Endless Kabaw Valley
(British created vicious cycle of Manipur, Burma and India)
- Part 3 -

By Dr Th Suresh *

Part II: Anglo Manipuri Relationship

It will not be too much to state that most of the ills of Manipur is due to the behavior of Garibaniwaj. On of the ablest Kings is already surrounded by one bold black mark-that of burring Manipuri historical books and destroying those valuable assets. Had he been a little tactfull, he could have kept the priceless books intact and continue his religious activities. It is his misfortune that history will never forgive him.

To this, I will add another blemish that of handing over the Throne to his incompetent step-son Ajit (Chit) Sai intead of to Shyamjai Khurailakpa, the natural and competent hegir. It is again to Manipur's misfortune that one of the courageous kings of Manipur will again not be forgive by history.

Let us imagine the scenario, let us see what could have happened if Garibaniwaj had not handed over the throne to Ajitsai:

i) would not there be smooth succession to the Throne in succeeding generations instead of each other fighting by various princes / kings?
ii) Would the Burmese ever dare to lay their footprints in Manipur?
iii) Would the British ever keep their footprints in our state?
iv) Would there ever have been seven years devastation by the Burmese?
v) Would there have been the never endings controversy of Kabaw Valley?

These intrigue historical perspectives will become clearer and clearer to the reader in the succeeding pages. The more the writer read about Garibniwaj, the more fascinating it became. However the writer is also saddened to put in black and white that his courageous act of conquering and destroying the Burmese capital of Ava and its subordinate principalities ten times during his reign is negetivated by his various acts of omissions and commissions.

Can we have a clear mindset to answer these million dollar questions? Let us try. For simple understanding by the simple readers, the Anglo-Manipuri relationship is put chronologically for three periods:-

From Ajitsai's reign to Nara Singh's reign (May 1748 to 1850)
1) The reader has seen above that Garibaniwaj handed over the throne to Ajitsai, the unworthy king. The 1st relationship started during the reign of this incompetent king. After Plotting and killing Garibaniwaj and Shyamjai Khurailakpa, Ajitsai was forced to abdicate the throne by his brother Bharatsai who became king. Bharatsai also conspired against Gourashyam and Jai Singh, the two sons of Shyamjai against Khurailakpa. However, another noble-hearted brother Anant Sai conspired Bharatsai who fled. By this time people came to know the bad intention of Ajitsai and Bharatsai.

Hence, by people's consent Arant Sai made his distant son Gourashyam (Moramba) and Jai Sing (Bhagyachandra) alternate king of 5 years duration each. Thus Gourashyam became king during 1753-59 and 1961-63 when he suddenly died at the age of 35/36 years. Bhagyachandra became king in April, 1759, abdicated in 1961 and handed over the same to Gourashyam. He again became king in September /October 1763 and again in March, 1768.

These are the mind bogling scenarios of those periods in the history of Manipur. One has to grasp these things to understand how Anglo-Manipuri relationship began. Meanwhile, Ajit Sai who fled to Triperra (Tripura) sought British help to regain the throne of Manipur. This is the 1st beginning of Anglo-Manipuri relationship, this is the real beginning of the Anglo-Manipuri relationship. Seeing the situation, King Bhagyachandra sent one Harida Gossain (who knew Bengali) to Mr. Verelhst, the British Chief at Chittagong for negotiation.

Haridas convinced the British Chief on three accounts i) Ajit Sai's plea was false and incorrect ii) requires British help against Burma who were troubling Manipur off and on and iii) possibility of an extensive trade between British India and China through Burma and Manipur. Luckily for Manipur, during this time, British troops were harassed by the Burmese with the help of France in the ports of Negrais and Peru in Burma.

Hence, Mr. Verelhst recommended acceptance of the proposal to Mr. Vansittart, the Governor General of Bengal and President of the Board of Directors of the British East-India Company. The Governor accepted the proposal and decided to send three officers to study the situation. They stayed for 14 months in Manipur and sent a report to the Governor General.

The favourable report was accepted by the Governor General and thus the 1st Anglo-Manipuri treaty was signed on 14th September, 1762 at Calcutta rejecting Ajit Sai's plea. Haridas Gossain signed it on behalf of King Bhagyachandra. It was decided to send six companies of sepoys under three officers. Thus under Mr. Verelhst, the sepoys left for Manipur in January, 1763, reached Kashipur of Cachar in April. However because of unfavourable weather, rain, disease etc. could not proceed to Manipur and hence returned to Bengal. Thus the terms of the treaty were not fulfilled.

2. Meanwhile one Vaishraba Brahmin was killed by his servant. The king who was a true follower of Vaishraba religion abdicated his throne for this simple incident and handed over the throne to his elder brother Gourashyam. This occurred in the year 1761. One finds that there is a disparity in the year of abdication and the year signing of the 1st treaty. Hence this needs further research. Either the abdication year is wrong, or the possibility is the abdication occurred in December, 1761, Haridas left before abdication and when he returned to Manipur after signing, the king already abdicated the Throne.

