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Chainarol is the lore of personal combat between the representative warriors of two chiefdoms for resolving a conflict over the boundaries and control of economic resources. In Manipur on the Northeast India, it is practiced since first millennium BCE and performed with the human sacrifice to please the divine custodian who dispenses justice according to the code of combat. This piece of research work emphasized on philosophical aspects of Chainarol, its humanitarian values and respects as it has been evidenced in the literary accounts. It leads to the conclusion that Chainarol is not just dual combat rather it’s accompanied with rites and rituals which made it different from modern war. It also underlines the human nature associated with animal instinct and sanctity of the inherent traditional code of combat. It further reaffirm that the death.



During the first millennium BC, Manipur valley on the northeast India was a cradle of small chiefdom states of Khaba, Nganba, Moirang, Sarang Leishangthem, Khuman, Luwang, Heirem khunjan, Ningthoucha and many others. These Neolithic tribes lived in a hostile world, battling both natural enemies and rival clans, a world where warfare was a very important part of life. These chiefdom states were found to be scattered in the low lying marshy land between the lakes and rivers and their societies were ruled by mixed brute force with legitimacy to buttress their principal claim to ruling authority. These were not “states” in any modern sense, merely the extended power and influence of ruling chiefdoms over a particular piece of territory. Territorial boundaries within this mountainous valley were likely defined by local geographic features such as rivers, streams, valleys ridge lines and mountains, and the size of any particular kingdom was probably anything chiefdom could decide to claim and defend. Few of these chiefdom states shared a common frontier and most military confrontations occurred frequently between chiefdom states were resolved under the sacred code of Chainarol (Suresh, Singh, L., 2012). The long confrontation between different chiefdom states give birth to a traditional lore of warfare, the Chainarol and evolution of the indigenous martial arts of this land. Out of this chaotic period of inter-chiefdoms warfare came one of the Manipur’s greatest legendary figure with the name “Nongdalai Pakhangba” the founder of the Ningthoucha’s dynasty (Ibungohal & Khelchandra, 1967). The small, but powerful State of Ningthoucha emerges to unify Manipur from 33 A.D. onwards. The Legalist, authoritarian regime of Nongdalai Pakhangba was the first historical chiefdom of Manipur, his blood ruled until 1949 (Bheigyachandra, 1967). In those days the valiant and heroic warriors enjoyed tremendous respect within their own clans. Some clans elevated their status and power to a great height only to see them wither and die in a few generations. Their remarkable deeds and all traces of their existence withered and decayed, blown away by the winds of time and never again to be seen.

Ancient Manipur society followed strict rules of Chainarol or dual combat. Powerful states not only defeated their opponents by dual combat but also they obliterated them and turned the conquered lands into centrally controlled provinces of the victor, inexorably moving Ningthoucha‘s kingdom toward a unified single kingdom. The unification of all the chiefdoms states completed during the time of King Khagemba in 16th century (Bheigyachandra, 1967). However, the chiefdom states of Moirang, Khuman and Heirem khunja remained un-absorbed until 15th century.I

Numbers of oral accounts describing Chainarol of different ethnic groups are handed down from generation to generation and written down in indigenous Meitei script collectively known as Puya. They begin compilation since 15th century onwards in the handmade papers. However, only the historical accounts latter than the first historical king Nongdalai Pakhangba in 33 A.D are known to exist today (Indramani, 2006, pp 1-15).

Human Sacrifices in Chainarol

            Human sacrifice, according to Chainarol, is an act of killing human beings as part of a religious ritual (ritual killing) or in any act of conduct. Its typology is closely parallel to various practices of ritual slaughter of animals (animal sacrifice) and of religious sacrifice in general. Typically, victims were ritually killed in a manner that supposed to please or appease ancestral gods or spirits, for example, as a propitiatory offering, or as a retainer sacrifice or to commemorate an event in the name of the war victory by establishing a Public market place or a royal structures etc.  It has been practiced throughout history in various cultures in different ways.Chainarol is one of the above type but a unique form of human sacrifice. The human sacrifice with decapitation of defeated warrior by the victor is the result of Chainarol (Hemchandra, trans. 2000).

