Published:  04:02 AM, 15 September 2020

Glimpses into the history of our near neighbor -- II

So he chose to march with his remaining companions towards Tripura/Manipur. In 1661 he along with his entourage reached the land of Meiteis and is said to have spent his last days near Kanglei in an undisclosed location. His companions were also allowed to stay back and were assimilated in Meitei society forming Mughal component of Meitei Pangals. Thus the Meitei Pangals became a part of Meitei society but adhered to their religion Islam.

Getting back to history of Manipur, the next King worth a mention was Charirongba who used to keep good relationship with the Burmese rulers anddeveloped marital relationship by giving away his daughter in marriage to the King of Awa (near Mandalay and Amaravati, the then seat of Burmese power). During his reign Hindu culture and religion started to spread with his encouragement. Traditional Sanamahism also was pursued. He regarded both the religions.

Charirongba's son Pamheiba embraced Vaishnavism and became a devout Hindu in the beginning of 18th century. Original Meitei culture was also compromised with Vaishnav culture. Sanamahism took a back seat and Hinduism was adopted as the official religion of the Royal family and the Kingdom. In 1714 Hindu Vaishnavism started to rule supreme and in 1724 Kangleipak was renamed as Manipur.

The language Meiteilon/Meitei however remained in place. Pamheiba liked to be named as Gharib Newaz as well, which is self explanatory. He had been a very important, mighty and popular King who could carry his Meitei people with him to absorb such revolutionary changes. He was inducted into Vaishnavite stream of Hinduism by Guru Gopal Das who came from Sylhet and was a preacher of Sri Chaitannya Deva's thoughts of revival of Vaishnavism.

A renaissance was going on in Hinduism those days in the Eastern part of India (Sri Chaitannya in Bengal, Odisha and part of Bihar, Sankara Deva and Madhava Deva in Assam and NE India). In Manipur, favoured by the Royals, Vaishnava religious practices and culture grew fast. Practicing Vaishnavas, scholars, educationists and people in general migrated to Manipur from Bengal and Assam during this period.

Pamheiba embraced Vaishnavism in 1710 and declared it as a state religion in 1717. The new religion started spreading but the King had to devote time to worldly affairs too. He, being a great statesman, knew that he should have a strong military base to keep his boundaries safe and even desired to expand it. So he was drawn into fights with nearby states. He devastated the Burmese Army of Awa for insulting his sister. Thus his Kingdom spread up to river Irrawaddy.

Then emboldened by his success, he attacked Tripura, defeated their Army and brought back many POWs to Manipur. The state's boundary extended up to Chittagong Hills at some point of time. After his successful tenure until death he remained as a popular Monarch.

The next generation was not worthy and palace conspiracies saw short tenures of Kings until Pamheiba's grandson Ching Thang Komba ascended the throne in 1759. He was a devoted Vaishnavite who established Vaishnavite Hinduism in the whole Kingdom of Manipur. He took the name Bhagyachandra and inducted famous Ras Lila (an intricate form of classical dance) as a form of offering prayer to Govindaji (Lord Krishna).

This tradition continues till today. Meitei culture of classical dance during Lai Haraoba (merry making of Gods) has been delicately blended into the Ras Lila dance which has been made popular and well known to the whole world by Rabindranath about 100 years ago by introducing same into Vishwa Bharati curriculum. Bhagyachandra saw ups and downs during his reign and in 1762 he had to flee to neighboring Ahom Kingdom when his uncle plotted to dislodge him by bringing in a huge army from Burma.

The Ahom King supported him with his forces. Bhagyachandra also managed British support. After several failed attacks and a long drawn protracted warfare in which he had to fight his uncle's Manipuri army, the Burmese army supporting the uncle, several Naga tribes and could finally reclaim the throne of Manipur in 1773. This time he established his capital at Bishnupur. He consolidated his power, worked for prosperity of his subjects, spread the non violent thoughts of Chaitannya Deva's Vaishnavism and developed the devotional Ras Lila.

