TODAY -

The Battle Of Khongjom and the Manipuris in the Anglo-Manipur War - 1891
- Part 3 -

Dr. Yumkhaibam Shyam Singh *

Khongjom Day Observation of the historic Battle of Khongjom 1891 at  Khebaching :: 23rd April 2016
Khongjom Day Observation at Khebaching on 23rd April 2016 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



Immediate cause

Maharaja Chandrakirti died in 1886 and his son Surachandra Singh ascended the throne of Manipur. The new king was incompetent and, therefore, was dethroned after a palace revolt engineered by Bir Tikendrajit Singh on September 21,1890. Kulachandra ascended the throne on 23 September of that instant. Surchandra, reaching Calcutta, applied to the Viceroy to regain his lost throne. After due discussion, Lord Landsdowne directed the Chief Commissioner of Assam to recognise Kulachandra as the Raja of Manipur, and at the same time to deport Tikendrajit beyond Manipur.

This latter provision was the culmination of the British interference in the affairs of the independent kingdom of Manipur. Mr. Quinton, Chief Commissioner of Assam, arrived at Imphal on 22nd March, 1891, with an escort party of 400 British Army. Repeated Darbars (conferences) were scheduled to arrest Tikendrajit but failed. Ultimately, in the early morning of the 24th March the British Army under Lt. Brackenbary fired the first shot at Kangla with an objective of arresting Yuvaraj Tikendrajit. The war thus began with the declaration of war by the Manipuris too.

Impact of the attack at Kangla

After the whole day's fighting on the 24th March, the British declared ceasefire at 8 P.M., and ultimately fighting ended. For a Darbar to be held instantly at Kangla, 5 British Officers and a Hindustani bugler came to Kangla. In the Beginning of the Darbar, those Manipuri nobles expressed their willingness to hold the conference with the British Officers only. Therefore, they asked the Sahibs to allow the Hindustani bugler to go back to the residency.37

It also indicated that the Manipuris did not like any Hindustani to join the meeting at that critical moment. When the conference failed, the exited Manipuri masses killed Mr. Grimwood, and on their pressing demands, other four Officers-Mr. Ouinton, Colonel Skene, Lt. Simpson and Mr. Cossins were also killed inside the Kangla Fort. At Mayangkhang (near Senapati) another two British Officers- Mr. Melville and Mr. O'Brian were also killed by the army of Manipur in collusion with the Nagas of that place.

The Battle of Khongjom

Knowing the serious situation of the British in Manipur, by the second week of April, three powerful columns of British Army were sent via Silchar, Kohima and Tamu. Manipuris had to challenge this powerful British Army. On the number of Manipuri warriors and their war eguipments, the Hindu reported on the 9th April, 1891: "The state had an army of 5439 infantry, 501 artillery, 400 cavalry and 700 Kuki irregulars. But the Ex Maharaja says he had a regular army of 8000 men not including the Kukis and the hill Levies. The hillmen said to be always at the service of the ruling family consisting mostly of Kukis are faithful but difficult to control. They number 10,000 and receive no pay but are exempt from taxes."

To resist the advancing British column from Tamu, 700 Manipuris were sent to Thoubal under Wangkheirakpa and Yenkhoiba Major. At this critical time the Maharaja appointed Subedar Paona Brajabasi and Chongtha Mia Singh to the posts of Major and four hundred sepoys under the two Majors were reinforced to oppose the British force from Burma (Tammu Column).

The party under Wangkheirakpa made a strong stockade at Thoubal. Orders were issued to Majors Paona Brajabasi and Chongtha Mia Singh to proceed towards Palel by the Burma Road. But seeing the British reconnoitring party, the two Manipuri Majors constructed their mud made fort on the bank of the Khongjom River. One day before the battle, Lt. Cox spied out the disposition of the Manipuri troops at Khongjom. The latter opened fire to Cox's party.

Realising the gravity of the situation, the two Majors reguested the Commander-in-charge at Thoubal to supply the pounders of high calibre. Failing which, those 400 Manipuri warriors under the two Majors had to face the British Army with their small weapons. The historic Battle of Khongjom was fought on the 23th April, 1891. (This date invites rethinking)

On this day, 50 Gurkha Rifles under Captain Drury, 50 Madras Infantry (Burma) under Lt. Grant and 35 Mounted Infantry of the 12th Madras Infantry (Burma) under Lt. Cox surrounded the fort of Manipur at Khongjom. Thinking that the force under Captain Drury was not strong enough for the purpose, General Graham who had then arrived ordered out another 200 rifles of 2-4:h Gurkhas with Captains Rundall and Carnegy, and 2 guns of No. 2 Mountain Battery under Lt. Persse for reinforcement and attack of the Manipur fort which was poorly equipped.

