Man used to record the repeated phenomenon of the sun, moon and stars to know the time. The behavior and locations of these heavenly bodies based on their daily, monthly or yearly cycles has been the earliest marker to tell about time in many of the civilizations. Even in the contemporary society, the effects of
these astronomical signs and their relations are widely used to predict the future.
Manipur, once a princely state had experienced the glorious past of using their own time keeping devices. The people of this land had the knowledge of as many as 27 stars that had been named according to their locations and behavior and used as the important element in knowing the time. There is a belief that the people of this land had known the use of time in an appropriate manner since
Nongta Lairen Pakhangba- the ruling deity and the first king of the Meitei Kingdom. It is also said that his predecessor God Pakhangba Leinung Lonja Ariba and goddess Leima Leioi Nurabi first sought the abode of Yangdoubi and Yangdouba (the presiding deities of time) with proper recital of Kumja Thaja in the holy palace Kangla.
The antiquity of Manipuri sculpture dates back to the reign of Meidingu Khui Tompok in the 2 Century A.D. It was during his rule that the first known sculptures in the form of wooden statues known as Yangdouba and Yangdoubi were produced. The statues are symbolical of the time controlling deities of the Meiteis. A separate office called Tanyeishang was instituted under the patron of the Maharaja. It is the name of royal institution that keeps and anounces hours. Persons who were assigned to look after Tanyeishang were known as Tanyeiba. Goddess Yangdoubi and God Yangdouba that had been installed in the Tanyeisang were placed under the sacred canopies and venerated as the presiding deity of the time.
The time keeping devices kept inside Tanyeishang includes wooden image of Yangdoubi and Yangdouba, eight number of Kangkhil (seeds of a woody climber nearly circular in nature),Walong (large earthen vessel), Tengkot (earthen bowl), Cheigap (tounge) and a Tanyeipung with Tanyei Chei (single membraned drum with beating sticks).
Two upright wooden stand about 30 inches each, facing one another at a distance of about 35 inches is framed in such a manner that it stands vertically from the ground. The base of these stands is strengthened with two horizontal platform with a plane surface running in between the vertical stand. Parallel to these horizontal platform, another wooden plane is fixed about 8 inch above the ground providing support to the statue of wooden idols. This wooden framework contains a row of eight Kangkhils, pierced and garlanded upon a cane strip. This cane strip is stretched and allowed to pass horizontally in between the two wooden stands.
The wooden idol of goddess Yangdoubi and and God Yangdouba in a standing posture (about 10 inch in height) are mounted on the strip of cane in such a manner that their feet can either stand or slide on the horizontal wooden plane surface. The idols placed on the frame are separated by eight Kangkhils and each of these Kangkhil serves as unit of time. Walong is an earthen vessel used as one of the important time measuring devices. It is filled with water collected from the sacred pond called Nungjeng Pukhri. Two earthen Tengkot having a small pin hall at the bottom is placed is used as measuring component. When Tengkot is placed on the surface of Walong, it starts slowly dipping into it. One dip of bowl is considered as Punglup Ama (one Punglup) which is the smallest unit. Cheigap is a tongue used for lifting and changing the bowls one after another into the Walong. Another device called Tanyeipung is a single membrane handled by one of the Tanyeibas. It is played at every Punglup to indicate the time. The third Tanyeiba look after the movement of the deity Yangdouba towards Yangdoubi (goddess) by crossing the Kangkhils one after another in every Punglup. When Yangdouba meets Yangdoubi after crossing the eight Kangkhils, the time is considered to Punglup Nipaal (eight Punglup) and this unit is equivalent to Yuthak ama. All the three Tanyeibas maintain uniformity in performing the action synchronically. The units of time in the Meitei society based on the record of Tanyeishang are;
Punglup Nipaal (Eight Punglup) = Yuthak Ama (1 Yuthak)
Yuthak Nipaal (Eight Yuthak) = Numit Ama / Nongma (1 day)
Numit Kunthra (30 Numits/ days) = Loidaam Thaja Ama (1 month)
Loidam Taranithoi (12 months) = Langhei Ama / Chahi Ama (1 Year)
Tanyeishang not only served as a royal institution but also is regarded to be temple the presiding deity of time.The institution suffered a long period of gap as far as its service to the kingdom. It was in the year 1955 that Tanyeishang was re-introduced during the period of Maharaja Okendrajit. Since than, it continued to function till the first day of the year 1972.
Lack of patronage and salvage of this age old tradition, Tanyeishang is now standing silently in the eastern front of the present Govindajee temple at Imphal. When Tanyeishang was destined by the fate of glory in the ancient past, it beats the rythm of time like the pulse of Meitei Kingdom. Now it seems to have lost into the misery of silence. However new hopes are germinated into the minds of people towards the preservation and documentation of this age old cultural heritage of the Meitei. It is appreciated that the Manipur State Museum has exhibited this time keeping divices in the gallery highlighting the importance of Tanyeishang and the age old indigenous knowledge system of the Meitei people.
* The article is based on the informations collected by the author during field work conducted at the residence of Sri. Ng. Khomba S/o (Late) Shri. Ng. Kulachandra (Head Pandit, of the then Pandit Loishang, Manipur), Lamsang Manipur.
The article was also published on IGRMS NEWS (Quarterly Newsletter of Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya), Vol.-4, No.3 July 2007.