Tete a tete with the writer of 'Churachandpur da khundariba Meetei sing - Historical Accounts of Meeteis in Churachandpur'

James Khangenbam *

Kamal Toijamba a resident of Tengra Leirak, Red Cross Road, Churachandpur is a 75 year old author, teacher and a social activist based in Churachandpur. He is the founder general secretary of Manipur Sahitya Parishad, Churachandpur. He has written nine short story books so far and one of his short stories collection titled ‘ Thangboigi Mapa’ was awarded for excellence by Manipur Sahitya Parishad.

He is also the founder member and former Headmaster of Gandhi Centenary Memorial Junior High School, Churachandpur. Besides he is also the founding teacher of Bethany Christian High School and Singngat Standard High School.

He is also the founder chairman of ‘United Council for Restoration of Communal Harmony’ during the communal riot between Kuki and Paite, in 1997. He is also a columnist with a major vernacular newspaper for the last ten years. He writes his column under the pen name TK Luwang.

After consultation workshops, seminar, research and verifications with many scholars, he wrote a book titled “Churachandpur da Khundariba Meeteising (Historical Accounts of Meitei in Churachandpur)' in 2006. The second edition of the book is under print at a printing press.

He has been residing in Churachandpur since 1972. The question and answer session can be considered as an excerpt of his book while we also take a sneak peek of the town few decades’ back.

Q: Tell me about the present day Meetei settlement in Churachandpur ?
A: There are altogether fifteen Meetei localities (leikai) in Churachandpur town area at present. Around twenty thousand Meeteis are living in Churachandpur. They live mostly in two Assembly Constituencies-Saikot and Churachandpur out of the six Assembly Constituencies of Churachandpur.

According to 2011 population census, total number of Meetei living in Churachandpur town including Torbung area was fifteen thousand. According to the survey of Churachandpur Municipality in 1980, Meeteis hold the third place in population next to Hmar with a margin of hundred people. Meeteis also live in various hill areas of the district as well.

Q: Tell me about the occupation and livelihood of the Meeties in Churachandpur ?
A: Earlier agriculture and related cultivation was the main occupation. Nowadays, there is less cultivable land. Being in the town Meeteis run grocery shops. Most of the vehicles repairing workshops are run by Meetei. Iron and metal works related service are mostly provided by the Meeteis. Besides owning small eatery shops in the market.

Q: Churachandpur town was earlier referred to as Yelarig ?
A: The present police station at Lamka was earlier known as Yelang by the Meeteis only taking the name of the then village chief. Yelang came from Myanmar to work as a runner in the newly established Sub Divisional Headquarters of the British Government during the reign of Maharaj Churachand. Yelang was just 18 years old when he arrived in Churachandpur.

Q: Tell me more about the Yelang Bazar ?
A: Meeteis established the first official market in Churachandpur district. According to official records, elderly Meetei women were the first to run small snacks shop (hotel) selling Bora, Singju, Kanghou. There were around five to six such food outlets in the beginning. The elderly women were running the food outlets in an open area under the shades of big trees along the road.

The ladies approached Yelang to officially allocate a dedicated space to Start a market. The village chief granted the proposal and built a market shed. From then on, the market was popularly known as Yelang Bazar among Meetei population and people from other ethnic community also started calling by the name. Till now Yelang bazaar is fondly remembered by many. The first tea shop in Churachandpur was also run by a Meetei.

Q: What is your observation about contemporary Churachandpur ever since your settlement in 1972 ?
A: Before Moreh market was set up, Behiang in Churachandpur was the hub of products from Myanmar. Products coming from Myanmar through Behiang were sold to people coming from different parts of the country at the homes. Portable typewriters, fountain pen etc were among items which were available in plenty.

I bought a paddy field ( lou pari ama) at the cost of Rs 31,000 in Churachandpur. After about three years back, a Paite friend of mine came with a person. offering Rs 6 lakh for the paddy field I bought.

Then I thought it was a good deal and sold my paddy field. Those days Churachandpur was less populated and people used to live in small huts like the farm huts in a maize field. There were only few huts in a vast area of land.

Q: Tell me about the first Meetei settlement in Churachandpur ?
A: In Churachandpur town, there is a big locality by the name of Khumujamba Leikai. Adjacent to the leikai there is a small mole (Leipung) that is the place where the Meeteis settled for the first time in Churachandpur. According to Moirang Kangleirol, Churachandpur is a part of Moirang Kingdom, Meetei community thrive mostly at the river banks of Khuga River till the present Behiang area bordering Myanmar.

Meeteis are one of the earliest inhabitants of Churachandpur according to the record. Meetei settled alongside the Khuga River. It was called Khuga Valley as the area was plain. Earlier Maharaj Churachand use to maintain an orchard (Heikol) in Churachandpur.

Q: How was the district named Churachandpur ?
A: Churachandpur was named after the then King of Manipur, Maharaj Churachand. Songpi a Kuki chief proposed the then British officer of South West Sub Divisional Headquarter, Churachandpur to name the Headquarter after the name of a Manipuri king.

The British officer accepted the proposal and included the same in the gazette. The headquarter I am talking about is located along the Tipaimukh Road about 8 kilometer from the present New Churachandpur.

The naming of the district itself indicates a strong bond between the two ethnic communities - Meetei and the Kuki. It took place around 1919. During that time the jurisdiction of the South West Sub Divisional office of the British Government included Tamenglong, Chandel and Churachandpur districts. The Sub Divisional Officer was assisted by around eleven staffs. After Second World War the administrative office was shifted to New Churachandpur.

There were few contestations among some citizen to rename Churachandpur as Songpi as there was difficulty in pronouncing the name but it was rejected as the name was officially entered in the Gazette. The rejection notice was put up twice officially by the SDO office, thereafter the name Churachandpur was not challenged.

* James Khangenbam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be contacted at jameskhangenbam7(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 19 2023 .

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