Aspects of Bringing Peace and Harmony in Manipur
- Part 2 -

H. Bhuban Singh *

Maharaja Sir Churchand Singh also went to the Chief of Hundung in Ukhrul District. There are stone placards to commemorate the dates of visits of Maharaja Sir Churchand Singh, of his son Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh, and of grandson Maharaja Okendra Singh.

Even the date of visit of titular Maharaja Lcisemba Sanajaoba was seen on a similar stone placard. According to legend, the Hundung Chief is always senior to the Meitei Maharajas of Manipur, even when the Maharaja is senior in age.

When I visited Hundung about ten years back, I met the Chief and he advised me to address him as father or Ipa Ningthou even though he was about a decade younger to me. Hence, the legacy of a shared single administrative unit and system, improved harmony in Manipur.

Close co-operation in military affairs brings trust and confidence. Even former die-hard enemies like the United States of America and the United Kingdom on the one hand and Germany on the other hand are fast friends now on account of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Combined military exercise under NATO bring out cooperation, understanding and mutual respect.

In the same manner, tribal chiefs with their warriors joined the forces of the Meitei Kings whenever it was necessary. Let me illustrate by narrating two historical facts.

During the long rule of 55 years (1597-1652) by King Khagemba, he had a standing army in barracks of tribal as well as Meitei soldiers. A Chinese horde from Yunan area of south China strayed into Manipur and came right upto Imphal area. Khagemba built a barricade and defeated the Chinese. That place where he built the barricade is now known as Khagempalli (palli means barricade, Khagi means Chinese), Imphal.

The captured Chinese prisoners of war were allowed to settle down at Sekmai Village near Leimakhong Army Camp and were provided with Meitei wives. They are Lois (scheduled castes) now. The Chinese knew how to make bricks, known as 'chek' in their language. The same word was introduced in Meitei-lon and brick in Manipuri language is 'chek'.

The Chinese also knew how to make silk-yarn from cocoons of silk-worms. They must had captured silk-worms from jungles of Manipur and muga-silk clothes were introduced in Manipur.

Continuing our discussion on close cooperation on military matters between Mcilei Kings and tribal Chieftains, let us now go back to the history of Chahee-Taret Khunlakpa (seven years' devastation of Manipur 1819-1825).

The Kingdom of Manipur always fought wars with Burma known as Ava or Awa to Meiteis. Normally, was Meiteis who crossed the river Cliindwin (or Ningthee to Meiteis) and attacked Burma right upto Mandalay. There was a cut-mark on the main door of the famous Pagoda at Mandalay, inflicted by the sword of Maharaja Garibniwas of Manipur. The cut-mark was existing till about twenty years ago (1990s), but now, the Myanmar Government had removed it by polishing.

When Burma was ruled by the Pong dynasty, it became very powerful. The Burmese attacked Manipur and conquered it in 1819. Meitei Maharajas and Princes fled to Cachar and offered their services to East India Company.

The British tested the bravery and military skills of the Meitei Princes. They found it quite satisfactory. So the British raised a small Manipur Force known as Manipur Levy of 500 soldiers at Sylhet, under the command of Captain F.J. Grant and Lieutenant Boileau Feinberton.

Prince Gambhir Singh and his cousin Prince Nara Singh were in the Manipur Levy. They were trained at Badarpur Cantt. near Syhlet. Maharaja Govinda Chandra of Cachar did not like the usurper Manipuri Princes.

So, he requested for help from the East India Company's office at Sylhct. The request was rejected since the British thought that Manipur Princes were more valuable to them. In fact the Manipuri princes fought for the British in Khasi and Jayentia hills areas and proved their worth.

Then, Maharaja Govinda Chandra approached the Burmese for help. The Burmese Army attacked Cachar and thus the First Angolo Burmese War (1824-28) broke out in early 1824. The British plan was to attack Burma from two fronts. The plan was while Major General Sir Archibald Campbell was to land troops by sea route at Rangoon, around May 1824 Brigadier General Shuldham's force of about 6000 men and a huge quantity of supplies was to march from Dacca in March 1824 through Manipur and the two forces were to link up at the Burmese capital.

But, due to insurmountable problems of communication disease and sickness, this force of Gen. Shuldham had to turn back from the banks Jiri river in Cachar.

After the unsuccessful attempt of General Shouldham, Gambhir Singh now proposed to liberate Manipur with his Manipur Levy, He convinced the British that his lightly equipped small force would have no problem of communication as faced by General Shuldham.

The proposal was accepted and Lt Pemberton was deputed to accompany the force. Garni Singh, Nara Singh and Lt. Pemberton left Sylhet on 17 May, 1825. On the way, tribal people with dah (sword), spears, and bows and arrow joined the force and reached the western Outskirts of Imphal valley on 10 June. In an encounter near Bishnupur at the western outskirts of Imphal valley many Burmese were killed and captured as prisoners. Gambhir Singh took possession of Imphal on 12 June.

