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

Pandit N.Khelchandra Singh

7. Kangla-Centric Prosperity Of Ancient Manipur:

Ancient Manipur used to have a well-settled and prosperous population, as island of prosperity in the midst of nomadic and thinly-populated hamlets which may be metaphorically called a 'desert'. Both politically and culturally the valley population were superior people almost as "oasis of civilization among head-hunters, aborigines and predatory and warring neighbours." Astrology used to be known to them. Manipuri Brahmins were good astrologers, many such used to grace the Court of the legendary Burmese king, Alaungpaya. Manipuris were also fine horsemen, with their superior cavalry skill shown in war or in sport such as polo.

As already stated, Manipuri kings kept a regular cavalry unit, besides elephant corps. In addition, the Raja used to be the fountain of honour since Pakhangba's time. Pakhangba would himself honour with a flowing royal garb (Ningthou-phi) all those showing bravery in war and in catching wild animals, which apparently prowled the then Manipur causing immense threats to common people and their cattle. The prosperity of ancient Manipur may be easily inferred from the spoils handed over by Manipur to Ava as described by Michael Symes after Burmese invasion in 1771:" ...the spoils, consisting chiefly of merchandise, and vessels of gold and silver were forwarded to the golden feet, together with 2,000 prisoners of both sexes."18

The raja used to render liberal patronage to all kinds of sport, be it Lumchel (race), or wrestling, or dance, or Haochongba (Hill-Valley dance festival, separately dealt in Chapter 4 below), or even Heeyang (boat race). In particular the victor as in wrestling would bow and salaam the raja, after having asserted his superior position in the art. Personally blessing the victors with honorific robes, garments, turban etc. by the Raja would generally give the galvanizing touch to keep the events alive and more and more competitive and in the process encouraging hectic all-round preparations from the participants. In particular, Kaang-sannaba is an unique indoor event with girls/young women taking leading roles, thereby standing out as concrete evidence of gender status, despite polygamy being common among royal and noble families. Kaang-sannaba, is itself alluded by R. Brown19 as 'game as peculiar to Manipur as that of hockey-on horseback.'

This Heeyang would of course be conducted in a specific portion of the moat around the Kangla, as further described by R.Brown:

"The boat-races occupy five days in September and take place on the moat which surrounds on three sides of the raja's enclosure. This ditch is about 25 or 30 yards broad, and at the season when the boat-races come off contains plenty of water. This festival is the most important held in Manipur, and great preparations are made for it; stands are erected on both sides of the moat, the one for the raja being of considerable size and height. The women occupy stands on the opposite side of the moat. The boats used in the races are two in number, of great length, and hollowed out of a single tree; the rowers number about seventy men each with a short paddle. …… There are no rewards for the races, they being rowed merely for the honour of the thing. The raja in his boat, which is like the others, but ornamented with a carved deer's head and horns gilt at the prow, accompanies the race, the raja on the chief race day steering his own boat in an ancient costume…On each of the five days devoted to the boat race, important hockey matches take place." 20

Just to put the specific significance of Kangla in the right perspective over time, brief highlights are given of some selected successors of Pakhangba:

663-1467 : Naothingkhong to Ningthou Khomba: Raja Loiyumba (1074 - 1112 A.D.), a direct successor of Pakhangba, unified the entire Manipur (hills and plains). While hill villages were forced to pay tribute, he divided the valley into four pannas or circles for administrative purposes. He introduced division of labour among people. Every person, even if one-eyed or one-legged, was required to perform his own duty as per traditional code of conduct called Loiyumba Shinyen, also known to posterity as the first written constitution of Manipur. This constitution had been in force for as long as 8 centuries till 1891 with some modifications from time to time.

This Loiyumba Shinyen embodies the theological and legal traditions and customs that were followed by Manipur rajas before raja Meidingu Loiyumba, which formed the backbone of early Manipur polity, land tenure system, administration of justice, and social organization, besides throwing sidelights on various aspects of ancient Manipur society.

Each panna was required to send to the king a team of workers to work for the state. Each team was called lallup. The lallup duty used to be compulsory for every male between 17 and 60 years of age. It is a form of tax made over to the king in the form of service (labour).

1597-1652: Khagemba: Despite intrigues from his brother Sanongba, Raja Khagemba repelled Mughal (post-Akbar/Jehangir attack), and captured Mayangs. Also conspicuously repelled the Chinese attack in 1630 (according to T. C. Hodson; but J. Johnstone refers to 1250 as date of Chinese invasion, while Vijay Panchali records it as 1588), hence became better known as (Khagi = China + Ngamba = victor) or Victor of China. However he annihilated the Chinese and assumed the title 'Divine king who defeated the Chinese.' He also overran Samjok Kyang and Tripura (1633-34). Khagemba constructed the major landmarks in the growth of Kangla Fort. The royal chronicle records that in 1632 A.D he got a brickwall constructed at the western gate of the fort. It appears that the art of brick-making was acquired from the Chinese prisoners captured during the Chinese invasion of the eastern frontier of Manipur.

