Importance of 9th January in the History of Manipur
- (1819-1826) -

Prof. N. Joykumar Singh *

People always look back to the history only when they are in the midst of confusion in the changing process of their own life. After having a detail knowledge of reasons either for success or failure of every historical events they again make an attempt to judge whether their approach is right or wrong. With these corrective measures they try to assert for the promotion of their national identity.

The same practice is also going on among the Manipuris. It is true that Manipur is the creation of history and the people of this land is the product of her history. In their long historical process the Manipur people had enjoyed a wonderful experience of many ups and down which makes a basic foundation for the emergence of Manipuri nationalism with a distinctive identity. These were three major historical events which Manipuri people had witnessed in their history. They were first "Chahi Taret Khuntakpa" (Seven years Devastation) second "Anglo Manipur War in 1891" and third "Merger of Manipur Into India in 1949". Since the last two events are not directly related with theme of discussion the writer may be allowed to concentrate only to the event of 'Chahi Taret Khuntakpa".

When the issue of "Chahi Taret Khuntakpa" is to be discussed, we have to analyse the whole history of the devastation of Manipur and her people by the Burmese for seven years. The basic questions are why this event was happened, how it was occurred and what was the importance in the future history of the Manipuri people. One aspect is very clear that this event was the product of the historical action which was occurred during the past decades.

It is a known fact that the middle of 18th century was a great landmark in the entire history of Manipur. During this period the country witnessed an unprecedented political developments which laid the basic foundation for a drastic change in every aspects of her life. But her glory and pride began to decrease just after the death of King Bheigyachandra in the year 1799.

His untimely death had opened the floodgate for the outbreak of non-stop chaotic scene in the country. Such type of undesirable political developments finally gave a serious death blow to the traditional political identity of the country. The outbreak of a series of internal quarrels among the members of the royal family became a part of the life of the country. This particular development gave a great opportunity to other people to strike in the internal affairs of the state.

Marjeet was the King of Manipur when Burmese invaded Manipur. He was also a product of the internal contradictions which was occurred among the members of the royal families. He was made King of Manipur with the help of Burmese King. This new political development was the immediate cause for the outbreak of 'Seven Years Devastation'. Some writers are of the view that the quarrel between Burmese King and Marjeet was due to some misunderstanding in their relationship.

In the year 1819 A.D. Bagyidow, the grand son of Bodahpaya ascended the throne and he wanted to commemorate the event with an unusual degree of splendour. So, he summoned all the tributary Princes by sending invitation to give homage to the new sovereign. The Burmese thought that since Marjeet ascended the throne of Manipur with the help of Burma he was also a tributary King of Burma.

With this idea, they also sent invitation to Marjeet to attend the coronation. On the other hand Marjeet thought that the request to extend help was mainly due to friendship relationship. So, there was no question of subordination. Under this notion, Marjeet did not go to attend the coronation ceremony. This was the immediate cause for the outbreak of this event.

The Burmese King took it very seriously. Immediately he sent a large force to occupy Manipur under the command of General Maha Bandula. Marjeet also make a serious attempt to resist the occupation force of Burma. But finally he was defeated and fled to Cachar. After getting victory the Burmese forces tortured the innocent common people by using various methods. To save themselves from tortures the people fled to the various directions and they went even to present Bangladesh and Assam. Thus for about seven years the common people suffered in the hands of Burmese forces.

On the other hand during the period some prominent members of royal family came out openly to fight against the Burmese forces. One Hirachandra Singh, the son of King Labyanachandra was the only person who fought against Burmese with the help of his guerrila army. During this period of short appearance he was able to give a serious disturbances in the movements of the Burmese army. Thus he was able to check the military activities of the Burmese forces. However due to the sabotaging action of some member of ruling elite Hirachandra was not able to complete his mission. And even the people were not able to trace out about his existence.

In the meantime Gambhir Singh another member of royal family prepared to liberate Manipur with the help of British East India Company. He established a group of militia force called "Manipur Levy". They were trained by the British Officers. With the help of the British Government Gambhir Singh was able to liberate Manipur in the year 1826. Finally the war between British and Burma also came to an end with the signing of Treaty of Yandaboo on the 24th February 1826.

