Tikendrajit : The Lion of Manipur
- Part 1 -

Dr. Lokendra Arambam *

Bir Tikendrajit - The Hero of Manipur
Bir Tikendrajit - The Hero of Manipur :: Pix - Imphal Times

""I believe this Manipur affair must always remain a dark page of Indian history."
- Sir John Gorst,,Under Secretary of State for India, House of Commons, 16 June, 1891


On the 13th of August, 1891, some one hundred and twenty seven years ago, after a great victory in the Anglo-Manipur war in April, the soldiers of the British Empire brought out the two heroes of Manipur, the 36-year old Yubaraj Tikendrajit, and the octogenarianThangal General to be hanged in front of the conquered public at 5 pm at a place called Pheidabung, near the women's market. The scene was recorded by the British authorities themselves with the words,
"Gallows were erected on the Pologround and the sentence duly carried out. As far eye could see, the plain was white with women. In the Raja's days a criminal sentenced to death was occasionally reprieved if a sufficient number of women had appeared to intercede for him, and hoping that possibly the old custom might still prevail the women had assembled in their thousands. As the drop fell and the Senapati and Thangal General were launched into eternity, deep groan went up from the assembled throng" (R.K. Sanahal, 1973, P 239).

In ancient pre-colonial times, the intervention of women on behalf of the victims of state, liable to capital punishment, could be pardoned, in deference to the high respect paid to the women of the land. The women of the land could intervene in serious matters of truth and justice, if they considered the state ignored traditional values of compassion and grace in the exercise of power. The congregation of some five thousand women on that day had held the edges of their innafi (scarf) spread in front, silently seeking pardon for the two leaders. This did not happen.

The other more dramatic detail of the scene was also that YubarajTikendrajit, the hero of the 'rebellion', walked up the scaffold with no sign of emotion, his face resolute and firm. The old Thangal General, however, simply refused to move. He had to be bodily lifted on the scaffold by the guards! When the ropes were tightened round their necks, and the planks underneath their feet were about to be pulled, the old man burst out in a loud laughter! Thus ended a theatrical demonstration of the power of the empire, their firm capacity to punish those who resist them.The tears in the eyes of the women and their groans ended a long chapter in the history of the freedom and independence of the Asiatic state of Manipur, which came to a close with that episode.

Not much of us till this day, could fathom the intricate workings of the mind of the old statesman and soldier which produced the resistant gesture and sarcastic laughter at a critical moment in his some fifty years of relentless sacrifice and service to his cherished motherland. It must have come from the accumulated experiential memory from a lifetime of sheer struggles and vicissitudes for the cause of the kingdom to retain its freedom and dignity amidst friends as well as enemies.

He must have felt the irony of it all, when a powerful friend and ally, the British, gradually turned into a foe and emerged as a cruel conqueror at the end! Both he and his protégé the Yubaraj shared sheer intuitive suspicion of the schemes and manipulative designs of the British, and the arrogant and haughty manners of the European officials.But for the sake of friendship and obligatory gestures to their support in the anti-Burmese wars, Manipur had gone all out to help the British become the master of the ferocious tribes of the North Eastern regions.

When the British Empire conquered Burma in 1885, with help from Manipur in logistics and human resources, the existence of Manipur as free country in the red map of the imperial geography was no longer tenable. In his prison cell before the hanging, Thangal must have also remembered the anecdotes of the great political agent James Johnstone (1877–86), requiring Manipur's support in the Naga and Burma campaigns, where Thangal virtually led the expeditions.

He must have also remembered the personal enmity between himself and the British political agent, that when the latter was undertaking a horse-riding exercise in the morning, the native soldiers of Manipur under Thangal was organizing a shooting practice. Johnstone nearly missed a bullet that whizzed past his neck. The furious Johnstone complained to the Maharajah Chandrakirti about the incident and for immediate booking of the criminal. When the old general was summoned before the king and the complaining arrogant agent, the old man quietly replied to him, "If you ride in the line of fire, you must expect to be shot!"

Making of a Prince Warrior

Tikendrajit, born on the 29th December, 1855, Saturday, as the fourth and only son of King Chandrakirti'sfourth queen Chongtham Chanu Kouseshwari Devi, revealed signs of his future potential. As a mark of the auspiciousness of his birth, a yajna was performed at the precincts of the Hiyangthang Lairembi (equated with the Goddess Durga), with milk from 108 cows offered to the Goddess. As a youth reared in the highest traditions of the classical polity, he was offered the best values and experiences of the Manipuri nobility.

He was trained in the fighting arts of the warrior race, in the study of the HuyenLallong (art and strategies of war). Sword and spear training was given by Yengkhoiba Chaoba, a veteran soldier. At the age of 12 years, he became a champion horse-rider and an avid Polo player. His teacher in the art of horsemanship was Bedam Singh, a veteran of the SagolLanmee(Cavalry Unit, which used the poisoned sling-spear 'Arambai' in the wars against the Burmese in the early 18th century). The relevance of the cavalry was gradually reduced due to the increasing importance of gunpowder and musketry. But upkeep and management of the equine population were still necessary, since the horse was a status symbol of the ranked nobility, which had been institutionalised since the seventh century.

