TODAY -

Wars, Devastation, and other important events in Kakching
(1573 - 1945 A.D.), Manipur
- Part 1 -

Kshetri Bira *

  Kakching Garden
Kakching Garden in 2016 : Pix - Bond Thokchom Cha



Translated by: Vikram Nongmaithem

Humans are born on this earth and here they perish. While evolutionists believe life itself is a product of the evolution of nature, creationists hold the belief that life as well as nature itself is a creation of the almighty God. It has long been a matter of an unending debate when the first humans originated on earth.

Palaeoanthropologists point to Africa as the birthplace of humans. According to this theory, they then migrated to Australia and it is reckoned they reached India around some 65000 years ago. It should be a matter of no more debate that our own land, Manipur must also have been one of the destinations in the tide of early human migration.

Though it is commonly believed that hordes of humans had passed through the hills and the valley of Manipur, there has been no scientifically proven record of the race and ethnicity of those people, the places of their origin (where they came from) and the exact period of time when they first reached Manipur.

However, when a socially evolved tribe led by Poireiton reached the Manipur Valley, the Chakpas (an ethnic group) had already been settling in the Manipur valley is an accepted knowledge. Therefore, a proper research needs to be conducted to ascertain the veracity that the Chakpas were the (original) autochthons of Manipur.

The term, "Kakching" itself was not originally the name of a place but rather a term used for a tribe or a group of people. "Kakching is a people subjugated by majority Meiteis". They had merged into population of the majority Meiteis. When those people first immigrated to Manipur, they did not come together with the Chakpas or the Moirangs or the Meiteis. Though these peoples might have migrated through different periods it is a matter of no dispute that they shared a common bloodline in the pre-historic days.

In order to understand the events and origin of the Kakching people who have merged with the Meiteis, it becomes absolutely necessary to dig deep into the roots of the culture, tradition, religions, geography and history of the countries and regions neighbouring Manipur. In this search, it is an absolute necessity to study the people of the areas and regions surrounding Manipur with an inclusive outlook towards the people settling in the hills of Manipur which surround the valley.

The East:

Burma borders Manipur in the east. The Tais (Shans), a major ethnic group among Tibeto-Chinese family of languages has around some 130 sub-ethnic groups living in Burma. The Meiteis used to divide the different regions of the country as Kabaw-Ava, Khagi-Khaman and Pong-Pei. Modern Burma comprises of 7 states and 7 Divisions in its administrative structure.

The Bamars (Burmans) are the largest ethnic group comprising 80% of the total population of Burma. The cultural influence of India on Burma began to take root in the early years of the Christian era. The Pong or the Shan peoples began to embrace Theravada Budhism around 500 A.D. Many small yet independent states also existed in Burma around that time.

The Shans conquered them one by one and amalgamated into a larger Shan state with the establishment of a capital at Mogaung (Mong Kawng). In 1479 the Chinese conquered the Shan country. Later, the Avas of Central Burma became powerful enough to develop an independent kingdom with its capital at Bagan. However, the Bamars subjugated them and established the Toungoo dynasty and ruled Burma.

The Toungoo capital was shifted to Mandalay during the reign of king Mindon. After 62 years of conflict and contestation with the British, Burma became a colony of the British in 1886 after the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885) and its last King Thibaw was exiled to Ratnagiri in southern India.

In the year 1948, Burma became an independent state. It is noteworthy to remember the Burmese nationalists of that period taking the help of the Japanese who were then on the ascendency in Southeast Asia with victory after victory (1941-42) during those years of the Second World War, which in turn, led to the expulsion of the British, the Chinese and the Indians who exploited the Burmese economy and society.

Modern Burma which was created with the sacrifice of thousands of lives, has now been renamed as Myanmar, is a modern nation-state of Tibeto-Chinese peoples. The Burmans, the Shans, the Mons and the Rakhines are Budhists and comprise of more than 90% of its total population.

The South:

The Meitei Turel (Manipur River) takes its source waters from the hills in the northern part of Manipur (many small tributaries joining its course) and flows towards the south and finally, it joins the river Myitha, a tributary of the Chindwin river by cutting through a deep gorge beyond Manipur in the Chin State of Myanmar.

The Chin State is inhabited by the Kamhao and Kuki-Chin groups of people. They also belong to the Tibeto-Chinese family of languages.

The West:

Cachar District of Assam borders Manipur in the west. At one point of time in history, Cachar was ruled by the Tripuri kingdom. Later, Cachar was annexed by the kingdom of Cooch Behar. The term "Cachar" was used by the inhabitants of Sylhet meaning "Foothills" (or Land near the Foothills). The Meiteis used the terms "Takhel" for Tripura and Mayanglam for Cachar respectively.

Tripura has a long and continuous history. The autochthons or original inhabitants of the independent kingdom of Tripura were the Tripuris (Boros). The Mayang Cacharis of Cachar are Boros. The name of all the 149 Tripuri Kings mentioned in their Royal Chronicle, Rajmala upto 1431 A.D. are all Tripuris. The Mughals invaded Tripura in 1618 and annexed it to their empire. Cachar was separated from Tripura.

