Manipura

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This article is part of the main article named Arjuna's Pilgrimage. Readers are advised to read it first.

This article describes the long pilgrimage journey of Arjuna from Indraprastha to various places in ancient Indian peninsula. In this journey Arjuna is mentioned as travelling to a city named Manipura. My analysis in this article shows that this city lied in Kalinga territories (coastal Orissa).

The gateway into Kalinga

After visiting the confluence of Nanda and Aparananda rivers, Arjuna proceeded along the river Ganga to see all the sacred places in the country of Vanga (Bengal and also ventured into Kalinga (coastal-Orissa) that lied to the south of Vanga. However the Brahmanas following him stopped at the gate of the kingdom of Kalinga. Some Puranas mention that the (northern) gate of the kingdom of Kalinga was the river Vaitarani (River_Baitarani). There is a myth that that river is the gateway towards the underworld or hell ruled by Yama, the god of the underworld, as southern direction is considered as the direction of Yama and of the underworld. This could be the reason why Brahmanas bid farewell to Arjuna and desisted from proceeding any further. Another reason is that the territories beyond that (to the south of Vaitarani) where Vedic religion was sparingly followed, was not well known for the travelers from Kuru-Panchala kingdoms who followed the Vedic religion. Hence the fear of unknown territories might have prompted the Brahmanas to stop there.

Manipura.jpg
The map shows the Vaitarani River, the Manipura Village, the Manipura City, Manipura territories lying as an independent territory within Kalinga territories , the territories of other kingdoms, Mahendra Mountains, the location of the five sacred waters in the southern ocean (south of Puri), the location of places named Gokarna near Kalinga.

Mahendragiri

Arjuna continued further and probably crossing Vaitarani, reached the ocean accompanied by his attendants. He traveled along the coat-line, through the country of the Kalingas. He saw Mahendra mountains. During the Mahabharata-era, the whole of the mountain range (Eastern_Ghats) that lied to the west of Kalinga (coastal-Orissa) was known as Mahendra Mountains. It was the natural western boarder for Kalinga, which had sea for its eastern boarder. A mountain peak in Eastern Ghats, in southern-Orissa is still known as Mahendra-giri, meaning the Mahendra mountain(Coordinates: 18°58′28″N 84°22′05″E). The Mahendra mountain range is related to sage Parasurama who spend his last days of ascetic life here. Mahendragiri, means the great and best mountain or //the mountain named after the great Indra (the king of the Devas).

The city of Manipura

Mani-pura means, (Mani:- name of a precious-gem; Pura:- city) the city of Mani, the city of gems, the jewl-city or the city named after a precious-stone. It can also be called Manipuri since the word Pura or Puri both means, the city. The location of Manipura is highly debated. Often the north-eastern state of India, viz. Manipur is considered as the location of Manipura mentioned in this passage of Mahabharata. This location is problematic because Manipura was a city. It cannot be a vast region as large as a state like Manipur. Secondly, the geography mentioned in Mahabharata clearly indicate that it is within or close to the Kalinga territory (i.e. coastal-Orissa) and near to the sea. The city of Manipura thus lied in the valley of Mahendra mountain ranges and close to sea-shore. It is possible that people in the north-eastern state of Manipura where originally migrants from this Kalinga city named Manipura. The names like Brahmini river, Brahmagiri, Brahmapur (Behrampur) in this locality indicates that the people of Brhamaputra river and the modern nation Burma (a corruption of the word Brahma) too were originally from this region. People of Manipura city in Kalinga might have migrated along with these Brahma tribe to reach the Manipur state, that borders Burma.

There is a village named Manipura, a river named Manipura and an ancient-port city named Manikapatana in Kendrapara district of Orissa.

Manipura River

kendrapara.jpg

The Manipura river is a dis-tributary of Brahmani_River in Orissa. As Brahmini river joins Baitarani, it splits into two dis-tributaries; one joins Baitarani as Brahmini and the other joins the sea as Manipura river. Manipura river joins the sea forming a natural-harbor, that could serve as the sea-port of Manipura. One the northern bank of this Manipura river is a place named Rajhagarh. The place-name literally means the house of the king. This could be where the palace of the king of Manipura stood. Now it is inside the Bhitarkanika_National_Park, where Saltwater_Crocodile are found. (Interestingly, the subsequent travel narrative or Arjuna contains his encounter with crocodiles. This makes one wonder if this event took place at Manipura itself.). Other candidate location of Manipura city includes Rajnagar and Raj Kanika both within 20 Km of the Manipura river and within 40 km from the Manipura village. Rajnagar means the city of the king or the capital city. Raj Kanika could be a corrupt form of Raja-Kanyaka which would then mean (the place of) the princess.

