The history of Manipur is reflected by archaeological research, mythology and written history.
Quick facts: Kingdom of Manipur, Kings of Manipur …
Since ancient times, the Meetei peoplehave lived in the valleys of Manipur alongside the Nagas, and Kukis in the hills. Meetei people settled in the valleys during the reign of Meidingu Khagemba in the year 1606. Since then, they also lived along with the Meetei People.
Mythological origins begins with the reign of the “Konchin Tukthapa Ipu Athoupa Pakhangpa” (Pakhangpa was the name given to him meaning “The one who knows his father”), who gave birth the seven clans of Meetei society.
The pre-Hindu era is set forth in the sacred writing puya “Wakoklon Heelel Thilel Salai Amailon Pukok”. Introduction of the Vaishnavism school of Hinduismbrought about changes in the history of the state. Manipur’s early history is set forth in the Cheitharon Kumbaba, a chronicle of royal events which is believed to record events from the foundation of the ruling dynasty.
Manipur became a princely state under British rule in 1891; the last of the independent states to be incorporated into British India. During the Second World War, Manipur was the scene of battles between Japanese and Allied forces. The Japanese were beaten back before the Allies could enter Imphal. This proved to be one of the turning points of the War.
After the war, the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947, established a democratic form of government with the Maharajaas the Executive Head and an elected legislature. In 1949, Maharaja Budhachandra was summoned to Shillong, capital of the Indian province of Meghalaya where he signed a Treaty of Accession merging the kingdom into India. Thereafter the legislative assembly was dissolved and Manipur became part of the Republic of India in October, 1949. It was made a union territory in 1956 and a full-fledged state in 1972. Mohammed Alimuddin became the first Chief Minister in 1972 of the State of Manipur.
On many occasions, in the textMahabharata, an epic from India, cites the accounts of North Eastern region of present India. It has been argued that this covers the present states of Manipur and Nagaland. This has been dated from the 9th century BCE to about 400 BCE.
Mythological origins begins with the reign of the “Konchin Tukthapa Ipu Athoupa Pakhangpa” (Pakhangpa was the name given to him meaning “The one who knows his father”). He gave birth the seven clans of Meetei society. 1. Mangang, 2. Luwang, 3. Khuman, 4. Angom, 5. Moilang, 6. Khapa-Nganpa, and 7. Salai-leisangthem.
Kanglei which is now called “Kangla” was the first capital of the kingdom called “Kangleipak”. “Lainingthou Sanamahi” is the creator of all according to “Kangleichas”, the then residents of the now called Manipur. The religion of the land was purely “Sanamahism”, one of the oldest religion of the world.
Manipur had been known throughout the ages as Meitrabak, Kangleipak or Meeteileipak as well as by more than twenty other names. Sanamahi Laikan wrote that Manipur’s new nomenclature was adopted in the eighteenth century during the reign of Meidingu Pamheiba. According to Sakok Lamlen, the area had different names according to the era. During the Hayachak period it was known as Mayai Koiren poirei namthak saronpung or Tilli Koktong Ahanba, then in the Khunungchak period as Meera Pongthoklam. Thereafter during the Langbachak era, it became Tilli Koktong Leikoiren and finally Muwapalli in the Konnachak epoch.
During the latter part of its history, Manipur and its people were known by different names to their neighbours. TheShans or Pongs called the area Cassay, the Burmese Kathe, and the AssameseMeklee. In the first treaty between the British East India Company andMeidingu Chingthangkhomba(Bhagyachandra) signed in 1762, the kingdom was recorded as Meckley. Bhagyachandra and his successors issued coins engraved with the title of Manipureshwar, or lord of Manipur and the name Meckley was discarded. Later on, the Sanskritisation work, Dharani Samhita (1825–34) popularized the legends of the derivation of Manipur’s name.