He took great pains to reconstruct the country; established ten bazaars; introduced use of turbans, palanquins, silver caps, tobacco-smoking (1610); reformed the scale of measurements of land and paddy since in vogue till recently; the economy prospered remarkably; gold collected from river-beds (1623); constructed many forts and dug many rivers; built temples (1617, 1632); improved the salt-mines; introduced method of paddy trans plantation; introduced coarse rice (taothabi) for utilizing swampy/water-logged land; encouraged writing in Meitei scripts; sent his brother Khwairakpa to China (1631); refugee Brahmins and Yogis from Moghul tyranny sought his permission to permanently settle in Manipur _ which was allowed; improved judiciary system.

1652-1666: Khunjaoba: Upon his ascension Khunjaoba improved on the fortifications and beautification works of the Kangla fort. He was a lover of peace; constructed two bunds; dug a moat before the brick-wall in front of the Kangla palace; dredged the Nambul river (1665); improved Khwairamband bazaar site; collected immense booty _ cows, buffaloes, elephants etc after overrunning Samjok, Kabo valley, Mangsataba (1657); but died childless, hence adopted Paikhomba, his own brother's son. Burmese kings/chiefs approached him to settle all their disputes and to beg the hands of Manipuri princesses in marriage. The power, prestige and glory of Manipur was at its peak.

1666-1697: Paikhomba: Reclaimed jungles in Imphal valley to accommodate the alarmingly rising population; killed tigers and wild animals; selected Langol for animal combat as a form of amusement; spearing tigers to death after combat; had commercial and political intercourse with Burma; horses, elephants etc from Kabaw valley were his prized possessions; beat Shan chief Paikhu - hence became much better known as Paikhomba. Also well-known for his severity in awarding capital punishment to those stealing Khamen-chatpa or silken garment worn by king's noble. Hence theft became much less frequent.

1697-1709: Charairongba: The first raja of Manipur to be formally initiated to Vaishnavism; constructed a brick temple of Lord Krishna at Brahmapur, Guru Aribam, which still exists in good shape; many Brahmins entered Manipur during his time; yet practiced tolerance to other religions; allowed construction of Kali temples in his tenure; came into close contact with Burma; gave his own daughter in marriage to Ava king (1702); Extended cordial relations to and personal friendship with particular eastern hill tribes. Established many departments (loishangs), including Haomacha Loishang (for his son Pamheiba & other hill people) and Shangai Senba (for maintenance of royal household); crimes very limited because of his severe punishment; put down Tooshuk (a hill tribe) uprising in 1709; died soon afterwards under mysterious circumstances.

1709-1748: Pamheiba or Garib Niwaz: The fort was further improved and also enlarged by king Garib Niwaz. He attacked Burma many a time; extended his sway to the walls of Ava by storming gates and stockades; but last attempt to conquer Ava was dropped on account of some bad omen; defeated Takhels (Tripuris); and abdicated in favour of Ajit Sai, who got him assassinated; Manipur in those days saw lot of intrigues and plots; hence assassinations quite usual; Bharat Sai compelled brother Ajit Sai to vacate the throne in his favour; Bharat Sai ruled just for one year; the then throne passed into the hands of Gourashyam _ the eldest son of Sham Sai; but Gourashyam made an arrangement with his younger brother Jayasimha to rule for five years each; The joint rulership lasted till 1749.

1759-62 & 1763-98: Chingthangkhomba or Bhagyachandra or Jai Singh: This worthy grandson of Garib Niwaz left behind his footprints in the quicksand of time as the only king who almost single-handedly succeeded in driving away the Burmese and recovered the Manipur kingdom _ an endeavour he succeeded after repeated efforts just like the legendary Robert Bruce. Time and again he was either defeated or had to flee Manipur and take shelter in Cachar or Ahom. But ultimately his grit and cool determination prevailed. Fortunately the Burmese menace subsided because first Alaungpaya died in 1760 and six years thereafter in 1766 his son Hsin-byu-hsin also died. During his remaining rule Bhagyachandra devoted all his energy in recasting the Manipuri society on a firm religious firmament and innovated various dance forms _ which later became world-famous as Manipuri dance.

1821 & 1825-34: Gambhir Singh: This most capable among the fugitive Manipur princes in Cachar joined with the British and was instrumental for establishing the Manipur Levy of 500 men. That was the most critical moment in Manipur history when the Burmese menace (1819-25) spurted since Bhagyachandra's time. This time the dissension arose out of the refusal of Manipur king Marjit Singh (1813-19) to attend the coronation of Bagyidaw, the new Burmese king (1819-38), and the timber-cutting excursions made by Manipur in Kabo valley. Ultimately Gambhir Singh drove away the Burmese from Manipur upto the western bank of the Ningthee river in 1826, when the British defeated the Burmese and concluded the Treaty of Yandaboo in February, 1826, whereby Gambhir Singh became king under the Treaty.


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