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Sanamahism (ꯁꯅꯥꯃꯍꯤꯖꯝ)
The Symbol of Sanamahism (Source:Wakoklon Heelel Thilen Salai Amailon Pukok Puya)
The Symbol of Sanamahism (Source:Wakoklon Heelel Thilen Salai Amailon Pukok Puya)
Total population
approx. 235,000[1]
Regions with significant populations
Manipur, India
Puyas written on religious beliefs in Meitei Mayek
Meitei language

Sanamahism (Meitei: ꯁꯅꯥꯃꯍꯤ ꯂꯥꯏꯅꯤꯡ), also known as Meitei religion, Manipuri religion or Kanglei religion, is an animistic, ancestor-worshipping, shaman-led Indian religious tradition[n 1] found among the Meitei people in Manipur state in India.[2][3] The term is derived from Sanamahi (lit. 'Spreading like liquid gold everywhere'), the most important Meitei deity.[4]

Broadly, Sanamahism worships elements of nature, such as fire, water and mountains, with notable temple and worship rituals at the Loi village of Andro, east of Imphal, according to Bertil Lintner.[2] The details of the identity of Lainingthou Sanamahi – sun, fire, or an aspect of Sidaba Mapu – along with other aspects of the Sanamahism beliefs, practices and the history, are unclear and disputed. Since the conversion of Meiteis to Hinduism by the then-king in the 18th century, Sanamahism is practised alongside Hinduism in most Meitei homes in Imphal, the capital of Kangleipak. However, many Meiteis outside Imphal did not convert, and practice only Sanamahism. In every Meitei home, including those who are also Hindus, there are two sacred spaces where Sanamahi deities are worshipped, viz., a corner in the north-west called Sanamahi Kachin dedicated to Lainingthou and Leimarel Sidabi and next to the fireplace or hearth (Phung-ga) in the kitchen for the Goddess Emoinu, the goddess of well-being and prosperity. This is seen in modern Meitei families who identify with Sanamahism.[4] According to Kanglei mythology, life began from water in the form of "Namu Mitam Nga" commonly known as the "Ngamu" fish.[5][6]


The first mentions are found in the Cheitharol Kumbaba, the Court Chronicles of the kings of Kangleipak (old name of Manipur), starting from the king Template:ILL, who ruled for more than a century, from 33–154 CE.

A recently built Sanamahi temple, Kangla Fort, Imphal East, Manipur.


Sanamahism is a folk religion. It competes with and co-exists with Vaishnavism – a tradition of Hinduism – among the Meitei people. Opponents and rebel groups have sought to revive Sanamahism and related practices to emphasize the Manipuri heritage, along with seeking a ban on Bengali script and replacing it with the old Meitei script which was forcefully banned during the reign of King Garibniwaz.[7][3]


Sanamahism is also known as Sanamahi Laining, for it originated from the ancient kingdom of Kangleipak.[8]


Sanamahism has revived after a long dormant period of four centuries, and is currently practiced by 8% of Manipur'population according to the 2011 census.


Many Sanamahi practices are focused on food offerings to deities, combined with hymns, as well as oracular ritual in which priestesses become possessed by a god or goddess. An offering formula to call up the gods, uttered by a priestess over a body of water during the Lai Haraoba festival, goes:

Incarnate Lord, Lairen (Dragon) Deity Pakhangba, O golden one,
Goddess of the waters, Ruler of the rivers:
Golden Goddess (Laisana) fair and beautiful one:
For you, Lord and Lady, in order to call up your souls,
We have poured the rice on the finest of banana leaves,
And on it have placed the fertile egg and the langthrei buds.
We do not offer you the ordinary khayom (offering packet), we offer you your own khayoms,
And we have tied them with the seven bamboo strips.
Which (represent) the seven days of the week.
We offer you the khayoms as they are tied thus.
Lord and Lady, we beseech you,
Ascend from within the khayoms, riding along the hiris.[9]