But it is very interesting to note that during this short period of seven years four Manipur people ruled the state under the Burmese King. They were (1) Jai Singh, great grandson of Namdai Singh (2) Jadu Singh, great grandson of Garibaniwas and grandson of Ngoubramshai (3) Raghob Singh, son of Bhadra Singh and (4) Bhadra Singh son of Ngoubramshai and grandson of Garibaniwas. He was also known as 'Nongchup Lamyai Ngamba' or 'Khaba'.

From these above historical facts it can be observed that in one way the Manipuri ruling elite was also responsible in the process for the outbreak of this event. It is true that the military action of King Garibaniwas which was occurred during his period was an unbearable memory for the people of Burma. Unfortunately due to the lack of competent leadership they were not able to do any type of resistance against the invading forces of Manipur. So, they were waiting for an opportune time to strike again. That opportunity was given by the ruling elite of Manipur. The internal quarrels among the members of the royal family and contradictions among the ruling elites was the main responsible factor for the misfortune of the common people.

But this particular event was able to get a proper place in the future history of this place on two aspects. One was the internal diversity among the ruling elite which cost the life of the country and secondly the increase role of the degree of patriotism which strengthen the growing idea of Manipuri nationalism.

No doubt internal contradiction is part of the life of the society and governance. But if the members of the society used it in a positive direction it maybe produced good result. But this was not in the case of Manipur. In a feudal society the fate of the common people was always in the wisdom and capability of the ruling elite of the royal families. The role of the common people was not able to play in an effective way. In such conditions the only possible way was the proper guidance of the ruling elite.

Unfortunately in the case of Manipur, the ruling elite which emerged just after the death of Bheigyachandra was not competent enough to carry the administration. Their mind was busy to the issue of how to get the state's power in their hand. Because of this position the neighbouring people always got the opportunity to strike to the weakest point.

From the this evidence we can observed that if there is no unity among the leaders of the society the dream of a pan-Manipuri movement would not be possible. Now we are enjoying the various forms of activities which asked for the establishment of a distinctive identity of Manipuri people. With that objective many voluntary organisation and NGO's are doing a lot of activities in different areas where the Manipuris have settled. On the other hand we are also earning a new experience of contradiction to the question of identity among the Manipuris.

The people of other communities are enjoying the fruit of this contradiction. In such conditions how the Manipuris would be able to come up to a certain expected level. This situation was clearly portrayed in the first part of 19th century Manipur. This particular event gives us a very important experience of the problem faced by the common people due to the lack of co-ordination among the leadership of the society. Therefore it is the high time for all the Manipuris to take a proper step for the establishment of unity and co-operation among the leadership.

Patriotism is a must for the proper protection of the identity. If there is no sense of patriotism there cannot be a strong nation. That particular period was a great danger for the existence of the Manipuri nation. There was no state as it was already in the hands of Burma. There was no people as most of the fled in different areas and make their own settlement. No economic activities and no cultural life. In such conditions practically it was not possible to revive on stand for existence without the sense of patriotism among the member of the society. But Manipur was able to stand in such a difficult situation because of the heroic activities and sense of patriotism of Gambhir singh and Narasingh this was the most rare and significant contribution of this two heroes to all the Manipuris.

Therefore for this historical evidence it can be said that if the Manipuris desire to protect their identity and if they want to assert their sence of nationalism then the idea of patriotism should be strengthened among the leadership of the society. They need to produce "vocation" types of leadership who can marry to the ideology he believe and to the cause he fight for it. Otherwise the leadership adopts some kind ad-hoc policy in their approach it will give a drastic negative impact in the society.

From this observation it can be said that though the "seven year devastation" was an event of defeat for Manipuri's, it gives a good message to all the Manipuris for the establishment of a new society based on co-operation and understanding for a successful pan-Manipuri movement. On the other hand it also shows the immediate need of a good leadership for the protection and promotion of national identity of Manipur people. No doubt "9th January" always forced the Manipuri people to remember the action of the heroic activities of two Princes and also transfer of Kabaw Valley area left a very good historical account of the defeat of Manipuris due to lack of unity among the people.

* Prof. N. Joykumar Singh (Manipur University, Canchipur) wrote this for a Souviner called "Chahi Taret Khuntakpa Ningshing Numip".
This was released by Sanajaoba Leishemba - His Highness the Manaraja of Manipur.
Organised by : Chahi Taret Khuntakpa Ningshing Numit Celeberation Comittee, Hojai ( Sponsored by Manipur Shaitya Parishad, Hojai, Assam.)
This article was webcasted on August 30 2010.

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