            There is nothing more than Chainarol Manuscript compiled by various scholars in different periods that describes the Chainaba (combatbetween two warriors) even though stray references are given in some of the ancient Meitei (Manipur) books.  It can be interpreted as a literature emphasizing conflict resolution mechanism. This literary work clearly mentioned the differentiation between human sacrifice and the practices of head hunter prevalent among the hill tribes of the North East India during pre-modern era; the practice has become superfluous (Arun, trans. 2012, pp. 12-29).

Chainarol Manuscript recorded 27 events of dual combats and each carried a sacred code of traditional warfare. Most of conflicts had a strong humanitarian tradition since the early period of history. Only in few events, the combatants slightly deviated from the sacred war code of conduct taking advantage over another.The conflicting parties adopted the traditional lore of Chainaba as a mechanism and only resort for the restoration of peace in the society. So, obviously, it is one of the best tools for conflict resolution preventing massive bloodshed from inter-chiefdom or inter-ethnic warfare. Once the warriors are ready to accept the dual combat in the interest of two communities, they fixed a day for the real challenge. In a Chainaba, the combatants openly declare his intension for personal combat and always required acceptance by the opponent to materialize. The individual warrior wore their traditional combat attire and decided mutually which weapon to be used. A particular warrior might approach the site companied by his comrades to witness the combat but the combat took places only between thetwo rival warriors. According to the code of lore in Chainarol, no one is allowed to render any physical help or give hints whatsoever. It has high moralities, much civilized and more stringentbounded by humanitarian lawswhich contradict the modern behavior of war conflicts in the eye of the international law. The site of combat is usually chosen in the disputed area, whence the bond of contention happens to be about territorial dispute. The combatants also have to decide the location, and maintained proper distance between them before fighting, by using spear or bow and arrow or both. Usually the challenger gets the first opportunity to attack. By a rule, even a slightest cut or blood lost from the injury by spear or bow and arrows in the attack, the one who attacked is declared to be victorious and entitled to cut the head of the defeated warrior. combat took places only between thetwo rival warriors. According to the code of lore in Chainarol, no one is allowed to render any physical help or give hints whatsoever. It has high moralities, much civilized and more stringentbounded by humanitarian lawswhich contradict the modern behavior of war conflicts in the eye of the international law. The site of combat is usually chosen in the disputed area, whence the bond of contention happens to be about territorial dispute. The combatants also have to decide the location, and maintained proper distance between them before fighting, by using spear or bow and arrow or both. Usually the challenger gets the first opportunity to attack. By a rule, even a slightest cut or blood lost from the injury by spear or bow and arrows in the attack, the one who attacked is declared to be victorious and entitled to cut the head of the defeated warrior.


The victor had to fulfill the last wishes of the fallen foe before decapitation of the defeated warrior. They used to share their meal packs and drinks prepared by their spouses. The severed head is carried home in a wicker basket along with any number of the enemies heads collected as war trophy for victor’s pride and prestige but not a personal vendetta or magical-religious belief as a motives of the tribal feud. The ancient people believed if any of the combatants violate the traditional code of Chainarol, they are punished by their respective guardian spirits as they are divine custodians of code of honor. So, they highly stick to the code and also never harmed the surrounding environment and civilian population like in modern war. The personal vendetta or rivalry hardly plays a role but they represent their respective chiefdoms in the personal combat for conflict resolution between the two groups (Arun, trans. 2012).

Events Given In Literary Account

Combat of Chief Yaphurakpa vs Chief Haotak Laiba :

 A duel fight took place between Chief Yaphurakpa of Chairel chakpa village and chief Haotak Laiba  of Khende village at a place known as Lawai Polbikhok Chairel Theichangpung Heirem Leimatak Khulchal Tarakhang.