Prehistory of Kangleipak or Manipur
Manipur is situated on the tertiary ranges of a branch of the easternHimalayas running south and forms part of the compact physiographic unit following the great divide between theBrahmaputra and Chindwin valleys. North east India holds the key to the understanding the scope, depth, dimension and cultural diffusion between south and southeast Asia which played a crucial role in transforming the northeast Indian ethnographic canvas from prehistoric times onwards. Manipur appears to have absorbed Bronze Age cultural traits from Thailand and Upper Burma where indigenous early metal age culture developed at a comparatively early date around 4000 BC.
Old Stone Age
The four Khangkhui Caves are located near Khangkhui some 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) south east of Ukhrulon the border with Upper Burma. Archaeological excavations have found stone and bone tools as well as animal remains as evidence of Stone Agehabitation of these caves. The first evidence of Pleistocene man in Manipur dates back to about 30,000 BC. Other notable caves nearby include Hunding Caves, 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) south of Ukhrul, Purul Cave in Purul and the Song Ring rock shelter at Beyang village inTengnoupal.
One of archaeologist O.K. Singh’s most valuable finds is a pebble chopping tool discovered in Maring Naga Village, Machi, in the Chandel district. TheMarings are one of the oldest tribes of Manipur and this find is considered a landmark in the Paleolithic archaeology of Manipur as it confirms that the area was inhabited by neolithic people from the early Stone Age or lower Paleolithic period.
New Stone Age
- Hoabinhian Culture – A large number of Neolithic celts have been discovered throughout Manipur and are now preserved in the State College Museum Archaeology Department. These celts are mostly edge-ground pebble and flake tools and show the presence of Neolithic culture in Manipur.
Findings in the Tharon Caves in theTamenglong district provide the first concrete evidence of Hoabinhian culture in India, a Mesolithic southeast Asian cultural pattern based on historic finds from the village of Haobihian in North Vietnam. Similar relics have been found in Thailand at the Spirit Caves as well as in Burma and other places in Southeast Asia. Tharon is a Liangmei Naga village where the five caves and rock shelters were first explored in December 1979 by the State Archaeology Department.
The site is located at 93.32’ longitude and 25.3’ latitude in the midst of the thickly forested Reyangling Hills, about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) north of Tharon Village. Locally, the caves are known as Kalemki (from Kalem (bat) and Ki(house), literally: The house of the bat). A stream called Kalem-ki-magu runs near the caves, which are composed of Barail series sandstone and were probably formed by rock weathering. Tharon’s edge-ground pebble tools are similar to finds from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines where they were used about 7000–8000 BC. The Tharons have a distinct affinity with the Haobihian culture and before the advent of the present Tibeto-Burmaninhabitants of the area, Proto-Australoidpeople occupied these caves around 5000–4000 BC.
Napachik is A Stone Age site dating to the second millennium BC. It is on a small hillock near Meetei Village, Wangu, in the southern part of the Imphal Valley, on the right bank of the Manipur River which flows into the Chindwin River in Burma. The edge-ground tools andcorded wares of Napachik are similar to those found in the Spirit Cave in Thailand, the Padubtin Cave in Burma along with Haobihian sites in Vietnam although tripod wares were also found at one the Haobihian sites. Possible dates for the Neolithic age in north east India are between 500 BC 2000 BC. It is probable that while Napachik culture has an affinity with that of Haobihian while handmade corded tripod wares from Chinese Neolithic culture arrived in the area around the second millennium BC showing that the Manipur valley was already inhabited by Neolithic men in or around 2000 BC.
The source for this era is the Cheitharol Kumbaba, the royal chronicle of Manipur or Kangleipak.
- Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (33–154 AD) was ruler and the creator of Manipur (or Meeteileipak or Kangleipak). He was the first coroneted historical ruler whose reign began in 33 according to the Cheitharol Kumbaba. Meetei culture took root during the reign of Pakhangba as did sagol kangjei (Polo), with the first match played between the chiefs of different regions. Polo was played in imitation of a game from the traditional Hayachak era. Laisna took a great role in organizing the game.
