A brief sketch on the life of General Balaram Sougaijamba

Maheshsana Rajkumar *

 General Balaram Sougaijamba
General Balaram Sougaijamba :: Pix - TSE

General Balaram Sougaijamba is regarded as one of the greatest Generals in Manipur’s history. He was a patriot, a warrior and an administrator of extraordinary distinction. General Balaram was a soldier in three major battles in Manipur’s history. He fought alongside Maharaja Gambhir Singh and Maharaja Narasingh and the British.

Young Balaram was part of the Manipur Levy of 1826 and was a soldier of the liberation of Manipur from the Burmese. He also led Manipur’s forces to put down the Lushai Rebellion in 1871 and was a decorated hero who received an award for helping the British defeat the Burmese at the Battle of Kendat in 1885.

The Sougaijam are proud descendents of Khuman Ningthou (king) Shara-rong’s son Soipai. General Balaram Sougaijamba (Binda Singh) was married to Maharaja Narsingh’s daughters namely Maharaj Kumari Khelendrashori and soon after her death he married Maharaj Kumari Chanusana (Tonnusana).

The descendants of General Balaram Sougaijamba became Durbar members of Manipur during colonial British rule namely Sou-gaijam Bhubon Singh, Sou- gaijam Ibochouba Singh whose wife Hijam Ibeton was the sister of Jana Neta Hijam Irabot Singh’s father and finally Sougaijam Samarendra Singh (Sanajaoba).

In recent times emerged a dangerous precedent in Manipur of linking Sougaijam of Khuman Salai to Kuki tribe with their given titles like Sokhojam, Singson and the narrative that Sougaijam belonged to Kuki tribe.

The claim was out rightly rejected by retired Advocate Sougaijam Satyabrata Singh, an elderly citizen and son of Former Durbar member Sougaijam Samarendra Singh, as a totally baseless claim with no support of historical evidence.

The excerpts on Kendat war in which General Balaram Sougaijamba fought is mentioned in GER Grant Brown “Burma Gazetteer Upper Chindwin District” Vol. A. 1913.

Gazetteer GER Grant Brown writes, “On the outbreak of war in 1885, three English assistants of the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation were murdered on the launch at ‘Chindwin’ near Mingin, and shortly after this the Political Agent Colonel James Johnstone and the contingent of army led by General Balaram Sougaijamba of Manipur marched to Kindat through the Kabaw Valley and rescued two other agents of the company.”

The Kendat war is well documented in “Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States”, Vol. 1, Part 1, 1900. Gazetteer J. George Scott writes, “In November 1885, the Burmese authorities of the Chindwin had made prisoners of seven English gentlemen, who were residing there in the employ of the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation.

Of these, three (Messrs. Robert Allen, Roberrs, and Moneur) were murdered on the launch Chindwin by a thandawzin as soon as the news of the occupation of Mandalay arrived. Two others, Messrs. C Outram and G Calogreedy, arrived safely in Mandalay, while Messrs Hill, Ross, Bates, and O Ruckstahl were protected by the Wun of Mingyin and sent by him to Mandalay.

The Wun was rewarded at the time and afterwards rendered loyal service to the British Government. Other Europeans Messrs. Morgan, Bretto, and T Ruckstahl, were also held captive at Kindat, farther up the river. Towards the end of December a force was despatched from Mandalay to rescue these Kindat captives.

But the prompt action of Colonel Johnstone, CSI, Political Agent at Manipur, who marched on Kindat with 50 sepoys and a Manipuri contingent, and arrived there on Christmas day, forestalled the arrival of the Mandalay column.

The troops returned to Mandalay, and it was at first proposed to divide the Chindwin valley into two districts, placing the Manipur Agent in charge of the upper part, with headquarters at Kindat, and constituting the Lower Chindwin area a district under a separate Deputy Commissioner, with headquarters at Alon.

The plan, however, was found to be impracticable. Colonel Johnstone went back to Manipur by way of Tammu, which is 64 miles from Manipur, over jungle-clad hills rising to 5,000 feet, but, on the outbreak of disturbances between Tammu and Kindat he returned.

