The Cassay Horse trails and opening of the Eastern Gate: Undying memories and shadows
- Part 1 -

Puyam Nongdrei *

Manipuri pony with Arambai: The secret weapons of Manipur in an exhibition in November 2010
Manipuri pony with Arambai: The secret weapons of Manipur in an exhibition in November 2010

Hada Samadon Ayangba Marjing laigi khunetsha Heingang chingda khubam ya yanggoiriba langgoi sha kouge nangbu chinglemba sagal tufang lamba sha…arambai gi khutsuna Meeteina awabu ngamkhiba langgoi nangi napalna langam firal thetkhiba...

The above lines sung by Mangka Mayanglangbam (watch video in ooba here) as special theme song of the 8th Manipur Polo International Tournament 2014 will be written down in the annals of Manipur. The sweet voice, talents of Mangka and lyrics of the song have awakened the heart and mind of Manipur to a great extent. The soul of Manipur has entered the body to give birth to a resurgent society. It narrates the wars fought by kings of Manipur against the Burmese and heroic sacrifices and laurels brought by the cavalrymen of the once powerful kingdom.

But it was not just about the wars and conflicts Manipur experienced in its long history of independent existence. The lines truly convey the message of the priceless Manipuri polo ponies. The vitality, power, spirit and courage of Samadon Ayangba (winged horse) will enhance the consciousness of the dormant society.

Samadon Ayangba has been remembered like the Pegasus of the Greek mythology. The song in itself is a search for a new place of the rare breed of pony. However, many more songs can be composed about the Cassay Horse. The main objective of this article is to create more songs of the Manipuri pony and the sacrifices made by the great cavalrymen of Manipur Kingdom.

Decline of Manipur and the Cassay Horse trails

In the post-Pamheiba (Garibnawaz) period, Manipur was defeated many times by the Burmese forces and Manipur was a declining power. In fact the establishment of the Konbaung dynasty in Burma (now Myanmar) by Alaungpaya was the darkest period in the history of Manipur. Its existence as an independent kingdom was time and again challenged by the mighty Burmese empire. The resistance movements put forth by Chingthang Khomba (Beigyachandra), Heerachandra, Yumjaotaba, Gambhir Singh and Nar Singh are still sung with great fanfare.

History has proven that the Manipuris love freedom like any other nation and people on earth. The children of this ancient land resisted every occupation with all means at their disposal. The Burmese got modern firearms from the French and the Portuguese while the Manipuris did their best to get the same from the British power much later. Love for freedom and patriotism were not the monopoly of few peoples. Manipur will always remember it. Nevertheless, the fame of the Manipuri pony and the skilled cavalrymen of the kingdom were recognised by the Burmese empire. This fact has been written down clearly by the Burmese chroniclers as well as the British Government.

The defeated Manipur Kingdom was extracted of its skilled artisans, weavers, craftsmen, cavalrymen and economic resources. The Burmese Kings put them to good use like in other kingdoms. The war captives from Manipur especially the Meeteis were recruited as cavalrymen of the Konbaung dynasty leading to the formation of the well-known Cassay Horse. Can Burma forget the thousands of Meetei cavalrymen who fought for Burma against the Thais and the British power?

In fact Manipur was the gold mine of Burma to maintain the Cassay Horse in good shape to expand, consolidate and defend Burmese power in Southeast Asia. One day the Manipuri descendants in Myanmar will surely reap the fruits of the sacrifices made by their forefathers for Burma. The legacy of the Cassay Horse in Burma is something which cannot be erased. The undying memories and shadows of the Cassay Horse still walk across mountains, plains and great rivers of Myanmar and Thailand.

The trails of Cassay Horse also have to narrate the history of both Manipur and Lanna Kingdom in the wider canvass of the Asian history. Lanna Kingdom was hit hard by the Burmese forces and was later on absorbed into the Siam Kingdom (Thailand). Manipur managed to regain its glory and place in the history for a short period until its defeat in the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891. The pains and sacrifices made by Chinglen Nongdren Khomba (Gambhir Singh) of Manipur and Prince Kawila of Lanna Kingdom will not be forgotten by their peoples.

While Chinglen Nongdren Khomba took help of the mighty British power to liberate Manipur from the Burmese occupation, Kawila sought support of Siam to fight against the Burmese occupation of Lanna. However, their sacrifices and courage could not reclaim the past glories of the two kingdoms. The powerful geopolitical forces acting upon Manipur and Lanna included Burma, Thailand, China, British Empire, French and Portuguese. Lanna Kingdom could not establish its independence after overthrowing the Burmese supremacy in the China, Laos, Burma and Thailand junction. It was annexed as part of Thailand under the Chakri Dynasty.

The British, Chinese, Siamese (Thai), Laotian and Burmese experienced the skilled cavalrymen of the Manipur in one way or the other. So the place of the Cassay Horse deserves a better one. When the undying memories and shadows of the ponies and cavalrymen enter the hearts and minds of the peoples living in India, Myanmar, China, Thailand and Laos, the opening of the Eastern Gate of Manipur will also be achieved. The "Opening of the Eastern Gate" (Nongpok Thong Hangba) cannot be achieved without the recognition and reclaiming of the Cassay Horse trails. One has to travel across the continental Southeast Asia passing through Myanmar for this.

Cultural exchange, educational exchange and greater people-to-people interaction are the need of the hour. The official recognition of Manipur's place in the history of Asia and respect for the sufferings and contributions of the people of Manipur are the only ways for the successful opening of the Eastern Gate. India and Myanmar have to start the process with sincerity in hearts.

The "Look West" policy of Thailand, the "Bridgehead Strategy" or "Western Development" of Yunnan (China) and the "Look East" or "Act East" policy of India cannot succeed without due recognition of Manipur's contribution to the shaping of the Asian destiny. The Silk Road or BCIM Economic Corridor also needs the same homework.