Manipura Village

Coordinates: 20°33'48"N 86°22'17"E

The village of Manipura in Kendrapara district of Orissia. Manipura village lies on a river named Gobari. This river flows directly into the sea. Manipuri village is 10 km west of Kendrapara town and is 50 km west of Manipura dis-tributary of Brahmini river. This village seems to be part of the Manipura kingdom. The name of this village is the footprint of the ancient territory of Manipura. The place where Gobari river joins the sea viz. Jambu is another candidate for Manipura city where there is a natural harbor.

ManipuraVillage.jpg
Locations bearing the footprint of the Manipura kingdom. Manipura village, Manikapatana port-city, Rajhagarh, Raj Kanika, Raj Nagar and Manipura River. The map also shows some natural harbors and places where salt water crocodiles are found. Click to Enlarge

Manikapatana

Coordinates: 20°36'36"N 86°38'45"E

This is an archeological site which is only 30 km east of the Manipura village, lying on the shores of Brahmini river. Manika-patana means the city of Manika or Mani and thus can be interpreted as Mani-pura, which also means the city of Mani. Mani, Manika or Manikya is the name of one among the nine types of precious-stones known to the ancient world. However, the local folklore derive the name of Manikapatana from a lady named Manika. Manikapatana was also a sea-port of the ancient world. Archeological excavations at this site reveal that it had trade relations with Rome, China and south-Indian port-cities at least since 1st century BCE. During the time of Mahabharata (3000 BC) it could have been an emerging port-city. Mani or precious gems could have been one among the items traded here, giving the city its name. From sea, at night, an illuminated city will glow like a precious stone or Mani. This could be another etymological explanation for Manipura, the city that looks like a precious stone (from sea). It is not clear if the migration of the ancient Manipura people (of Orissa) who now settled in Manipur state of India was through land or through sea. It could be through both land and sea as well.

Dakshina Kalinga

There are two more candidate-locations for Manipura; but not having the name Manipura, but instead have the name Kalingapatna, meaning the city of Kalinga, assuming that Manipura was a Kalinga port-city. One Kalingapatna lies to the east of [wikipedia:Mahendragiri,_Orissa Mahendra-giri]. Another Kalingapatna lies to the east of Srikakulam. Both lies on the sea shore and both are in northern Andhra_Pradesh. This region was known as southern-Kalinga or Dakshina Kalinga. In Dravida language Dakshina Kalinga can also be called Ten-Kalinga. (Ten: Tekku or Dakshina or south). This could have shortened to become Telinga and Telingana, which is now the name of this region in Andhra_Pradesh.

Princess Chitrangada

The ruler of Manipura was then king Chitravahana. He had a daughter named Chitrangada. Arjuna married princess Chitrangada and they had a son named Vabhruvahana. Chitravahana, it seems, had no sons but had only one daughter viz. princess Chitrangada, as his heir. Chitrangada was thus made a Putrika. Hence Chitrangada was married to Arjuna on condition that if a son is born to them he should be considered as heir to the throne of Manipura. Hence Vabhruvahana lived with his grandfather and mother and became the king of Manipura. The narration at Mbh.1.216 mentions that Arjuna lived at Manipura for three years. :- Taking Chitravahana's daughter as his wife, the son of Kunti resided in that city for three years. When Chitrangada at last gave birth to a son, Arjuna embraced that handsome princess affectionately. And taking leave of the king her father, he set out on his wanderings again. However at Mbh.1.218 it is mentioned that he wandered to see many places and returned to see Chitrangada again:- Arjuna became desirous of once more beholding Chitrangada. He, therefore, proceeded towards the city of Manipura. Arrived there, he beheld on the throne the son he had begotten upon Chitrangada, and who was called by the name of Vabhruvahana. Seeing Chitrangada once more, Arjuna proceeded, O monarch, towards the spot called Gokarna.

Mahabharata mentions that total duration of Arjuna's pilgrimage is twelve years. However it is highly likely that this journey was only two years long. Arjuna was spending his time wandering around, till Panchali, the common wife of the five Pandavas, by turn would live as his wife, after living as wives of his two elder brothers viz. Yudhisthira and Bhima respectively, in two successive years. There is no reason for Arjuna to wander around for twelve years. In the pretext of a pilgrimage, Arjuna was searching for potential mates. His meeting with Ulupi at Gangadwara (Haridwar) lasted only for one day. Hence it is likely that his meeting with Chitrangada at Manipura lasted only a day. However he returned to see Chitrangada once again. If by this time his son Vabhruvahana was born, then this could be after ten months or one year. If we can believe the narration of Mahabharata, Arjuna's meeting with Ulupi was based on the sole initiative of Ulupi herself. Ulupi's parents were not mentioned as involved in this. There is no mention of Ulupi's father, viz. the Naga king Kauravya welcoming Arjuna to his palace or asking him to stay, where as Chitrangada's father viz. king Chitravahana is mentioned as warmly interacting with Arjuna and treating him as a guest. Hence Arjuna could have stayed at Manipura for a longer duration.

