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

Pandit N.Khelchandra Singh


2. How Pakhangba Became The God-King of Manipur?

Some stone inscriptions and tantric accounts as well as historical records have rendered a credulous halo to glorify Pakhangba as a God-king of Manipur anointed at Kangla by none other than the Guru Sidaba himself (the indigenous counterpart of the Hindu Supreme Lord of the Universe). Beliefs still run high among local pandits that after creating the universe (as then conceived to be limited to Manipur), the Guru Sidaba asked all his three sons to traverse the four ends of the Earth, so that the one who would come back first after completing it could be handed over the reins of monarchy through a proper coronation at the Kangla coronation slab placed over a cave - believed to be the mythical crater of a volcano. Both the eldest (Asiba) and the elder son (Atiya Sidaba) went away to perform their assigned task as per ground rules, but the youngest (Konjin Tingthokpa) remained behind. Even after being reminded by Guru Sidaba of the task, the youngest did not proceed along but said: 'None else can match my exalted father, Guru Sidaba. So I shall circumambulate the four corners of my father's throne.' Saying this, the youngest covered the throne periphery and prostrated before Guru Sidaba, asking for the throne.

Quite naturally the eldest and elder sons reached back much later on. Guru Sidaba therefore anointed the youngest as Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (Nongda or God-sent; Lairen or mythical Snake-empowered; and Pakhangba or Pa = father + Khangba=one who knows the real father). Because of his divine power to be able to move about at night as dragon he is also known as Sanahing Pakhangba. And all Rajas of Manipur have since used the dragon (snake-like long body, symmetrically coiled in four corners in loops with both the tail and hooded head raised in unison at the top, and with the central portion of the square signifying the sanctum sanctorum) to represent the royal insignia.

The coronation myth signifies that: first, through a process of selection of the imperial head only the most competent or the most intelligent successor need be coronated; second, the most travelled (or exposed to the `universe' knowledge) would then be deemed the most intelligent; third, where not actually travelled, the second-best criterion is to know the 'father', his principles and tenets, which the contender is to continue as a successor to the God-father; fourth, using modern rocketry terminology, father is the launcher, sending up the son, as it were, a rocket which need have all the systems (qualities) and softwares convergent to the launcher-father; and fifth, this secret of knowing the father (Guru Sidaba) as the second best way of educating oneself is a secret known to a few e.g. the mother (Goddess Laimarel). The power and value of universal knowledge is equated to 'Guru-knowledge'.

Further, various traditional ponds, caves, the particular coronation-stone slab, and other sacred spots in the Kangla periphery have so long been associated with Pakhangba or yet other associated cultural ceremonies and religious functions, customs and traditions. There is another version, deeply engrained in current belief, of the mythological tradition of Pakhangba becoming Manipur's God-King. As per this variant, Guru Sidaba had two sons viz. the younger Yabista; and the elder Sanamahi; and that Guru Sidaba himself tried to test their wits by himself floating on the river as a dead bull. While the elder failed to recognize the carcass the younger could recognize it and hence was rightfully called Pakhangba (one who knows one's father), again at the instance of the father-knowing Queen-mother.

Deeply engrained in the coronation myth is yet another policy of Guru Sidaba _ the silkworm policy of slowly but slowly absorbing and assimilating different clans or ethnic groups to spin out the superfine silk fibre _ an altogether different and quite an unique brand. As enthralled in the Chinese interpretation and belief, Shanshi policy means imperial power would remain in the hands of the one who could come up slowly and gradually by absorbing and assimilating the other ethnic groups within the banner of the Guru or God-father. And beef probably became a taboo _ a new taboo for all the clans who became the sons of the same God-father in Manipur. With their firm adherence to travel as the most practical means to educate the self in the Manipur of yore, and with their use of the cow or bull energy for wet-farming in ancient Manipur, it is least surprising that the draught animal (cow or bull) be deemed worthy of preservation, veneration and estimation, next only to man himself.

The codification of the law of succession also became consolidated by virtue of this myth. Other cults used to exist then: e. g. the Golden people's cult; the ancestor cult; the cult of worshipping the sun, moon and nature; the cult of worshipping the spirit of the lake or of the hill; etc. But all these continued as diverse family cults, while the Guru cult became the imperial cult at the Kangla hegemony. Perhaps this duality in beliefs _ Guru cult for the apex nationhood and customs and traditions for family life _ was the most pragmatic way of evolving a monarchy in that ancient state of life.

Yet another myth-associated icon of Manipur kings used to be Kangla-Sha (twin-horned dragon as shown in an actual photograph published in T.C.Hodson's The Meitheis (1908) (Photoplate:2-4) whose sculptured statues at the entrance of the royal Palace (UTTARA) used to be the place of pride (holiest of holy) for all royal ceremonies, and had earned a place among even ancient sportspersons. For instance, each runner's headlong attempt in race Lamchel is to outrun others and ultimately jump up and touch the Kangla-Sha first as finishing point. Later period references by E.W.Dun would indicate a peaceful and settled life in Manipur devoted, among others, to games and sports:

"This Lamchel was a competition between the different "Pannas" or classes among the Manipuri population. The Brahmanas, as also the lowest class of Manipuris, the Lois, were not allowed to compete, but Mussalmans were allowed. The distance run by the competitors was a straight course from the brick bridge (near the capital) to the inside of the Raja's enclosure; the distance was below half a mile. The first of the races consisted of trials of speed by two pannas at a time. The winners in these races ran again when all had their trial, and the swiftest man won the race of the year. The winner in the final race received as reward sundry presents, and was excused from all forced labour or Lallup for the rest of his life…The winners at the preliminary trial races between the Pannas were allowed three months' exemption from Lallup. These races caused great competition, and for months before they came off, various lanky-looking men…might be seen morning and evening trotting along the roads, getting themselves in training for the important event."1

T.C.Hodson opines that Charairongba, who ruled from Kangla from 1697 to 1709 was the last in the Pakhangba line, and that, with Garib Niwaz alias Pamheiba who ruled thereafter, the Kangla throne reverted to the descendents of Sanamahi. Right from Pakhangba down to Raja Loitongba (1122-1150) succession had been by the law of primogeniture, and even afterwards by own brothers of Loitongba, his brother Iwanthaba, Puranthaba, Khumongba, Telheiba etc. But by 1666 Khunjaoba died issueless, and his adopted son, Paikhomba, also died without leaving any male child in the line, when Charairongba, a son of Paikhomba's younger brother, came to the throne, prima facie passing on the kingship to another line. However there is no conclusive proof thereof, except that a new era began in Kangla lineage with Garib Niwaz alias Pamheiba who ruled from 1709 to 1748 A.D. by which time Manipur kingdom reached a new high in terms of splendour and prosperity (see Chapter 5A: sec. 9).

Since the earliest time, the king would be respectfully called Meidingu by his beloved courtiers and subjects. Yet other equally reverential forms of address of the king are Leimaba, Leimapu, Lainingthou (King of Gods) and Ningthem. In fact, Raja is the title endowed by the Britishers as per Aitchison: "You are hereby granted the title of Raja of Manipur, and a salute of eleven guns."2 The Sanad was dated 18th September,1891 by H.M.Durand, Secretary to the Government of India. Incidentally, it was much later on after successful operations of W.War I in 1918, that Aitchison shows another entry "I hereby confer upon your Highness the title of Maharaja as a hereditary distinction for your services in connection with the War,"3 duly signed by Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy and Governor-General of India (1916-21).

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