Most importantly, involvement of the people of Manipur as beneficiaries will determine whether the "Look East" or "Act East" policy of India is equal to the "Opening of the Eastern Gate" (hereafter OEG Policy) or not. The Eastern Gate of Manipur is Myanmar without any doubt. The closing of the Indo-Myanmar border since the military regime took control of the once prosperous country soon after gaining independence was a historically dark period. Similarly, the political reform initiated by the SPDC for a democratic Myanmar under the 2008 Myanmar Constitution is the beginning of a new era in the history of both Manipur (India) and Burma.

The developments in Myanmar, Thailand and China will have impacts on Manipur. The integration of the small state into the global market requires certain reforms in the state. Everything done for making the people of Manipur as beneficiaries of the "Act East/Look East" policy will be counted as part of the "Opening of the Eastern Gate (OEG)" policy.

Moreover, anything done by the Manipuris for the general well-being and advancement of mankind or at least a section of it will also be counted as part of the OEG policy. Myanmar is the key country in the east of Manipur and there is no doubt about it. Friendship and understanding with Myanmar is needed for the successful implementation of the OEG policy. Indo-Myanmar Relations are not openly discussed in public as there are grey areas still under the cover from public. People in the Ministry of External Affairs, Defence Ministry and Home Ministry know the details.

The historians have written enough about the number of deaths, rape victims, war captives, destruction and bloodshed committed by parties involved. Now, the new era calls for policy makers to count the number of craftsmen, technicians, intellectuals, investors, cultural enrichment, and economic contributions made by the human and material resources from both sides of the border. Mutual respect, mutual benefit, cooperation and exchanges across the borders are the things to be accomplished.

It is the time for all parties to pay homage to the departed souls for their sacrifices and sufferings during the period of wars and man-made hardships. Everything is changing. Former arch-enemies have turned into partners and friends. As the world is fast changing, we are not the exceptions to be left out. What remains undone is the sharing of joy and misery of life with those descendants of Cassay Horse who are settled in Mandalay and other parts of Myanmar.

A general awakening of the people of Manipur and adoption of a broader outlook to take part in the "Asia-Pacific Dream" will be the ultimate goal of the OEG policy. New Delhi and the Government of Manipur have to move everything they ought to for enabling the Manipuris to join the race of awakening, rejuvenation and competition to take part in the shaping of the destiny of the mankind. Manipur must not be left as the grey area. Good lobby, initiatives and proper channelling of voices to reach New Delhi are also required.

The undying spirit of the Manipuri pony reflected in the Cassay Horse will take us safely to Yunnan Province of China, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. The famed cavalry raised by Alaungpaya and his successors in Burma was the contribution of the war captives transported from Manipur. Thousands of Manipuris were sacrificed on the altar of territorial expansion and consolidation of empires. But they have left a deep footprint in the history of mankind.

Despite the losses, the fame of Cassay Horse and skills of the cavalrymen produced in the soil of Manipur will remain recorded as long as human beings inhabit the earth. There are thousands of Manipuris in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and other parts of the world who can make more contributions in the days to come provided we are not repressed and subjugated for petty political and strategic interests. One can go to an extra mile to ask the question: Can they be repressed forever?

A careful study of the contributions made by the People of Manipur (POM) and the People of Manipur Origin (POMO) will be helpful to those negative minds sitting in comfort zones. Enabling the Manipuris to make further and greater contributions irrespective of their citizenship and location in the world will open alternatives to the course of human civilisation and the destiny of mankind. The ASEAN, China and India really need it.

Distorted history, assimilation, hatred, subjugation and repressive measures in the name of national interests have brought only counter-productive results. A small population concentrated in the Asian landmass (India, Bangladesh and Myanmar) having at least 2000 years-old recorded history on the surface of the earth deserves proper care and handling in the name of humanity and mutual respect.

The world is becoming a small village and it should be big enough to accommodate the "Manipuri Dream". The "Manipuri Dream" is possible when the Manipuris scattered in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and the rest of the world can live with dignity and work in peace. A room for a dignified life of the POM and POMO should not invite the wrath of other peoples and nations in the world. Specifically speaking, this is the core interest of Manipur. The course of history calls upon the Manipuris to play without fear in the great playground of the Asian landmass if not in the Antarctica.

The Manipuri ponies have been there for ages to expand, consolidate and defend Manipur. But the larger picture with trails across the Southeast Asian landmass began when the Konbaung Dynasty began successive invasions of Manipur in the 18th century. The memories are still fresh in the minds of the Manipuris. The shadows still walk in this planet.

Recognition of these shadows and giving voice to them will change the course of time and face of the land. They are not dead bodies though they are dormant. They are also the living history and living museum. Our forefathers shed blood and pieces of flesh to make fertile the vast plains and ranges of hills in Myanmar. Their blood has been nourishing different societies in Laos, Yunnan and Thailand.

The rivers like the Ningthi (Chindwin), Ayeyerwady, Salween, Mekong, Chao Phraya, Wang and Ping have carried their blood downstream to the mighty oceans. The tear drops that fell down from their cheeks are still preserved in the deepest layers of the ground. Tachileik (Shan State), Chiang Mai, Chiang Saen, Lampang, Phitsanulok, Kanchaburi and Tennasserim hills still remember their faces. The Three Pagoda Pass showed them coming to invade Thailand on horsebacks. They helped the Burmese to destroy Ayutthaya. But they also contributed to the construction of new capital in Bangkok as prisoners of war taken to Thailand.

To be continued ...

* Puyam Nongdrei wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at khuman_mei(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was posted on January 12, 2015.

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