His daughter Shija Lailoibi, who took the name Bimbaboti, was his aide in this respect. She was symbolically married to Govindaji and spent all her time in praying to the God and worked on perfecting lthe Ras Lila in all details. She danced the part of Sri Radha in the first public performances of this offering to God. Due to Bhagyachandra's efforts,this classical art has gone into the blood of all Manipuri Hindus.

Be it Meitei or be it Bishnupriya, any habitat of Manipuris has an ensemble performing Manipuri Ras Lila, a superb dance drama involving Sri Krishna(Givindaji),his consorts, Sri Radha, her consorts, singing troupe, indigenous Manipuri musical instruments and the exquisitely beautiful dresses of the dancers, woven and stitched in original Manipuri design. Between 1776 and 1780 Bhagyachandra constructed a beautiful Rashmandal in his Langthobal palace for ceremonial performance of the dance drama to please the God Govindaji.

After a successful reign from Bishnupur he shifted the capital back to Kangla in 1796 and abdicated the throne in favour of his son in 1798 to set forth on a pilgrimage never to return to Manipur. From this time, the Manipuris desired to be identified as Khsatriyas and started using the surname Singh/Sing/Sinha.

During his reign Bhagyachandra envisaged the constant threat of Burmese invasion. So, as a safeguard insurance he signed a treaty with the British East India Company. It ensured good relationship, trade and commerce and military help in case of foreign invasion.

After abdication of throne by Bhagyachandra his sons Marjit, Churajit and Gambhir Singh ruled Manipur but they were never comfortable because of constant threat of Burmese invasion, the more so, since some of them invited Burma to topple his sibling. During this period the 7 years devastation of Manipur happened when the Burmese plundered Manipur taking advantage of its weaknesses.

Gambhir Singh was the most capable amongst Bhagyachandra's sons. He ascended the throne in1821 after two years of Burmese occupation from 1819 when he could drive the Burmese off. But they came back to Manipur soon and Gambhir had to abandon his capital to take refuge in Kachhar.

His other brothers also had to abandon Manipur, leaving it at the mercy of the Burmese and assembled in Kachhar. They along with their companions took control of Kachhar, signed a subsidiary second treaty with the British and with their help started fighting back.

In1825 they finally succeeded in getting rid of the Burmese and thus the 7 year devastation period came to an end. Gambhir Singh and his successors Chandrakirti,Surachandra and Kulachandra ruled Manipur in succession until 1891. Yuvraj Tikendrajit was the Manipur army chief in 1891.

He was a popular General and was known as Senapati Tikendrajit. Because of palace conspiracy Maharaja Surachandra lost the crown to his brother Kulachandra. Tikendrajit, yet another sibling became Army Chief and exercised all powers from behind the scene.

Surachandra, in the meantime, fled to Cachar and asked the British powers to help him on the basis of the treaty between Manipur and British India. The British decided to recognise Kulachandra as the Sovereign but remove Tikendrajit from power as they thought Tikendrajit being of strong Royal mentality and being more freedom loving, may act against their interest.

So they sent a contingent of their forces to Manipur to arrest Tikendrajit. The Anglo Manipur war broke out. This British army was attacked, 5 of its officers executed and soldiers dispersed. They lost lot stock and barrel. Infuriated, the Governor General ordered three columns of British forces to stage a three pronged attack to capture Tikendrajit.

The Manipuris fought boldly but their tiny army could not match the much stronger enemy. Tikendrajit, King Kulachandra and Thangal General had to face a summary trial and were awarded capital punishment. The King's sentence was later reviewed to transportation to the Andamans for life.

Tikendrajit and Thangal General were publicly hanged in the Polo grounds. Readers may be interested in knowing that Polo was presented to the world by Manipur as its originator. This polo ground, located at central Imphal has been renamed as Bir Tikendrajit Park.

Since 1824 after the subsidiary treaty was signed between Manipur and British Indian Government, Manipur virtually became a British protectorate. Raja Gambhir Singh had all the support from the British forces and he too was used by the British in return to fight for them in some of the wars in the region.

