Meitei: Sanamahi Laining
(lit.'Sanamahi religion')[1][2]
The Symbol of Sanamahi.svg
The Symbol of Sanamahism (Source: Wakoklon Heelel Thilen Salai Amailon Pukok Puya)
TypeEthnic religion
ScripturePuyas written on religious beliefs originally in Meitei script
Region India
LanguageClassical Meitei
Number of followersapprox. 235,000[3]

Sanamahism (Meitei: Sanamahi Laining, lit. "Sanamahi religion"[1][2]) or Meiteism (Meitei: Meitei Laining, lit. "Meitei religion"[4][5]) or Lainingthouism[a][7][b] (lit. "faith of God-king"[8][c]), is an ethnic religion of the Meitei people of Kangleipak (Meitei for 'Manipur') in Northeast India. It is a polytheistic religion and is named after God Lainingthou Sanamahi, one of the most important deities of the Meitei faith.[9][10][11] Sanamahi is the eldest son of the supreme god Yaibirel Sidaba (also known as Saalailel Sidaba) and the supreme goddess Leimarel Sidabi. Traditionally every Meitei household, irrespective of the religion, worships Sanamahi and Leimarel Sidabi. The importance of Sanamahi in the religion is also emphasized in the name itself which means Liquid Gold. Sanamahism does not have a religious head but has a body, Maru Loishang (also known as Pandit Loishang) that oversees the main religious activities and govern all affairs pertaining to the religion including conducts of priest and priestess.[12] The Maru Loishang also acts a court for religious disputes.[12] There are three main departments under the Pandit Loishang, namely, the Amaiba Loishang, the Pena Asheiba Loishang and the Amaibi Loishang.[13] These departments have existed since the reign of King Meidingu Hongnemyoi Khunjao Naothingkhong of Manipur in 662 AD.[13]

The deities in Sanamhism can be classified into the main deities, ancestral deities called Apokpa, deities of Meitei clans (Yek Lai) or family (Saghei Lai) and regional deities called Lam Lai or Umang Lai. Worship of the Apokpa deities, the Yek Lais or the Saghei Lais are within a clan, families sharing the same surname. Regional deities are worshipped by the residents around the temple of the Umang Lais. The Umang Lais are often one of the main deities or an incarnation of the main deities. The worship of Umang Lais and the ritual that this entails, referred to as the Umang Lai Haraoba, is one of the main religious festivals in Sanamahism. There are similarities between the Umang Lais and the Nat deities of Myanmar.[14]

All the deities are denoted by the universal term Lai which means god in Manipuri. When referring to a male deity, the terms Lainingthou, Ebhudhou or Epa are used while the terms, Lairembi, Ebhendhou or Ema are used to refer to a female deity. Lairembi is mostly used for the Umang Lais.


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 Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, who ruled for more than a century, from 33 to 154 CE.

Kangla Pakhangba Laishang, the temple of God Pakhangba of Sanamahi religion inside the Kangla Fort, Imphal West, Manipur
Kangla Pakhangba Laishang, the temple of God Pakhangba of Sanamahi religion inside the Kangla Fort, Imphal West, Manipur


Sanamahism is an ethnic religion. 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 Garib Niwaz (Meitei: Pamheiba).[15][16]

Depiction of Hinduised Meitei King Pamheiba (popularly called, Garib Niwaj) and his advisor Shantidas Gosai ordering the burning of holy Meitei scriptures (Meitei: Puya) written in Meitei script so as to replace it with Bengali script for writing Meitei language afterwards
Depiction of Hinduised Meitei King Pamheiba (popularly called, Garib Niwaj) and his advisor Shantidas Gosai ordering the burning of holy Meitei scriptures (Meitei: Puya) written in Meitei script so as to replace it with Bengali script for writing Meitei language afterwards


The collective effort of the revival of Sanamahism is often referred to as the Sanamahi movement. The earliest accounts can be traced back to the formation of the Apokpa Marup by Naorem Phullo (Laininghal Naoria) in 1930 at Cachar (present day Assam, India).[citation needed] The movement spread to the Manipur Valley by 1934. Although the movement did not gain momentum due to the Japanese invasion in the Second world war, plans were initially made to intensify the movement under the leadership of Takhellambam Bokul (Sanamahi Bokul).[citation needed] Phullo died in 1941.

Three years after the death of Phullo in 1944, the movement finally started gaining momentum in Manipur. Resolutions were made to denounce Hinduism and to revive Sanamahism in Manipur. Mass campaign were held to popularize Sanamahi religion at various places in Manipur. On the 14th of May, 1945, the popular Meitei Marup was formed. This marked the beginning of the revival of Sanamahism and the Meitei Mayek, original script of the Manipuri Language among other things. The term Sanamahism and Meitei Marup are often used interchangeably. The Brahma Sabha strongly opposed the movement and formally outcast 38 members of the Meitei Marup.

