Bishnupriya Manipuri language

Not to be confused with Meitei language.
Bishnupriya Manipuri
বিষ্ণুপ্রিয়া মণিপুরী (or ইমার ঠার Imar Thar)
Region Northeast India, Bangladesh, Burma and several other countries
Native speakers
120,000 (2001–2003)
Bengali alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bpy
Glottolog bish1244[1]

The Bishnupriya or Bishnupriya Manipuri (BPM) (বিষ্ণুপ্রিয়া মণিপুরী) is an Indian language spoken in parts of the Indian states of Assam, Tripura and others, as well as in the Sylhet region of Bangladesh, Burma, and other countries. Bishnupriya Manipuri language uses the Bengali alphabet as its writing system.

History and development

Bishnupriya Manipuri is spoken in parts of Assam and Tripura in India, in the Sylhet region of Bangladesh, Burma, and in several other countries. It is different from many Indian languages like Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, etc. The language originated and developed in Manipur and was originally confined to the surroundings of the Loktak Lake.[2] Other authorities such as An account of the valley of Manipore by Col. McCullock,[3] Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal by E. T. Dalton[4] and the Linguistic Survey of India by George Abraham Grierson[5] mention that the language was in existence in Manipur before the 19th century. Dr. Grierson refers to the language as "Bishnupuriya Manipuri", while some other writers call it simply "Bishnupriya".

A great majority of speakers of BPM fled from Manipur and took refuge in Assam, Tripura, Sylhet and Cachar during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries due to internal conflicts among the princes of Manipur and due to Burmese attack. Consequently, it was difficult for the small number of Bishnupriyas who remained in Manipur to retain their language in the face of the impact of Meitei, although in 1891 Dr. G.A. Grierson found the existence of a considerable number of speakers in two or three villages near Bishnupur, locally known as Lamangdong.[6] The language slowly started losing its ground in Manipur against a vast majority of Meiteis and is slowly facing its decay in Cachar and Bangladesh against a vast majority of Bengali-speakers. This language is still being spoken in Jiribam (a sub-division of Manipur),[7] Cachar (a district of Assam) and in some pockets in Bangladesh and Tripura.

Source and origin

The language is known to its speakers as Imar Thar (ইমার ঠার), meaning "Language of my Mother." They call themselves and their language Manipuri, and use the term Bishnupriya to distinguish them from other ethnic groups of Malla. The term Bishnupriya is most probably derived from Bishnupur (the ancient capital of Bishnupur, Mallabhum), along with the suffix -iya, meaning "people of Bishnupur".[8]

Orthodox Bishnupuriya or Bishnupriyas hold that the language was carried over to Manipur by some immigrants from Dvārakā and Hastinapura just after the Mahabharata war. It is further said that these immigrants were led by Babhruvahana, the son of Chitrangada and Arjuna, the third Pandava. Some scholars and history writers came to support the Mahabharata origin of Bishnupriya Manipuri from observation of the morphology, the vocables, and the phonology of the Bishnupriya Manipuri language.[9] They hold that BPM is highly influenced by Sanskrit and Maharastri as well as Sauraseni Prakrits. Dr. K. P. Sinha, who has done considerable research on Bishnupriya Manipuri, disagrees with the theory and is of the opinion that the language was originated through Magadhi Prakrita. It is found from his observations that the language has retained dominant characteristics of Magadhi. According to Dr Sinha, pronouns and declensional and conjugational endings seem to be same as or closely related to those of Maithili, Oriya, Bengali and Assamese. These forms of Oriya, Bengali and Assamese are, on their parts, derived from Magadhi Apabhramsa coming from the Magadhi Prakrita.[10]

However, the Bishnupriya Manipuri language is certainly not one of the Tibeto-Burman languages, but is closer to the Indo-Aryan group of languages with remarkable influence from Meitei both grammatically and phonetically. At a different stage of development of the language the Sauraseni, Maharashtri and Magadhi languages and the Tibeto-Burman languages exerted influence on it as well. So it was probably developed from Sanskrit, Sauraseni-Maharashtri Prakrit and Magadhi Prakrita.The Sauraseni-Maharastri relation can be traced by observing some characteristics of pronouns. The Magadhi element is also remarkable, as the language retains many characteristics of Magadhi. It can further be noted that Bishnupriya Manipuri retains much of the old (15th century to 17th century A.D.) Meitei sound vocabulary, as the majority of speakers of the language left Manipur during the first part of the 19th century.[11]


Bishnupuriya or Bishnupriya Manipuri have two dialects, namely Rajar Gang ("King's village") and Madai Gang ("Queen's village"). Unlike the dialects of other tribes, these dialects of Bishnupriya are not confined to distinct geographical areas; they rather exist side by side in the same localities. In Manipur, however, these two dialects were confined to well-defined territories. From the viewpoint of phonetics, Madai Gang is more akin to Assamese and Meitei, whereas Rajar Gang is more akin to Bengali. In vocabulary Madai Gang is more influenced by Meitei while Rajar Gang is more akin to Bengali and Assamese. The morphological differences between the two dialects are negligible.


