E-Pao! Manipur - Thangal General - A descendant of the hills

Thangal General - A descendant of the hills

By: Seamsan B Mai *

Lungthoubu Thangal better known as Thangal Menjor and later known as Thangal General was a legendary hero of Thangal tribe. From his childhood he had a peculiar character and appearance and had extraordinary strength. He was bold, active, intelligent and fond of playing and hunting. His courage and bravery attracted the eyes of the elders and he was admired by all the villagers.

During the reign of Gambhir Singh and his party came to catch wild elephant from Samukom (Sai-kul), Gambhir Singh Maharaja asked the Khullakpa of Makeng Thangal to arrange for a guide for his men. Accordingly the Khullakpa of Thangal sent Lungthoubu as the guide of the said party. The Maharaja and his men also came up to Thangal village for the worship of Mabhudhou Pakhangba. Lungthoubu served the Maharaja and his men in the village and the excellent services of Lungthoubu was so admired by the Maharaja.

Lungthoubu guided the Maharaja and his men in the mission of catching wild elephant. In this mission Lungthoubu alone caught one she elephant with a calf. The clever act, courage and strength of Lungthoubu of this extra daring enterprise was so amazing to the whole party and was so much admired by the Maharaja.

Taking into account of the happening and considering the far sighted bright future of Lungthoubu the Maharaja wanted to take him to Sana Konung for his services. The Maharaja pleaded the Khullakpa and parent of Lungthoubu and obtained permission to take Lungthoubu from Thangal village to Manipur Sana Konung. Thus Lungthoubu Thangal was taken to Sana Konung and adopted in the house of one Kshetrimayum who has no issue of child.

Lungthoubu Thangal was brought from Thangal so his name was known as Thangal in short. In the course of time he was later taken into Manipuri community and given Kangabam clan and thus came to know as Kangabam Laipham-Iatpa and Thangal Menjor.

By virtue of his services about sixty years in the Manipur Sana Konung Thangal was thus later remain in the Meitei community. But he was never known as Meitei. He himself used to say, epudi chingdagi lakpani. So his origin should not be confused and misinterpreted.

The real fact and truth of the origin of Thangal General can be known from his original place, Thangal Makeng and Thangal people. Secondly, his origin can also be known from the Puran Puja and Pandits. Puran Puja and Pandits are the available principle sources of the ancient history of Manipur since there is no other written records of those days. Thirdly, it can also be known from the history of the ancient writers and anthropologist.

It is written in Meitei Puya like this : "Shri Jut Gambhir Singh sana hakthakta Makeng Thangal gi Khullakpagi manaogi machanupa amabu Sana Konungda puraktuna Ningthouja Salaida loukhatkhei, magi yumnakti Kangabam oikhie, Kangabam Thangal Menjor mayumne...

It is written in the "Meitei Puran" like this: Shri. Jut Gambhir Singh Sana hakthakta Makeng Thangal gi Khullakpagi manaogi machanupa amabu Sana Konungda puraktuna Ningthouja Salaida loukhatkhie, magi yumnakti Kangabam oikhie, kangabam Thangal Menjor mayumne...

It is also written in the "Mahou Mihouron Puja" like this: "Thangal Menjor haiba nipa asi Makeng Thangal khun asidagi hourakpane...mahak Thangarabagi masu macha singne... magi maming, mapa mamagi maming manaogi, maming loina takli...

It is written by Jyotirmoy Roy in his book "History of Manipur" and Makundalal Chowdhury "Manipur Itihash" like this : "It is said that Thangal General was a Naga by birth and afterwards by virtue of his long services he was taken into the Manipur community"...

In the book of R.R. Shimray 'Origin and Culture of Nagas' it is also mentioned that Thangal General was from Thangal Surung village and his name was Lungthoubou (Lungthoubu)... It is also mentioned in the books of Cpt. R.S. Pemberton and Lt.Col. Mc Colluch that Thangal General is a Naga by birth.