Pakhangba was succeeded by his son, Khuiyoi Tompok, in 154 AD. Known as the inventor of the drum (pung), his reign was a peaceful one. Technical innovation in metallurgy was also recorded in the chronicle.
The treatise on the construction of the places of Kangla and Kangla Houba are believed to have been written by Ashangba Laiba.
- Loiyamba (1074–1122 AD) was known as the “Great law Giver”, his reign was an important period in the history of Kangleibak. Along with the military consolidation of the kingdom, Loiyamba introduced administrative reforms, which provided the backbone of the kingdom’s administration for the next seven centuries. He systematized the administrative divisions of the country by creating six lups or divisions as well as introducing the Pana System.Loiyamba Shinyen left a well-organized society and economy in Meeteileipak.
- Meidingu Ningthou Khomba (1432–1467) was the “Conqueror of Tamu”. According to Ningthourol Lambuba he was originally known as Charairongba. One of the most well-known events of Charairongba’s reign was a raid by the Tangkhul tribe from Tuisem village while he was absent. His queen Linthoingambi demonstrated courage and skill, hoodwinking the raiding tribesmen into defeat and captivity. The Meitei state was completely established during his reign.
- Meidingu Kiyamba (1467–1508) was known as the “Conqueror of Kabaw Valley”. He was formerly called Thangwai Ningthouba. Credit for the military and territorial expansion of the kingdom was given to King Ningthou khomba and his son Kiyamba who had an equally colourful mother, Linthoingambi, the warrior queen in Manipur’s history. This period sees the emergence of Medingu Senbi Kiyamba, who became king in 1476, at the age of 24. He was a friend of the King of Pong (Shan Kingdom), who presented him with a stone, known as PHEIYA (Almighty Lord Vishnu). After this, worship of God (Lord Vishnu) in the form of a sacred stone began.
King Kyamba of Manipur along with Chaopha Khe Khomba, the king of Pong, conquered Kyang, a Shan kingdom in the Kabow Valley of present Myanmar. Jubilant at the victory, an idol of Lord Vishnu was given by the Pong king to King Kyamba. King Kyamba started worshipping the idol at Lumlangdong which then came to be known as Bishnupur i.e. abode of Vishnu. Subsequently, he built a Vishnu Temple of brick at Bishnupur which has now become a protected historical monument under the Ministry of H.R.D (Archeology), Government of India. It is now standing as a symbol of the remains of ancient times. And the statue got by Kyamba from the Pong king is very important since it gives us the idea of the religious beliefs of those days and the very name that it had given.
- Meidingu Khagemba (1597&ndash1652) was known as the “Conqueror of the Chinese” (khagi: Chinese and Ngamba:conqueror). He consolidated and expanded his father’s kingdom of Meitrabak, later successfully defending it from foreign invaders such as the Muslims, the Kachari and the Shans of the Kabaw Valley. Muslim settlement became more prominent after 1606 with the establishment of a Muslim Personal Law Board headed by a Qazi appointed by the king. According to the chronicle, the Meetei king attacked the principal Chinese village (or town) along with the many brave Meetei warrior and defeated their chief Chouopha Hongdei. Khagemba introduced bell metal currency in the kingdom and a number of coins from his reign have been found. His reign was considered to be the golden age of Manipuri literature. He was a great patron of the traditional Lainingthou Cult. A contemporary text, the Khagemba Langjei, expresses the supremecy of Sanamahi as the Universal God of the Meeteis. Learned scholars who were well-known authorities on religion and theology in attendance at Khagemba’s court were Apoimacha, Konok Thengra,Salam Sana, Yumnam Tomba,Khongngakhul Toppa and Langon Lukhoi.