Leima Shetou Toungam Hoi-Hoibi once set out for fishing with her net met so suddenly Haotak Laiba, chief of Khende. Then, she had served him food packed from home and offered a rare wine distilled carefully by herself with her own hand. Later, she became wife of Haotak Laiba. At the same time, Yaphurakpa, Chief of Chairel also had gone out for hunting wild boar. The same food was also offered to the Yaphurakpa with goodwill gesture as they became close family friends. Days rolled into months and on the following year, while Leima Shetou Toungam Hoi-Hoibi again playing with her fishing net, Yaphurakpa suddenly showed up and treated her to a sumptuous meal heaped with choice of meat, to express gratitude and honor for her hospitality in the previous year. By learning all these, chief of Khende, Haotak Laiba became jealous and took offence. He said, ‘‘O Pathou, Chief Yaphurakpa of Chairel, perhaps, you arehaving an illicit affair with my wife and fooling around. This rude nature is only behaved by slaves and cattle. I have to hunt down the dumb brutes and catch the slaves in the act’’.



Chief Yaphurakpa replied to the Haotak Laiba of Khende, “Pathou, your wife had offered me a fine home-distilled wine while I had once gone out for hunting and tracking a game. As a mark of gratitude, I had served her a lunch heaped with choice of meat. I swear in the name of heaven that no foul play was involved’’. By saying this, he swore taking the name of Sky above and the Earth below for all his divine actions and claimed his innocence. Chief Haotak Laiba also swore the same. However, both of them couldn’t be convinced with their own versions. The Chief of Chairel consequently challenged him for a personal combat by saying “Let it be decided by shooting an arrow targeting at each other. The guardian deities of your ancestors and my forefathers shall dispense the justice”. It was stated that the duel fight took placed at Lawai Polbikhok Chairel Theichangpung. Chief Haotak Laiba drew an arrow in full string, looked down and said, “Oh lofty Sky! Mark it well, Oh Mother Earth, Heiremmy fatherland, you meet out justice”. He invoked all the ancestral deities and projected his arrow. The arrow but hit the pile of weeds on the weir. Chief of Chairel, Yaphurakpa, in turn, picked an arrow, fitted it to his bow and besought, “O Sky above and Earth below, Heirem my fatherland! Do meet out justice.” Then, he also shot the arrow. The arrow hit one of the thighs of

  Chief of Khende. Chief Yaphurakpa could have claimed the head of Haotak Laiba by the code of personal combat but bosom friends as they were, the victor did not claim his booty, the head of the defeat. Instead, he took the Chief of Khende in his arms, who said, “Both of us had gone this far over a trivial matter”. They shared their lunch-packs drinking home-distilled wine and departed arm-in-arm with broad smiles (Arun, trans. 2012, pp. 12-19, 24).


Heirem Kangbisu vs Nongyai Chakha Moiremba :

Adol Nongyai Khuman Ningthou Punsiba, the King of Khuman made an announcement in his palace Kangla that the brave warrior of Heirem chiefdom had forbidden the Khuman subjects from collecting herbs, vegetables and firewood within their own territory. “Heirem warrior, a lame stalwart is too bold, so, who amongst all assembled warriors shall challenge in a single combat against this intrepid warrior” the king said. From among the assembled warrior Chakha Moiremba, the brave youth came forward with great honor. He submitted politely that though he is an unskilled warrior, he would go and use his spear in personal combat on behalf of the king. The king appreciated and encouraged him as the only right person for him.

            Chakha Moiremba, the young brave warrior wearing his typical warrior’s garb, challenged for personal combat to Heirem Kangbisu while he was attending to his daily chores. Heirem Kangbisu replied, “I am tilling paddy-field along with women folk, and not properly equipped. Let me back home once to fetch my spear and shield. O! Brave youth

Nongyai Chakha Moiremba, I am not trying to slink away from the challenge; let me go home and return back”. Nongyai Khuman Chakha Moiremba treated his opponent as esteemed compeer and respected him as a worthy opponent. Heiren Kangbisu soon returned back dressing like warrior equipped with his weapons. Here, he was given time to put his battle head gear and fetch his weapon as one cannot be treated to be a combatant until  and less acquired his weapons and ready to fight according to war code of conduct.

