistoryManipur's History

However, after colonial rule ended, Manipur faced new problems, such as rebellion and conflicts between different ethnic groups. From 1980 to 2004, the government labelled Manipur a "disturbed area" under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, highlighting the region's troubled past.

In recent times, clashes between ethnic groups, like the Meitei and Kuki people in 2023, have added to the challenges faced by Manipur. Despite all this, Manipur continues to stand strong, with its rich culture and resilient people defining its identity.

Geographical Landscape

Located in the northeast of India, Manipur boasts a stunning mix of mountains, valleys, and rivers in its geography. Covering 22,327 square kilometres, it shares borders with Nagaland to the north, Mizoram to the south, Assam to the west, and Myanmar to the east.

The terrain includes four main river basins: the Barak River Basin (Barak Valley) to the west, the Manipur River Basin in central Manipur, the Yu River Basin in the east, and a portion of the Lanye River Basin in the north, shaping the region's diverse ecosystems.

With dense forests covering approximately 77.2% of its land, Manipur boasts a wide array of flora, such as teak, pine, and bamboo.


The state's climate, shaped by its landscape, provides enjoyable temperatures all year round, reaching up to 32°C in summer and cooling down in winter. With an average annual rainfall of 1,467.5 mm, Manipur's fertile soil is well-nourished, sustaining its agriculture.

Yet, the state faces challenges from climate change, experiencing changes in weather patterns and temperature variations. Despite these environmental hurdles, Manipur's stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife remain enchanting for both locals and tourists.

Cyber Awareness Programme held in Chennai

Diverse Demographics

Manipur, home to 2,855,794 people as per the 2011 census, reflects a diverse population mix.

The majority, 57.2%, resides in valley districts, mainly occupied by the Meitei-speaking community. Conversely, hill districts accommodate the remaining 42.8%, housing various ethno-linguistic groups like Nagas, Kukis, and smaller tribes. 

While Meiteis dominate the Imphal Valley, Nagas and Kuki-Zo tribes prevail in surrounding hills, each with distinct languages and cultures. The state's linguistic diversity extends beyond Meitei, the official language, encompassing Sino-Tibetan tongues like Thadou and Tangkhul, among others.

Additionally, a minority speaks Indo-European languages such as Nepali and Sylheti.

The Directorate of Language Planning and Implementation's efforts aim to uphold and promote these linguistic treasures, evident through initiatives like Meitei language day and ongoing advocacy for linguistic recognition and preservation.

Manipur’s Religious Diversity

Religion in Manipur reflects a diverse tapestry, with Hinduism and Christianity as the predominant faiths. From 1961 to 2011, the Hindu population decreased from 62% to 41%, while Christianity surged from 19% to 41%. 

The Meitei-speaking community encompasses Hindus, Sanamahists, Meitei Christians, and Meitei Pangals, while other indigenous tribes largely adhere to Christianity. Hinduism has deep historical roots, with Meitei ethnicity forming the majority Hindu group, especially following Vaishnavite Hinduism, evident in ancient temples dating back to the 13th century. 

Christianity, introduced by Protestant missionaries in the 19th century, is now widespread in rural and hilly areas, especially among tribal communities. Islam, represented by the Meitei Pangals, accounts for about 8.3% of the population.

Sanamahism, the indigenous religion of the Meitei people, centres on ancestral and animistic worship, with Lainingthou Sanamahi as a key deity. Other religions, like tribal folk beliefs such as Heraka and Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak, further enrich Manipur's religious diversity.

Challenges and Governance

The governance structure of Manipur revolves around a unicameral legislature consisting of 60 elected members, with 19 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.

The state also elects two representatives to the Lok Sabha and one to the Rajya Sabha of the Indian Parliament. These elections occur every five years under the supervision of the Election Commission of India. Additionally, an autonomous council operates within the state.

However, despite governmental efforts, civil unrest persists, driven by various social movements like the Meitei classical language and scheduled language movements. Security remains a pressing issue, marked by conflicts between Indian security forces and insurgent groups, as well as inter-tribal violence.

The emergence of splinter groups within armed factions adds complexity to the situation, leading to ongoing tensions and violence. While there has been a reduction in fatalities since 2009, incidents such as explosions and clashes continue to challenge peace and stability in the region.

Economic Overview

Manipur's economy, valued at approximately ₹10,188 crore in 2012–2013, hinges on agriculture, forestry, and commerce. Positioned as India's "Gateway to the East," it facilitates trade with Southeast Asia through key towns such as Moreh and Tamu.

