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

Pandit N.Khelchandra Singh

Related Notes of Interest while on this topic

5. Role Of Kangla In The Evolution Of The Meitei Polity: Starting from the thesis that any evolving polity would require a continuing streak in terms of temporal, spiritual, religious, cultural and political ethos, an epicenter has to be institutionalized but for which any transcendental process can hardly be rendered possible. And this epicenter has to radiate a many-splendoured character, as if it were transmitting such waves as would satisfy the admiration of the patriotic elements in the domain. W. McCulloch who had served as the Political Agent in 1863-67 of Manipur in the pre-Annexation period has advanced a thesis in An Account of the Valley of Munnipore. Calcutta,1859 that the major tribes and the clans of the Meiteis appear to have been descendents of the Naga and Kuki tribes. Further according to T.C. Hudson:
" Photographs of the Kangla or Coronation Hall show that the front beams of the roof have crossed and carved ends which are distinctly reminiscent of the decorations of the houses of the Khullakpas of Naga villages. It may be observed that the sang-kai punshiba or hut in the Naga style, to which Major-General Johnstone makes reference, means the long-lived hut and granary (sang = hut, kai = granary, punshiba = late dying = long lived)." (Ibid: The Meitheis: Reprint :2003: p. 8)

Kangla saw the growth of Meitei power from the principality of Ningthouja to amalgamation of all the seven clans spread over one millennium, whereafter in the second phase it extended its jurisdiction beyond the natural boundary of Manipur. At its full ascendancy Kangla saw the widest extant of the boundary as far as Dikhu (Lohit) river on the north; the Chin hills on the south; across the Chindwin hill on the east; and Sylhet district (now in Bangladesh) on the West as provided by the Rinnel's Map drawn in 1769 (Chinthangkhomba's reign).

Since then Kangla had served as the nucleus of a vast Meitei kingdom upto 1891 i.e. for about two millennia mainly because of its strategically important location except for a brief period during the Burmese occupation, when the Burmese-nominated Telheiba, the chief of Moirang as the King of Manipur, preferred to rule from Moirang Kangla, rather than from the Kangla at Imphal. In other words, Kangla has seen all the vicissitudes of the Meitei Polity over two millennia from pre-Christ years till 1891 when Manipur kingship remained at the mercy of the colonialists. After 1891, the resident Britishers at Imphal, viz. the Political Agent and the President, Manipur State Durbar occupied their residence just outside the Kangla periphery either to the southwest or to the south while the British army preempted to occupy Kangla proper, the prestigious seat of power, intuitively adhering to the truism of power behind the throne rather than at a power distance.

In 1891 the seniormost British officer General Collett felt that Kangla was so strategically situated that the British troops be stationed in Kangla itself, and Kangla was thus destined to continue to play a vitally important role, though, for the sake of the Britishers' future and of the ultimate interest of establishing the British empire in Manipur. The strength of the British army was then one and a half regiment. And they were required to remain as reserve force in view of the sensitive nature of their relations with Manipur. Because one of the consequential follow-up actions taken by the Britishers in 1891 was to shift the Palace and other royal establishments including Shri Govindaji's temple towards the south in Wangkhei across the Imphal river, where a new Palace was constructed, completed and inaugurated by 1908, as per annals along with Shri Govindaji's temple, mandab and the other paraphernalia of the royalty.

Earlier in September 1, 1891 General Collett constituted a military committee to go into the question of stationing the British troops in the old palace including the entire Kangla area. On the recommendation of this committee the Kangla area had been declared a British Reserve and Cantonment Area under the Cantonment Act, 1889, towards the declared policy of having a compact settlement of British subjects _ a secure shelter for the British subjects. Further in view of the frequent frictions between the British subjects and the Manipuris an area measuring 310 acres was reserved in and around Imphal town.

And no Manipuri was allowed to settle within 500 yards of the area called the 'British Reserve'. This area encompassed almost all the important offices and paraphernalia for their working in Manipur, viz. Post & Telegraph office, Treasury, civil hospital, jail, residency etc. The maintenance of British Reserve was approved by the Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam. To doubly ensure the safety and security of British citizens particularly after handing back power to the Manipur Maharaja, Manipur State Durbar resolution No. 1 was also passed to that effect on 4th September, 1907.

Otherwise the role of Kangla in the Meitei psychosis is subserved by two important legendary icons of Kangla viz. the symbolic shurung (extinct volcano) cave _ representing divine 'fire' _ and the Nungjeng pukhri (pond of Nungjeng Goddess) _ representing divine 'water' _ spelling out its affinity to the Oriental dualism. This has been succinctly put by Chongtham Buddhi:

"This symbolic finery of the characteristic 'Oriental Dualism' can be observed in the Meitei religio-cultural system too. Kangla, the politico-ritually pivotal seat of the Meitei kings, affords to illustrate the identical culture complex. The most sacred central points at Kangla are Nongjeng and Shurung. Nongjeng, a tiny pond, is believed to be the abode of Pakhangba, the most powerful snake-deity of the Meitei pantheon while Shurung, the mouth of a dead volcano, is dreaded and, at the same time, revered as the mouth of Pakhangba. The fiery vapour emanating from the cave is supernaturally associated with the exhalation of this snake-deity. Many important myths and legends, and for that matter, ritual complexes of the Meitei royal families, including the royal coronation, centred round these two sacred spots. Nongjeng stands for 'water' element whereas Shurung symbolizes the 'fire' element in their scheme of dualistic symbolism." (Ibid: The Ethnonym "Meitei":Manipur Past and Present: N Sanajaoba (Ed.): 1988: p.75-76).


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