Khagemba was succeeded by his son Khunjaoba in 1652 who fortified Kangla and excavated a moat in the front of the brick gateway constructed by his father. Paikhomba ascended the throne in 1666 and consolidated his power in the valley. His kingdom extended as far as Samjokto the east and Takhel Tripura to the west. In 1679 the two Mughal (Chaghtai Turk) princes Shah Shuja and Mirza Baisanghar led a 37 strong Mughal entourage and settled in Manipur by taking local wives.
With the dawn of the eighteenth century, *Meidingu Charairongba (1697–1709) achieved the full development of its culture, economy and state system. In this revolutionary period in the evolution of Meitrabak, three kings, father, son, and a great grandson: Charairongba,Pamheiba and Chingthang Khombaplayed significant roles. After the death of Paikhomba, his nephew Charairongba, the son of his younger brother Tonsenngamba ascended the throne in 1697. His reign began the transition period from traditional Meetei culture to a Hinduised Meetei Society. There were continual trade contacts and social relationships between Manipur and Burma. In 1702, the Toongoo dynasty of Awa (Burma) sent emissaries asking for the hand of a Meetei Princess. Charirongba gave his daughter Chakpa Makhao Ngambi in marriage to the Burmese King. He constructed several temples for Meitei deities such as Panthoibi, Sanamahi as well as ones dedicated to Hindu gods. Relations with Burma deteriorated and became stronger with India after the area’s conversion to Vaishnavism.
Vaishnavism came to Manipur during this period and caused a significant change in the history of Manipur. The Meitei script was replaced with Bengali.
- Meidingu Pamheiba (Garibnawaz) (1709–1748):
Pamheiba ascended the throne on the 23rd Day of Thawan (August) 1709. His Persian name Garibniwaz, meaning “kind to the poor”, was given to him by Muslim immigrants and was adopted to be used in the coinage he issued.
Pamheiba’s rise to prominence as a military conqueror can be divided into three phases. The first phase (1710–17) focused on internal consolidation of hill tribes. Phase two (1728–33) involved war against the Burmese kingdom of Awa, and the third and final phase (1745–48) saw a war against Tripura in the northeast. As a result, Pamheiba extended his kingdom from the Kabow Valley, to the east as far as Nongnang (Cachar) and Takhel (Tripura) in the west.
Conversion to Vaishnavism
Pamheiba was also a major religious reformer and under his royal patronage Shri Chaitanya’s school of Gaudiya Vaishnavism gradually spread across Meitrabak. The Cheitharol Kumbaba records that in October 1717, Graibnawaz was initiated into Vaishnavism by Guru Gopal Das. Later in life he also took instruction from theRamanandi Sampradaya school of thought.
Sanamahi Laikan recorded the events surrounding Sanskritisation which paved the way for “Meeteileipak” or “Kangleibak” to become “Manipur”. Many other Meeteileipak place names in the Manipuri language (Meeteilon) were also changed to Sanskrit. The Hinduised word “gotra” was introduced for the Seven Yek/Salais of Meeteis. Between 1717 and 1737, the Sanskrit epic parvas the Mahabharata and Ramayana were translated into Meeteilon while many other Sanskrit Parvas were written byAngom Gopi (1710–1780), the renowned scholar and poet at the court of Pamheiba. The king and all the Meeteis were converted as Kshatriya by relating to Mahabharata’s Manipur.
Pamheiba’s forty year reign marked the zenith of Meeteileipak in all aspects – religious reform, military conquest, cultural and literary achievements and sound economics. He issued several coins during his reign engraved with his different names: ‘Manipureswar’, ‘Mekeleswar’, ’Garibaniwaza’.
He abdicated the throne in favour of his son Chit Sai (1748–52) in 1748 and was then driven out to Cachar by his brotherBharat Sai in 1752. Gourashyam (1753–58) ousted Bharat Sai in 1753 and ascended the throne. In 1758, the Burmese king Alaungpaya invaded Meeteileipak.
