TODAY -

Manipur's Crowning Glory
- Kangla -

Yambem Laba *

Kangla - Manipur's Crowning Glory
Kangla - Manipur's Crowning Glory :: Photo - Robert Lourembam Ningthouja



KANGLA Fort's origin lies in antiquity and folklore. The Cheitharol Kumbaba, the royal chronicles of Manipur, dates back to 33 AD when Nongda Lairen Pakhangba of the Ningthouja clan was crowned king of what is now Manipur at Kangla. Till 1891, Kangla served as the spiritual and temporal seat of Manipuris. It was from the fort's ramparts that Manipuri kings like Khagemba (1597-1652) and Pamheiba (1709-1748) waged their wars up the Chindwin (Myanmar) and Surma (now in Bangladesh) rivers. By the beginning of the 16th century, Manipur was a powerful kingdom. Its growth, in fact, has been associated with that of Kangla.

Considered dear to Manipuris, there are 108 sacred sites located within Kangla, representative as it is of their history, culture and integrity. The royal chronicles record that Kangla's development began during the reign of Khagemba, who constructed a gateway and brick walls. It is said that brick mouldings were brought to Manipur by Chinese prisoners of war. Pamheiba then excavated the outer moat and constructed a brick wall around, giving Kangla the topography of a classical fort. Successive kings developed it.

Kangla was also deserted several times because of repeated intrusions by the Burmese since the time of Maharaja Gourshyam (1753-1759). The last raid was in 1819 and they occupied Manipur for seven years, during which time they subjected its people to atrocities. This period is also known as "seven years of devastation", during which time Manipuris were forced to migrate on a large scale to Sylhet (now in Bangladesh), Cachar, Hojai and Guwahati in Assam and Tripura. A number of them were also captured by the Burmese. It is said that the famed Manipuri cavalry spearheaded Burmese king Alunpaya's raid on Thailand that subsequently led to the conquest of Ayuthya, the capital of that country. Today, Mandalay in Myanmar has a a sizeable Manipuri community.

The Burmese were eventually driven out of Manipur by Maharaja Gumbheer Singh, who formed a levy with the help of the British East India Company and the treaty of Yandaboo, signed in 1826, signalled the end of Burmese sway. But Gumbheer Singh did not reoccupy Kangla. He established his capital at Langthabal where the present Manipur University is located. It was left to his brother Narsingh, who ruled between 1844 and 1850, to shift the capital back to Kangla.

In 1891, the British government tried to meddle in what was essentially an internal fight for power among the royal brothers and their effort to capture Yuvaraj Bir Tikenderjit ended in a fiasco. In the events that followed, JC Quinton, then Chief Commissioner of Assam, along with Colonel Skene, Commanding Officer of the 42nd Gurkha Light Infantry, and three other British officers were beheaded in front of the Kangla Sha or dragons that stood before the citadel. Earlier, political agent Frank St Clair Grimwood was speared to death. The British retaliated by declaring war on Manipur and occupied Kangla on 27 April.

The first act of the British, besides hanging Bir Tikenderjit and General Thangal and three others, was to blow up the Kangla Sha and then settle the Assam Rifles in Kangla. During World War II, it was in Kangla that Field Marshal W Slim turned defeat into victory when the Allied forces turned the tide against the invading Japanese imperial forces. The bungalow where he stayed is still preserved as Slim Cottage. After the British left in 1947, Manipur was forcibly merged with the Indian dominion in 1949. The Assam Rifles remained in Kangla and in spite of several resolutions passed by the Manipur assembly, New Delhi refused to vacate Kangla. The people became angry when they were not allowed to enter Kangla for religious and cultural activities. Around 1990, the Kangla Kanba Lup, or Save Kangla Group, was formed by civil society leaders and they tried to storm the fort. The Assam Rifles made a mock withdrawal on 13 August 1992 in the presence of then Union minister of state for home MM Jacob, with chief minister RK Dorendro in tow.

By 2004, the activities of the 17 Assam Rifles, then stationed at Kangla, assumed such notoriety as to prove embarrassing for the Centre. The arrest, alleged rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by Assam Rifles personnel galvanised the entire population to raise their voices for the revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Some Manipuri women staged a nude demonstration at the Kangla gate. The Assam Rifles finally vacated Kangla on 20 November 2004 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh handed a symbolic key to Kangla to chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh.

The Manipur government passed the Kangla Fort Act in 2004 and the Kangla Fort Board, with the chief minister as its chairman, was constituted to administer and oversee developments according to a conceptual plan envisaged by an expert committee headed by Nalini Thakur, a former professor of the National School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, and other experts, including representatives of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Dr RK Nimai Singh, commissioner, Arts and Culture, government of Manipur, and member secretary of the Kangla Fort Board told The Statesman that the Centre had sanctioned Rs 15 crore and the 13th Finance Commission has pledged another Rs 8 crore for Kangla's maintenance. The state government is yet to sanction any funds. Nimai Singh added that efforts were on to create a corpus fund of Rs 10 crore so that it could generate its own funds.

Professor Joy Kumar Laishram of the Central Agricultural University, however, was very critical of the manner in which many so-called VIPs raced their cars and convoys through Kangla, posing a threat to numerous visitors, including schoolchildren, that thronged the area every day, adding that even the Prime Minister did not drive through the Red Fort in Delhi.

Nimai Singh said that although the chief minister had announced that no vehicles, including his own, would pass through Kangla, a ban on vehicular traffic could not be implemented as no resolution to this effect had been taken by the Fort's board. Now that the board is being reconstituted, the chief minister's declaration would be put into effect.

The state power department has used Kangla as its dumping ground for transformers probably to preventing legislators from snatching these for their constituencies.

All said and done, the 237-acre Kangla Fort lies in the heart of Imphal and constitutes the town's lungs. The Prime Minister, in his speech on 20 November 2004, said, "If Manipur is, as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, the Jewel of India, then Kangla Fort is the Crowning Jewel." How successive governments will preserve this "crowning jewel", only time will tell.


* Yambem Laba wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is The Statesman's Imphal-based Special Correspondent
This article was posted on October 31, 2012.



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