Manipura and Kalinga

There is every indication that the Manipura kingdom or the territories controlled by the kings at Manipura city lied within the Kalinga territories as an independent state. Kalinga applied as a region rather than a political kingdom can thus contain several such independent kingdoms. Minipura was one of them. Mahabharata also mentions about other Kalinga kingdoms in this Kalinga region. Some kingdoms were allied to Duryodhana rather than with the Pandavas and took part in the Kurukshetra War against the Pandavas. One version of Mahabharata mentions that Duryodhana had a wife from Kalinga. The Kalinga tribes allied with Duryodhana had some connection with the Kamboja tribe where as the kings of Manipura had a Naga-Dravida affiliation.

The Southern Ocean

Mbh.1.217:- Then Arjuna went to the sacred waters on the banks of the southern ocean, all adorned with the ascetics residing there. And there lay scattered five such regions where also dwelt many ascetics. But those five waters themselves were shunned by all of them. Those sacred waters were called Agastya, and Saubhadra and Pauloma of great holiness, and Karandhama of great propitiousness yielding the fruits of a horse-sacrifice unto those that bathed there, and Bharadwaja, that great washer of sins.

From Manipura, Arjuna went to the banks of southern ocean. The southern ocean during Mahabharata period could mean:- the sea that can be seen from the southern shores of Kalinga (coastal-Orissa) that can be seen from places in Orissa like Konark and Puri. In this region, sea-shore lies in east-west direction and the see is seen to be in the south. The sea beyond the southern tip of Indian peninsula, that can be seen from Kanyakumari in Tamilnadu too was called the southern ocean. Similarly the sea to the south of Prabhasa (Somnath, Gujarat) too was considered as the southern ocean. In the first case the southern ocean was just the Bay_Of_Bangal, n the second case the Indian_Ocean and in the third case the Arabian_Sea. The first case is very strong, since, in a subsequent chapter, Arjuna is mentioned as returning back from the southern-ocean to see Chitrangada once again. In the first case, this return is easily possible, within a weeks time. Konark is around 80 km and Puri is around 100 km south of Manipura village. Both were reachable from Manipura Village in a matter of two days, assuming a walking speed of 5 km per hour and 10 hours of walking per day. If Arjuna went to Kanyakumari instead, this forward and backward trip would take him around 4 months.

The name Puri also means the city, probably a remnant of the name Manipuri. Interestingly in Puri there are five places collectively known as the Pancha-tirtha, (Pancha:- five; tirtha:- sacred-water) meaning the five sacred waters. The names of the five sacred waters however differ from the narration in Mahabharata. They are:- Indradyumna Tank, Markandeya Tank, Swetaganga, the Sea and Rohini Kunda.

The Crocodiles

That foremost one among the Kurus, beholding those five sacred waters, and finding them uninhabited, and ascertaining also that they were shunned by the virtuous ascetics dwelling around, asked those pious men..The ascetics replied, There dwell in these waters five large crocodiles which take away the ascetics that may happen to bathe in them.

The mention of sacred waters filled with crocodiles seems to be true. In the area around this region, especially in the Bhitarkanika_National_Park plenty of Saltwater crocodiles are found. The sacred waters are mentioned as being on the banks of sea. Hence they will be filled with salt water. Hence these water-bodies will also be infested with salt-water crocodiles. Hence the location of the five sacred waters mentioned in this narration, if not the Pancha-tirthas in Puri, will be within or around the Bhitarkanika_National_Park.

The Apsaras

Arjuna, though dissuaded by them went to behold those waters. Arrived at the excellent sacred water called Saubhadra after a great Rishi, the brave scorcher of all foes suddenly plunged into it to have a bath. As soon as that tiger among men had plunged into the water a great crocodile that was in it seized him by the leg. Arjuna, seized the crocodile and dragged it forcibly to the shore. Then that crocodile became transformed into a beautiful damsel bedecked with ornament.

Arjuna, in spite of the warning by the sages went to bath in those sacred waters. He went to Saubhadra-tirtha one among the five sacred waters. While bathing, a crocodile seized him by leg. Arjuna dragged it into the shore. This much seems to be true and rest, the imagination of the myth makers. The myth goes on like this:- The crocodile that Arjuna dragged by force into the shore transformed into an Apsara!

