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The Historical, Archaeological, Religious & Cultural Significance Of 'Kangla': The Ancient Citadel Of Manipur

Pandit N.Khelchandra Singh

6. Growth of Kangla As a Fortress City Through The Ningthouja Clan:

Kangla, the most sacrosanct place in the Manipur polity, is situated at the heart of the Imphal City, almost at the intersection of 24o N. latitude, 94o E. longitude at an altitude of 2,619 ft. above sea level on the western bank of the Imphal river as it now stands. (Photoplate:2.1) Much earlier when Kangla was first constructed, the Kangla was standing on the eastern bank of Imphal river, and its old dry bed is still evidenced on the approaches to the Kangla. However, the river course had been shifted towards the present course i.e. to the east of Kangla for security considerations.

By virtue of its being the only fountainhead of all political and religious firmament, the Kangla had grown into a formidable fortress city through those over-eighteen-centuries of its existence spanning both the ancient and mediaeval period. It is from this capital that the Ningthouja kings gradually wielded enough political and military power in the 16th/17th century as to become the predominant monarchical dynasty in the history of Manipur. And naturally during their successive resplendent reigns they had built up Kangla as would befit the kingdom of Manipur. The royal chronicles give many references to the construction of the Kangla by various successive reigning kings during their respective reigns, each eventful in diverse ways.

Some major landmarks in the Kangla fortress were constructed by king Khagemba (1597-1652) and later by king Garib Niwaz (1709-1748). The chronicle records that in 1632 Khagemba constructed a brick wall at the western gate of the Kangla fort. It appears that the art of brick-making was acquired from the Chinese prisoners of war who were captured during the Chinese invasion of the western frontier of Manipur. His son, Khunjaoba (1652-1666) improved on the fortification and beautification work of the Kangla fortress. It is this very king who excavated a moat (Thangapat in Manipuri) on the western side of the fort, whose authentic description was given by Mrs. Grimwood:

"The whole palace was fortified. Five walls surrounded the Maharajah's enclosure... But the inner ones were very strong, built of brick and supplied with bastions, and they surrounded the inner palace on all four sides... The whole citadel was built with a view to resisting attack... it was a place which could easily be held against an attacking force, provided big guns were not brought to bear upon it."15

Another landmark in the growth of Kangla fortress was during the reign of Garib Niwaz who developed the royal citadel, most probably to defend against the Burmese invasion. Vijoy Panchali, which was written in Bengali by Kritichandra and two others during the reign of Bhagyachandra in 18th century, and were translated into modern Manipuri by Laishram Mangi Singh and Longjam Mani Singh,16 gives a literary account of the palace of Garib Niwaz, giving an idea of what was the royal grandeur of Kangla during the reign of this illustrious king which marks the climax of military and political power of Manipur. Kangla, the nucleus of the fort consisting the raja's palace, temple, houses of the noble, the British Residency etc. along with the market and the base villages then comprising the present capital area has been lucidly described by R.Brown:

"The Sadr station or capital is called by the Manipuris Imphal, which simply means a large collection of house; in it resides the raja and the chief officials, the political agent, &c. This village, for it is nothing more, covers a large extent of ground and contains a population estimated at 35,000. The houses are constructed of wood and bamboo; some of them, however, especially within the enclosure where the raja resides, are of large size and height. Of brick buildings there are very few, and comprise the raja's powder magazine, a gateway, a curious pair of symmetrical buildings forming part of the sides of the road leading through the center of the raja's enclosure, and of the object of which no account can be given, and a few Hindu muts (temples) scattered here and there throughout the capital."

"The Imphal (town) and its suburbs are divided into four sections, viz. Khoai, Khurai, Oangkhei, and Jaskul. Each of these sections has its own thana, and again each thana has its three hidels or parganas, all of which are subject to the orders of the officer in charge of the sections. The number of houses in section Khoai are 2,267; Khurai 649; Oangkhei 703; and Jaskul 2,118; in all 5,737. Allowing on the average of five persons to each house, the population will be 28,685."17

If the Imphal population of 28,685 persons for the year 1873 is compared with the total valley population of 50,000 as estimated by McCulloch for the year 1859, and 65,000-70,000 for the year 1868, the rural population would be less sparse compared to Imphal which would be roughly heavy. Significantly enough, the population would cover Mayangs, Mussalman and foreigners. (Also see Chpt 11: Sec. 3.)


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