By the year 1809, Tripura became a British Protectorate. In 1949, Tripura merged with India. Meitei Kings and their associates had close relations with the people of Tripura and (Cachar) Mayanglam.

The North:

Beyond the Naga Hills, it would be worthwhile to look to the north towards Tekhao. Upper Assam was known to the Meiteis as Tekhao. Lower Assam was known as Kamrup. The small streams of migration of a few Aryans into this Boro inhabited region began during the 1st century AD. In the year 1228, a Shan prince named Sukapha subjugated many Tekhao princes and established a dynasty with its capital at Charaideo, near the present day Sibsagar.

The kingdom which later came to be known as the Ahom kingdom became very powerful after his policies of integration and the Ahom dynasty ruled for 598 years i.e. for almost six centuries. Many a time they faced the might of the Mughal army. Had not the Ahoms strongly defended the areas of the present Northeast India, the whole of the region might have been colonized by the Mughals.

In 1833, the Ahom Prince Purandar was made a tributary ruler of Upper Assam by the British and in 1838, the British authorities annexed his kingdom along with Cachar. In 1874, the Assam region was separated from the Bengal Presidency; Sylhet was added to it and its states were upgraded to a Chief Commissioner's Province.

From the above discussion it can be inferred that, since the very early days, while the hills surrounding the valley had been defended and inhabited by the different tribes of Nagas and Kukis, the regions beyond the hills ranges of Manipur have been mainly inhabited by the Burmans, the Shans and the Boros. Thus, it is easily discernible that apart from Tribeto-Chinese groups, no race such as the Aryans would have entered and settled in Manipur during the pre-historic days.

Now, let me come to the topic of Kakching, now a district headquarter, declared as the cleanest city in North-East zone among the cities with less than one lakh population category in the Swachh Survekshan,2018 (a cleanliness competition organized by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs).

As already mentioned, the Kakching people (Kakching) were a relatively late entrant into Manipur in search of better living conditions and settlement. Early people of Kakching had shared bloodlines with the Shans i.e. they were a sub group of the Tai people. In 777 A.D. the Shan King Sookampha sent his younger brother, Samlongpha to invade the western regions with a large army.

The Shan army overran Bengal and conquered Tripura (Takhel). Before leaving Takhel Samlongpha chose a loyal team known as Lanchaabas (Lanchaaba is a term used for a general to govern/lord over to look after the conquered territories) and left them there. Samlongpha along with his forces passed through Cachar and crossed the Barak river to enter Manipur.

After reaching Moirang they resided in the palace of the Meitei Kings for some time. The standard of living of the Meiteis in those days were so poor and deplorable and on seeing that the Shans felt merciful.

They did not resort to collect tributes from the people but rather gave away even the loot they had plundered from their campaigns. Not long after that the Shans returned to their homeland following the trail of the Iril river.

Samlongpha's Lanchabas began to marry Tripuri wives and had children and families and while some of them turned animists, some remained as Budhists. Due to frequent Tripuri raids and onslaughts on the animists during this period most of the populace ran away to hide in the hills. Many among those animist Lanchaabas who had not been used to live in the hills began migrating to safer places to flee from the Tripuris.

Afterwards, an undaunted brave man named Kamlangpha led an animist group towards Cachar (Mayanglam). They resided in Cachar for a few years. Kamlangpha along with his followers crossed the western hill ranges of Manipur and finally reached Moirang in 1480. When the Moirang people asked where they came from their reply was the word "Kakchai", being unable to pronounce the word "Cachar" correctly.

The Moirangs misheard the sound for "Kakching". From Moirang the Kakchings proceeded towards the land of the Meiteis and on reaching there, the Meiteis first mistook them for the Moirang people.

Another story of the origin of the word, "Kakching" goes on like this. When the Kakchings arrived in Manipur, their attitude and behavior were very different from the natives. They had slightly entrenched Budhist ethos, mannerisms and attitude even though they had turn animists.

Unused and unaccustomed to such behavior which was too much to bear with, the natives complained to the king against those newly arrived people and the Meitei king settled the issue by cutting and setting rules and norms of behavior with a lot of 'Dos and Don'ts' and let them settle in the Meitei lands.

"Kak-chang" literally means "Entering by making an agreement" (Kaknaba to cut a deal/to make an agreement and Changba -Entering) and "Kakching" is a phonetic derivation of "Kakchang".

The Meitei king let the Kakchings settle at the land east of Takyel Pat. The aged statesman like Kamlangpha developed and taught his people the science of extracting iron from ore, refining it and the making of iron tools and implements. When Kamlangpha breathed his last the Kakchings wept and mourned for so long.

Beginning from that time the Kakching people began to believe that Kamlangpha himself was the avatar of the Khamlangba, the incarnate divine teacher and God of steel metallurgy, the master ironsmith who had been much talked about and revered by the Meiteis for ages. They began to believe that it was the Khamlangba in the form of Kamlangpha who had personally led them in their migrations through dangerous and tough times.

