TODAY -

The historic Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891
- Part 1 -

By Waikhom Damodar Singh *

The British landed in India (the erstwhile much greater and undivided country, then known as Bharat-Varsha) in the year 1608 AD firstly at Surat, one of the richest sea port on its west coast, as ordinary traders, in the name of "British East India Company", who were granted on 31 December 1600 by Queen Elizabeth (I) a charter with rights of exclusive trading for 15 years into East Indies.

The British people, who so landed as very ordinary traders initially, consolidated their political power in due course of time, and with their better skill and supremacy in arms and diplomacy, became the overlords and invincible conquerors and rulers of the vast country by expanding their power gradually for which they took the fullest advantage of "disunity" that were there amongst the indigenous peoples, who by then were not living as a unified and strong Nation as such but were living as a very much divided people of a vastly divided country.

A land not existed under a unified or unitary Sovereign Govt or power but only a vast land of 'conglomeration' of different domains and principalities called kingdoms and States (later on named Native States), big and small, with so many culturally, ethnically and linguistically varied and divided groups of indigenous peoples under their hereditary rulers and chiefs, in the names of Maharajas, Rajas, Nawabs, Dewans, Zamindars, Jagirdars and Emperor.

The power so established by the British East India Company in the vast and much divided land during the period of some two and half centuries came under the direct control of the British Crown during the reign of Queen Victoria by an Act passed in the British Parliament with effect from August 2,1858 under the-name, the 'Government of India Act', with full power and responsibilities for the Government and Revenues of India vested on one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State, as a result of the effect of a great and widespread 'Indian Revolt', known as 'Sepoy Mutiny' of 1857 that had flared up against the misruling of the company over several aspects.

The frustrations and discontentment of the people had been accumulating for long which culminated at the aforesaid time with a violent burst. The British Government thus continued to rule over the vast country directly under their Crown in the name of 'British India', including that of the land of a large area in the east annexed by them on 1 January 1886 known as the kingdom of Burma (now Myanmar) then ruled by one King Thibaw till year 1935/36 when it was separated as a different unit (Dominion) under their rule.

Thus when almost all the different principalities existed in the undivided land of India and Burma came under the yoke or ruling of the British, Manipur, the hoary land continued as the sovereign kingdom of its own till year 1891 - an independent Kingdom ruled continuously by the dynasty of the deitic king, Pakhangba who ruled peacefully from 33 AD to 158 AD and then by his successors till 1891 AD. The British when they began to expand their power in the NE region of India and Burma they treated the Manipuris as their formidable allies and took their help in annexing their territory in the region.

The great might of the Manipuris was at its highest peak at the times of great kings, Khagemba (Khagi for Chinese and Ngamba for victor) and Pamheiba (Gatibniwaz) during 17th and 18th centuries respectively but it started waning after the death of the latter, and it was at the time of Maharajah Chandra Kirti Singh, son of Maharajah Gambhir Singh during the 19th century that the British with appeasing policies sneaked into the State by establishing their 'friendship relations' through their political agents.

The British then started 'ushering' in the ruling of the independent kingdom which finally had fallen under their hands from 27 April 1891 onwards after their victory in the war that broke out and had taken place decisively at 'Khongjom' about 32 kilometers south of Imphal the war known as the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891 which remains immortalised and unforgettable one for the Manipuris as the defeat of their heroic forefathers suffered in the hands of the mighty and much superior, in modern arms and weaponary, the British Force had made their 'sun' of thousands years old independence 'set' and 'lost' forever.

Beheading of Mr Quinton and the officer.
Picture Courtesy: RKCS Gallery


The gallant Manipuri forefathers fought the war very bravely against heavy odds both in man-power and weaponary under their most gallant generals, Yaiskul Lakpa (Hajo-sana) with his very young son (only 14 years old), Sengoi Sana, Chongtha Mia, Yengkhoiba, Wangkhei Meiraba, Paona Brajabashi etc. who most heroically laid down their 'lives' against the most formidable enemy, the British as they became later on from having been seemingly their dependable 'allies' and 'true friends' earlier all the generals along with hundreds of brave Manipuris died a heroic death to defend the independence of their beloved motherland, Manipur.

They sacrificed their lives fighting the invincible and much mightier enemy and the 'Khongjom stream' flowed red with their blood, and thus they made 'Khongjom' a sacred place for the coming generations, sanctified by their blood and hallowed with their heroic deeds, making it 'a household word' familiar among the people connected with the spirit of courage and great sacrifice for every Manipuri for which the State observes 23 April and 13 August every year with solemn functions to commemorate the great and most heroic but saddest events that had taken place.

Cause of the Anglo-Manipuri War: A war broke out between two allies, the British and the Manipuris as a result of strained relationship developed between the two parties on account of the murder of five British officers, Chief Commissioner, of the erstwhile British province, Mr. JW Quinton, the Political Agent of Manipur, Mr. Grimwood, Colosel Skene, Lieutenant Simpson and Mr. Crossins by a unruly mob at the Manipur's palace, Kangla on 24 March 1891.

After Maharajah Chandrakirti Singh's death in 1886 he was succeeded by his eldest son, Surchandra Singh who actually remained more occupied with religious observances rather than effectively governing his State, and therefore Chandrakirti Singh's death was followed by severe 'political instability' as his 'eight sons' were divided into two parties animated by most hostile feelings towards one another.

Which could not be contained by the weak king, Surchandra who was merely 'Primus inter Parse' (the first among the equals) though supported by the three uterine brothers - Pucca Sena, Samu Hanjaba and Gopal Sena. On the other side, there were four half brothers, the eldest, Kulachandra, the Jubraj and the regent, duly supported by the younger brothers, the Senapati Tikendrajit Singh, Dolairoi Hanjaba and Zilla Singh.

The hostilities between the two groups of princesses of Manipur culminated in a 'fratricidal war' which broke out on September 21 1890 when the crown prince Kulachandra and his younger brothers, mainly backed by Tikendrajit Singh, the Senapati revolted against the reigning Maharajah Surchandra Singh, who fled to the residence of the British Political Agent, Mr. Grimwood, but informed the Political Agent that he had abdicated the throne in favour of his younger brother, Kulachandra Singh and was leaving on pilgrimage for Brindaban.

But when he reached Calcutta he lodged a complaint to the then Viceroy, Lord Landsdown that he was dethroned by his step brothers, mainly backed and engineered by Senapati, Bir Tikendrajit Singh, who had shown, as found by the British Administrators, signs of shaking off the 'yoke of dependence on them (the British Government). The Viceroy thus passed an order to capture Tikendrajit Singh and exile him outside Manipur if Kulachandra wanted to remain as a king of Manipur.




* Waikhom Damodar Singh wrote this for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on May 13, 2008.

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