By the 1970s and 1980s, the Sanamahi Movement attracted more number of activist. Massive drives were held reclaiming shrines of deiteis and adverting Hindu practices or worship to ancient old traditions of Sanamahism. Notable movement was the seize of the idols of Sanamahi and Leimarel Sidabi from Hindu Brahmins which are now presently installed in the temple at First Manipur Rifles Ground, Imphal. On the 16th of February, 1974, mass convert to Sanamahism was held. The event is coined, Nongkhang Parei Hanba, symbolic to reversing the forced mass baptism into Hinduism in 1729, referred to as Nongkhang Iruppa.

The 2011 census of India places the Sanamahi followers to be 8.19% of the total population of Manipur, India.

Official Status

On 5 August 2022, the Manipur State Legislative Assembly re affirmed a resolution to record the Sanamahi religion in the census data with a separate unique code as an officially recognised minority religion of India. In the past, on 31 July 2002 and on 1 August 2003, the Manipur State Legislative Assembly had adopted similar resolutions to allot a unique code for the religion but didn't get approved by the Central Government of India.[d][17]

In the previous decades, many social, religious and political activists, associations and organisations struggled through violent agitations and protests to include the Sanamahi religion as an officially recognised minority religion of India.[18][19][20]


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 (Lai- God, Len- Supreme) 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.[21]

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.[22]

Religious festivals

Main article: Fairs and Festivals in Manipur


Main articles: Lists of deities in Sanamahism, Meitei mythology, and Umang Lai

Main deities

There are five main deities in Sanamahism:

Related deities

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

Further information: Umang Lai

Besides, there are other deities associated with sacred groves called Umang Lai including the groves of Konthoujam Tampha Lairembi.

Ancestral deities

Main article: Apokpa (deity type)

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

Associations and organizations

See also


  1. ^ a b Meitei, Mayanglambam Mangangsana (6 June 2021). The Sound of Pena in Manipur. Marjing Mayanglambam. p. 30. ISBN 978-93-5473-655-1.
  2. ^ a b Athing Ningshen, Dr; Ningson Primrose, Mrs. URBAN POVERTY AND LIVELIHOODS. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-359-01332-6.
  3. ^ 2001 Census
  4. ^ Meitei, Sanjenbam Yaiphaba; Chaudhuri, Sarit K.; Arunkumar, M. C. (25 November 2020). The Cultural Heritage of Manipur. Routledge. p. 185. ISBN 978-1-000-29637-2.
  5. ^ Zehol, Lucy (1998). Ethnicity in Manipur: Experiences, Issues, and Perspectives. Regency Publications. p. 79. ISBN 978-81-86030-51-6.
  6. ^ "The Revivalism of Sanamahism". Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  7. ^ Shimray, A. S. W. (2001). History of the Tangkhul Nagas. Akansha Publishing House. p. 253. ISBN 978-81-87606-04-8.
  8. ^ Sharma, H. Surmangol (2006). "Learners' Manipuri-English dictionary.Meanings of Laining and Lainingthou". Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  9. ^ Gourchandra, M. (1982). Sanamahi Laihui.
  10. ^ "The Revivalism of Sanamahism". Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  11. ^ Nilabir, Sairem (2002). Laiyingthou Sanamahi Amasung Sanamahi Laining Hinggat Ihou.
  12. ^ a b "Maru (Pandit Loisang)". Maru (Pandit Loisang). Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  13. ^ a b "IGNCA's Workshop on Maibi Culture of Manipur | IGNCA". Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  14. ^ "Myanmar Nat and Manipuri UmangLai Nat Festival". Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Otojit Kshetrimayum 2009, pp. 17–34.
  17. ^ "Separate code mooted for Sanamahi religion : 06th aug22 ~ E-Pao! Headlines". Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  18. ^ Chingkheinganba, Salam. "Okram Joy threatens to throng at assembly if house fails to recognise Sanamahi as minority religion - Imphal Times". Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  19. ^ "Minority religion status sought". Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  20. ^ "Government should declare Sanamahi as minority religion, says O Joy". Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  21. ^ Saroj Parratt (1997). The Pleasing of the Gods: Meitei Lai Haraoba. Vikas. p. 77. ISBN 8125904166.
  22. ^ Soibam Birajit (2014). Meeyamgi Kholao: Sprout of Consciousness. ARECOM. p. 103.


  1. ^ On April 23, 1992, the then Maharaja of Manipur, Okendrajit Sana declared that "I open the Lubak Tabu and abandon Hinduism as state religion and recognition is hereby withdrawn by the Royal Customary Law of the Country, instead the Royal Customary Law revives the Lainingthouism as the state religion and do herby give recognition as state religion."[6]
  2. ^ "Lainingthouism" was the former official name of "Sanamahism".
  3. ^ In Meitei language, "Laining" means "religion" and "Lainingthou" means "God King". Morphologically, "Lai" means "deity", "Ning" means "to worship" and "Ningthou" means "king". So, "Lainingthou" equals "Lai" plus "Ningthou" and "Laining" equals "Lai" plus "Ning".
  4. ^ The Constitution of India guarantees every citizen of India the right to freedom of religion and there is a provision for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities.


  • 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
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  • 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, S2CID 145449486
  • 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