Some esoteric practices are also a part of Sanamahism, such as the use of mantras for various purposes. The mystical text Sanamahi Naiyom provides several formulas, such as a mantra that is believed to stop rain: HUNG KRUNG HUNG-KRUNG TA (8x) AH (2x) CHAT HUK (2x) HING HING HUK SU SA HING HING LIK SAL LIT HING MA PAN.[10]

Religious festivals[edit]


Main deities[edit]

There are five main deities in Sanamahism:

Related deities[edit]

Besides the five main deities, there are innumerable gods and goddesses, playing significant roles in the ancient pantheon, as well as in mythology. Examples include Panthoibi, Lainingthou Nongpok Ningthou, Lainingthou Koubru, Ibudhou Marjing, Thongalel, Wangbren, Eputhou Thangjing, Kounu, Nongshaba, Nongthang Leima, and Irai Leima.

Umang Lai[edit]

Besides, there are other deities associated with sacred groves called Umang Lai including Konthoujam Lairembi gi Khubam, Ima Tamphaton Petangaa and Chothe Thangwai Pakhangba groves.

Ancestral deities[edit]

There are also deities for each clan (Yek Salai) and family (Yumnak), called Apokpa.

Divine figures[edit]

Though Sanarembi is not a deity, she is a divine figure in the religious chanting of hymns in Lai Haraoba festival.

See also[edit]


  1. 2001 Census
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bertil Lintner (2015). Great Game East: India, China, and the Struggle for Asia's Most Volatile Frontier. Yale University Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-300-19567-5.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Otojit Kshetrimayum 2009, pp. 17-34.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Saroj Nalini Parratt 1974, pp. 17-18.
  5. Asha Gupta, Biodiversity conservation -- India, Northeastern (2007), p. 232
  6. "The tradition of Ngamu Usin of the Meetei Race of Kangleipak". Retrieved 6 December 2020. The 'Namu Mitam Nga' is the first living being created in form and shape of ... The Sanamahi Lainingthou created several living beings in the aim of ... sorrows etc. of the groom for his life upon the head of the Ngamu fish
  7. Bertil Lintner (2015). Great Game East: India, China, and the Struggle for Asia's Most Volatile Frontier. Yale University Press. pp. 142–143. ISBN 978-0-300-19567-5.
  8. Otojit Kshetrimayum 2009.
  9. Saroj Parratt (1997). The Pleasing of the Gods: Meitei Lai Haraoba. Vikas. p. 77. ISBN 8125904166.
  10. Soibam Birajit (2014). Meeyamgi Kholao: Sprout of Consciousness. ARECOM. p. 103.


  1. Some scholars group it under Burmese folk religions.


  • Otojit Kshetrimayum (2009), "Women and Shamanism in Manipur and Korea: A Comparative Study", Indian Anthropologist, 39 (1/2): 17–34, ISSN 0970-0927, JSTOR 41920088
  • 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
  • Hodson, T.C. (2015), The Meitheis, Ruby Press & Co., ISBN 978-93-82395-56-0
  • Saroj Nalini Parratt (1974), The Religion of Manipur: Beliefs, Rituals and Historical Development, Australian National University Press
  • Saroj N. Arambam Parratt; John Parratt (2001), "The Second 'Women's War' and the Emergence of Democratic Government in Manipur", Modern Asian Studies, 35 (4): 905–919, doi:10.1017/S0026749X0100405X, JSTOR 313195
  • Sohini Ray (2009), "Writing the Body: Cosmology, Orthography, and Fragments of Modernity in Northeastern India", Anthropological Quarterly, 82 (1): 129–154, doi:10.1353/anq.0.0047, JSTOR 25488260, S2CID 140755509
  • Singh, Dr. Saikhom Gopal (2015), The Meeteis of Manipur: A Study in Human Geography, Ruby Press & Co., ISBN 978-93-82395-21-8
  • Singh, Dr. Saikhom Gopal (2015), Population Geography of Manipur, Ruby Press & Co., ISBN 978-93-82395-25-6


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