The historic day of 13th August

Budha Kamei *

Yuvaraj Tikendrajit and General Thangal on the Gallows
Yuvaraj Tikendrajit and General Thangal on the Gallows.
Warning: These images CANNOT be reproduced in any form or size without written permission from the RKCS Gallery

13th August is an important day for all the Manipuris living in and outside the State of Manipur. It is on this day that the two heroes of Manipur, Tikendrajit Singh and Thangal General were hanged by the British for waging war against the British Empire. The article is a humble attempt to trace how the Anglo-Manipur war, root cause of hanging the two heroes occurred in 1891.

The Anglo-Manipur war of 1891 was a short but significant struggle between a tiny hilly Asiatic country and the world's greatest empire. The war marked the end of an epoch and the opening of a new one in the history of Manipur. Manipur lost her sovereign and independent status and new rule of the British introduced in this small kingdom. This particular event brought a complete change in the historical process of this State. This war also marks the complete occupation of India sub-continent by the British.

Manipur was an independent kingdom during the whole of the 19th century. Truly speaking, Manipur was never colonized. She was not a 'Sanad' State like other Indian States before 1891. She of course established diplomatic level contact with British India by signing treaties from time to time. The first treaty was signed in 1762 which was essentially a defense alliance.

It was an alliance between two separate powers. As agreed upon, they helped each other during the first Anglo-Burmese war 1824-26. After the war, the treaty of Yandaboo was concluded by which British India and Burma recognized the independence of Manipur. It is true that the British attitude was friendly, but this friendship was used for the expansion and consolidation of their hold over eastern India and Burma.

It can be stated that since the treaty of Yandaboo, the intention of the British towards Manipur was to utilize this small land locked country occupied by a martial race as a pawn in the Asian chessboard of the British imperialism. After the third Anglo-Burmese war of 1885, the friendly relation between the two countries had gone certain changes.

Maharaja Surachandra, K.C.S.I (Knight Commander Star of India) passed away in 1886. The political agency of Manipur after Sir James Johstone, which was Cinderella among political agencies, did not attract any competent political agent who was able to keep the fine traditions of the British frontier officers. [Gangmumei Kamei: Anglo Manipur War and its Aftermath]

Sir Chandrakriti Singh, a very strong and capable ruler was succeeded by his eldest son Surchandra, a good, amiable man with plenty of ability, but very weak. Since his accession to the throne, Manipur had become a divided house. The ten sons of the Late Maharaja by six queens were divided into two opposing camps. One camp was led by Surachandra Singh and the other, by Tikendrajit Singh, the flamboyant and the most popular and capable prince, who was the idol of the masses.

During his short reign of four years, Surachandra Singh had to face a number of rebellions. On the mid night of 21 September, 1891 Angousana and Zilangamba suddenly attacked the palace. The dissensions, quarrels and mutual mistrusts and rivalry among the princes culminated in the palace revolution. The immediate cause was the ban ordered by the Maharaja on young prince Zilangamba to sit in the durbar as result of his quarrel with Pakasana, the arch enemy and rival of Tikendrajit Singh.

[Mrs. E. C. Grimwood: My Three years in Manipur] Instead of fighting back, Surchandra and his brothers slipped out of the backyard of the palace and took shelter at the political agency's residence on that very night. It appears, the king and his brothers were demoralized and very much frightened at the revolution which they knew was engineered by Tikendrajit himself.

According to a note written by Mr. W. E. Ward, the successor of Mr. Quinton, the Raja Surachandra, was never anything more than a puppet Raja the real ruler of Manipur since 1886 had been Tikendrajit Singh, a man who had always been hostile to the British influence.

[Sir Robert Reid: History of the frontier Areas Bordering on Assam From 1883-1941] Thus, without losing even a drop of blood, the rebel party occupied the palace of Manipur. Without making attempt to regain the throne Surachandra, the Maharaja expressed his desire to abdicate the throne in favour of his brother Kulachandra, the Jubraj and decided to retire to Brindavan, Utter Pradesh for good.

Accordingly, Kulachandra and Tikendrajit Singh were informed of the decision of the Maharaja and necessary arrangements were made for the Maharaja's journey to Cachar. On the evening of 23 September, 1890 Maharaja left Manipur and on the same day Kulachandra became king of Manipur with Tikendrajit Singh as Jubraj.

On 29 September 1890, Kulachandra wrote to the Viceroy for his recognition as the king of Manipur. The Supreme Government initially declined his request. In the meantime, Surachandra applied to the Supreme Government to restore him on the throne of Manipur.

[R.K. Jhalajit: A Short History of Manipur] After many consultations and correspondence the Supreme Government on 21 February 1891 decided not to restore Surachandra Singh but to recognize Kulachandra as the Maharaja on the condition that Tikendrajit whom the British considered as the architect of the palace revolt must be exiled from Manipur and to depute the Chief commissioner of Assam announce the decision at the spot [durbar].