            In the episode of Nongyai Khuman Chakha Moiremba versus Heirem Kangbisu Athouba, the former first threw his spear towards Heirem Kangbisu Athouba. The spear hurt the latter on his toe. But Heirem Kangbisu Athouba lied and claimed that the bleeding was due to sucking blood by a leech on his toe while tilling in the field. This bleeding according to traditional code of Chainaba, though minor, had settled the Chainaba in favor of Nongyai Khuman Chakha Moiremba. However, as Nongyai Khuman Chakha Moiremba did not pursue his own claim of making bloodshed, his opponent then delivered his spear and subsequently hit squarely on the stomach of Nongyai Khuman Chakha Moiremba. According to tradition of Chainaba, Heirem Kangbisu Athouba, being a victor was now entitled to cut off the head of the defeated Nongyai Khuman Chakha Moiremba. The victor has to fulfill the last wishes of his fallen foe before decapitated the defeated. The combatants even share each other’s lunch packs and drinks.

Chainarol records the last wishes of Nongyai Khuman Chakha Moiremba thus:

“My wife, Kege Moiramba Chanu, had packed my lunch and filled my wine. Come, let we share it”

Gripping tightly on the shaft of spear supported by the handle of their weapons, the two foes stood up and shared the food and drink. Accepting the defeat, Chakha Moiremba called Heirem Khulchal a “Pathou” and requested him to treat his severed head with due care. He further expressed his last wish to bury his body deep beneath the earth.

 Traditionally, theheadless body is buried in the earthen mount known as Phaina Pungand then, the severed head is put in a wicker basket and carried home by the victor as his trophy. Then the mortuary rites are to be performed. It is up to the victor now to perform the rituals known as Yenpang Heeroi and Laktha Lanming to proclaim his victory before the public.

True to his character, Heirem Kangbisu Athouba did not bother to fulfill the last wishes of Nongyai Khuman Chakha Moiremba for proper burial. He carried away the severed head at his home to perform the rituals of a victor. Similarly, in all other instances of personal combat recorded in Chainarol, the last wishes of the defeated warrior are invariably fulfilled by the victor. The warriors aspire to attain victory through the blessings of their respective guardian spirits. The same guardian spirits are supposed to punish the combatant in case they violated the traditional code of chainaba. They are believed to be the divine custodians of this code of honor. 

As if this collective belief has to be reaffirmed, Chainarol records that a divine retribution came to Heirem Kangbisu Athouba and overwhelmed with suffering from an illness of undiagnosed nature. No remedial measures could be pursued as nobody knew the strange malady. He even could not disclose the deceitful oath he had taken on the field of combat for fear of disgrace among his kinsfolk. It is said that he died within five days of the combat.

            Nongyai Shikhong Ningthouba, younger brother of Nongyai Khuman Chakha Moiremba, was duly honored by the ruler of his Khuman chiefdom after he defeated the Heirem opponents and in the process retrieved his brother’s severed head. Befitting emblems are added to the battle garb of such warriors as it might indicate his prowess in the battle field. Chainaba is no doubt a personal combat between two individual warriors, but it also serves collective interests. (Arun, trans. 2012, pp 24- 29).

Humanitarian and Respects

Before the combat, the two warriors addressed each other as a great esteemed compeer, and praise each other prowess in other combats and in huntings. Such deep and genuine respect for the noble foe just before their combat is one of the most precious humanitarian values and a distinguishing feature of the traditional war code of conduct in Chainarol.

According to this tradition, the victor is to fulfill the last wishes of defeated warrior. Usually, these wishes are closely related with the decapitation of defeated worrior in a single cut, mortuary rites and rituals, proper burial of the headless body to avoid scavenge by the wild animals etc. In most combats, the victor fulfilled the last wish of the defeated warrior except in few cases the victor lefts the headless body unburied. Before the defeated warrior is killed they share the lunch with rice wine prepared by their spouses.