Anyway, as Bhagyachandra was no longer king, the British requested the Manipur king to send authorized persons for new signature. Accordingly king Gourashyam sent three persons with uncle Ananta Sai as leader with Podullo Singh and Chitton Singh to be assisted by Gaganath Datta who knew Bengali. Thus the 2nd Indo-Manipur treaty (terms and conditions same as the 1st one) was signed at Calcutta on 11th September, 1763 i.e one year after the signing of the 1st one.

3. Establishment of Gambhir Singh Levy: Another mind boggling palace intrigues involving various princes were happening similar to the one after the death of Garibniwaj, after the death of Bhagyachandra. His son king Labanachandra was killed by his brother Modhuchandra and became king (1800-03). Modhuchandra made his brother Chourajit Jubaraj and Marjit Singh Senapati.

Meanwhile Chourjit knew the bad intentions of King Modhuchandra, left him and went to Cacher, returned after about 1 year and 4 months and became king. Meanwhile Modhuchandra, who fled to Cachar King Krishnachandra (his daughter Indraprava's husband) for safety, invaded Manipur with the help of some British army. But he was defeated and killed by Chourajit and Marjit at Samupand near Keinou. Thus Chourajit's reign continued from 1804 to 1814.

Meanwhile, his brother Marjit revolted twice, reached an agreement wit Awa King Ba-Gi-Dao to became king by handing over Kabaw Valley to Burma. Thus he became king during 1814-19. Later on the relationship became strained. The Awa king sent his two generals Pakhawown and Kaniwoon, invaded Manipur and captured the same on 8/1/1820 (Tuesday). Thus started the seven years devastation of Manipur which is well known to all Manipuries. Then Marjit ran to Brother Churajit at Cachar, good brother Chourajit pardoned him and gave away half of his kingdom there.

By this time the reader is clear that this unworthy and incompetent king Marjit is responsible for three things: i) handing over of Kabaw Valley to Burma ii) Seven years destruction of Manipur (1820-26) and iii) establishment of Gambhir Singh Levy.

Meanwhile British Burma relationship became worst. Burma had already occupied Manipur and Assam and demanded return of the princes of the two states (including Gambhir Singh) who were in British territory. The relationship worsened further and on 5th March, 1824, Governor General Lord Armhurst declared war against Burma. Intense war broke out in the Cachar front with the Burmese having the upper hand.

Thus in April, 1824, Raja Gambhir Singh Levy (later on known as Manipur Levy) was formed based on two angles:
a) from the British angle it was important to have an independent and stable buffer state of Manipur to protect British interest and to check further advance of Burma. They already knew the courage, smartness and foresightedness of Gambhir Singh and firmly believed that he could execute the intended activities,
b) from the Manipur angle Prince Gambhir Singh, with the burning idea of recapturing Manipur from the Burmese York and driving them out beyond our forfatherly occupied Kabaw Valley and surrounding area, has no other choice except to seek British help. His brother Nara Singh had also the same idea. Hence Gambhir Singh made Nara Singh the 1st commanding officer of the Levy, trained for 1 month (September) in Dhaka by British Military officers, thus Nara Singh became the 1st Manipur officer trained in modern military warefare.

The British East India Company accepting the idea of rising the Gambhir Singh levy was because of the sound recommendation of Devid Scott, the Agent to the Governor General in the Assam and N.E. states. The British gave aid and assistance to drive out the Burmese and in return Gambhir will get his motherland, Manipur. The total strength of the levy was 594 army including 40 cavalry. The brevity of the Levy was shown in the Tilian (South of Silchar town) war were the two brothers defeated the Burmese troops and checked their advance in the Cachar Sylet sector.

The East India Company further wanted to pursue the Burmese upto Manipur and to drive them further. Accordingly, Brigedier General Suldham (chief of N.E. Command) was instructed to prepare a fighting force. The General did the same the proceeded to Baskandi (at the side of Jiri River) in February, 1825. However because of bad road condition, unfavourable rain and mosquito-born diseases, the idea to proceed to Manipur was abandoned. Accordingly, the General sent a negative report to the Supreme Administrative Council of East-India Company on 11th March, 1825.

4. Freeing Manipur from Seven Years Devastation: The British set back was a major disappointment to Gambhir Singh and Nara Singh. However they were adamant, didn't want to loose the once in a lifetime chance and wanted to proceed to Manipur on their own. Accordingly, Gambhir Singh informed the British, who agreed to help as they had nothing to lose. Lt. RB. Pemberton wanted to accompany the levy, requested for leave; the leave was granted. He came down upto Manipur as an observe and became a great cheater in Kabaw Valley negotiation as explained in part I of this write-up.

The Manipur journey was started on 17th May, 1825, there were pitched battles with Burma at Nunga Village, Moyang Keinou etc. But the Capital Kangla was captured on 12th June, 1825 without any fight by entering from the western entrance. Same day at 8 am., Gambhir Singh was declared king and the king declared subsequent freedom of Manipur from Burmese occupation in front of the Levy army and the crowd. Maharaj Gambhir then declared brother Nara Singh as Senapati in addition to the Commanding Officer post of the Gambhir Singh Levy.

