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Thang-Ta: Ancient martial art of sword and spear from Manipur

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By Nithin Sridhar

“The most memorable performance with the sword involved in a blindfolded swordsman and a man lying on his back with five pieces of melon balanced on various parts of his body….The swordsman was blindfolded using a piece of cloth filled with sand so that everyone could see that there was no way for him to peek through the cloth. …Suddenly, the swordsman would surge forward, leaping and chopping in a very precise pattern. As he leaped over the man lying in his path, his sword deftly cut each piece of melon, including the piece directly over the man’s throat. Every spectator was tense with expectation until the man lying on the ground would jump to his feet and the swordsman would rip off his blindfold.”

The above paragraph, taken from Encyclopedia of Manipur, is a description of a fantastic performance of an ancient, but little known martial art from Manipur- Thang Ta.

‘Thang-Ta’, which literally means ‘sword and spear’, is but one aspect of Huyen Lallong (Art of war or method of self-guarding), whose other aspect is ‘Sarit-Sarak’ that involves unarmed combat. It is an armed martial art technique wherein the swords, spears, axes, and shields are the main weapons used.

The martial art is deeply rooted in the traditional history, religion, and lifestyle practices of Manipuris (especially the Meitei community). The Meitei community believes that the art of Thang-ta originated from their creator ‘Tin Sidaba’. In fact, the various weapons used in Thang-Ta are actually perceived as being emanated from various parts of Tin-Sidaba. Thus, the limbs and bones of Tin-Sidaba became swords and tools, the ribs became the broad sword called Thangjao, and his fingers became kitchen knife.

A similar world-view is present in mainstream Hinduism wherein, the whole universe, with its people and objects have originated from creator Lord Brahma and all the tools and equipment have originated from Brahmaa’s son Vishwakarma.

Thang-Ta was basically a dual combat that was fought amongst common people. The earliest references to Huyen Lallong can be found in a text that records personal armed combats and the ethics of combat named Chainarol-Puya whose earliest portions have been dated to 1st century CE. But, this martial art was given a definite military shape by King Loyumba who ruled in the 11th century and created an armed force called ‘lallup’. Later, King Pamheiba, who ruled in the 18th century upgraded the armed forces further.

The uniqueness of this system appears to be that, the King had no standing army. Instead, every male member of the society was trained to be a warrior. Speaking to NewsGram over the phone, Prem Kumar, the President of Thang-Ta Federation of India said that the male members between the age of 16 and 40 years were given military training in Thang-Ta and other associated arts. He further said that every year people used to be trained in Thang-Ta for around 40 days compulsorily. Hence, though the Kings did not have a standing army, all his male subjects served as soldiers.

Photo: http://musicandtraditions.org/
Photo: http://musicandtraditions.org/

The Thang-Ta can be practiced in three different, but supplementary ways: Religious (which is often wrongly described as ritualistic), Demonstration, and Combat. The religious practice of Thang-Ta involves performing various rituals and is deeply rooted in Tantric traditions. This practice aims to take one from the mundane to the spiritual.

The demonstration of Thang-Ta involves the performance of dances using swords and spears using combat movements. Finally, the third is a direct application in combats.

Today, Thang-Ta is mainly promoted as a sport because it has been largely forgotten that Thang-Ta was originally a lifestyle system. It was not just a sport or a combat technique.

Prem Kumar says that, along with the physical aspect of combat, people were taught breath control, meditation, medicine, politics, and ethics. He adds that Thang-Ta must be perceived as a lifestyle system whose basic purpose is helping others and doing good to the society. The Martial art must be understood as a path towards God. Faith and devotion to Guru (teacher) and the Guru-Parampara (lineage of teachers) is very important.

One of the most important aspects of Thang-Ta is self-discipline. The practitioner must adhere to strict discipline not only in his combat training, but in other aspects of life as well. His actions should be ethical and must follow certain tenets laid down in the scriptures. He should dedicatedly practice the martial arts along with the meditation and worship. The goal of such a practice is to help one to overcome physical limitations and attain spiritual emancipation.