We can also get some guiding principles from the books of Sir James Johnstone and Mrs. Grimwood. Thangal General and his origin was very clearly mentioned in the Khongjom Parva too. Over and above all these there are legends, songs, examples etc. in his birth place, Thangal Surung and Thangal people.

It is mentioned in 'Cheitharol Kumbaba': on the 14th day of Poinu, Monday, Saka 1752 (English 1831). The Raja Gambhir Singh (Chinglen Nongdren Khomba) went to catch elephant to Ekou catchment area. On the 3rd day of Wakching (Monday) Raja's team returned to the capital along with 34 elephant catches (Cheitharol Kumbaba, 1989, p - 230). During the reign of Raja Chandrakirti, on the 27th day of Wakching (Tuesday), Awang Hao pham kaye, (p - 260).

In the subsequent pages of the Chronicles we find mention about Thangal here and there as Thangal Hajari and Thangal Major... On the 28th day of Poinu month (Wednesday) 1795 Saka Thangal Major along with R Brown reached Mayangkhang and there Brown asked Thangal Major about the meaning of Mayangkhang, Major replied that people of this village cultivated species of paddy called 'Mayangkhang', hence name of the village was called Mayangkhang (p-415) and Mayangkhang is a village of Thangal tribe.

In the death certificate issued by A. Colown, Surgeon, Senior Medical Officer, Manipur it is mentioned like this: Certified that Tongal alias Tongal General of Manipur, was this thirteenth day of August, 1891 hanged at Manipur in my presence and I examined the body after hanging for the space of one hour and found life to be extinct. (Cheitharol Kumbaba, P-501).

Thus Thangal General was known as Awang Hao, Thangal Hajari, Thangal Major or Menjor and later known as Thangal General. The General title was given by the political Agent Sir James Johnstone in 1885 as promoted by the Maharaj Chandrakirti Singh.

He was the most experienced and capable administrator in the days of Maharajas who ruled for a long period of about 60 years from the reign of Gambhir Singh Maharaj to the reign of Kulachandra Maharaj. The longest and most exciting period was during the reign of Chandrakirti Singh Maharaj who ruled 35 years from 1851 to 1886.

It was mainly because of Thangal for the first time in Manipur an English school was established in 1885 by Major General Sir, James Johnstone, KCSI in the later's name known as Johnstone English school. And as such Thangal General and Balaram Singh who had played most important role in the establishment of education in Manipur can be honoured and given the name of founder and pioneer of education in Manipur.

Thangal General was also fond of building bridges and constructing roads. He and Lt. Raban R.E. during the reign of Chandrakirti Maharaj, had constructed for the first time the road from Imphal to Mao in 1880. He was a remarkable character in the history of Manipur. He was strong and able man capable of any situation acquainted with every branch and part of Manipur.

He was credited more than any man in the kingdom and few things happened without his knowledge and consent. For his services of merit and efficiency Thangal General was also rewarded the title "Tangballoi" which was the highest title and honour of the laid that time in Manipur.

The British author Major General, Sir, James Johnstone KCSI, described Thangal General as under:
Thangal Major was a remarkable character, and had it chequered history. His uncle had saved the life of Rajah Ghumbeer Singh (Chandra Kirtee Singh's father), then a child, when his older brother Marjeel attempted the murder of all his relations. Thangal Major was one of the props of the throne when Ghumbeer Singh ascended it.

He had been introduced at court at an early age, and accompanied the Rajah in an expedition against the village of Thangal inhabited by a tribe of Nagas. He was given the name Thangal in memory of the event. He accompanied the old Ranee with her infant son Chandra Kirtee Singh into exile.

When she fled after attempting the Regent Nursing's life while he was engaged in worship in the Temple of Govindajee in 1844; had stayed with him and carefully watched over his childhood and youth. When in 1850 the young Rajah came to Manipur to assert his rights, Thangal accompanied him and greatly contributed to his success. This naturally made him a favourite, and his bold, active, energetic character always brought him to the front when hard or dangerous work had to be done.

