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

Pandit N.Khelchandra Singh


16. Monuments, Historical Sites & Remains In Kangla:

Generally speaking, Kangla thus embodies a living museum of art, events, ideas and institutions of ancient Manipur, laid bare through an unpolluted vivisection of rows of historic serenity. Particularly for a traditional Manipuri it signifies the very inspirational source, and original site of iconic grandeur in terms of almost all the ancient Manipuri traditions, cultural festivities and religious celebrations _ much more than its magico-legendary stature, which is left to be appreciated by historians of Manipur. Kangla is however only one of many other sites of pre- or proto-historic importance and therefore chronologically of much earlier significance in Manipur history, which flourished elsewhere in: Songbu cave, Machi, Khangkui cave, Nongpok Keithelmanbi, Napachik, Laimanai, Tharon cave, Napachik, Phunan, Laikoiching, Nongdam, Huikap, Uchon, Nongmaiching, Etham, Tangkhul Khullel, Keihao Khullel, Sangshak, Tangkhul, Tangkhul Hundung, Charumanak, Kharou Khunou, Pallel, Bukpi, Singmun, Hanship, Awangkhul, Purul, Kampal, Singtam in the Manipur hills. And archaeologists are pointing to a near-certainty that prehistoric ancestors of the present day valley-dwellers as well as hill-dwellers settled in these caves. Hence Kangla has to be appreciated as only one such archaeological preeminence spread out breathtakingly exposed for anyone to capture its living grandeur over the hitherto preserved Kangla periphery _ west of existing Imphal river.

i) Ruins of the Citadel:
The residence of the Manipur Maharaja, the site of the coronation (33 A.D.) of God-king Pakhangba; and many other secret places of worship. Some portion of the brick enclosure wall which was constructed during the reign of Khagemba (1597-1652 A.D.) still remains.

ii) Ruins of the 'UTTARA' (Coronation Hall):
1. Only the brick steps remain. Construction of Uttara in 1551 S. E. is referred to at page 26 of Cheitharol Kumbaba - the royal chronicle of Manipur. On the occasion of the installation of Maharaja Churachand Singh the Administration Report of Manipur State (1907-08) cites: 'The installation ceremony took place in February in the Uttara, the ancestral coronation hall of Manipur Raja'(p.1). Subsequently the building was destroyed in the Second World War. The brick steps and ruins of foundation are still intact. Photograph of the building, as such, is at T.C.Hodson's The Meitheis: London 1908 (p.24) under the caption Nongsha and Kangla.

2. The two pedestals where the two brick-made Nongshas (Dragons) stood in front of Kangla Uttara facing west still remain. As already reported, before daybreak on 24th March,1891, without declaring war under orders of J.W.Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam, the British troops attacked Manipur Fort, the royal citadel of Manipur. On the night of the same day (24th March, 1891) four British officers, J.W.Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam, Lt. Col. Skene of the 44th Gurkha Regiment, Mr. Cossins, Assistant Secretary to the Chief Commissioner of Assam, Lt. Simpson of the 43rd Gurkha Regiment and a bugler were beheaded by the public executioner in front of the Nongshas. After the conquest of Manipur on 27th April, 1891, the Nongshas made of brick were blown off by the British on Monday, the 14th day of Inga - lunar month (June-July), 1891 A.D., vide Cheitharol Kumbaba p.493. Photos of the Nongshas appeared also in History Today, Jany 1962, London (p.52), besides Hodson's The Meitheis: London: 1908 p.124.

3. The old brick temple of Shri Govindaji in Kangla was constructed and dedicated by Maharaja Chandrakirti Singh in 1869 A.D.29 It is a rectangular late mediaeval period made of brick and Burmese teak rafters with a portico, a sanctum sanctorum and covered circumambulatory paths. Some of the floral designs in stucco now exist. Cheitharol Kumbaba records that the bricks (11"x5"x3") used in the temple were made during the reign of Maharaja Gambhir Singh (1825-1834 A.D.) at Langthabal, another capital of ancient Manipur, about 4 miles away from Kangla (Imphal). Maharaja Gambhir Singh died on 9th January, 1834 at Langthabal so he could not construct the temple. But when Maharaja Nara Singh came to the throne in 1844 the bricks from Langthabal were brought to Kangla and in 1845 the brick temple of Shri Govindaji was constructed and dedicated in the name of Maharaja Gambhir Singh (Ref. Cheitharol Kumbaba p.270). But this temple gave way in the great earthquake of 1868 A.D.(Ref.Cheitharol Kumbaba, p.382). After the fall of Kangla the British removed in 1892 the marble slabs paved in the temple and sold them in public auction on Monday the 21st day of Hiyangei, 1897 and the gold leaf of the dome was also removed by the same British.30 The Beithop of Shri Govindaji's temple was constructed in 1855 A.D. The ruins of the Beithop i.e.Victorian brick pillars, Burmese teak rafters and some masonry works still exist. It lies on the eastern side of the old Shri Govindaji's temple.

