TODAY -

The Glorious Exploits of the Manipur Levy
- Part 1 -

Prof Gangmumei Kamei *

The Manipur Levy was the first standing army of Manipur. It was born out of the Manipur national struggle against the Burmese rule during the Seven Years Devastation popularly known in the history as the Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (1819 - 1826).

The Manipur Levy was the most effective force for the liberation of Manipur from the Burmese reign of terror. And Maharaj Gambhir Singh was the national liberator and the hero of the war. He was the creator of the Manipur Levy. Historians rightly describe him as the saviour of the Meitei nation and the maker of modern Manipur.

The Burmese reign of terror in Manipur

The early decades of the 19th century was a dark period in the history of Manipur. With the rise of the Burmese imperialism Manipur was facing great political instability which gave the opportunity for Burmese intervention in the internal affairs of Manipur during the reign of the sons and successors of Maharaja Bhagyachandra.

When his third successor Chourjit Singh was ruling, another son, prince Matjit Singh revolted and fled to Ava. And with the help of the great Burmese emperor Bawdawpaya, Marjit Singh invaded Manipur and defeated Chourjit Singh who fled to Cachar. Marjit Singh ascended to the throne of Manipur with the Burmese help.

After six years, Marjit Singh was driven out by the Burmese who inflicted a great defeat on him. Marjit fled to Cachar with a large population. Burma occupied Manipur in 1819 and ruled the Kingdom for seven years and let loose a reign of terror. Burma took away 30,000 Manipuri prisoners to Ava.

The valley was depopulated. It is estimated that at the height of the Burmese reign of terror, the population was reduced to 2000/3000 souls only (Brown: 1873). The people fled to the surrounding hills particularly the western hills of Tamenglong on their way to safer kingdom of Cachar. Manipur was put under the rule of two Burmese commanders.

The Burmese army also faced great tribulations as they did not get cooperation of the people and food supplies. The people of Manipur did not accept the Burmese rule. And a war of resistance was carried out under the help of several princes like Prince Herachandra, a son of Labanyachandra, Prince Yumjaotaba, Gambhir Singh and others.

Manipuri Princess in the Kingdom of Cachar

When Marjit Singh usurped the throne of Manipur in 1813, his other brothers Chourjit Singh, Gambhir Singh and prince were taking shelter in the Kingdom of Cachar. Chourjit Singh and Gambhir Singh supported Govind Chandra, the king of Cachar during Marjit's invasion of Cachar in 1819.

When Marjit fled to Cachar, he surrendered the regal authority of the kingdom of Manipur with the images of Govindajee and Brinamchandra. Seemingly, the royal brothers were reconciled. Govind Chandra, the Raja of Cachar was a weak and wicked ruler.

The three brothers with the assistance of their followers occupied Cachar which was parcelled out among them. Raja Govind Chandra fled to the British territory of Sylhet and sought the protection of the East India Company which refused to comply. By 1823, in the absence of Raja Govind Chandra, Chourjit Singh ruled from Sonaimukh, to the south of present Silchar, Marjit Singh was confined to Hailakandi and Gambhir Singh has his headquarters at Bikrampur near Badarpur.

However, even at this critical juncture of their history, the princes could not unite. Chourjit Singh retired to Sylhet. Marjit also moved to Sylhet. Gambhir Singh with the help of his distant cousin Nara Singh continued to mobilise help from the British to liberate Manipur.

To be continued ...

o Browse picture gallery on Manipur Levy March on 5 Jan 2009 from Silchar to Imphal here.




* Prof Gangmumei Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Expres . This article was webcasted on February 07, 2009.

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