The condition of the state at that time was beyond imagination. There were no cultivation because of Seven Years Devastation. The knowledgeable king knew the condition very well. He knew that the overall development of the state as well as that of defense forces were improbable in such a situation. He also knew that unless the Army was expanded and trained fully, it would be impossible to recapture the Kabaw Valley. He discussed the situation with his brother Senapati and Lt. R.B. Pemberton in detail. It was then decided to proceed to Sylhet to take sufficient food items and accordingly left for Sylhet on 24th June, 1825. The burden of defending Kangla was handed over to Nara Singh.

After becoming king, the Gambhir Singh Levy was then known as Raja Gambhir Singh Levy (name inserted by the British, hence known as such). At Sylhet, the Raja had detailed discussion with East-India Company authorities, the Company also appointed 2 British Officers, namely, Captain F.S. Grant and Lt. R.B. Pemberton as Instructor-cum-Commissioner of the said Levy.

With sufficient armoury and food materials, the Raja and his party left for Manipur on 4th December 1825, reached Maklang Village on 18th and entered Kangla on 23rd December. On the same day, after having a grand feast, in a gathering, the Raja declared the important terms and conditions of the Gambhir Singh Levy as outlined below:
i) from this day onwards, the Gambhir Singh Levy will be known as Manipur Levy
ii) army strength will be increased from 500-1,500 and that of calvalry from 40-150 as agreed to by the British
iii) the expenditure of clotting , fooding, ammunition, medicine etc. will be borne by the supreme council and
iv) the British will stock these materials at Chandrapur of Cachar as Arsenal (Chandrapur was developed by the Raja's father King Bhagyachandra).

Hearing the terms and conditions, the Levy army were in great joy. In fact, the whole of Manipur were overjoyed. This is a milestone in the history of the Anglo-Manipuri relationship on two events. The 1st one is the expansion and subsequent training of the Levy army led to the recapture of the Kabaw Valley. The 2nd and more disastrous one is this further led to the handing over of the Kabaw Valley to Burma without the Raja's consent by the two British negotiators and cheaters, namely, Major F.J. Grant and Captain R.B. Pemberton (already described in detail in Chapter I and will again be described in the Chapter Various treaties.

5. Signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo, 1826: Meanwhile the 1st Anglo-Burma war, which was started in 1825, ended in February, 1826. A treaty was signed on 24th February at the end of the war. Though Manipur was not a signatory to the Treaty, its importance has to be emphasized on 3 counts:
i) article 2 of the treaty clearly state that should Gambhir Singh return to Manipur, he shall be recognized as a sovereign king
ii) the British embassy at Burma recognized Manipur as an independent state and
iii) the British assured Burma that they would not assist Gambhir Singh by giving man, money and advice-prejudicial to the Burma interest. The treaty was signed purely signed purely in English interest in the hope that no war would again broke out with Burma. It was proved wrong by the succeeding two wars.

6. Signing of Jiri Treaty of 1833: Further, a lot happened in the boundary of Cachar front. After the Aglo-Burma war, around 1830-31, Cachar had been annexed to British India. Gambhir Singh was still in possession of Chandrapur area of Cachar. Cachar King Gobindachandra, who was restored to the throne by the British after giving pensions to Manipur princes, asked the British to compel Gambhir to vacate Chandrapur area. Raja Gambhir refused to vacate the area on the ground that the area was his paternal property as his father received the land as a gift from Raja Krishnachandra, Gobindacharya's brother and former ruler of Cacher.

For want of documentary evidence, Gambhir's plea was dismissed by David Scott, the Agent to the Governor General in Assam and N-E India. The Agent, however, allowed Gambhir Singh to use an area of around 240 acres east of Basbandi for a period of 15 years to establish a magazine and stationing of man for carrying arms and ammunitions to Manipur (Dr. Ibochouba quoted that a treaty for this was signed in 1830. However, according to Kulachandra Sharma's narrative, it was around 2nd half of 1825. Hence we need further research).

Coming back, the writer will be skipping details of the Jiri Treaty. It will be dealt in detail in the Chapter Various Treaties. This treaty signed on 18th April, 1833 bears political, defence and trade marks. Politically, Gambhir Singh will withdraw his thana at Chandrapur in exchange for transfer of Jiribam (Jiri) to Manipur. The Jiri river and the western bend of Barak river is the inter-state boundary between Cachar and Manipur.

Defence wise each other will protect their territory i.e. either Manipur or eastern frontier of British India in case of war with Burma. The Raja will get arms and ammunitions from the Britis for this purpose. And Trade wise the Raja will not obstruct any British trade nor impose any heavy duty.

(An indepth analysis is a attempted for Kabaw Valley under different sub headings i) boundary - Past and Present, ii) Anglo-Manipuri relationship iii) Manipur - Burma relationship, iv) Indo-Manipuri relationship, v) various treaties and finally vi) what we can do; being published serial wise - editor)

To be continued ....

* Dr Th Suresh wrote this article for Huieyen Lanpao (English Edition) .
The author is an MD. WHO Fellow (Holland and UK), and Ex Director of Health Services, Manipur & Chairman, Dr. Suresh Centre for Foreign Studies & Placement
This article was webcasted on March 29, 2011.

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