TODAY -

Maharaja Gambhir Singh

Dr Budha Kamei *

 180th Death Anniversary Observance of Maharaja Gambhir Singh at Canchipur, Langthabal :: 9th January 2014
180th Death Anniversary Observance of Maharaja Gambhir Singh at Langthabal on 9th January 2014 :: Pix - Ashok Ningthoujam



Maharaja Gambhir Singh was a great liberator who emerged as the National Hero at the hour of the crisis in the History of Manipur. His regnal title was Chinglen Nongdren Khomba; popularly known as Samuphaba to his earlier followers and admirers. Bagyidaw (1819-1837), the defeated Burmese emperor reluctantly called him "The Ruler" of Manipur. No ruler in the history of Manipur was given such an exalted international personality of a recognised and re-conquered kingdom and its ruler, as that of Maharaja Gambhir Singh, by dint of his courage, gallantry and military expertise.

Gambhir Singh was born on 28th day of Phairen, 1787. He was an illustrated son of the great king Bhagyachandra Singh; the youngest son of Bheigyabati, the fifth queen of Bhagyachandra Singh. Bhagyachandra Singh willed that the throne of Manipur might be succeeded alternately by his sons. This created a jealousy among the princes and ultimate political conspiracy and instability of the kingdom.

In the beginning, Gambhir Singh was a silent spectator of the happenings in the palace. He was a teenage then but supported Chourajit Singh. When Maharaja Marjit Singh occupied the throne of Manipur with the help of Burmese in 1813, Chourajit Singh fled to Cachar. Gambhir Singh and his elder brother followed Maharaja Chourajit Singh to Cachar and took shelter at the court of Govind Chandra.

Raja Govind Chandra appointed Gambhir Singh as the commander-in-chief of the army of Cachar kingdom. Gambhir Singh extended his support to the Cachari Raja. But he came to know the clear picture of the Raja, his unpopularity, weakness and cruelty. He waited for an opportunity.

Gambhir Singh remained a prince in search of a Kingdom. He was a determined and brave prince who had faith in his own destiny. The opportunity came in 1817, when Marjit Singh invaded Cachar on the pretext of taking revenge on Raja Govind Chandra who insulted him some years ago confiscating his beautiful pony. The real cause was the conquest of Cachar, where the Manipuri princes were taking refuge.

Govind Chandra requested Chourjit Singh and Gambhir Singh for military assistance on the promise that they would be granted lands for habitation. When the invading Manipuri armies heard about this, they refused to fight and retreated. Later on, the two Manipuri princes established themselves in Cachar. Govind Chandra fled to Sylhet and sought the British help which was declined.

In 1819, a large Burmese army under General Maha Bandula invaded Manipur. It was a time of growing Burmese power under Bagidaw. Marjit Singh was defeated and fled to Cachar, where he surrendered to the authority of Manipur. Chourajit Singh forgave his brother and distributed the confiscated lands; he ruled Sonaimukh, Marjit Singh ruled Hailakandi and Gambhir Singh ruled the rest of Cachar.

By June, 1823, the Burmese had more become aggressive that they re-conquered Assam. Burma had completely controlled Assam. Manipur was under her suzerainty. In Cachar, Marjit Singh and Gambhir Singh were united against Chourajit Singh, who went to Sylhet in British India. The political condition created the north eastern frontier to a military conflict between Burma and the British.

The British were in search of an ally from amongst the Manipuri princes who could help them to drive away the Burmese; Gambhir was more assertive. Lord Amherst, the Governor General of India regarded Gambhir Singh as a usurper of Cachar kingdom; but he was inclined to agree the proposal of David Scott to take the help of Gambhir Singh in the eventual liberation of Manipur from the Burmese rule.

On 15th January, 1824, the Burmese forces invaded Cachar from 3 (three) sides, first column from Nowgong, second column from Jaintia and the third column from Manipur. The British fought back against the Burmese force. The Burmese first invasion failed. And from the British point of view, Cachar was liberated from Burma.

On 5th March, 1824, the first Anglo-Burmese war was declared and hostilities between Burma and British existed. David Scott had well knowledge of the three Manipuri princes and his proposal was approved by the Governor General that Gambhir Singh be chosen as the ally of the British to drive away the Burmese from Manipur.

In April, 1824, David Scott persuaded Gambhir Singh to have an understanding tantamount to a sort of alliance. Gambhir Singh was not a formerly declared king. But David Scott was impressed by the intelligence, military skill and patriotism. Gambhir Singh proceeded to Badarpur, where he had a serious consultation with Davis Scott and ultimately he joined the British detachment.

On 20th April, 1824, Gambhir Singh was informed that Manipur would be given to him if he could conquer Manipur from Burmese forces. Gambhir Singh was to build up a military force of 500 Manipuri soldiers. The Levy was to be equipped, paid and disciplined by the British officers but it was under the command of Gambhir Singh himself. It was named as Raja Gambhir Singh Levy. He was given the title of Raja. Nar Singh and Gambhir became the partners in the fight against Burma.

 Floral tributes being paid to Maharaj Gambhir Singh on his death anniversary
Floral tributes being paid to Maharaj Gambhir Singh on his death anniversary



By October, 1824, all the Burmese were cleared of Cachar. They concentrated in Manipur and Kabaw Valley. The British appointed in January, 1825, Brigadier Suldham to lead the invasion of Manipur and upper Burma. On reaching Baskandi on 24th February, 1825, Suldham realized the impracticability of building the road to Manipur.

After the withdrawal of Suldham's army, Gambhir Singh proposed to liberate Manipur with his Levy of 500 soldiers. Permission was granted to the Levy to march to Manipur. Lt. RB Pemberton of the Native Light Infantry volunteered to accompany the Levy as he was interested in the survey operation to obtain precise information regarding the different passes, the resources and the strength of the Burmese forces.

Gambhir Singh and Lt. Pemberton, accompanied by Nar Singh left Sylhet on 17th May, 1825 on their march toward Manipur. They reached Baskandi and proceeded through the Western Hills of Manipur through the Akhui route. The force advanced through constant rain as it was monsoon season and suffered all sorts of hardships without the slightest complaint.

They were patriotic soldiers determined to liberate their motherland. They were inspired and spirited soldiers under the inspiring leadership of Gambhir Singh. On 10th June, 1825, the Levy appeared on the western edge of Manipur Valley and they encountered the Burmese forces at Maklang, a small village, 12 miles to the west of the capital. After a hard battle with the Burmese forces stationed at the Manipur palace, Gambhir Singh gained victory and the Burmese fled.

On 11th June, the Burmese had evacuated the capital and halted at Andro. Gambhir Singh proceeded to Andro; but on the way it was learnt that the Burmese had deserted Andro and left Manipur. Gambhir Singh after the occupation of the capital formally ascended the throne of Manipur.

Maharaja Gambhir Singh liberated his ancestral kingdom from the genocide rule of the Burmese.

RK Jhalajit Singh wrote, "Gambhir Singh owed his throne greatly to his own effort." His immediate task was the restoration of Manipur to her glorious past and the reconstruction of his devastated country. His political wisdom, his gallantry and his undaunted patriotism had won for him good will of all concerned including social support of his countrymen. He was socially and politically supported by the courageous and popular Senapati Nar Singh.

Gambhir Singh died on the 9th day of January, 1834.


* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on January 13 2022.



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