Long, long ago, in the land of Kangleipak in Manipur, there lived a Ningthou and a Leima. They were loved dearly by the people.
The Ningthou and Leima, on their part, never stopped thinking about their meeyam their people. “Our meeyam should be happy,” they said.
The people were not the only ones who loved their Ningthou and Leima. The birds and animals too loved them. The Ningthou and Leima always said: “Everybody in Kangleipak should live in peace. Not only the people, but the birds, animals and trees.”
Their beloved king and queen had three sons: Sanajaoba, Sanayaima and Sanatomba. Twelve years later, a daughter was born. She was named Sanatombi. She was a lovely child, soft and beautiful inside. She was loved by one and all.
The years went by, and the children grew up well. And then one day, the Ningthou called all his ministers and said: “It is now time to decide the Tunggi Ningthou, the future king.”
The ministers were shocked. “But O Ningthou, what is there to decide? Sanajaoba, your eldest son, will be our future king.”
“Well,” the Ningthou replied. “That’s how it happened in the old days. The eldest son always became the king. But times have changed. So let us select a king who is most worthy of becoming a king.”
“We will have a contest to select the future king,” the Leima said, and so, in the land of Kangleipak, there was a contest, a horse race.
Whoever reached the khongnang, the banyan tree, first would be declared Tunggi Ningthou. But then, a strange thing happened. Sanajaoba, Sanayaima and Sanatomba all three of them finished the race together. They were expert riders and all three reached the finish line at the same time!
There was great excitement. “Look at them!” the people shouted, “Shagol thauba nupa, such fine horsemen!”
But one question remained; Who would be the Tunggi Ningthou?
The Ningthou and Leima turned to their sons. The Ningthou said, “Sanajaoba. Sanayaima and Sanatomba, you have proved that you are fine horsemen. Do something different each one of you, so that we can decide who will be Tunggi Ningthou.” Suddenly, Sanajaoba mounted his horse and held his spear straight in front of him. He looked around. There was a hush among people. “What is Sanajaoba, the eldest, going to do? They thought to themselves.
Sanajaoba then looked at the huge khongnang standing majestically in the distance. He pierced the tree and jumped his horse right through it!
“Bravo! Bravo!” The people shouted, “Thouro! Thouro! And then they fell silent.
Now it was the turn of the second son, Sanayaima. What would he do? Sanayaima too looked at the khongnang as he mounted his horse. Then he too rode towards the tree, harder and harder. The people watched in silence, afraid even to breathe. When he was really close, he urged his horse to jump. Higher and higher the horse rose until horse and rider jumped clear over the huge tree and landed on the other side in a wonderful motion.
The People breathed in relief and said in unison: Phajei! Phajei! Wonderful! Wonderful!
And now, it was the turn of the youngest son, Sanatomba. He, too, rode his horse towards the khongnang and, before anybody knew what was happening, uprooted it. Triumphantly he carried the tree to the Ningthou and Leima and laid it at their feet! Shouts of Thouro! Thouro! Phajei! Phajei!” filled the mountains.
The people grew restless. Why were the Ningthou and the Leima taking so long to make the announcement?
They craned their necks to see what was happening. The Ningthou and Leima were watching Sanatombi, their five year-old daughter. She looked sad and lonely. She stared at the khongnang which lay dead by the throne. Birds flapped worriedly around, searching for their homes in the tree. Sanatombi walked up to the khongnang and whispered, “The khongnang is dead. It was hurt by the spear and now it is dead.
The people were all attention. The Ningthou stood up. He looked at the three boys. He looked at the little girl. He turned to the people. “If anybody is worthy of becoming the ruler,” he said, “it is little Sanatombi. It was she who told us to look at the soul of the khongnang. Sanatombi feels the pain of others. She feels the pain of the people, the animals, the birds, the trees.”
“I declare Sanatombi the future Leima of Kangleipak,” the Ningthou said. A silence fell. Everyone turned to look at the little girl, their future queen. There she stood, all of five, like a small khongnang, with birds flying all around her. They sat on her shoulders and on her head. She held out her hands full of grain and the birds flapped about her, pecking at the food.
“A Leima is one who doesn’t hurt anybody in the kingdom.”