Like other Indic languages, the core vocabulary of Bishnupriya Manipuri is made up of tadbhava words (i.e. words inherited over time from older Indic languages, including Sanskrit, including many historical changes in grammar and pronunciation), although thousands of tatsama words (i.e. words that were re-borrowed directly from Sanskrit with little phonetic or grammatical change) augment the vocabulary greatly. In addition, many other words were borrowed from languages spoken in the region either natively or as a colonial language, including Meitei, English, and Perso-Arabic.

Meitei elements in Bishnupriya Manipuri

Bishnupriya Manipuri retains the old eighteen sounds of Meitei. Of them, there were three vowels, such as α, i and u, thirteen consonants such as p, t, k, ph, th, kh, cʃ, m, n, ŋ, l, ʃ, h and two semi vowels, such as w and y. In later stage nine more sounds added to Meitei but Bishnupriya is not concerned with them, because the Bishnupriyas left Manipur during 1st part of 19th century. That is why Bishnupriya Manipuri retains the older sounds of Meitei, whereas in Meitei itself the sound system has under-gone various changes.[12] The most distinctive influence of Maitei language over Bishnupriya manipuri is formation of words starting with vowel soung 'aung' such as ঙা, ঙৌবা, ঙারল.

Connection with Assamese and Bengali languages

Although there are numerous dissimilarities between Bengali /Assamese and BPM, Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, a recognized Bengali phonetician, listed the BPM language to be a dialect of Bengali, whereas Dr. Maheswer Neog and Dr. Banikanta Kakti claimed it as a dialect of Assamese. Their assumptions later caused contradiction about the origin of Bishnupriya Manipuri language. But the assumptions were proven incorrect by scientific research and observation of morphology, vocabulary and phonology of BPM.


The orthodox Bishnupriyas claim that they have their own script, that is, the Devanagari script, which was used to write in the Bishnupriya language in its early years.

However, on introduction of modern education during the British period through the Bengali language the Bishnupriya Manipuri writers began to use the Purvanagari i.e. Assamese/Bengali script. This alphabet has consonant letters with dependent vowel signs (matras) as well as independent vowel letters. Punctuation marks and numerals are also used. Bishnupriya Manipuri is written from left to right and top to bottom, in the same manner as in English. Some of the consonants can combine with one another to make orthographic clusters (named conjuncts).



In Manipur the language is still spoken in the Jiribam sub-division. A large number of Bishnupriya Manipuri people settled in Assam ages ago, particularly in the districts of Cachar, Karimganj, Dullabcherra, Patherkandi and Hailakandi. These people are counted as one of the major groups of people in the Cachar and Karimganj districts. In Tripura, the Bishnupriya Manipuri population localities may be divided into a Dharmanagar sub-area, a Kailasahar sub-area, a Kamalpur sub-area and a West Tripura sub-area. In Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, there is a scattered Bishnupriya Manipuri population.

Outside of India, Bangladesh has the largest Bishnupriya Manipuri population. The main localities are Sylhet, Moulbivazar, Habiganj and the Sunamganj district. As per records, there were also a considerable number of the Bishnupriyas Manipuris living in local cities like Mymensingh, Rangamati of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and also at Tezgaon, Manipuri-para in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.

In Burma the Bishnupriya Manipuri areas are probably Mandalay, Amarpura etc. And in case of the United States of America, Canada, Germany, Middle East and Austria, there are a considerable number of Bishnupriya Manipuris settled there.



Ancient literature

A good stock of folk literatures of Bishnupriya Manipuri, which are older in origin, are handed down to this day through oral tradition. The ancient literature of Bishnupriya Manipuri is represented by folk stories, folk-songs, folk-poems, rhymes and proverbs. A rain-invoking song called Boron-dahanir Ela (বরন ডাহানির এলা, 1450-1600 A.D. [18]) and a song relating to the conjugal life of Madai and Soralel known as Madai Soralel Ela (মাদই সরারেলর এলা, 1500-1600[19]) are sometimes considered the most important. The language of the songs are archaic and are replete with words of Tibeto-Burman origin. These two songs are very important for the study of the cultural and linguistic history of Bishnupriya Manipuri. Besides these, there are songs which are sung by women who work in the fields. Proverbs form another important part of BPM folk literature.