The Burmese forces withdrew to Andro aboul twenty kilometers from Imphal. Gambhir Singh advanced to Andro but before the Manipuri Prince reached, the Burmese fled. And very soon, the whole of Manipur was liberated. Handing over charge of protecting Manipur to Senapati Nara Singh with 300 Manipur Levy men and 700 locally raised militia, Gambhir Singh and Lt. Pcmbaton left Manipur for Sylhet by end of June 1825.

The news of the successful expedition against the Burmese pleased the British. Gambhir Singh came back to Manipur in December 1823 with reinforcements and 1500 muskets. This time, Captain Grant accompanied Gambhir Singh. By February 1826, Gambhir Singh captured Kabo valley. This successful military campaign by 500 Manipur Levy men could not have been possible without support from tribal chiefs. They were the back-bone of this campaign right upto the capture of Kabow Valley.

Coming to cultural and racial mix, I daresay that Meitei Hindu culture is a mix of tribal, pre-Hindu and post-Hindu cultures. I will support my statement with proofs.

During the Lai Haraoba (worship of sylvan deity), the participation by real or imitation Tangkhul dancer/dancers and also participation by real or imitation Kabui dancers are always necessary. This cannot happen unless Meiteis and tribal peoples had close cultural links.

I daresay that all Meitei Brahmins originated from mainland Mayang (mayang means non-Manipuri). They were Manipurised after offering Meitei women as wives. It is an inviolable tradition that Leirum, the Tangkhul blanket is a must item to be included as a dowry item for all Meitei brides including Meitei Brahmins, colloquially known as 'Bamon'.

Also all dwelling houses of Meiteis have a place in the south-west corner for worshipping 'sanamahi', the household deity. All Meitei houses have 'sanamahi' corners, including houses of Meitei Brahmins.

King Pamheiba later GaribNiwaj (1708-1748) was the son of Queen Ningselchaibi of Maram, now in Senapati District. During those days, killing of baby Princes were a common occurance.

So, the future king Pamheiba was sent to Maram area to be brought up by the family of the Queen. Through a Palace intrigue, led by a very powerful Tribal nobleman at the instigation and planning by the Queen, Pamheiba ascended the throne.

There is enough evidence from history that Meiteis have lot of tribal blood infused in their physical bodies too as GaribNiwaj was, Only after tribal peoples embraced Christianity and Meiteis became Hindus, there appeared a wall of separatism.

Even so, my cousin brother Haobam Shyam Sunder Singh (1915-2002) of Yaiskul, a self-taught painter and sculptural artist of fame, married a tribal Tangkhul lady.

In our Haobam family group residing at Pishum, Haoground, my cousin brother, the late Shyamananda Singh, retired Deputy Superintendent of Police has a Tangkhul lady as his daughter-in-law. She is simply superb and got herself completely merged into Meitei Hindu culture.

Even geography also get merged into this cultural-racial mix. We all know about the existence of township of Senapati and the existence of the District of Senapati. But many did not know how all these things have come about.

Please allow me to relate how. When Maharaja Chandrakirti Singh (1850-1886) ruled Manipur, the Angolo-Manipuri relations were at its peak best. Major General Sir James Johnstone, KCSI was the British Political Agent In the Court of Maharaja Chandrakirti Singh.

For helping the British in their war against recalcitrant Nagas, the Maharaja was presented with a robe of honour and a British sword, which the Maharaja refused to wear, he was also knighted for helping the British in their last Angolo-Burmese War, 1885 by conferring KCSI (Knight Commander and Star of India), but our proud Maharaja refused to call himself as Maharaja Sir Chandrakirti Singh, KCSI, as he imagined himself to be of the same status as Queen Victoria.

Coming back to the story of Senapati District and Senapati Township, Sir James Johnstone persuaded Maharaja Chandrakirti Singh that since he was the representative of the British Queen, he enjoyed some status and that he should be received near Karong by a Prince and that the Prince and Sir Johnstone should ride horses and come to Imphal with escorts and band.

Maharaja Chandrakirti Singh agreed. So, he used to send his son, Prince Tikendrajit Singh, the Senapati to Karong. So, Tikendrajit Singh used to camp at a suitable place near Karong. The place where Tikendrajit Singh used to camp became known as Senapati. Now, we have Senapati township and Senapati District.

In conclusion, I assert that the existence of Manipur as an entity from the language, administrative, historical and racial harmony points of view is a proven fact and I appeal to all Manipuris to preserve our proud heritage.


H. Bhuban Singh

* H. Bhuban Singh wrote this piece originally. This was published in "Manipur Today" - a publication from DIPR, Govt. of Manipur. This article was webcasted on November 19th, 2009.

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