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Khongjom Numit: Commemoration of the last battle of Manipur

Dr Budha Kamei *

 Monument of Khongjom War Memorial complex at Khebaching on April 23 2016
Monument of Khongjom War Memorial complex at Khebaching on April 23 2016 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam



The Khongjom Numit is an important day for the Manipuris. It is observed on 23rd April every year to pay rich tributes to the great warriors of the state who laid down their lives for the cause of thier motherland. The observation also maintains a relationship between the living and their dead ancestors. The present article tries to throw light on the Khongjom Lan, the last and final battle of Manipur and its significance in the history of Manipur on the basis of available sources.

The Britishers came to India as traders and later on became the masters of the sub-continent. The purpose of a trader/trading company is to earn profit through trade. First, they made friendship with the native rulers by presented gifts and later on they started to interfere in the internal affairs of the state by helping one faction or another of the ruling family/dynasty as and when the Britishers considered it appropriate. At last, because of their interference, the foundation of the ruling family/dynasty disintegrated.

'Divide and rule' is the only policy they employed in all parts of the world. So, one should never enter into friendship with the British. Only a few number of British officers stationed in India. However, they were sent to India after getting well training of anthropology. As anthropologists they collected ethnographic data of the native peoples by conducting field work or through local interpreters before entering in the particular region or state. Thus, after having thorough knowledge of the native peoples (including dos and dons), colonial masters could easily and effectively deal with them.

The Anglo-Manipur war was a great historical event. Disunity in the ruling house and the British intervention in the internal affairs of the state were the main reasons of the war. The military conflict was definitely a war between two independent countries, though the Britishers looked at it as a rebellion. The historical facts like the British imperial documentation and the Manipur chronicles point to the conflict as a war between two nations.

Execution of five British officers including Mr. James Wallace Quinton, the chief commissioner of Assam was the immediate cause of the war. Putting to death of five British officers without proper trial was unjustified, though as per the laws of tiny kingdom what they had committed was the cause or waging war against sovereign state and thus liable to be punished by death.

The friendship between the two countries had been shattered by tactless and conceited Mr. James Wallace Quinton. It was also the debacle for the British prestige in India and tiny Manipur did not act in accordance with the foul play and pressure threats of Mr. James Wallace Quinton.

As Manipur situated at a strategically important area between China and Indian sub-continent, she was very much a pitch of British imperial concern. The Colonial masters wanted to use Manipur as a buffer zone for some reasons like (a) for smooth trade between Assam (Assam and Cachar were a part of British India) and Burma; (b) to deal with the frontier tribes like Mizos, Nagas, Kukis, and Suktes.

Till the eruption of Anglo-Burmese war (1885), the British policy towards Manipur was mainly controlled by Burmaphobia. Even after the war, Manipur continued to serve as a frontier defense, because of the growing influence of France in the Indo-China.

Manipur was an independent Kingdom during the whole of the 19th century. Truly speaking, she was never colonized. Manipur was not a Sanad state like other Indian states before 1891. She of course had diplomatic level contact with British by signing treaties now and then. In 1762, the first formal treaty was signed between the two equal powers. It was essentially a defense alliance.

Several factors contributed to the signing of the treaty. Manipur was repeatedly invaded by the Burmese forces. To make the situation worse, there was no unity among the ruling princes; sons murdered fathers and brothers murdered brothers. Under the agreement of the treaty, the British were supposed to help Bhagyachandra Singh in the expulsion of Burmese forces from Manipur. But, they didn't give help.

It was only after the conquest of Manipur (1819), Cachar and Assam by the Burmese forces, the British attitude changed from one of the indifferent to alarm; they were ready to assist Gambhir Singh in the liberation of Manipur on the thought that it would ensure the security along the eastern frontier, and secondly, it would also enable the British to impose favorable terms to the king of Ava at the time of negotiation for peace.

Manipur was liberated by Gambhir Singh and his men with the assistance of the British. By the treaty of Yandaboo 1826, Manipur was recognized as an independent Kingdom. But, she lost Kabaw Valley to Burma, because the British were in favor of Burma. This clearly indicates the real attitude of the British.

When the news of the British 'debacle' reached Calcutta, the Supreme government did order an invasion of Manipur. The war had already existed between the two countries since the attack of Manipur Palace by the British. It appears that Manipur was not psychologically prepared for a big war against the British; but the war was forced on her and she had to fight it out.

By the first week of April, 1891, the three columns of the British troops were ordered to invade Manipur from three directions i.e., Kohima, Silchar, Tammu. The Manipur Durbar acted in complete unity and decided to put defensive stockades against the British forces.

To the north, Manipur built a stockade at Mayangkhang and Senapati Angou Sana was posted there to meet the Kohima column; the Cachar road also known as Tongjei Maril was defended by a Manipuri stockade posted at Laimaton Hill over looking Yaojangtek village and Leimatak River. It was commanded by Prince Kala Singh, Sagol Hanjaba, Ngangba Lourung Purel, Yenkhoiba Poila with one thousand soldiers to fight the Cachar column.

 Monument of Khongjom War Memorial complex at Khebaching on April 23 2016
Monument of Khongjom War Memorial complex at Khebaching on April 23 2016 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam



The main battles were in the southeast Manipur valley. Manipur built three defensive places to fight against the invader; the first one was at Palel, the second, at Kakching and the third was at Khongjom and the rear guard was located at Thoubal.

It was at Khongjom, where was fought one of the battles of the war of Manipur's independence which was a saga of heroism and patriotism of the great warriors of the land who fought against heavy odds, the outcome of which was a foregone conclusion. "On 25th April General Graham arrived at Palel. He was already aware of the battle of Kakching where British had surprised the Manipuri army under the command Meiraba Poloi.

He was also informed that a large number of Manipuris were concentrated in entrenchment to six miles north of Palel. And both sides were prepared for a final show down at the battle of Khongjom on the fateful day of 25th April 1891." The Manipur camp at Khongjom was defended by majors Paona and Chongtha Miya who earned immortal fame in the famous battle of Khongjom.

The Khongjom mud fort was in oval shape about 50 yards long and 50 yards broad. Major Paona said, "My countrymen, their bullets had reached us, it is undesirable to retreat and die; my brother-in-law Yenkhoiba suspected us, we will not live. There is no question of retreat." This statement does express the firm determination of Manipuri soldiers.

The Manipuri forces were outnumbered and the enemy was superior in arms too. Those were the days when the 'Sun never set in British Empire.' A little Kingdom like Manipur could not hope to meet the resourceful of the British located in their Indian Empire. But the Manipuris fought courageously for their motherland.

In the pitched battle, Manipuris were defeated; major Paona was killed along with his brave men. According to local version, about 400 Manipuri warriors were killed and the enemy too suffered very losses. The fall of Khongjom is the turning point in the history of Manipur. After the battle, the Manipur field force entered Imphal and occupied the palace. The union jack flag was hoisted over the palace of Manipur.

As a mark of victory, the British soldiers had blown up the masonry dragon which stood at the entrance of the Durbar hall. Thus, Manipur lost her sovereign and independence status and marked the integration into the British India Empire.

In conclusion, we can say that 'divide and rule' the only policy the Britishers applied in India and also in the state of Manipur, this policy not only divided the ruling house but also the peoples of Manipur. The foundation of the state crumbled because of this policy; ultimately, Manipur lost her independence status. The Khongjom day is observed every year in the state.

The day is declared state holiday so that people from all walks of life can take part in the observation. By participating in the celebration, youth/young members of the state have the opportunity to learn and understand the historic event.


* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at budhakamei(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 23 2019.



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