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E-Pao! Essays - Restoration of a shrine: Kangla

Restoration of a shrine: Kangla past, present and future

Oinam Anand/The Sangai Express *



The day, Saturday, the 20th of November 2004 will go down in the history of Manipur as a red letter day - a day of remembrance. On this day one of the long cherished dream of the Manipuris had been fulfilled when the Chief Minister of Manipur received the key (symbolic) of the Kangla Fort from the Director General of Assam Rifle in the presence of the Prime Minister of India.

After the defeat of the Manipuris in the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891, the British entered the Kangla Fort on the 27th April 1891. On seeing the stain of blood in the mouth of the Kangla Sha, (the gigantic sculpture of two dragons of about 18 ft high) which was believed to be the blood of the British officers beheaded before the altar by the Manipuris before the advent of the war, the British blasted the dragons into pieces.

At that time the Manipuris had wept bitterly in their hearts and at the same time had made a tryst with time that Manipuris and Kangla will meet again. Now the time has come. Exactly after 113 years 7 months and 24 days Kangla belongs to Manipuris again.

'Kangla' literally means 'dried land'. It is believed that the entire valley of Manipur was under water. In due course of time when the water was drained off the valley, Kangla became a dried place and was made capital of successive kings who ruled in Manipur from time immemorial.

Kangla in the Past:

Though exact historical evidences are not available to the present historians, it is believed that Kangla was first ruled by the kings of Khaba dynasty. Meidingu (Emperor) Pakhangba defeated the last Khaba king and ruled in Kangla in 33 AD. From that period onwards Kangla began to develop in the form of a fortress.

During the reign of King Mongyamba (1562-1597), the digging of the 'Thangapat' had begun and it was continued upto the reign of Khagemba (1597-1652). The huge mud wall enclosure of the entire fort which had a perimeter of about four miles had begun during the reign of Khagemba. The work continued in the time of Khunjaoba (1652-66) also and completed during the period of King Paikhomba. The coronation fort (utra sang) and the two gigantic dragon were made during the reign of King Chourajit (1803-13).

It is in the record that many buildings of architectural beauty adorned the inside of the Kangla Fort. Many of those structures were dismantled by the Burmese during the Seven Years Devastation (1819-26). Again during the colonial rule of the British Empire many buildings were demolished except some of the religious shrines or temples.

The Kangla Fort was so well designed and well formulated in the form of a well-protected fortress that in times of war invaders could not easily make access inside the fortress. Inside this well protected palace there are many abodes or shrines of gods for which the Manipuris have taken it as a sacred place of worship and have an emotional and spiritual attachment to this holy place in addition to the sacred palace of their ancient kings.

Kangla at present:

When the Sun of the British Empire set into the Indian Ocean, the sea faring men had returned to their own shore, Manipur became an independent State. But this independent kingdom was again merged into the Indian Union after the Merger Agreement of October 15, 1948.

From the point of strategic importance the Assam Rifles housed their battalions inside the Kangla Fort from 1950 onwards which prohibits the civil population to enter into the Kangla for worship and other religious activities. People still yearn for consecration of their religious ceremonies before the Govindajee temple and the Pakhangba Khubam which are still inside the Fort. There is also a stone monument with inscription on it which was raised during the reign of King Marjit.

For all these things the presence of the security personnel and prohibition imposed on the public was an obstacle and the removal of the Assam Rifles from the Kangla was a long felt demand of the Manipuris and it has been a bone of contention between the Govt and the people for a long time.

Many Governments in the past had promised to shift the Assam Rifles from Kangla, but failed. Many political parties made their manifestos on this issue but had forgotten when the election were over. But from the happenings in the mid-July of this year that have rung the bell of alarm in the ears of the Central Govt that they realise the sentiments and anguish of the people of Manipur and the Assam Rifles has no other option but to call it a day of their long occupation of the Fort for over 50 years.

Whether the Assam Rifles has gone away with honour and with their heads held high or retreated like a wounded leopard licking their wounds, the winner at last are the people of Manipur.

Kangla for the future:

Way back in 1988 the Centre had intimated the State Govt to frame a master plan for the preservation of Kangla Fort which was included in the list of world heritage site. The State Govt had appointed Dr Nalini Thakur of the School of Planning and Architecture as a consultant.

The State Govt had also constituted a Board for the development of the 'Kangla'. The Chief Minister is the chairman of the board, Art and Culture Minister, will be the vice chairman, secretary of Art and Culture will be the member secretaries, three members of Legislative Assembly (from the opposition) and two eminent scholars are to be the members of the board.

The proposed plan to develop the Kangla Fort includes (i) renovation and reconstruction qf old and dilapidated temples (ii) construction of a new Phakhangba temple (iii) reconstruction of the coronation hall along with moulding of Kangla Sha exactly with the same size as it was in the past (iv) completion of mud wall fencing in all the four sides (v) renovation and fencing of the altars of Koubru, Wangbren and Thumjao Lairembi and (vi) Making of a Botanical garden where rare medicinal plants which are under the threat of extinction are to be preserved.

Now the gate of Kangla is open. We are very proud of this and at the same time very grateful to those who had suffered much for this day. We had been Manipuris in the past. We are now Manipuris at present. We will be Manipuris in future.

Because we have Kangla, the navel where our umbilical chord meets our mother Manipur, let Kangla be not fallen in again into the mouth of land hungry vultures.
(With inputs from eminent scholars)




This article was published at The Sangai Express by Oinam Anand.
Oinam Anand writes regularly at The Sangai Express.

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