by Syeda Fabiha Tasnim
The Mro, a minority within the minority groups of Bangladesh living mostly in Bandarbans, has a doleful tale to tell.
The Mro folklore states that one day, their supreme god Turai decided to bless each ethnic community with their own script and religion. He wrote them down on a banana leaf and assigned a gayal, a mythical bovine, with the task of delivering them to separate communities.
But when the gayal reached the Mro people, it had neither anything with it and denied any such present! Perplexed, the Mros took the gayal (cow) to the god Turai and demanded an explanation. The gayal then admitted to eating the banana leaves as it got hungry on its long journey from heaven to earth.
Upon hearing the gayal’s mischief, an enraged Turai slapped the gayal across its face, causing it to lose all the teeth in its upper jaw, and accursed it to death at the hands of the Mro.
Since then, cows don’t have teeth on their upper jaw to this date; and since then, the nature worshipping Mros sacrifice a cow representing the gayal during their major religious festival to pay homage to their loss.
This lack of their own script had been a source of crying shame for the Mro community up until the early 1980’s when Kramadi came to their rescue.
Born in 1965 to jhum cultivator parents Mensingh Mro and Tumte Mro of Pora Paara village at the foot of hill Chimbuk, Kramadi’s birth name was Menlay Mro. He, later on, became popular by the name ‘Kramadi,’ which means ‘the supremely enlightened one.’
Kramadi left his village in around 1984 and enrolled in the only residential school for Mro community of his time at the age of 18. This unusually old first grader used to meditate under a sacred fig tree at night. It is during these contemplation sessions that he received an alphabet for his people. Shortly after that, he left the school and returned to his village.
Words started to spread. Although most thought Kramadi had lost his mind at first, the village’s respected elderly Lang Pung Mro hadn’t.
After some three years and with the patronage of personages like Lang Pung, Kramadi formed a three-membered advisory body and dedicated himself to spreading this alphabet along with a religion that was named after him, the Krama religion.
This alphabet now even has a computer font named Riyen. An educated Mro named Menrum Mro developed computer fonts for the Mro alphabet.
Because of the mythical beliefs and their effect on the collective psyche of the community, the Mro script is an integral part of the Krama religious order.
With 31 letters, numerical digits from 0 to 9 and two punctuation marks called danda and double danda, the krama script is now a part of the textbooks of grades one to three of the local schools. An estimated 60 per cent of the Mro population of Bangladesh are related to the Mro script.
Similar stories of newly devised ethnic scripts are not exclusive to the Mros. What makes Kramadi’s script a success, then?
Part of it can be credited to the religion accompanying his script. Krama as a religion has restructured the Mro lifestyle.
For example, Mros were one of the few underdressed ethnic tribes of the country, with their men growing long hair. Krama’s religious teachings contain modified dressing and hair styling guidelines that bring its adherents closer in fashion to the modern world.
This power of the religion to reorganise the lives of its followers for the better is what gave the script-religion duo a greater acceptance among the people. Today, not only does a majority of the Mro population in Bangladesh follow this religion, Krama has spread beyond the borders into Myanmar too.
Menlay Mro, alias Kramai, is known to have set out on a spiritual journey in search of nirvana. No one knows where he is now, but his devotees believe one day, he will return to them, on the back of a white horse galloping from the east. Until then, Mro script and Krama religion will bear his legacy of relieving the Mro people from the ignominy of not having a script of their own.
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