When the war began, powerful British guns effected fatal impacts at the fort of Manipur, but those gallent Manipuri warriors fought till their last breathe to safeguard the territory and independence of Manipur. It was the decisive battle of the Anglo-Manipur war. On the 27th April, 1891, the British Forces occupied Kangla resulting in the end of freedom all the Manipuris.

Concerted effort of the Manipuris in the war

It is really undeniable that the Manipuris living both in the hills and the plain fought the war united. Traditions express that Maharajas maintained a very sound relationsip with the hill people of Manipur. Till today. everyone could see Manipuri festivals like Lai-Haraoba, Mera Hao Chongba etc. in which all the Manipuri communities join together and witness these festivals with great joy. Earlier, or Mera Hao Chongba, the Tankhuls who had gathered at Imphal were given the liberty to collect anything they like from the Imphal Market. The Maharaja was to pay the incurred more to the concerned traders. This tradition was know as Tangkhul Potlak'(Traditional right of the Tangkhuls to take away commodities without payment).

Having such unbreakable bond of unity, there were any Manipuri hill brothers in the Kangla Fort when it was attacked on the 24th March, 1891. It has already been stated that two Tangkhuls also lost their lives in the hand to hand of that morning. At Mayangkhang, as mentioned earlier, when the British Officers - Mr.Melville and Mr. O'Brian were attacked, the Nagas of that place played a great role under theit chief Chirai Naga.

The Kukis and the Nagas of the South west Manipur also showed their great animosty resulting in repeated skirmishes when Mrs. Grimwood and the British Army retreated on the Cachar Road in March, 1891. At the time of advancing the British column from Silchar, the Kukis of Manipur broke the suspension bridge over the Irang R:ver to check the British advance. When the Manipuris were defeated, Maharaja Kulacha-chandra, his brothers and a great number of Manipuri followers took shelter at Chassad for some days.

The then Chief Political Officer in Manipur also reported on 27th April, 1891: "The Regent, Senapati, and brothers left palace for Tangkul hills 8 p.m. 26th." After the war, 5 Manipuri leaders viz. Jubaraj Tikendrajit, General Thangal, Niranjan Subedar, Kajao Singh, Jamadar and Chirai Naga of Mayangkhang were hanged to death by the British Authorities.

Another 22 leaders- Kullachandra Dhaja Singh (Ex-Regent), Prince Angao Singh (Senapati), Lokendrajit Birjit Singh (Wangkheirakpa), Samu Singh (Colonel alias Luwang Ningthou), Chongtham Nilamani Singh (Ayapurel Major), Chongtham Mia Singh (Major), Uru Singh (Usurba), Chaoba Hida (Machahal), Gun Singh (Kongdram), Kumba Singh (Laisraba), Dhaja Singh (Mayengba), Nam Singh (Nepra, Machahal), Trilo Singh (Nongtholba Satwal), Dhon Singh (Sagolsemba), Ghuna Singh (Ingujamba Jamadar), Ningthouba Singh (Chingshuba), Thaoba Singh (Phanjao Jamadar), Tonjao Singh (Mangsatba Jamadar), Chaobatol Singh (Heigrujamba Subadar) Paradhumba Singh (alias Ashangba Kut),Chowkami Naga of Mayangkhang and Gowho Naga of Mayangkhang were transported for life.

Conclusion

The Anglo-Manipur War was thus a remarkable event in the annals of Indian history in general and that of Manipur in particular. To the gallant and independent loving Manipuris, the greedy and suppressive acts of the colonial British Government were just like poking the lion repeatedly. Hence, their main target of retaliation focused mainly on those British Officers. It is apparent that the aged Thangal General knew and felt the ultimate objective of the British was to annexe Manipur.

It is also apparent that the Manipuris could not challenge the might of the British. That is why they expressed their deep rooted anger and animosity towards the British by executing the British Officers.

Concluded...


* Dr. Yumkhaibam Shyam Singh (HoD, History Imphal College, Govt, of Manipur) wrote this article for 'Manipur Today' that was published by DIPR Manpur in April 2017
This article was posted on August 02, 2017.


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