|Region||Northeast India, Bangladesh, and several other countries|
|Ethnicity||Bishnupriya Manipuri people|
|120,000 (2001-2003)Census of India 2001|
The Manipuri Bishnupriya or Bishnupriya Manipuri (BPM) (? ?) is an Indo-Aryan language spoken in parts of the Indian states of Assam, Tripura and others, as well as in the Sylhet region of Bangladesh, Burma, and other countries. It uses the Bengali script alphabet as its writing system.
Bishnupriya Manipuri is spoken in parts of Assam and Tripura in India, in the Sylhet region of Bangladesh, and in several other countries. It is different from many Indo-Aryan languages like Bengali, Oriya, etc. The language originated and developed in Manipur and was originally confined to the surroundings of the Loktak Lake and is similar to the Assamese language. Other authorities such as An account of the valley of Manipore by Col. McCullock,Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal by E. T. Dalton and the Linguistic Survey of India by Dr. George A. Grierson mention that the language was in existence in Manipur before the 19th century. Dr. Grierson refers to the language as "Bishnupuriya Manipuri", while some other writers call it simply "Bishnupriya".
The language slowly started losing its ground in Manipur against a vast majority of Meiteis and is slowly facing its decay in Cachar and Bangladesh against a vast majority of Bengali-speakers. This language is still being spoken in Jiribam (a sub-division of Manipur), Cachar (a district of Assam) and in some pockets in Bangladesh and Tripura.
The language is known to its speakers as Imar Thar (? ), meaning "Language of my Mother." They call themselves and their language Manipuri, and use the term Bishnupriya to distinguish them from other ethnic groups of Manipur. The term Bishnupriya is most probably derived from Bishnupur along with the suffix -iya, meaning "people of Bishnupur".
Orthodox Bishnupriyas hold that the language was carried over to Bishnupriya Manipuri by some immigrants from Dv?rak? and Hastinapura just after the Mahabharata war. It is further said that these immigrants were led by Babhruvahana, the son of Chitrangada and Arjuna, the third Pandava. Some scholars and history writers came to support the Mahabharata origin of Bishnupriya Manipuri from observation of the morphology, the vocables, and the phonology of the Bishnupriya Manipuri language. They hold that BPM is highly influenced by Sanskrit and Maharastri as well as Sauraseni Prakrits. Dr. KP Sinha, who has done considerable research on Bishnupriya Manipuri, disagrees with the theory and is of the opinion that the language was originated through Magadhi Prakrita. It is found from his observations that the language has retained dominant characteristics of Magadhi. According to Dr Sinha, pronouns and declensional and conjugational endings seem to be same as or closely related to those of Maithili, Oriya, Bengali. These forms of Oriya, Bengali are, on their parts, derived from Magadhi Apabhramsa coming from the Magadhi Prakrita.
However, the Bishnupriya Manipuri language is certainly not one of the Tibeto-Burman languages, but is closer to the Indo-Aryan group of languages with remarkable influence from Meitei both grammatically and phonetically. At a different stage of development of the language the Sauraseni, Maharashtri and Magadhi languages and the Tibeto-Burman languages exerted influence on it as well. So it was probably developed from Sanskrit, Sauraseni-Maharashtri Prakrit and Magadhi Prakrita. The Sauraseni-Maharastri relation can be traced by observing some characteristics of pronouns. The Magadhi element is also remarkable, as the language retains many characteristics of Magadhi. It can further be noted that Bishnupriya Manipuri retains much of the old (15th century to 17th century A.D.) Meitei sound vocabulary, as the majority of speakers of the language, left Manipur during the first part of the 19th century.
Bishnupriya Manipuri has two dialects, namely Rajar Gang ("King's village") and Madai Gang ("Queen's village"). Unlike the dialects of other tribes, these dialects of Bishnupriya are not confined to distinct geographical areas. In Manipur, however, these two dialects were confined to well-defined territories. From the viewpoint of phonetics, Madai Gang is more akin to Assamese and Meitei, whereas Rajar Gang is more akin to Bengali. In vocabulary, Madai Gang is more influenced by Meitei and Assamese while Rajar Gang is more akin to Bengali. The morphological differences between the two dialects are negligible.
Like other Indic languages, the core vocabulary of Bishnupriya Manipuri is made up of tadbhava words (i.e. words inherited over time from older Indic languages, including Sanskrit, including many historical changes in grammar and pronunciation), although thousands of tatsama words (i.e. words that were re-borrowed directly from Sanskrit with little phonetic or grammatical change) augment the vocabulary greatly. In addition, many other words were borrowed from languages spoken in the region either natively or as a colonial language, including Meitei, English, and Perso-Arabic.