However, despite the strict code of conduct of Chainarol, every victorious warrior does not always follow this conduct. In the case of one such dishonorable warrior, Heirem Kangbisu Athouba who not only cheated a brave warrior of victory by deceit his injury to the opponent but also ignored the last wishes of his dying opponent. It is believed that he was punished by his guardian spirits and died within five days of combat from an undiagnosed illness. By narrating such deviations and their consequences, Chainarol indirectly underlines the sanctity of the traditional code regarding treatment of dead warriors.

            Not all Chainaba results the decapitation of the opponent. In some episodes recorded in Chainarol, the defeated warrior is set free without any obligation. In some other case, the victor shows mercy on the defeated warrior if the latter is ready to accept his defeat and surrender his achievements in battles and hunts of game to the credit of the victor (Arun, trans. 2012, p 18).

Generally, Chainaba takes place in the disputed area if the bond of contention is about a boundary. In any case, the site of arm combat should not be more favorable to any one of the two combatants and should be mutually agreed upon. The action takes place in the open ground away from settlements in broad daylight. The way of combat is also decided solely by the nature of action of two combatants. Both of them have to come up with mutual agreement of the rules to be followed at the site and distance to be kept between two warriors in case of challenge using spears or bows and arrows. It is customary for a warrior to offer his opponent to strike first and vice versa opponent to respond by extending the same courtesy to the challenger. However, the combatant whose home territory is closer to the site of action usually gets the first chance of attack while the challenger is given first the privilege to use his weapon if the action takes place in a disputed area. In case both the warriors missed their target, they could choose another form of combat or weapon. It may be wrestling, sword fight or any other physical combat.

The warrior’s garb isworn only when one undergoes fight in a Chainaba and is emblematic of the group he belongs, of his status and of achievements on battlefields and hunting expeditions. It is usually not used while attending in their daily chores.


Wild animal like the boar having protruded teeth walk alone in search of a competent opponent for dual combat while the deer’s sharpen their horns for the same. A man is a social animal having same character of wild animal often remained hidden inside the domain of their genetic sequences. Brave warriors of such character were utilized as combatants by the chiefdoms to represent in dual combat instead of fighting in large number to prevent mass bloodshed for conflict resolution. The combatants should volunteer on behalf of their own chief and people. The end result of Chainarol is to decapitate the defeated warrior by the victor and perform dead mortuary rites. Victor may also perform additional rituals known as Yenpang Heeroi and Laktha Lanming to proclaim his victory before the public. Laktha Lanming ritual was also performed to invoke the spirit of war. This decapitation with ritual performance is a human sacrifice and ritual murder or retention sacrifice to serve him after dead. In fact the warrior might be killed in the combat but it is being delayed. The delayed killing permits the defeated warrior to declare his final wish to be performed after death by the victor. Even if the warrior died before decapitation, the victor is entitled to cut the head of the defeated warrior as war trophy and preserved to bury along with him after death. In the Chainarol, human sacrifice is practiced to appease the ancestral spirit along with other rituals. Yenpung Heeroi ritual is to compensate for whatever wrong deed in decapitation of the defeat.

Huyel Taltu ritual performed after the combat to subjugate the fallen foe; here the winner recounts his heroic deeds and make public announcement of the victory. In general, rituals were performed to unharmed victor in his future life by the spirit of defeat. He gives full respect to the deceased by burying the headless body after decapitation making a burial mount known as Chaina pung (the combat mount).

It is believed that the Chainarol is only tool to dispense justice from the ancestral deities in any dispute between two chiefdoms. It is a form of human sacrifice and ritual murder with due consent of the fallen foe for revealing heroic deeds. Ancient people also believed that the human head is abode of soul and should remain attached to the body even after death. But according to Chainarol, the head of deceased is preserved at the fire place of the victor’s home. The human and animal skulls acquired during victor’s life time have to be buried along with his dead body so as to retain these properties in the land of dead. So, human sacrifice can also be treated as retainer sacrifice. If the death penalty in modern context is accompanied with ritual performance, it became more or less ritual murder. Human sacrifice is found in many cultures, for example, in the Maya civilization such practice was retained until 18th century while in Manipur, it was abolished only after king Khagemba of Manipur.


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