This is a self contradictory decision. By recognizing Kulachandra as the new ruler, it accepted the revolution as fail accompli. But by deciding to send Tikendrajit away, the Supreme Government disapproved of the revolution. [Lal Dena: British Policy towards Manipur 1762-1947] The attempt to execute the decision of the Supreme Government sparked off the Anglo-Manipur war.

Accordingly, Mr. Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam along with 400 rifles arrived at Imphal on 22 March, 1891. He announced that a durbar would be held at the residency on the same day at noon. Kulachandra and his brothers including Tikendrajit Singh were required to attend it. Mr. Quinton wanted that Tikendrajit Singh should be arrested at this durbar and exiled to British India.

Mr. Grimwood the man on the spot at Imphal, learnt about this plan at Sekmai on the 21 March but he was opposed to this idea of arresting Tikendrajit which would be a difficult task. Not only this objective was overruled, he was personally entrusted to arrest Tikendrajit Singh inside the proposed durbar room. [J. Roy: History of Manipur; N. Khenchandra: Battle of Khongjom]

Kulachandra and his brothers along with Thangal General arrived at the durbar on time. But there was no one at the gate to receive them. They were kept waiting in the sun for several hours on the pretext that the translation of the order was not yet ready. They were taken aback by the unusual security arrangement and the posting of Sepoys here and there.

Tikendrajit Singh complained of aches in stomach and returned home. It was really a very ill-mannered treatment to the Maharaja and the royal dignitaries of Manipur to make them wait at the gate under the boiling heat of mid-day sun of late March. On previous occasions, the chief commissioner would come down the residency bungalow to welcome the Maharaja and the ministers but this basic courtesy was not shown this time. J. Roy states, Mr. Quinton displayed his complete lack of courtesy and tactlessness.

The disaster which followed might have been averted and the Supreme government could have easily realized its object peacefully if the regent and his brothers were not kept standing at the gate in such a way. After sometime, the Maharaja and his ministers were allowed to enter into residency, and they were to wait for half an hour on the steps of the residency and then for another one and half hour on the Veranda. Kulachandra felt tired and wanted to sit, only then the political agent permitted him to sit in a room.

[Gangmumei Kamei: Anglo-Manipur War and its Aftermath] This was really a shocking and atrocious reception to Maharaja in his own capital. For this insult the British officers had to pay a heavy price. Finding the absence of Tikendrajit, Mr. Quinton could not carry out his plan. So, the durbar was rescheduled on 23 March 1891 at 8 am at which Tikendrajit must be present and the same was communicated to the Maharaja. Kulachandra who had suffered such humiliations and indignities did not come to the postponed durbar and informed Mr. Quinton that he could not come as Tikendrajit was still too ill to leave his house.

Thus, the plan of Mr. Quinton was failed. On the same day at half past four, Mr. Grimwood and Lt. Simpson went to the palace with a letter from Mr. Quinton which stated that the Supreme Government was to appoint Kulachandra as Maharaja but to remove Tikendrajit from Manipur on account of his role in the recent palace revolt. Mr. Quinton then informed Kulachandra to hand over Tikendrajit to him at once or issue arrest warrant. This demand was rejected.

Mr. Grimwood further sought an interview with Tikendrajit who met him at his residence on his sick bed. Mr. Grimwood explained the details of his exile that he would be given allowance and he could return to Manipur after the death of the Maharaja and ascend the throne of Manipur. Tikendrajit on the hand questioned the authority of the Supreme Government to interfere in the internal affairs of Manipur. The talks failed and Mr. Grimwood came back to the residency. [J. Roy: History of Manipur]

While his two moves failed miserably, Mr. Quinton became desperate and determined to use force to arrest Tikendrajit in his house at day break on the following day, 24 March 1891. The British force suddenly attacked the palace without declaring war against Manipur then an independent sovereign power. Kulachandra declared war against the British.

The fighting continued the whole day resulting in heavy causalities on both sides. It is stated that the British army committed atrocities on men, women and children and even they destroyed the idols in the temple.

[N. Khenchandra Singh: Battle of Khongjom] As the operation was not successful, Mr. Quinton decided to have a truce and ordered cease fire by a bugle call. The Manipuris too stopped firing. After an exchange of letters, both sides agreed to discuss the term of ceasefire. Then, the ill-fated five officers, Mr. Quinton, Grimwood, Col. Skene, Cossins and Lt. Simson went to the palace. They had no escort and were unarmed. They went inside the gate and had a discussion about the truce for half an hour. At the durbar, Thangal General was also present.

The discussion produced no result. During that time a large number of people were also assembled outside the durbar to hear the progress of the meeting. When the British officers returned and moved towards the gate they chased them and immediately Mr. Grimwood was speared to death by one Kajao Singh and Lt. Simson was severely wounded by sword. The remaining surviving officers rushed inside the durbar and were detained for about two hours.

They were then taken to the green space in front of the dragons and were beheaded by the public executioner. [N. Khelchandra Singh: Thangal General] Due ceremonial rites were observed and the heads were buried at Nungjenghonbi inside the palace. Thus, an old prophecy that 'heads of white men will roll before dragon' came true. Their bodies were buried near a Naga village, at the present Indira Park and Assembly secretariat.