In 1759, Gourashyam gave up the throne in favour of his brother Bhagayachandra who restored normalcy in the kingdom and tried to regain the lost glory of Meeteileipak/Kangleipak. In 1764, the new Burmese king Hsinbyushin invaded Manipur again through the Kabaw Valley. The Meetei force were defeated at Tamu and the king fled to the Ahom kingdom in Assam. He regained the throne of Kangleipak in 1768 with help of Ahom king Rajeshwar and went on to rule for more than 30 years, signing a treaty with East India Company in 1762. His reign was a landmark in the history of Meeteileipak for the propagation of Cheitanya’s School of Vaishnavism. Afterwards, Meeteileipak came more under the influence of Bengali language and literature. Bhagayachandra earned the title of “Rajarshi” as a king who had become a royal sage.
Origin of the Meetei or Manipuri Classical Dance, Rasa lila
According to Cheitharol Kumpaba, in February 1776, the king went to Kaina Hill in search of the jackfruit tree. Four images of Krishna were then carved from jackfruit wood. The ritual installation of Shri Govindajee was performed at the Rashmondal of Langthabal palace in 1780. The Meeteis worshipped God through dance as performed in the Lai Haraoba (Merry Making of God). As revealed in the dream, and with the help of his daughter Princess Bimbabati known as Shija Laioibi who was symbolically married and dedicated her life to Shri Govindajee, he composed the Rasa lila. Meidingu Chingthangkhomba dedicated three forms of Rasa lila to Krishna — Kunja Ras, Maha Ras and Basanta Ras.
There were a number of wars during this era between the Manipuris, the Burmese and the British.
- Meidingu Marjit (1813–1819)
With the help from the Burmese kingdom of Awa, Marjit invaded Kangleipak in 1813 where he defeated his brother Chaurajit. He then ascended the throne in 1813 and ruled for six years.
Chahi Taret Khuntakpa, the Seven Years Devastation (1819–26)
Meitrabak had never faced such catastrophe as that brought about by the Burmese conquest. The new king of Awa, Bagyidaw, invited Marjit to attend his coronation ceremony and to pay homage to him. Marjit refused to attend the coronation, which offended the Burmese king who then sent a large force under the command of General Maha Bandula to humble Marjit. Marjit was defeated and fled to Cachar. Meitrabak was then brought under the rule of Awa for the seven years between 1819 and 1826, which is known as Chahi Taret Kuntakpa in the history of Meitrabak. The flight of Marjit from Meitrabak and the conquest by Awa in 1819 marks the end of the mediaeval period in the history of Meitrabak.
Meitrabak Princes in Cachar
In the early nineteenth century, after being dislodged from Meitrabak, its princes made Cachar a springboard for the reconquest of the territory. In 1819, three brothers occupied Cachar and drove Govinda Chandra out to Sylhet. The kingdom of Cachar, divided between Govinda Chandra and Chaurajit in 1818, was repartitioned after the flight of Govind Chandra among the three Meitrabak princes. Chaurajit got the eastern portion of Cachar bordering Meitrabak which was ruled from Sonai. Gambhir Singh was given the land west of Tillain hill and his headquarters was at Gumrah, Marjit Singh ruled Hailakandi from Jhapirbond.
With the 500 strong Meetei Levy and with help from the British East India Company, Gambhir Singh expelled the Burmese of Awa from Meitrabak beyond the Ningthi Turel (Chindwin River). He ruled the country from Langthabal and died on 9 January 1834 to be succeeded by his infant son Chandrakirti / Ningthem Pishak (1834–1844).
He was the second cousin of Gambhir Singh and the regent. Kumidini, mother of Chandrakirti, was dissatisfied with the arrangement and fled to Cachar with her son. At the wish of the people of Meitrabak he ascended the throne in 1844 at the age of 51. He then shifted the capital from Langthabal to Kangla where he reconstructed the two statues of the Kangla Sha at Uttra made by Meidingngu Chaurajit and that the Burmese had dismantled and destroyed. Meidingngu Nara Singh died on 10 April 1850 and was succeeded by his brother Meidingngu Debendra Singh (1850).