He attacked a body of rebels in a strong position at Pantha about 18 miles from Tammu, and drove them out, but was himself severely wounded. He was succeeded as Agent and as Deputy Commissioner of the Upper Chindwin by Major Trotter.”

General Sougaijamba Balaram was awarded Kendet Medal for his heroic act by Sir James Johnstone, Chief Commissioner of Assam on behalf of the Government of India for his services in 1885. Gangmumei Kamei in his book titled, “A History of Modern Manipur (1826-2000): A Study of Feudalism, Colonialism and Democracy”, 3 Volumes, Part I. 2016 writes, “In Maharaja Chandra Kirti Singh’s reign the Court was adorned with the following nobles who supported the Maharaja in the administration of the kingdom. These nobles had military, civil, and judicial functions. They were given both military and civil titles.

Of these nobles, the title of “General” was given to Sougaijam Balaram (Bolai) Singh, Kangabam Thangal Singh and Longjam Roma Singh. Of the Ministers, two of them Thangal General and Balaram General were the most prominent and according to EW Dun, each of them represented two factions in the Court, the liberal and the conservative. Maharaja Chandra Kirti Singh recognized the talents of these two Ministers and they were engaged in their respective field of specialization.

For example, Dun in his Gazetteer of Manipur, 1886 wrote of the two Ministers who had the following portfolios.

Thangal General
Cachar Road and the villages around it Kohima Road
Thoubal and the upper course of the Lanur (in north east Manipur)
Kanhou tribes.
Balaram General
The Kukis in the south
Hills west of the valley excluding the Cachar road North eastern corner including Somtal
Route from, the capital to the Kongal Thana and Kabaw Valley.

We have mentioned that in the inscription at Chibu, the names of two Generals were inscribed for the posterity. Thangal General was the most forward and active and the readiest speaker of the two, and had most sympathy with western notions. Balaram General had the reputation of being the most astute. Both of them commanded two regiments of Manipur army at the rank of the General.

Maharaja Chandra Kirti Singh died on 3rd May, 1886 at the age of 55 years. His death was notified to the Government of India and Jubaraja Sur Chandra Singh ascended the throne of Manipur. Chandra Kirti Singh was a popular and deeply religious ruler. He was popularly known as “Maharaja Iswar”. His death marked the decline and end of the independent period in the history of Manipur.”

The General Balaram Sougaijamba Foundation was established in honour of this great and patriotic son of Manipur. The Foundation holds an annual commemorative event on his death anniversary and publishes books and articles on this leader. The Statue (Bust) of General Balaram Sougaijamba was unveiled on 2 May 2015 on his 126th death anniversary by the Former Chief Minister of Manipur late Shri RK Dorendra Singh in his last public function appearance.

On 2 May 2022 rich tributes were paid on the 133rd death anniversary of General Balaram Sougaijamba at Moirangkhom Sougaijam Leikai. Manipur Legislative Assembly Speaker Th Satyabrata and many other dignitaries including former rebel leader RK Meghen, Sougaijam Tombi and Professor Naorem Joykumar paid floral tributes at the bust of General Balaram during the death anniversary function organised by Radhavinod Sevait Board.

The Manipur Legislative Assembly Speaker on the function suggested the State Government to commemorate the death anniversary of General Balaram Sougai-jamba as a State function, the Speaker vowed that he would make all efforts to open a library at Sougaijam Leikai and name Moirang-khom Keithel in the name of General Balaram Sougaijamba.

The General Balaram Sougaijamba Foundation has been commemorating death anniversary of General Balaram Sougaijamba every possible year in a local function held at Moirangkhom Sougaijam Leikai.

It is high time the Manipur State Government give due importance and soon make formal announcement to commemorate the death anniversary of the great patriot General Balaram Sougaijamba and declare state holiday on 2 May every year so floral tributes could be offered by the general public.

* Maheshsana Rajkumar wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on June 15 2024.

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