In one such occasion Raja Gambhir fought for the British against the Khasi King when he and his Army passed through Sylhet and passed some time there. Anyway, since 1824 the British Indian government posted a Resident in Imphal to look after their business and political interest. The Resident tried to control the Royals so that the situation in all spheres remains conducive for the British rule in India.

In the Anglo Manipur war of 1891 at least 5 British officers including the Resident were killed along with many soldiers. So the British Indian government took it as a serious threat and decided to clamp down stricter measures.

As described earlier, top fighters including Bir Tikendrajit (who is now a National Hero) were massacred. Maharaj Kulachandra and 20 odd of his companions were sentenced to life deportation to the penal settlement of Andaman, where he had to remain until he breathed his last.

Recently the Indian Government has decided to erect a monument in memory of the late Maharaja in Mount Harriet of Port Blair. 5 of the islands in Andaman and Nicobar group of over 300 islands will be named after 5 Manipuri leading figures of 1891 war (who were interned there till death).

After settling all issues ,the British government became virtual rulers of Manipur and 5year old Royal Churachand Singh was declared heir to the throne. Since he could not be crowned at that young age Regents were appointed to represent him. He was sent to Mayo College, Ajmer, Rajasthan for studies and to be crowned in due course.

The Regents looked after the affairs of the Princely State till he grew up. Incidentally, Manipur was the last of the Princely States to be incorporated in colonial British India. In 1917 there was a Kuki rebellion which was suppressed by the British.

It spread from Manipur upto Lushai Hills in the outskirts of Chittagong Hill Tracts. British interest in Manipur was looked after at different times by Bengal Presidency, Assam Administration, Bengal and Assam Province and British Burma Administration. Manipuris however preferred to deal with British India rather than British Burma Administration.

Maharaja Churachandra Singh kept good relationship with the British crown and apart from being recognised as Maharaja he had the honour of 11Gun salutes and was later also Knighted. The last King of Manipur was Budhachandra when the British government had to leave the subcontinent in 1947.

Manipur remained as an Independent State till 1949 until King Budhachandra signed Accord of Accession to the Indian Union. It remained as an Indian Central Government run territory in different categories until full Statehood was granted to Manipur in 1972.

If anyone of my readers is interested to visit Manipur, I volunteer to give a few tips: 1. Manipur is still a Restricted Area. So you have to get a Restricted Area Permit to travel in Manipur. Its easy to get even on arrival at the Imphal airport.

2. HQ of Netaji led INA is in Moirang, merely 30km from the capital. It's a museum now. Netaji himself led his Force at times sitting in this office. 3. Loktak lake covering approximately one fourth of the Manipur plains is a beauty. Very interesting tourist attraction here is the Phumdis.

They are floating islands on reeds inhabited by fishermen. They are somewhat similar to the Tottora islands of Lake Titikaka (between Peru and Bolivia). 4. Try to be a spectator in any public performance of Ras Lila during any festival. It may turn out to be the best thing to remember throughout rest of your life. You may have to be prepared to be there from midnight up to early morning. If you see a eight year old boy dressed as Krishna, dont underestimate him. He, for sure, excels in every move and will stun you with his performance.

The same goes for every other performer. You will simply love the repertoire and their marvelous costume. 5. You may try to reach Govindaji Temple near the Palace in time to watch the Mridanga dance and beat performance during routine puja everyday. 6 A visit to Kangla fort will be rewarding.

7 Visit the Polo stadium during a practice session. This will be something unique for you. Polo originates in Manipur and very seldom practiced elsewhere except Rajasthan. 8 In and around Imphal you will have many places to visit where the Allies and Axis (including our Netaji's INA) armies fought face to face.

Many war memorials are there to remind you about WW2. 9 Ima Keitel (ladies market) visit is a must in Imphal. Here all the sellers are ladies. They sell anything and everything of daily necessities. You just name it. It may be fruits/vegetables, fish, clothing, spices, utensils, handicrafts, souvenirs and so on. 10 Dont forget a Manipuri Saree for the special person in your life.      (Concluded)

The writer is a researcher and travel enthusiast

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