Again the game of SagolKangjei (originator of Polo), which had its mythical origins in the state was still a vital spiritual engagement for martial training, health as well as chivalry. The training in horsemanship and related games were for enhancement of the culture for development of the codes for war and chivalry in the act of war. Tikendrajit's endearment with the horse was so overpowering that not a single horse in the royal stables was left unharnessed by him.

Mr and Mrs Grimwood who were posted in Manipur after James Johnstone (1877–86), were friends of the Yubaraj. Mr Grimwood played SagolKangjei with the Yubaraj, and participated in hunting and other past-times. He was aware of the development activities the state had organized under the supervision of the Yubaraj. Both husband and wife were aware of the tremendous popularity of the Yubaraj. After an exciting and exhausting game of this horse-hockey, the Yubaraj presided over the award ceremony of the players, giving prizes to them. And at the end, a play of humour and fun named 'Phagee' was exposed to the public which continued late at night. The intimate relationship between the centres of power and the public was noticed under such performances.

Tikendrajit along with other princes and princesses of the court were indeed trained in the keeping of the traditions and cultures of the land from the traditional wisdom teachers called 'Maichou' which had their own institutions, later named 'PanditLoishang' in the 18th century. Those scribes and scholars were also warrior citizens selected from the administrative divisions called the 'Pana', which as a geographical and cultural unit were divided into six since early times.

The warriors from the Panas voluntarily served in the state militia known as 'Lallup' to undertake public service activities like dredging and fresh digging of river courses, constructions of bridges and canals and spent ten days in forty at the service of the court for military engagements during the time of war and public activities. The royal princes and princesses were educated in the royal activities to be performed for the welfare of the land, the principles of which were four in number.

First of all, they must be aware that the land should not have incidences of ailment, disease and death (Asee Ana Thoktaba), secondly, those in the realm of power must ensure that there wasabundance in rice and fish (Chak-hong Ngahongba) in the land. The third factor was that the land's door should be closed from attacks by beasts and warrior nations (SaathongLanthongthingba), and finally, the population of both sexes should enjoy sanity and equilibrium (Nupee Nupa Pukning Loushing Thokpa).

The princes who were to be anointed as kings of the land should also perform certain other compulsory welfare activities for the land in material terms. First, it must be understood that Manipur had a unique succession system in kingship which was quite different from that of other states and neighbouring territories. There was no laws of primogeniture in Manipur's succession theory. Three traditional factors were important for the prince to be chosen as king.

First, the viewpoints of the elders in the traditional council (Phamdou Humphumaree – 64 elders of clan representatives), were an important factor considering the principle of the ancestor-veneration prevalent as custom in the practice of the indigenous Meitei culture. The second factor was the choice from the ladies of the court, who played both supervisory as well as assistive roles in the day to day governance of the land. The women had had their own court (PachaLoishang) to take care of women's affairs in the state. The third factor was the choice of the people in general who were very pro-active in the affairs of state.

These traditional values were gradually undermined as the state expanded in the territorial acquisitions through the exegesis of war and gradual increase in the personal power of the king. The entry of the theory of the God-king borrowed from Indic traditions of kingship since the late 17th century during Khagemba's reign (1597–1652) and the entry of new demographic and religious components in the polity brought forth new periods of strife and crisis in the health of the polity.

The succession to kingship issue was one of the foremost subjects where the imperial East India Company's views came into direct contrast with traditional notions of the Manipur polity. Increasing dependency in the balance of power equation by Manipur to the British Empirein the early 19th century was to face the crisis of encounter and test of arms between the two entities in the late 19th century on the issue of succession to kingship.

Among the public service activities to be performed by a new king for the cause of welfare, mention may be made of the following. As per tradition, the aspirant prince must ensure, with the labour of the willing public, the digging of public ponds for fresh water supply to the village households, establish markets for the exchange and flow of consumables and goods, construct mounds and erect megaliths for enhancement of fertility and the ritual symbols of the land, build houses for shelter and habitation, dig trenches and canals for irrigation networks, establish village granaries in specific sites for storage of rice grain.

He shall ensure the specialised working of blacksmithies for iron, and utensil makers from other nature's elements. He must ensure the goldsmithies for refinement of personal ornaments of the ladies of the land. He should ensure the collection of booties in gold and silver for the royal treasury in order to increase wealth as well as prestige for the polity. In fact, in the health and satisfaction of the people in the polity, the land should be a 'Sana Leibak', the golden country.

To be continued....

* Dr. Lokendra Arambam wrote this article which was published at Imphal Times
This article was posted on 15 August, 2018 .

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