For a time he fell into disfavor, but Colonel Mc Culloch, recognising his strong and useful qualities, and the fact that he was an exceedingly able man, interceded for him with the Maharajah, and he again came to the front. In person he was short and thickest, darker than the average of Manipuris, with piercing eyes and rather prominent nose, a pleasant and straightforward but absurpt manner, and though a very devoted and patriotic Manipuri, was extremely partial to Europeans.

He knew our ways well, and soon took a man's measure. He was acquainted with every part of Manipur, and though ignorant of English, could point out any village in the State on an English map. In fact, he had studied geography in every branch to enable him to defend the cause of Manipur against the survey officers who were suspected by the Manipuris of wishing to include all they could within British territory.

He knew all our technical terms such as "watershed" in English, and had gained much credit for enabling the survey to carry on their work in 1872, when the patriotic but ill judged zeal of an older officer, Rooma Singh, nearly brought about a rupture. Thangal Major's knowledge of us and our customs as well as of our moral code, was astonishing.

He realised the power of the British Government, and though he would resist us to the utmost in the interests of Manipur, nothing would have induced him to join in any plot against our rule in India. When I say that he was unscrupulous and capable of anything, I only say that he was what circumstances and education had made him, and would make any man under similar conditions.

He had not the polish of a native of Western India, and had not had the advantage of English training that many Ministers in other States have. 'The internal administration of Manipur had never been interfered with by us, and Thangal Major was the strong able man of the old type. A strong and capable political agent might do well with him, but a weak one would soon go to the wall. He commanded the Toolee Nehah, and was often called by that title, but was better known as Thangal Major.

One of my predecessors had quarrelled with Thangal Major, and this had led to recrimination, and very unseenly conduct on the part of the Durbar. This conduct I had rebuked as directed, but it was a question as to how Thangal Major was to be dealt with.

I was authorised to demand his dismissal from office, and for some time he had not been received by my two immediate predecessors. I made careful inquiries, and feeling convinced that there was a good deal to be said on Thangal's side, and that by careful management I should be able to keep him well in hand, I sent for him.

The old man, he was then sixty having been born in 1817, came in a quite unostentatious way, and after a severe rebuke, and receiving an ample apology from him, I forgive him, and restored him to the position of minister in attendance upon me; and thenceforth I saw him daily, generally for an hour or two. (Manipur and the Naga Hills, p - 74, 75, 76, 77) .

One day the two Ministers Thangal Major and Bularam Singh came to see me, accompanied by old Rooma Singh Major. They looked rather uneasy, and I suspected something was coming out.

Presently Thangal rose and saluted me, and said, "The Maharajah has promoted us to be generals". I received the intelligence without any enthusiasm, feeling assumed that the act had been dictated by a desire to give them a more high-sounding title than my military one, I being then only a Lieut Colonel. It was in fact a piece of self-assertion.

Anyone understanding Asiatics will know what I mean and that I knew instinctively it was a move in the game against me which I ought to check. I coldly replied that of course the Maharajah would please himself, but that I loved old things, old names and old faces and that I had so many pleasant associations with the old titles that I could not bring myself to use the new ones and should continue to call them by the dear old name of Major.

I then shook hands with them most cordially and said good-bye, and they left rather crestfallen, where they had hoped and intended to be triumphant. I may as well tell the remainder of the story. Time after time was I begged to address my three friends as 'General,' but I was inexorable, and the titles almost fell into disuse among the Manipuris who had at first adopted them.

Old Thangal once had a long talk about it, and I said plainly, "I give nothing for nothing: some day when you do something I shall address you as General." Years passed, I went on leave, and my locum tenens too good-naturedly gave in, and addressed them as General and even induced the Chief Commissioner of the day to do likewise.