The Kakchings worked hard, toiled day and night. Their village economy grew faster than other villages. Seeing all these developments, Meidingu Mungyamba felt tempted to suppress the Kakchings. In the year 1573, Mungyamba attacked, raided and plundered the village where the Kakchings settled with all their wealth and belongings looted.

The Kakchings now decided to migrate again for safety. Their prayer before shifting their settlement echoed the love and reverence for Khamlangba deep in their hearts. Perhaps, they became Lois from this period.

Some people of Kakching settled at Wairi (an area near the present Waiton and Pourabi villages). Some turned eastwards and became neighbors of the Suis Kameng village. Majority of them went in the southerly direction and settled at Thouban. Now, the Kakchings had three settlements, the largest being the one at Thouban. The migration and settlement of Kakchings at Thouban took place during the reign of Meidungu Paikhomba.

Now, let me come to the main historical events as I have briefly introduced what Kakching means and who they were. In the year of Charairongba's ascension to the throne of Manipur in 1697, an elephant killed a woman at Kakching.

Some days after this incident Charairongba on his return journey from visiting a brine spring accidentally came across a man from Kakching searching for his buffalo. On seeing the Maharaj the man plucked some blades of Hup grass and offered to the king with prayers. Bewildered by the act the Maharaj asked the stranger, "Why are you offering me these blades of Hup grass?"

The man replied, "Your Highness, the king of the land is God himself; if somebody happens to come across the king, he or she should offer His Highness whatever he or she can at the moment. Now, I've got nothing to offer except these blades of Hup grass".

Deeply satisfied with his reply, the king said, "You are a man full of wisdom. You shall be the king of your village and henceforth, you shall be known as Budhiraj". From that day onwards, every chieftain of Kakching bore the title of 'Budhiraj'.

Here,a point we need to recall is that Charairongba used the Sanskrit word 'Budhiraj' because he very much associated himself with people coming from the neighbouring western side of Manipur. Chieftains of Ningthoukhong were known as Kalaraj.

Events during the Chieftainship of Budhiraj Mayanglambam Chirukhomba:

1737 Thieves like Maipak and others were killed in Kakching; by that time, the Kakchings had shifted the settlement at Kerching

1740 Hordes of Marings attacked and pillaged the four villages of Kakching, Pallen, Langathel and Heirok killing105 people; the Kakching people caught one Maring alive

1757 During Meidingu Maramba's reign stockades and defensive walls were built at Kakching as the Meitei forces were in retreat as Ava forces were after them. Akham Madhav Ram was the commander of the unit guarding these structures. By this time, some people of Kakching had shifted to Kakching Khunou for a new settlement.

1758 There were fierce battles between the Ava forces and Chingthangkhomba's forces.

The causes of the battles of 1757 and 1758 were these. As per the instructions of Meidingu Maramba The Meiteis went to invade the Avas one column was led by Prince Chingthangkhomba from the direction of Samjok and the other column led by the Senapati from the direction of Tumu. However King Alaungpaya of the Konbaung Dynasty gave them a tough fight at Kakching and the Meitei forces were ultimately defeated.

By this time the Kakching people had now shifted their settlement at the present place and the Kerching area which they once settled came to be known as Khuman meaning the deserted village/settlement.

A group of those who had settled at Wairi had also returned to the Wairi area at the present area of Kakching. It was a sort of reunification of the Kakching people who had gone to settle at different locations after Mungyamba's raid and plunder of the Kakchings in 1573 A.D.

To be continued .....

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

1. Cheitharol Kumbaba (The Court Chronicle of Kings of Manipur)
2. Statistical Account of Manipur by R. Brown
3. Report on The Eastern Frontier of British India by R. B. Pemberton
4. Manipur and Naga Hills by Sir James Johnstone
5. Gazetteer of Manipur by E. W. Dun
6. The Meitheis by T. C. Hudson
7. History of the Hill Tribes of the North-East Frontier of Bengal by Alexander Mackenzie
8. Gazetteer of Naga Hills and Manipur by B. C. Allen
9. History of Burma by Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur P. Phayre
10. Manipur under British Management by J. Shakespeare
11. Meitei Yek Salai by Naoroibam Indramani
12. Sanggai Phammang by Dr. Konsam Manikchand
13. Kakching by Naorem Gandhar
14. Miyat
15. Gazetteer of Upper Burma and Shan State by J. George Scott
16. A History of Assam by Edward Albert Gait
17. History of Tripura by E. F. Sardys

* Kshetri Bira is a Sahitya Academy Award 2011 winning writer for his novel, Nangbu Ngaibada (Waiting For You) and has also published many other works of fiction as well as non-fiction.
Vikram Nongmaithem is a freelance writer.



* Kshetri Bira wrote this article , which was translated by Vikram Nongmaithem and published at e-pao.net
Vikram Nongmaithem can be reached at vikramnong(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on March 19, 2020 .


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