TODAY -

The historic Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891
- Part 2 -

By Waikhom Damodar Singh *

Viceroy Lord Landsdown sent Mr. JW Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam with 400 Gorkha soldiers under Colonel Skene to carry out his orders. They reached Imphal on the 22nd March 1891. But Maharajah Kulachandra refused to hand over Tikendrajit Singh.

This led the British troops to launch a surprising and quite treacherous night attack on Kangla, the palace of Manipur on March 23rd. The unjustified attack caused the death of a large number of innocent people, including women and children who were witnessing a religious performance of 'Ras Leela' in that night in the palace temple premises. Then the Manipuri soldiers resolutely fought back against the British.

When the British side was in short of men and weapon a 'truce' was declared. The next day the five British officers came to Kangla without any of their security men and arms which were the conditions strictly imposed on them by the orders of the Manipuri authorities they were so allowed to come to the Manipuri palace as was requested by the British officers for peace talks with the Maharajah, who insisted that they should surrender.

However the British officers refused to do so. Meanwhile the people whose innocent 'kith and kin' have been killed by British firing in the sudden night attack launched by them sneaking treacherously inside the Manipur palace became furious and attacked them with mob violence.

This resulted in the death of the five British officers, which had already been well predicted to happen so in the local Manipuri 'puya' (Puran). However the price of killing the five British officers was indeed very big - the British Government regarded the killing as a great challenge against their superiority and might as a world number one power.

So on March 31, 1891 the British Government in India 'declared war' against Manipur and sent very large columns of their Army on three directions, one from the north through Kohima under the command of Major General H. Collet, who was also the overall Commander of the British Forces, advanced for operations in Manipur, another column advanced from the west from Silchar under the command of Colonel RHF Rennick and the third column came from the south from Tamu, Burma (now Myanmar) under the command of Brigadier General T. Graham, actually according to the British records found this column was still at Tamu on 23rd April 1891 preparing to march to Manipur - the orders of the British Government were that all the forces were to converge in Manipur for operation latest by 27th April 1891.

Therefore the 'Khongjom war' that is said to have taken place on 23 April 1891 and the day being observed by the Manipur Government as the 'Patriots Day' to pay tribute and homage to the great martyr's, Major General Paona Brajabashi etc. has become 'a greatly disputed and controversial date' as most seriously and strongly objected to by a group known as 'real Khongjom day celebration group' who have started observing the event only on '25th April of every year' on the bank of Khongjom river lying on the western side of Khongjom Bazar and the National Highway No. 39 as it was the real date and actual place where the gallant Manipuri martyrs had laid down their lives and made the stream flow red with their blood and not on 23rd April, 1891 and the stream near 'Khebaching' which is actually known as 'Naoriyakhong' - a name dedicated to the memory of Naorem clan.

The battle of Khongjom.
Picture Courtesy: RKCS Gallery


It was the British column that advanced from the south from Tamu under Brigadier General T Graham that met the stiffest resistance from the Manipuris at Khongjom while the column that advanced from the west did not have much resistance and broke through to finally take possession of 'Kangla', the palace of the Manipuris on 27th April 1891 and pulled down the native Royal flag embedded with the symbol of deitic "Pakhangba" and in its place hoisted the British Union's Jack Flag at the Fort where it continued flying proudly from that day onwards till it was pulled down on the early morning of 15 August 1947 and the Manipur's Royal National Flag went up again on attaining her sovereign independence along with the dominions of India, Pakistan and other native States when they were freed from the yoke of the British Imperial power.

The victorious British Forces had rounded up Senapati Bir Tikendrajit Singh, the Manipuri commander-in-chief, General Thangal and others and they were tried by a special Military Court. The Senapati and the Thangal general were convicted of waging war against the Raja of Manipur and abetment of the murder of the five British officers and they were sentenced to death while Kulachandra Singh and other brothers were convicted and sentenced to transportation for life at 'Kalapani Jail' at Andaman Nicobar islands with other persons found guilty.

Thus Bir Tikendrajit Singh and General Thangal were hanged to death on 13 August 1891 at the Imphal Polo ground, at the place lying on its north-eastern corner which is locally known as 'Pheidabung' - where a 'Martyrs high tomb' had since been erected and state function under the name 'patriot's day' is observed every year.

Again, according to the death certificate supposed to have been issued by one British Medical officer, named Coleman immediately after the hanging had taken place of the two Manipuri leaders, it had been shown very distinctly as to be on 14 August 1891 as has been found by the 'Mutua Museum of Imphal' and published in a local daily (Kangla pao) and as such it has become again another very complicated and confusing issue related to an event that had taken place which definitely requires a clarification by the State Government at the earliest possible for the larger interest of the public, particularly for the future generations of Manipur as History of an event cannot have a wrong date on which it actually had occurred.

Actually, the action of the British, unnecessarily interfering and involving in the internal matters of their ally, Manipur, the independent kingdom had been taken as not a very 'justifiable' one, more so, of the very treacherous action adopted by their Chief Commissioner Quinton which was highly criticised and disapproved during those days in India and in England as well. In the British Parliament Sir Richard Temple dubbed Quinton's proposed method of procedure as 'indefensible'.

Many others also had expressed the view that Quinton's treacherous action had provoked Senapati Bir Tikendrajit Singh and all which drove them to resistance, and as a way of counteract, the commission of 'murder of Quinton along with other four British officers' was committed by a group of highly provoked, aggrieved and 'irate' - 'mob' as the very natural human reaction of their 'outraged sentiments' that had hurt them by the 'barbarous and in-human - acts committed on their beloved and innocent ones'.




* Waikhom Damodar Singh wrote this for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on May 24, 2008.

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