Bishnupriya Manipuri retains the old eighteen sounds of Meitei. Of them, there were three vowels, such as ?, i and u, thirteen consonants such as p, t, k, p?, t?, k?, c, m, n, ?, l, ?, h and two semi-vowels, such as w and j. In later stage nine more sounds added to Meitei but Bishnupriya is not concerned with them, because the Bishnupriyas left Manipur during 1st part of 19th century. That is why Bishnupriya Manipuri retains the older sounds of Meitei, whereas in Meitei itself the sound system has under-gone various changes. The most distinctive influence of Maitei language over Bishnupriya manipuri is formation of words starting with vowel soung ? 'aung' such as , ?, ?.
Although there are numerous dissimilarities between Assamese and BPM, Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterji, a recognised Bengali phonetician, listed the BPM language to be a dialect of Bengali, whereas Dr. Maheswer Neog and Dr. Banikanta Kakti claimed it as a dialect of indigenous Assamese. Their assumptions later caused contradiction about the origin of Bishnupriya Manipuri language. But the assumptions were proven incorrect by scientific research and observation of morphology, vocabulary, and phonology of BPM.
The orthodox Bishnupriyas claim that they have their own script, that is, the Devanagari script, which was used to write in the Bishnupriya language in its early years.
However, on introduction of modern education during the British period through the Bengali language the Bishnupriya Manipuri writers began to use the Bengali-Assamese script. This alphabet has consonant letters with dependent vowel signs (matras) as well as independent vowel letters. Punctuation marks and numerals are also used. Bishnupriya Manipuri is written from left to right and top to bottom, in the same manner as in English. Some of the consonants can combine with one another to make orthographic clusters (named conjuncts).
In Manipur the language is still spoken in the Jiribam subdivision. A large number of Bishnupriya Manipuri people settled in Assam ages ago, particularly in the Barak Valley. These people are counted as one of the major groups of people in the Cachar and Karimganj districts of Barak Valley. In Tripura, the Bishnupriya Manipuri population localities may be divided into a Dharmanagar sub-area, a Kailasahar sub-area, a Kamalpur sub-area, and a West Tripura sub-area. In Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, there is a scattered Bishnupriya Manipuri population.
Outside of India, Bangladesh has the largest Bishnupriya Manipuri population. The main localities are Sylhet, Moulbivazar, Habiganj and the Sunamganj district. As per records, there were also a considerable number of the Bishnupriyas Manipuris living in local cities like Mymensingh, Rangamati of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and also at Tezgaon, Manipuri-para in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.
In Burma, the Bishnupriya Manipuri areas are probably Mandalay, Amarpura, etc. In case of the United States of America, Canada, Germany, Middle East, and Austria, there are a considerable number of Bishnupriya Manipuris settled there.
A good stock of folk literatures of Bishnupriya Manipuri, which are older in origin, are handed down to this day through oral tradition. The ancient literature of Bishnupriya Manipuri is represented by folk stories, folk-songs, folk-poems, rhymes and proverbs. A rain-invoking song called Boron-dahanir Ela ( ? , 1450-1600 A.D.) and a song relating to the conjugal life of Madai and Soralel known as Madai Soralel Ela (? ? , 1500-1600 ) are sometimes considered the most important. The language of the songs are archaic and are replete with words of Tibeto-Burman origin. These two songs are very important for the study of the cultural and linguistic history of Bishnupriya Manipuri. Besides these, there are songs which are sung by women who work in the fields. Proverbs form another important part of BPM folk literature.
The Bishnupriya Manipuris have established the apex literary organisation of the community Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Parishad (1955), Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Sabha, Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Singlup, Pouri, Manipuri Theatre, and many other organisations to encourage literary activities among the people. Serious literary culture of the BPM language began during the 2nd quarter of 20th century. In fact, the history of Manipuri literature began in 1925 with the literary magazine Jagaran () edited by Falguni Singha who was a Bishnupriya Social worker; this magazine published articles both in Bishnupriya and Meitei. The Manipuris of Surma valley formed their first formal association, Surma Valley Manipuri Society (later called Surma Valley Manipuri Association) in 1934. The members included the Meiteis, the Bishnupriyas and the Pangals (Manipuri Muslims). From 1933 a number of journals, e.g. Manipuri (1933), Mekhali (1938) and Kshatryajyoti (1944), fostered nationalism as well literary and cultural activities. A branch of modern BPM poetic literature, namely Vaishnava Padavali, based on Vaishnava philosophy, deserves special mention.