Manipur - 'The Land of Jewels' aka 'Jewel of India' and it's so true

Samarjit Kambam *

33rd N Hajari & Dr N Tombi State Sagol Kangjei (Polo) at Mapal Kangjeibung :: 17 November 2017
33rd N Hajari & Dr N Tombi Sagol Kangjei (Polo) at Mapal Kangjeibung on 17 Nov 2017 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

Manipur known as 'Kangleipak' has its history as an independent princely state since 33 A.D. spanning in terms of millenniums till it merged to the Indian Union. Hard to believe? As a kingdom, Kangleipak had umpteen battles with its neighbouring country Myanmar, the erstwhile Burma. Of all, Kabaw Valley always remained a bone of contention between Burma and Kangleipak.

In the valley, a river called Ningthi Turel flows which is known for its resourcefulness. When we were kids, elders used to narrate to us that Ningthi Turel is abound with gold, gems, other precious stones and jewels. The Kabaw valley is also a resourceful valley with lotta trees growing such as Teak, Ebony, Mahagony and the likes.

As per Treaty of Yundabun 1825, Kabo Valley is the rightful property of Kangleipak. The irony is that Kabaw Valley which included Ningthi Turel was given away to Myanmar by the first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Till now, we are asking ourselves the question, "On what basis and for what palpable reason the valley was given away to Myanmar. Was it an intention to prune Manipur and make it smaller for easy dominance or was it a show off that India had adopted democracy after independence from British imperialist rule?" Questions galore. Uncertain answers.

During King Kyamba's reign, Kabaw Valley was within the territory of Manipur. However, the Burmese usually known as "Awas" had taken the valley as a part of Burma under the Konbaung Dynasty of Burma by invading Manipur and defeating the Meitei forces at Tamu and the ruling king Chingthang Khomba had to flee to Assam. In 1768, the king regained the throne of Manipur again. However, in 1814, Kangleipak again crawled under Burmese rule, however, the lost kingdom was taken back in 1819.

Again, during King Marjit's time, the Burmese defeated Kangleipak and reeled under the brutal rule of the Awas (Burmese) for seven years between 1819 and 1826 which is infamously known as "Chahi Taret Khuntakpa" (Seven Years' Devastation) where the people of Kangleipak were tortured, plundered, meted harsh inhuman treatments, and made to suffer in unimaginable ways. It was during King Gambhir Singh's reign where the Burmese were defeated after he regrouped an army of powerful worriers and pushed away the Awas and Kabaw Valley was recovered to become a territory of Kangleipak.

Now that Kabaw Valley has gone to Myanmar, we have lost one of the most resourceful valley throughout the world, all the palpable jewels and precious forest products are lost from our side for forever and a day. We, though feeling sad are not disheartened since there are many jewels and gems in Manipur in the guise of sportspersons.

Manipur has brought laurels for India in front of the whole world in games and sports. After Djukaw Valley also has also gone to Nagaland, Manipur has become a state from a small to a miniscule one. A big district of Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh is greater than the whole state of Manipur.

So, compared ratiowise with the number of population and inhabited area, Manipur has produced the highest number of sportspersons than other Indian states at the international level. No doubt, Manipur is known as the 'Sports Hub of India' or 'Power House of Sports in India' and nobody can deny it.

The prodigal birth of sports in Manipur took place since decades back. Of all, football is the main sport of Manipur. Besides there are a host of other indigenous sports such as Mukna (Wrestling), Khong Kangjei which is a combination of arts of Mukna and Kangjei (Cane Stick) to play the ball made of seasoned bamboo roots.

Sagol Kangjei (Polo), Yubi Lakpi (Coconut Rugby), OO-Laobi(similar to Kabaddi), Hiyang Tannaba (Boat Rowing Race) and Arambai Hunba which involves riding of ponies, Kang which is more than a millennium old sport and of course Sepak Takraw where the players of Manipur always rule the roost in India with no players of other state daring to come even close.

When I was a kid, the name of Nilakamal who qualified among the Indian Hockey squad in 1984 Olympics at Los Angeles reverberated inside our ears. We used to watch the Olympics hockey match in black & white TV, very nostalgic, of course. Even now, the name "Nilakamal" remains indelible from our heads.

During Housie (Tambola), the number '7' is still referred as "Nilakamal Hockey Stick Number" And then we have hockey world cupper L Tiken in 1986 and another hockey Olympian by the name of Ksh Thoiba in 1988 Olympics followed by Mr Chinglensana and Mr Kothajit in 2012 Olympics. Then the shotgun progenies came out in tandem like an everlasting series.

We have Ms Kunjarani Devi, recipient of Arjuna Award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and K.K. Birla Sports Award who procured Gold in World Weightlifting Championship in the international arena years back. She had been an inspiration to many. When it comes to Body Building, Mr Maipak, an old timer is known for holding the title of Mr India decades back.

