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Short description: Religious or philosophical tradition of Meitei ethnic origin

Meitei: Sanamahi Laining
(lit. Sanamahi religion)[1][2]
The Symbol of Sanamahi.svg
The Symbol of Sanamahism
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]), Meiteism (Meitei: Meitei Laining, lit. "Meitei religion"[4][5]), or Lainingthouism[lower-alpha 1][7][lower-alpha 2] (lit. "faith of God-king"[8][lower-alpha 3]) is an ethnic religion of the Meitei people of Kangleipak 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 Manipur, starting from the king Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, who ruled for more than a century, from 33 to 154 CE. [citation needed]

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 their Meitei 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]


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).[17] 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).[17] 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 activists. 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 did not get approved by the Central Government of India.[lower-alpha 4][18]

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.[19][20][21]


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.[22]

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.[23]

Religious festivals

  • Sanamahi Ahong Khong Chingba
  • Lai Haraoba
  • Mera Hou Chongba
  • Mera Chaorel Houba
  • Kwaak Taanba
  • Yaoshang
  • Panthoibi Iratpa
  • Imoinu Iratpa
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba
  • Heikru Hidongba


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

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

Ancestral deities

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

Associations and organizations

See also

  • Kangla
    • Kangla Nongpok Thong
    • Kangla Nongpok Torban
    • Pakhangba Temple, Kangla
  • Lai Haraoba
    • Moirang Sai
    • Festival of Moirang Shai
  • Lainingthou Sanamahi Kiyong
    • Nongmaiching Ching
  • Marjing
    • Marjing Polo Statue
    • Marjing Polo Complex
    • Heingang Ching
  • Lists of creatures in Meitei folklore
  • Lists of deities in Sanamahism
  • Meitei mythology
  • Puya (Meitei texts)
  • Sanamahi creation myth
  • Umang Lai


  1. 1.0 1.1 Meitei, Mayanglambam Mangangsana (2021-06-06) (in en). The Sound of Pena in Manipur. Marjing Mayanglambam. pp. 30. ISBN 978-93-5473-655-1. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Athing Ningshen, Dr; Ningson Primrose, Mrs (14 September 2018) (in en). URBAN POVERTY AND LIVELIHOODS. pp. 44. ISBN 978-0-359-01332-6.,%20known%20as%20%22Sanamahi%20Laining%22%20or%20simply%20Sanamahi&pg=PA44. 
  3. 2001 Census
  4. Meitei, Sanjenbam Yaiphaba; Chaudhuri, Sarit K.; Arunkumar, M. C. (2020-11-25) (in en). The Cultural Heritage of Manipur. Routledge. pp. 185. ISBN 978-1-000-29637-2. 
  5. Zehol, Lucy (1998) (in en). Ethnicity in Manipur: Experiences, Issues, and Perspectives. Regency Publications. pp. 79. ISBN 978-81-86030-51-6. 
  6. "The Revivalism of Sanamahism". 
  7. Shimray, A. S. W. (2001) (in en). History of the Tangkhul Nagas. Akansha Publishing House. pp. 253. ISBN 978-81-87606-04-8. 
  8. Sharma, H. Surmangol (2006). "Learners' Manipuri-English dictionary.Meanings of Laining and Lainingthou". 
  9. Gourchandra, M. (1982). Sanamahi Laihui. 
  10. "The Revivalism of Sanamahism". 
  11. Nilabir, Sairem (2002). Laiyingthou Sanamahi Amasung Sanamahi Laining Hinggat Ihou. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Maru (Pandit Loisang)" (in en). 
  13. 13.0 13.1 "IGNCA's Workshop on Maibi Culture of Manipur | IGNCA". 
  14. "Myanmar Nat and Manipuri UmangLai Nat Festival". 
  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. 17.0 17.1 Meitei, Langonjam Chingkheinganba. Apokpa Marup_ Naoriya Phulo. 
  18. "Separate code mooted for Sanamahi religion : 06th aug22 ~ E-Pao! Headlines". 
  19. Chingkheinganba, Salam (14 February 2020). "Okram Joy threatens to throng at assembly if house fails to recognise Sanamahi as minority religion - Imphal Times" (in en-gb). 
  20. "Minority religion status sought" (in en). 
  21. "Government should declare Sanamahi as minority religion, says O Joy" (in en). 
  22. Saroj Parratt (1997). The Pleasing of the Gods: Meitei Lai Haraoba. Vikas. p. 77. ISBN 8125904166. 
  23. 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 
  • 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 
  • 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 
  • 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 

External links