Another unique feature of Thang-Ta is that it believes in maintaining high ethical standards even in combat. The warrior is strictly forbidden from hurting the opponent who has run away from the battle, or is begging for mercy, or if he has taken the warrior’s protection. These tenets can be seen as being similar to tenets of the Dharma Yuddha found in Hindu scriptures.

This wonderful martial art saw its decline with the arrival of the British in India who prohibited the practice of Thang-Ta between 1891 and 1947. After independence, many efforts have been made for the revival of the martial arts and today there are many schools that teach them especially in Manipur, and Jammu and Kashmir.

But, today it is mostly promoted as a sport and not as a lifestyle system. It is high time that efforts are made to revive the wholesome system of this martial art so that people derive not only physical benefits but also mental and spiritual benefits from it.

A short video on Thang-Ta performance taken from Youtube:

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Copyright 2015 NewsGram

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Loktak Lake: World’s Only Floating National Park

Loktak Lake is a beautiful stretch of water that resembles a miniature inland sea

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Currently, Loktak faces problems due to the construction of a barrage at the only outlet of the lake. Wikimedia Commons
Currently, Loktak faces problems due to the construction of a barrage at the only outlet of the lake. Wikimedia Commons
  • Loktak Lake is famous for the Phumdis floating over it
  • These Phumdis are inhibited by around 4000 people
  • Loktak faces problems due to loss of vegetation cover

Located near Moirang in Manipur, Loktak Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the Northeastern pars of India. The lake is famous for it’s ‘Phumdis’; located on the largest Phundi, the Keibul Lamjao National Park, is the last refuse of Sangai (an endangered animal, also the state animal of Manipur). Currently, Loktak faces problems due to the construction of a barrage at the only outlet of the lake.

ALSO READ: ONGC and Unesco Join Hands to get India’s Largest Coastal Lagoon ‘Chilika Lake’ the World Heritage Site, Tag

Loktak Lake Phumdis

loktak lake phumdis, Local people construct their huts on Phumdis for fishing and other livelihood uses. Wikimedia Commons
Local people construct their huts on Phumdis for fishing and other livelihood uses. Wikimedia Commons

Phumdis are a series of floating islands that cover a substantial part of Loktak lake area. They are heterogeneous masses of vegetation, soil and organic matter, in different stages of decay. The largest single-mass Phumdi covers an area of 40 km2. Local people construct their huts on Phumdis for fishing and other livelihood uses. Loktak Lake Phumdis are inhabited by about 4000 people.

Loktak Lake Tourism And Conservation

The Loktak Lake is designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on March 23, 1990. It was also listed under the Montreux Record on June 16, 1993, “a record of Ramsar sites where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring or are likely to occur”.

loktak lake tourism, 55 rural and urban hamlets that surround the lake have a population of 100,000 people. Wikimedia Commons
55 rural and urban hamlets that surround the lake have a population of 100,000 people. Wikimedia Commons

Loktak Lake is a beautiful stretch of water that resembles a miniature inland sea. You can catch an aerial-type view of the lake from Sendra. The Sendra Tourist Home with an attached Cafeteria is a sought after tourist spot. Boating and other water sports are organized here at Takmu Water Sports Complex.

ALSO READ: Taj Lake Palace: Floating Palace in Udaipur is the Ultimate Destination for a Romantic Break

Loktak Lake Map

Loktak Lake map, Loktak Lake and location of a multi-purpose Hydropower Project. Wikimedia Commons
Loktak Lake and location of a multi-purpose Hydropower Project. Wikimedia Commons

Loktak gains its waters from Manipur river and several other tributaries. It’s the only outlet is ‘Ungamel Channel’. The five major rivers with an indirect catchment area of 7,157 km2 (2,763 sq mi) are the Imphal (also called the Manipur River), the Iril, the Thoubal, the Sekmai and the Khuga.

Though hydrological data on river basin has not been adequately monitored, the Department of Earth Science, Manipur University has in its report of 1996 assessed the average runoff of Manipur River as 519,200 ha·m (4,209,000 acre·ft; 5.192 km3) from a total catchment area of 697 km2 (269 sq mi) at the Ithai barrage. The groundwater potential has been assessed estimated at 44 hm3 (36,000 acre⋅ft) per annum.