TODAY -

The Martyrdom of Tikendrajit Bir Singh & Thangal General
- Part 1 -

By Lt Col (Retd) M Ranjit Singh *

13th August is a red letter day for all Manipuris. It is on this day 117 years ago that two gallant sons of Manipur, Jubraj Takendrajit Bir Singh (now more famous as Bir Tikendrajit Singh) and Thangal General made the supreme sacrifices of their lives for the love of their beloved country 'Manipur Sana Leibak'.

At around 5 pm on 13th August 1891 both the gallant sons of Manipur were hanged at Mapal Kangjeibung (Polo ground ) by the British after a farcical trial conducted by them. The life history of both the martyrs, events leading to their martyrdom and details of their trials are well known to all Manipuris, thanks to meticulous records maintained by the British.

Let's however recapitulate the events leading to their martyrdom once again as a tribute to both the great sons of Manipur. It must however be understood that the subject have been tackled with from every conceivable angle by many scholars so that there are hardly anything more to be said by way of original or rare unpublished information.

During the 1890s, the political powers of the British were in its zenith. Those were the days when sun never set in British Empire. Contemporary British historians used to describe the periods as of profound peace and tranquility. This profound peace and tranquility were however shattered during the last week of March 1891 by the Manipur, a tiny independent state in North East India.

A strong British force of 600 led by James Wallace Quinton, Chief Commissioner of Assam sent with the sole objective of apprehending Jubraj Takendrajit Singh was routed by Manipuris. The British suffered heavy casualties including the loss of six British civil/ military officers and balance forces were either made prisoners or bolted towards Silchar, Kohima and Tamu.

The defeat of such a large British force by any native force in those days was unheard of and unthinkable. It was in fact the greatest defeat and humiliation suffered by the British in India after the First War of Independence in 1857 (Sepoy Mutiny). This defeat was much appreciated in the rest of India and covered prominently in all the leading newspapers of India. Ballads on this defeat were composed and sung popularly in Bengal.

In a way, it kindled the idea of independence in the minds of many patriotic Indians. The French Newspaper Solien thus wrote "We regard the catastrophe as indicating the spread of ideas of political emancipation in India. The day is perhaps not far off when a well organized party will spring up claiming India for Indians of which event England's domination in India will be seriously threatened."

To many persons unfamiliar with the relationship of Manipur with the British in those days, it is difficult to understand the reasons 'for such an attempt made by the British for apprehending a Jubraj of an independent country like Manipur. To understand this we need to go back to the days of Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (Seven years of Devastation) (1819 to 1826 )

"In 1819, Marjit, the king of Manipur was defeated by the Burmese and he fled to Cachar (then an independent State). The Burmese at that time were on the top of their Political power. The Burmese under General Bandula invaded the countries between Burma and Bengal, conquered Assam and Manipur, threatened Cachar, and finally invading British territory, captured a party of British sepoys.

The king of Cachar had in the meantime, owing to the threats of Burmese invasion, begged the British to take his country under their protection. The British, recognising that the possession of Cachar would impede a Burmese advance into Sylhet and lessen the danger to British territories had acceded to his request and informed the Burmese that Cachar had become protected State.

And because of the aggressive reply given by the Burmese on the explanation demanded by the British for their continual offences at Cachar and other British frontier places, Lord Ahmerst, the Governor General declared war on the 5;h of March 1824, the First Burmese War.

As a part of their over-all plan of defeating Burma, the British decided in 1825 to march a large force into Burma through Cachar and Manipur. With this object, a force of about 7000 men was collected under Brigadier Shuldham. The Army consisted of six Regiments of Infantry (The 7th, 14th, 39th, 44th, 45th and 52th Native Infantry), two companies of Artillery, four of Pioneers, the Sylhet Local Corps, a corps of Cavalry, Blair's Irregular Horse, and a body of Manipuris under Gambhir Singh ( a younger brother of Maharaja Marjit);

The advance was begun in February 1825 and in two months time could reached up to Bashkandi only, forty miles short of Manipur border. When the British could not proceed towards Manipur with such a large force, they suggested to Gambhir Singh to liberate Manipur with his irregular body of troops, numbering about 500 bodies also known as the Manipur Levy.

It was also given to understand to him by the British that he would be the king of Manipur if he could liberate Manipur from Burma, Thus Gambhir Singh mounted on his famous horse 'Kartik' accompanied by Lieutenant Pemberton of the Pioneers, started the expedition on 17th May 1825 and in less than a month, he had succeeded in turning the Burmese out of Manipur and captured Imphal, Capital of "Manipur on 12th June 1825. Contemporary British officers were quite happy to note that a few hundred "undisciplined Manipuris" had accomplished what General Shuldham's large force could not venture to undertake.

Pemberton in his book "The Eastern Frontier of India" mentioned about Muneepooree brothers (Chourajit, Marjit and Gambhir Singh), who supplicated to be taken under British protection just before the First Burmese War and the proposition was acceded to. But no such mention is made in any Manipuri record.

To be continued.....




* Lt Col (Retd) M Ranjit Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This was webcasted on November 18, 2008.

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