Apsaras were a tribe allied to the Gandharvas. They were exceedingly beautiful and seen close to water bodies. The word Apsara (Apa:- water; sara:- Lake) indicate that they are seen close to lakes and other water bodies. One theory is that they were female Gandharvas. In Mahabharata any beautiful women of unknown or non-Vedic ethnic origin is mentioned as an Apsara. It is speculated that they were originally beautiful fisher-women who stayed close to rivers, lakes and water-bodies where fish can be caught easily. While fisher-men went into deep sea for catching fish, women chose to catch fish from such water-bodies in the land close to the sea or belonging to a river (like Saraswati). Hence they predominately belonged to the ancient Matsya tribe (fishermen tribe) that inhabited the Saraswati river basin at the dawn of the civilization. To strengthen this fact we have in Mahabharata, the history of Chedi king Uparichara Vasu whose wife Adrika, belonging to the Matsya tribe (fisher-women) was mentioned as an Apsara.

The name of the Apsara is mentioned as Varga. The myth goes on and says that Varga and her four friends, viz. Saurabheyi and Samichi and Vudvuda and Lata, all Apsaras, were cursed by a certain Brahmana and thus turned them into crocodiles. The five Apsaras thus started residing in the five sacred waters, after they were advised by Narada, that Arjuna would come there in future and deliver them from the curse if they stayed there! This is a poorly crafted myth which reveals its impossibility and artificiality very clearly.

Who were these five Apsaras then? Since one of the main objective of Arjuna in his journey was meeting with women, these Apsaras seems to be five beautiful and young Apsara ladies (or five beautiful and young fisher-women) who interacted with Arjuna, probably during the time when princess Chitrangada was pregnant with his baby. Arjuna probably met them as he visited the crocodile-infested sites. This is a likely scenario:- The Apsara a.ka. fisher-women Varga was catching fish in one of those crocodile-infested waters for her lively-hood, though staying away from the water. Due to crocodiles no body ventured into it. Thus it was useful as a fishing spot. Arjuna, seeing the beautiful lady, boldly went into the water to show her his bravery. The poor crocodile then caught Arjuna by leg, exactly as he anticipated. Arjuna then pulled it into the shore and killed it easily as he was a skilled warrior. The lady were then extremely impressed by him. She also introduced him to her four other friends who were fishing in other water-bodies. He easily slew the crocodiles in all of these waters, making those waters crocodile free and useful for taking bath.

At Mbh.1.218, Apsara Varga tells to Arjuna:- 'O sinless one, true it is that I have today been delivered by thee. But those four friends of mine are still within the other waters here. O hero, do a good deed by delivering them also' Vaisampayana continued, Then Arjuna, cheerfully delivered all of them from that curse. Rising from the waters they all regained their own forms. Those Apsaras then, all looked as before. Freeing those sacred waters from the danger for which they had been notorious, and giving the Apsaras leave to go where they chose, Arjuna became desirous of once more beholding Chitrangada. He, therefore, proceeded towards the city of Manipura. Arrived there, he beheld on the throne the son he had begotten upon Chitrangada, and who was called by the name of Vabhruvahana. Seeing Chitrangada once more, Arjuna proceeded towards the spot called Gokarna.

Thus we can safely assume that after the interaction with the five Apsara ladies, Arjuna soon wanted to see his wife Chitrangada again and went back to the city of Manipura. Probably he heard the news that Chitrangada has delivered his baby. There he saw his new born son Vabhruvahana on the throne. Probably it was his wife Chitrangada sitting on the throne with the baby Vabhruvahana in her lap. Thus seeing Chitrangada again, Arjuna proceeded to Gokarna.

The name Saubhadra

The name of one of the sacred waters was Saubhadra. This name including the names of other four sacred waters seems to be later additions. The narration explains that the name Saubhadra is named after a sage (Rishi) of that name. The name of this Rishi then should be Subhadra. However it is the name of the women Arjuna weds after he married Chitrangada. Subhadra was a Yadava princess and a cousin of Krishna (Arjuna's best friend and also his kin). Krishna considered her as his beloved sister. The name is thus a hint leading us to the next women in Arjuna's life. There is also a possibility that this name was added after the advent of Vaishavism, especially in Orissa. At Puri in Orissa, there are temples dedicated to Krishna and Balarama (the brother of Krishna) and Subhadra (the sister of Krishna). This could also indicate Kalinga's connection with Dwaraka, the city where Krishna lived in his youth and old age. Dwaraka and Mathura (where Krishna lived in his childhood) is believed to be the two sources of the cult of Narayana which later became Vaishnavism. The port-city of Manipura and the port-city of Dwaraka could have trade relations even during the Mahabharata period (3000 BCE).

References

  1. Manipura in Manipur state?
  2. Manipura River in Kendrapara, Orissa
  3. Manikapatana or Manikapatna
  4. Maritime heritage of Orissa; Manikapatana an international sea-port of the ancient world

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Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 12 Oct 2010 09:06 and updated at 12 Oct 2010 17:17

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