Deriving inspiration from him Mr Bhakta Kumar made his mark many a times bringing laurels for India followed by Mr Arambam Boby who is a Six times Mr World Champion with three titles in a row in 2015, 2016 and 2017, three times Mr Asia, 12 times Mr India and champions in innumerable national body building championships and still not entitled for an Arjuna Award even though he pursued for it vigorously. If he was born in mainland India, things would have turned out differently for him with hell lotta recognition.

Mr Dingko made history in male boxing of the nation and brought glory to India by winning Gold in the 13th Edition of Asian Games held at Bangkok. Young tots like pugilist Mr Devendro draws inspiration from him. Ms Mary Kom, Hon'ble Member of Rajya Sabha has been shining again and again in the world arena bringing up women's boxing of India to lofty heights with achievements of 6 times World Championship, 01 Bronze at the Rio Olympics and many other international events.

No other sportswoman in India has so far been able to achieve what she has achieved. Then, we have Ms Laishram Sarita Devi, another pugilist who has brought laurels for India in women's boxing at the international domain. In fact, Ms Mary Kom and Ms Sarita are inspirational figures for the budding future female pugilists of Manipur. The football squad of the recently held U-17 FIFA World Cup consists of eight players from Manipur with Mr Nongdamba as team leader.

With the formation of All Manipur Football Association since 1991 as per directives from the FIFA, there's no looking back for women football players of Manipur. The women footballers from Manipur earned a big place with nine of its players representing Indian team at the 13th Bangkok Asiad Women's Football Championship. In Rio Olympics Miss Sushila Chanu was the team captain in Indian female hockey team.

In Archery we have Ms Bombayla Devi and the recipient of Gold medal Mr Khuraijam Ratankumar and Paonam Lily Chanu at the 18th Asian Archery Championship 2013. Recently, at the Women's World Weightlifting Championship at California, Ms Mirabai Chanu created a new record in 48 Kg category, after a gap of eight years after Karnam Malleswari's feat as world champion.

The list goes on and on. Malleswari hailing from mainland India was in the social media everywhere, took part in advertisement of various companies, signed contracts for big ventures with mammoth corporates but we don't expect such kinda 'hall of fame' for Mirabai Chanu as she hails from the remotest corner of India. Taking advantage of freedom of expression, I can't help but writing that there's always biasness between sportspersons of mainland India and sportspersons from North East India. The step-motherly attitude still prevails.

The Khuman Lampak Sports Stadium helped a lot of sportspersons of Manipur to achieve great feats. However, the insides tell a different story. There were cases where young sportspersons packed their backs and attempted to return to their respective villages due to the pathetic conditions of sportspersons viz, lodging, unhygienic water supply, filthy toilets, improper and inadequate diets whereas on official paper everything goes on perfectly fine.

Even with all the inconveniences faced by various Manipuri sportspersons, they anyhow managed to perform exceedingly well bringing laurels for India and the state. I am sanguine that our Hon'ble Prime Minister would speed up the process of construction of National Sports University in Manipur at the earliest.

If materialised, I sure hope that Manipur would be teeming with great sportspersons and be at the top of the tower of sports of India by producing many more at international level in various events. The incumbent government needs to liaise with the Centre for materialising it at the earliest and we sure hope things will come up to our expectations as our incumbent Chief Minister is a man of action and quite a promising leader of the state.

It is known that Manipur is a 'Paradise on Lofty Heights', 'Switzerland of India' , 'Jewel of India' and has great potential for tourism. The Manipuris were great warriors when Kangleipak was an independent kingdom. So, the courage and 'never give up' attitude runs in the veins of the Manipuris. It is also a land who introduced Polo to the world.

My heartfelt appreciation goes to all the sportspersons of Manipur who brought laurels for India at the international level thereby bringing up the face of India in front of the whole world. With sincere efforts from concerned Sports Ministry and concerned sports departments by providing state of the art equipments, modern infrastructure, good coaches, good diets, sufficient funding etc., Manipur will produce many more wannabes in the field of sports and emulsify them to excel and become the true jewels of Manipur, unlike the jewels of Ningthi Turel where the jewellery items will end up dangling from the necks of wives of ministers and hot shots of the state.

However, the jewels in the guise of sportspersons cannot be and can't be treated as 'off the cuff' items by them damsels, madams and mistresses of higher echelons of our society. Manipur, no doubt is a remote part of India and the people of mainland India nomenclate the North Easterners as 'Junglees'. Have you forgotten India's Tabla maestro Jakir Hussain's remarks on the 'Pung Cholom' troupe of Manipur as "monkeys from North East" years back? Let it be. I don't care. Am proud to be an indigenous Manipuri.

* Samarjit Kambam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on December 19 , 2017.

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