The death sentence of the British captives without trial was unjustified. Though as per the laws of tiny country what they had committed was the cause or waging war against Manipur and thus liable to be punished by death. But the execution was one of the incidents of a greater phenomenon of the contest between Manipur and mighty empire. [Gangmumei Kamei: Anglo-Manipur War and its Aftermath; Kh. Sarojini Devi: British Political Agency in Manipur, 1835 -1947]

The events occurred from 22-25 March, 1891 were really tregic. The friendship had been destroyed by tactless and arrogant Mr. Quinton, the chief commissioner of Assam. It was also the disaster for the British prestige in India. Tiny Manipur did not comply in the foul play and pressure threats of Mr. Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam. It was a debacle for the British.

The event was the immediate cause for the outbreak of Anglo-Manipur war. Thus, the outbreak of internal quarrel among the royal princes, the attempt of the British to arrest Tikendrajit, and execution of British officers had laid the unavoidable basic foundation for this terrible event. Due to this accumulating wrong policy of the ruling elite, the people of this state obtained such type of bad luck. [N. Joykumar: Colonialism to Democracy: A History of Manipur, 1819-1972]

The news of the execution of five officers and inability to arrest Tikendrajit reached the ear of the Supreme Government. To avenge, the Supreme government sent three columns of troops to Manipur. They advanced simultaneously by the first week of April 1891 from Kohima under Major General Collet, Silchar under Lt. Col. R.J.H Rennick and Tammu under Brigadier General T. Graham. Major General Collet was the commander of the whole invading army. It appears that Manipur was not psychologically prepared for a big war against the British. But the war was forced on her and she had to fight it out.

In the war that followed the Manipuris fought bravely to defend the honour and independence of their motherland. Learning the news of the advance of British force from three directions, the Maharaja sent eight hundred sepoys towards the north to check the advance British column coming from Kohima. Another one thousand sepoys were sent to oppose the British forces coming from Cachar and seven hundred sepoys sent to resist the advance of British column from Tummu.

The main theatre of the Anglo-Manipur war was in the south east of Manipur, where was fought one of the battles of the war of Manipur's independence which was a saga of heroism and patriotism of the great warriors of the country who fought against heavy odds, the outcome of which was a foregone conclusion. At this critical time, the Maharaja promoted Paona Brajabasi and Chongtha Mia Singh to the post of major and reinforced the Manipuri forces with another four hundred soldiers under the command of the two majors.

The greatest battle was fought at Khongjom on 25 April, 1891. The Manipur camp at Khongjom was defended by majors Paona and Chongtha Mia who earned immortal fame in the famous battle of Khongjom.[Lal Dena: British Policy Towards Manipur 1762-1947] The Manipuri forces were outnumbered. The enemy was superior in arms too. 'Those were the days when the sun never set in British Empire'. R.K. Jhalajit says, a little Kingdom like Manipur could not hope to meet the resourceful of the British located in their Indian Empire.

But, the Manipuris fought bravely against the mighty British for the defense of their motherland. According to local account, about 400 Manipuri heroes were killed and the British too suffered very losses. The fall of Khongjom is the turning point in the history of Manipur. On 27 April the British entered Imphal and occupied the palace, sounding the death knell of whatever sovereign power Manipur had enjoyed. On the day itself the union jack flag was hoisted over the palace of Manipur. As a mark of victory, the British soldiers had blown up the masonry dragon which stood at the entrance of the durbar hall.

By 23 May 1891, all the wanted men including Tikendrajit and Thangal General were arrested. Then, they were put to a farcical trial and charged with waging war against the Empress of India, murder of British officers and murder. Thus, on 13 August 1891 Tikendrajit Singh and Thangal General were hanged at Imphal at 5 pm in presence of Chief political officer, Manipur field force before an open space of about eight thousand Manipuris.

After hanging for one hour, A. Coleman, surgeon, the senior medical officer examined the body and pronounced life to be extinct. [N. Khelchandra: Documents of Anglo-Manipur War, part-II] Kulachandra and Angousana were transported for life. [Sir Robert Reid: History of the Frontier Areas Bordering on Assam from 1883-1941] Niranjan Subedar, Kajao and Charang Thangal (Chirai) were also hanged on various charges.

The war came to an end. Gangmumei Kamei writes, "Manipur independence and sovereignty which were so long preserved throughout the centuries had now lost. One need not enter again the justice or injustice of the British action; it was application of the old adage that might is right which was the foundation of the British imperialism throughout the world."

'Freedom they lost, but love of freedom they retained'. It is on this day of 13th August that 121 years ago the two brave sons of Manipur, Jubraj Tikendrajit Singh and Thangal General made the supreme sacrifices for their motherland. We, the Manipuris salute them.

* This article was written by Budha Kamei for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on August 12, 2012 and reposted on August 13 2016 .

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