In the beginning of the 18th century, as a result of political and cultural changes, the Bengali script replaced Meetei Mayek— the indigenous script of Manipur (a north-eastern state of India bordering Myanmar). Since then, the people of Manipur have been using the Bengali script for writing Meeteilon, the main spoken language of Manipur. This led to the introduction of new sounds in the Meeteilon from the Bengali script. Hence, during this period some new and modified letterforms were added for these sounds in Meetei Mayek.
However after a number of conferences, the scholars have finally concluded that Meetei Mayek consists of 27 letteforms with their supplements.
After almost 250 years, in 2005-06, the Government of Manipur officially approved the Meetei Mayek and included in the academic curriculum of Manipur Education. The new generation is learning Meetei Mayek instead of Bengali script to read and write Meeteilon. As the new generation is learning Meetei Mayek and it is slowly replacing the Bengali script, new typefaces will also be required for various forms of communication—newspapers, magazines, books, and many other media.
At present there are only a few typefaces, of questionable quality. Very limited research has been done on Meetei Mayek from the typographic point of view. Besides, there is a need to develop a system or guideline for designing Meetei Mayek typefaces.
To develop an original and quality typeface, one needs to understand the structure of the letterforms of the script. It is important to examine the historical developments in the structure of letterforms of the script (inscriptions, manuscript etc.), as well as understand their present usage in the environment (signpaintings, print etc). This will help us know about the possibilities and restrictions in creating the shapes of letterforms. This will eventually enable one to make a practical decision while designing Meetei Mayek typefaces.
This presentation discusses the typographic evolution of Meetei Mayek with examples from inscription, manuscript, letterpress, sign-paintings and digital typefaces. It reflects on the existence of multi-script communication in Manipur and its influence on Meetei Mayek. It questions the advent of different foreign elements—additional letterforms, punctuation marks and other typographic features, that became a part of the current Meetei Mayek typography.