- Meidingngu Chandrakirti (1850–86) came from Cachar, defeated Debendra and regained the throne in 1850. During his reign, all the sacred and holy places inside Kangla were developed and maintained. Kangla thus became a well-fortified palace surrounded by five layers of defences, including the inner and outer moats, brick walls, as well as an earthen rampart and citadel surrounding the palace in the centre. He died on Friday 20 May 1886.
The Manipur Expedition
Meidingngu Surchandra (1886–90) succeeded his father to the throne in 1886 when there were revolts against him led by Sana Borachaoba and Dinachandra that proved unsuccessful. However, on 21 September 1890, Princes Zila Ngamba and Angousana with the support of Senapati Tikendrajit, revolted against Surchandra who abdicated and left Meitrabak for Brindaban (Vrindavan). His brotherKulachandra Singh ascended the throne in 1890 and Tikendrajit, the Senapati or supreme military commander of the armed forces of Manipur, became the ruler behind the scenes. Surchandra requested the government of India to reinstate him on the throne but the British decided to recognize Kulachandra as king of Meitrabak and to arrest Yuvraj Tikendrajit for having caused the palace revolution.
Chief Commissioner of Assam, James Wallace Quinton, came to Manipur to execute the order of the Government of India with a 400 strong escort under the command of Colonel Charles Mac Donald Skene, D.S.O. This event led to the The Anglo-Manipur War of 1891.
On hearing the news, Meidingngu Kulachandra sent Kangabam Chidananda (Thangal General) with seven hundred Meetei sepoys to Mao Thana, a Meitrabak outpost on the border of Nagaland, then called the Naga Hills, to received the Chief Commissioner of Assam and to make arrangements for a large escort for the Chief Commissioner.
On 22 March 1891, at about 10 a.m. Quinton arrived at Imphal with his escort. Meidingngu Kulachandra Dhaja and his younger brothers welcomed him at the western Gate of the Kangla Palace. Quinton informed Meidingngu Kulachandra that at noon there would be a Durbar (court) held at the Residency. Thus did Quinton attempt to apprehend Yuvraj Tikendrajit but he was not successful. Quinton then consulted thepolitical agent Grimwood as well as Colonel Skene and decided to arrest Yuvraj forcibly. Grimwood was then speared to death and Quinton, Colonel Skene, Mr. Cossins, Lieutenant Simpson and Bulger were subsequently beheaded by the public executioner in front of the Kangla Sha. As soon as the news of the failure of the plan to arrest Yuvraj Tikendrajit and the execution of the British officers reached the Government of India, three columns of troops, known as the Manipur Expedition, were sent to Meitrabak from Kohima, Silchar andTamu under the command of Major General Henry Collett, Col. R.H.F. Rennick and Brigadier General T. Graham respectively. The column moving in from Tamu faced the strongest resistance from Meitrabak and major hand-to-hand combat took place at Khongjom on 25 April.
Maipak Sana, Wangkheirakpa, Yengkhoiba, Chongtha Miya, Paona Brajabasi, Khumbong Major, Wangkhei Meiraba, Chinglen Sana, Loitongba Jamadar, Keisam Jamadar, Heirang Khonja and a number of Meetei soldiers died on the battlefield. Meitrabak lost its independence to the British on 27 April 1891.
The British government selected Meidingngu Churachand Singh (1891–1941), minor son of Chaobiyaima as the king of Meitrabak. A new Kangla Palace was constructed at Wangkhei and Kangla was kept under British occupation. During British colonial rule, Kangla was known as Manipur Fort and a battalion of Assam Rifles was stationed there. Noted Manipuri writer,M. K. Binodini Devi (1922–2011) was the youngest daughter of the ruler.
World War II
A major thrust by the Empire of Japan in 1944, was stopped at Imphal by British and Indian forces. This marked the furthest westward expansion of the Empire.
The British left Manipur in 1947 following Indian independence.