Modern literature

The Bishnupriya Manipuris have established the apex literary organization of the community Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Parishad (1955), Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Sabha, Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Singlup, Pouri, Manipuri Theatre and many other organizations to encourage literary activities among the people. Serious literary culture of the BPM language began during the 2nd quarter of 20th century. In fact, the history of Manipuri literature began in 1925 with the literary magazine Jagaran (জাগরন) edited by Falguni Singha who was a Bishnupriya Social worker; this magazine published articles both in Bishnupriya and Meitei. The Manipuris of Surma valley formed their first formal association, Surma Valley Manipuri Society (later called Surma Valley Manipuri Association) in 1934. The members included the Meiteis, the Bishnupriyas and the Pangals (Manipuri Muslims). From 1933 a number of journals, e.g. Manipuri (1933), Mekhali (1938) and Kshatryajyoti (1944), fostered nationalism as well literary and cultural activities.A branch of modern BPM poetic literature, namely Vaishnava Padavali, based on Vaishnava philosophy, deserves special mention.

Bishnupriya Manipuri Wikipedia

There is a Wikipedia in Bishnupriya Manipuri with more than 23,000 articles as of August 2009. This makes it currently the language with the most articles in the Bengali script.

See also

Bishnupriya edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Notes and references

  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Bishnupriya". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. "Mayang, one of the languages spoken in the polyglot state of Manipur, may, however, be classed as a dialect of this language." – Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol I, 1907
  3. "They (Mayangs) amongst themselves speak their own language, which is a dialact of Hindee" – An Account of the Valley of Manipore by McCullock, 1849.
  4. "The present population of Manipur includes a tribe called Meiun who speak a language of Sanskrit derivation. They are now in a servile condition performing the duties of grass-cutters to their conquerors." – Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal by T.T. Dalton, 1872, page 48,49.
  5. Grierson, George A. (1903). Linguistic Survey of India. Volume V, Part 1, Indo-Aryan family. Eastern group. Specimens of the Bengali and Assamese languages. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India. p. 419. A tribe known as Mayang speaks a mongrel form of Assamese known by the same name… They are also known as Bishnupuriya Manipuris or Kalisa Manipuris
  6. Supplement 'Mayang', Linguistic Survey of India, 1891. Compiled by Sir G. A. Grierson, Vol V, page 419
  8. Bishnupriyas almost form a separate cast and are said to be the descendants of 120 Hindu families of different castes,[The Govt. of Assam Gazette, Vol 9 Part III' B.C Allen, 1907 wrote] who were broughtinto valley by Garib Nowaz in the later part of eighteenth century to teach the indigenous of the valley the customs of Hindus.
  9. Singha, Jagat Mohan & Singha, Birendra. The Bishnupriya Manipuris & Their Language. Silchar, 1976
  10. Dr. K.P. Sinha, An Etymological Dictionary of Bishnupriya Manipuri,Silchar, 1982
  11. Tribals and their Culture in Manipur and Nagaland by G. K. Ghose. Page 167.
  12. Dr. K.P. Sinha, The Bishnupriya Manipuri Language, Calcutta, 1981
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-08-12. Retrieved 2011-04-27.
  16. Cultural Heritage of North-East India/ Bidhan Singha,1999
  17. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-05. Retrieved 2011-04-27.
  18. "Rain Invoking Songs".
  19. "Madoi Soralel Songs".

Further reading

  1. Vasatatvar Ruprekha/ Dr. K. P. Sinha, Silchar, 1977
  2. Manipuri jaatisotta bitorko: ekti niropekkho paath /Ashim Kumar Singha, Sylhet,2001
  3. G. K. Ghose / Tribals and Their Culture in Manipur and Nagaland, 1982
  4. Raj Mohan Nath / The Background of Assamese Culture, 2nd edn, 1978
  5. Sir G. A. Grierson / Linguistic Survey of India, Vol-5,1903
  6. Dr. K. P. Sinha / An Etymological Dictionary of Bishnupriya Manipuri, 1982
  7. Dr. M. Kirti Singh / Religious developments in Manipur in the 18th and 19th centuuy, Imphal, 1980
  8. Singha, Jagat Mohan & Singha, Birendra / The Bishnupriya Manipuris & Their Language, silchar, 1976
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