When he wrote to me and told me of it, I was naturally not very pleased and mentioned it to an old Indian friend, who said, "Well, you will have to do the same now that the Chief Commissioner has." However, I was not going to swerve from my word. I returned to Manipur and one of the Ministers met me on the boundary river. I again greeted him as "Major Sahib," and immediately the new titles again began to fall into disuse. I told the Chief Commissioner my views when I next met him and he approved, as I said I could not alter my word.

Some time after this I again renewed efforts that I had long been making for the establishment of an English School in Manipur. The Durbar naturally object; wisely from their point of view, they knew as well as I did that the fact of their subjects learning English would eventually mean a better administration of justice, and a gradual sweeping away of abuses. I felt, however, that the time was come, and I urged the question with great force, and one day said to the Ministers, "You have long wanted to be addressed as 'General,' and I told you that when you did something worthy of it I should do so.

Now the day that the Maharaja gives his consent to an English School being established, I shall address you as General." A few days afterwards the Maharajah's consent was brought. I immediately stood up and shook hands most warmly with them, saying, "I thank you cordially, Generals." From that day the question was finally set at rest, after years of longing on the part of the old fellows. We had always understood each other, and they felt and respected the part I had taken and, I believe, valued their titles all the more from my not having given in at once. (Manipur and Naga Hills p-142. 143. 144)

The Indian author and historian Jyotirmoy Roy described Thangal General as follow; He quotes Mrs Grimwood in describing Thangal appearance in the, following lines.
"Mrs. Grimwood describes him as an old man nearer eighty than seventy, taller than the average Manipuri and marvellously active for his age. He had a fine old face, much lined and wrinkled with age.... He had pierching black eyes, shaggy overhanging white eyebrows, and white hair. His nose was long and slightly hooked, and his mouth was finely cut and very determined. Few things happened without his knowledge and approbation, and if he withheld this approbation from any matter, there would invariably be a hitch in it somewhere.

He credited with more bloodshed than any man in the kingdom... If he had his faults, he had his virtues also. He was very enterprising, fond of building bridges and improving the roads about the capital. Like Senapati, he was a keen soldier, enjoyed watching good shooting and had been in his younger days a first rate shot himself. He was an obstinate old man and it was very difficult to get him to listen to any opposition if he did not please him at the outset, but once he had promised to get anything done, he did not go back from his word and one know it was reliable (Mrs. Grimwood, My three years in Manipur cited in J. Roy 1973).

It is said that Thangal General was a Naga by birth and afterwards by virtue of his services he was taken into the Manipuri community (based on T. C. Hodson's remarks- the Meitheis cited in J. Roy, 1973). He was born in 1817 and after putting a long career of service to the Government of Manipur he bravely faced the gallows along with Tikendrajit at the age of 74. He joined the service of the Manipur Government at a very early age.

In 1844, when the conspiracy of Maharani Kumudini Devi, the mother of Chandra Kirti Singh failed, Thangal also accompanied her in Cachar and re-entered Manipur in 1850, after the death of Nar Singh. It would have been difficult for Chandra Kirti to regain the throne of his father without his help. When Chandra Kirti came to power Thangal became an important member of the Darbar.

Thangal was unlettered person and did not know English. But he studied the character of the English Officers thoroughly. Hence he tried as far as practicable to avoid incurring any displeasure of the British Officers. But in order to defend the interest of Manipur he would not hesitate even to lay down his life.

Tikendrajit also was afraid of this old General. But he always avoided any hitch with him. Inspite of great differences with Tikendrajit, when war broke out with the English Thangal stood by his side. (Jyotirmoy Roy's History of Manipur-1973, p-113, 114).

Thangal General popularly known as Thangal Major who sacrificed his life for the safeguard and protection of his motherland at the behest of the then British Government served from the reign of Gambhir Singh Maharaja upto the reign of Kulachandra Singh Maharaja. He was a man of courage, principle and justice with many wisdom and virtues.

Seamsan B Mai wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 10th, 2006

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