iii) Site of Shri Govindaji's Mandop:
The Mandop was constructed and dedicated to Shri Govindaji for performing religious ceremonies, sankirtanas etc. for the Manipuri Hindus. During the reign of Maharaja Chandrakirti Singh (1850-1886) the foundation-stone-laying ceremony of the Mandop was held on Thursday, the 7th day of Manipuri month of Poinu 1778 S.E. (Ref. Cheitharol Kumbaba p.332). A photo of the Mandop is at p.102 of T.C.Hodson's "The Meitheis' London 1908 under the caption "Natch Ghar" and of Govindaji. After Manipur fell, stood also demolished this very Mandop much earlier constructed and dedicated by Maharaja Chandrakirti Singh on Friday, the 5th day of the Manipuri month Thawan (July) 1814 SE31 in a grove of trees towards the south-west of Shri Govindaji's temple. Some trees of historical importance of the time of Maharajas of Manipur are still standing as if still serving Lord Govindaji although uncared for since 1891. The entire area of Shri Govindaji's temple, Beithop, Mandop, Ras Mandol are since reconstructed and protected by the Archaeology Department.

iv) Site for Ras Mandol:
The world famous Manipuri Ras dance used to be held in an open place separately decorated and arranged in a grove of trees in a place towards the southwest of Shri Govindaji's temple. Some trees of historical importance since the early Maharajas are still standing, which need protection along with temple, mandob remains etc.

v) Polo Ground:
Polo is the national game of Manipuris. The game is said to have been introduced during the time of King Kangba of Manipur. To quote a few lines from L.M.I. Singh32: 'The motherland of polo is Manipur. Manipuri Puran says, in the mythical time it was played by Gods…. In the historical age it was played on the occasion of recognizing Laisna as the wife of Pakhangba in or about 33 A.D.' Further Capt. Pemberton writes: 'The national game of hockey which is played by every man of the country capable of sitting on a horse renders them all expert equestrians; and it was by men and horse so trained, that the princes of Manipur were able for many years not only to repel the aggressions of Burmahs, but to score the whole country east of the Irrawaddy in the heart of the capital of Ava.'33 As per Encyclopaedia Brittannicia: 'Polo also flourished in India in the 16th century. Then for 200 years its records in India cease till in 1863 polo came into Bengal from Manipur by way of Cachar.'34 In the official Kangla map two pologrounds are shown. One of the two lies towards the west of Govindaji's temple inside the Fort, which is known to Manipuris as Manung Kangjeibung. The other lying outside the Fort to the north of the British Residency is popularly called Mapan Kangjeibung. Even during the British regime from 1891 to 1947 the national game of polo had been encouraged so much that Polo players and Polo Choukidars were appointed on monthly pay from the State under Major Head No. 1: Administration, vide Manipur State budgets upto the year 1949-50. But after the integration of Manipur with the Indian Union in October, 1949, the game was discouraged, thereby affecting the cultural heritages of Manipur. The post of Polo Players were abolished and the pologround outside the Manipur Fort has been designated for some other purposes. (see Note 8 below.) Polo means literally Hockey-on-Horseback. And it was first introduced in 1863 by Major General Sherar. He brought two teams of Manipuri natives from Manipur to Calcutta, where they played an exhibition match. In 1864 Polo was taken over to England by the 10th Hussars. R.K.Jhalajit Singh35 cites: "In 1875 the Government of Manipur sent two teams of Polo players to Calcutta to play before His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward VII) during his visit to India."

vi) Nungoibi:
It is a sacred place for worship of the Goddess of War, whenever a Manipuri king would come out successful through a ceremony known as Huiyen Lalu Chamba. This ceremony was performed on the occasion of Kwak Tanba annually on the day of Vijaya Dashmi, or the tenth day of Lunar month of Mera. This is the area shown in the Kangla map as the Graveyards for Heads.

vii) Manglen:
Manglen is the cremation ground of all the Meitei kings of Manipur.

viii) Mangnaota: Cremation ground of the members of the royal families other than the Maharajas.

ix) Cremation ground: Maharaja Buddhachandra Singh, among others, was also cremated here.

x) Tomb of Sir Akbar Hyderi, the late Governor of Assam.

xi) Nungjeng Pukhri:
A sacred tank supposed to be the abode of God-King, Lord Pakhangba, whose holy water is collected by Meiteis for religious functions.

xii) Nungjeng Macha: A sacred pond for worship of God-King, Lord Pakhangba.

xiii) Old Brick Temple of Brindaban Chandra:
This is a rectangular late-medieval-brick-temple located in the compound of Yubaraj Tikendrajit Singh. It contains the sanctum sanctorum, covered circumambulatory path; and the entrance is from four sides. It has got a brick staircase for going onto the top of the temple. The whole compound of Yubaraj Tikendrajit Singh and the adjoining areas may specially be protected as commemorative of the severe battle of the 24th March, 1891 between the British and the Manipuris, in which many Manipuris were killed besides the British attackers. A list of those persons, killed in action by the British army on that day defending the fort, is enlisted in Cheitharol Kumbaba as from the letter dated 25-3-1891 from Maharaja Kullachandra to theViceroy.

xiv) Stone Inscription:
There is an inscribed stone in the compound of the Commandant, the Assam Rifles. This inscribed stone was declared protected under Manipur State Durbar resolution No. 5 of 24-8-1930 and the Manipur State Notice No.43, dated 24-10-1930, issued by the Vice-President, Manipur State Durbar. This inscribed stone of Maharaja (Marjit) 1815 A.D. describes the construction of a brick wall 9 cubic feet in height as the outer wall of the Palace.

xv) Sites of Presiding Deities Wangbren and Koubru:
Wangbren and Koubru are two important presiding deities of the Meitei religion, whose worships are traditionally performed at the southeastern and northwestern corners respectively of the Kangla periphery.

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