Renowned for hosting the highest number of craftspersons in the region, Manipur also holds considerable potential in hydroelectric power generation.

Economic Sector
Economic SectorEconomic Sector

Its favourable climate sustains a diverse array of crops, including Lychee, Cashew, and Bamboo, which play a significant role in India's bamboo industry.

Nevertheless, smallholding farmers, notably women, encounter hurdles attributed to climate change. Despite these challenges, Manipur's resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit continue to drive its economy forward.

Transportation Infrastructure

Manipur's transportation infrastructure revolves around Tulihal Airport, recently renamed Bir Tikendrajit Airport, serving as the state's primary airport connecting to major Indian cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, and Agartala.

As the second-largest airport in the northeast region of India, it holds a crucial position in the logistical network of the area.

Bir Tikendrajit Airport
Bir Tikendrajit AirportBir Tikendrajit Airport

National Highways NH-39 and NH-53 serve as vital links between Manipur and the rest of the country, with NH-39 connecting to Dimapur in Nagaland and NH-53 to Silchar in Assam. Despite a substantial road network covering 7,170 km, road conditions often fall short.

Nevertheless, plans for infrastructure enhancement are in progress, including the proposed Trans-Asian Railway (TAR), which would pass through Manipur, connecting India to countries like Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.

While Manipur presently, has one operational railway station in Jiribam, efforts are underway to construct the Imphal railway station, further enhancing the state's connectivity.


Tourism Treasures

Manipur beckons with its rich culture and natural marvels, attracting tourists from October to February for the pleasant weather.

The region brims with cultural heritage, including martial arts, dance, and sculpture. Tourists can marvel at unique sights like the seasonal Shirui Lily plant in Ukhrul, the scenic landscapes of Dzüko Valley, and the majestic Sangai (Brow antlered deer).

Keibul Lamjao National Park, housing the world's sole floating national park, shelters endangered species like the brow antlered deer.

Tourist Attractions
Tourist AttractionsTourist Attractions

Imphal, the capital, blends Meitei culture with modern conveniences, boasting landmarks such as Kangla Fort and Khuman Lampak Sports Complex.

Tranquil Loktak Lake, with its floating islands and diverse wildlife, offers a serene escape, while natural wonders like Sadu Chiru waterfall and Tharon Cave beckon adventure seekers. Manipur, with its rich tapestry of history, culture, and natural beauty, awaits exploration.

Education and Sports Overview

Education in Manipur spans a wide spectrum of institutions, including those administered by the state and central government as well as private organisations.

English is the primary medium of instruction, and students follow the 10+2+3 system, enabling them to pursue either general or professional degree programs post the Higher Secondary Examination.

Noteworthy universities in the state encompass Manipur University, National Institute of Technology, Manipur and many more.

Manipur University
Manipur UniversityManipur University

Notably, Manipur houses India's pioneering floating elementary school, the Loktak Elementary Floating School in Loktak Lake, showcasing innovation in educational infrastructure.

Alongside academic endeavours, Manipur boasts a rich sports tradition, with indigenous games like Mukna wrestling, Yubi lakpi, and Oolaobi captivating locals. The state holds historical significance in polo, with the Imphal Polo Ground recognised as the world's oldest polo ground.

Imphal Polo Ground
Imphal Polo GroundImphal Polo Ground

Furthermore, plans for establishing the National Sports University in Manipur underscore the region's dedication to nurturing athletic prowess and fostering a vibrant sports culture.

Vibrant Culture of Manipur

Art and culture in Manipur thrive in diverse expressions, delighting both locals and visitors alike. A captivating facet is the lively realm of secular theatre. Unlike religious themes, Manipur's secular theatre, including Shumang Leela and Phambak Leela, delves into everyday life and human experiences.

Shumang Leela, characterised by its simplicity, captivates audiences with its intimate portrayals, while Phambak Leela fuses indigenous and Western influences on proscenium stages.

Over time, Manipur's theatrical landscape has blossomed, boasting groups like the Manipur Dramatic Union and Chorus Repertory Theatre, presenting a range of plays beyond historical narratives.

Vibrant Culture of Manipur
Vibrant Culture of ManipurVibrant Culture of Manipur

Furthermore, Manipuri dance, also known as Jagoi, is renowned for its classical performances, especially the love-inspired Radha-Krishna dance drama called Raslila.

Festivals like the Sangai Festival and Ningol Chakouba serve as vibrant celebrations of Manipur's rich heritage, drawing global tourists and nurturing communal ties. 

The art and culture of Manipur serve as a dynamic reflection of its traditions and history, captivating audiences worldwide.


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