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The Historical, Archaeological, Religious & Cultural Significance Of 'Kangla': The Ancient Citadel Of Manipur 1.Tracing Origin Of Kangla In Pre-Pakhangba Or Khaba Era: The legendary `Kangla' complex had been the capital of Manipur from the very ancient times down to 1891. Its present remains would show that it used to enclose the...
The Historical, Archaeological, Religious & Cultural Significance Of 'Kangla': The Ancient Citadel Of Manipur 1.Tracing Origin Of Kangla In Pre-Pakhangba Or Khaba Era: The legendary `Kangla' complex had been the capital of Manipur from the very ancient times down to 1891. Its present remains would show that it used to enclose the old royal palace-cum-citadel right since the reign of the legendary Pakhangba who ascended the throne in 33 A.D according to Cheitharol Kumbaba, the royal chronicle of Manipur. However as per archaic Manipuri language records like Panthoibi Khongun etc even in pre-Pakhangba period a petty clan, named Khaba, ruled from Kangla by constructing their palace in some part of the Kangla before the reign of Pakhangba of the Ningthouja clan (see Notes 1 & 2 below). However much it might prove an ideal site for excavation it could not so far be undertaken. Its significance lies thus not only in its 19-century long sway as seat of monarchy and political power but also having in its periphery some very important archaeological remains, spots, ponds, insignias and icons for various traditional functions, cultural ceremonies and religious worships. There are a number of ancient treatises specially Sakok-lamlen, Chinglon Laihui, Nunglon, Kanglei Layat, Kangla Lon (Kangla Houba), written by Ashangbam Laiba in the 5th century A.D., specifying even the thumb rules for construction of Kangla. As per historical accounts, those rulers of Manipur belonging to Ningthouja clan strictly followed such prescriptions of ancient text for construction of the Old Palace and Kangla. 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). 3. Origin of The Manipuri People: Latest effort to trace the origin of Manipur in the Stone Age through recent archaeological finds (Phunan ware, Tripod ware and Corded ware) has thrown enough light on the earlier held legendary brief on the present Manipur culture and population having descended from the Late Choukoutien of China (see Chpt.3 ). R. Brown puts the then ongoing riddle quite succinctly: "The origin of the Manipuris is obscure, and the written records having mostly been composed since they became Hindus, are not worthy of much credit. From the most credible traditions the valley appears originally to have been occupied by several tribes, the principal of which were named Khumal, Luwang, Moirang, and Meithei, all of whom came from different directions. For a time the Khumal appears to have been the most powerful, and after its declension the Moirang tribe. But by degrees the Meitheis subdued the whole, and the name Meithei has become applicable to all. Some persons who studied the subject with great attention have rejected their claim to a Hindu descent. One officer formed his opinion that they are descended from a Tartar colony from China. Another imagines them to be descendents of the surrounding hill tribes."4 In fact, both theories might thus now appear partly, if not wholly, true if for instance they could be deemed to have first come along the newly formed land-bridge from China and initially settled in the hills, whence one after the other, some have left for the valley and become valley-dwellers. Of course having remained in the hills the hill-men continue to belong generally to an `inferior order of civilization,' according to R.Brown in Statistical Account of Manipur "because their manual productions are few, rude and unimportant; they have no written character of any kind, and their general intelligence, except in rare instances, is very low. Their reputed truthfulness is believed to be much exaggerated, and the more intelligent of them can lie when occasion serves."5 At least this was the state of affairs during the reign of Maharaja Chandrakirti (1850-86), during whose tenure R. Brown worked in Manipur as a Political Agent. 4. Coronation at `Kangla Men': The more respectful alternative to address the king is to refer to the Phambal Minghul or the coronation name derived from whatever the king would catch or conquer at the traditional Phambal Lal, "an excursion of the king before the coronation (or Phambal Tongba or Men Tongba)."6 Before coronation the designate-king is ordained to proffer clothes for deities and even to live with the royal deity, `Yumjao Lairembi' for five days according to M. Jhulon Singh.'' As a tradition Angom Piba or clan would offer royal robe for coronation, itself attended, among others, by all his Naga Chiefs. Kaomacha7 records that in 411 A.D the coronation ceremony of King Naokhamba was performed by the 64 Phamdous and other nobles, as per `Phambal Lon' or Manipuri Puya. While clan Arambam would wash the royal feet, Ashangbam clan would pour water over the royal body. Similarly Taorem would cleanse royal teeth, while Toijam clan would blow the bugle sitting on the elephant, as the Raja would proceed to the coronation hall. The lustral water for Raja's pre-coronation bath and use in ceremonial rituals would be collected from seven sources of sacred rivers. These 64 Phamdous would have different specific functions at the coronation. For instance, if one of them is assigned to hold the ceremonial sword, the others would either attend to the king while yet others sing the glories of the new king. It was amidst such pomp that the king would formally ascend the Kangla Men or throne placed above the traditional crater inside which the mythical serpent(s) remain posited. So as to become blessed by the seven magico-legendary Phapan (coiled rectangular formation with tail inside its mouth), the coronation used to be held as per legendary stipulations preceded by hectic preparations as also followed by many festivities in honour and perpetuation of the new raja and his consort. The coronation itself used to be a many-splendoured thing even in those days of yore with all the clan heads, Phamdous and other nobles, royal family members, tribal chiefs etc. attending, and offering obeisance and tributes. However the Naga dress of the king as coronation robe has made some authors like James Johnstone to comment: "There can be little doubt that some time or other the Naga tribes to the north made one of their chiefs Raja of Manipur, and that his family, while, like the Manchus in China and other conquerors adopted the civilization of the country, retained some of their old costumes. This is shown in the curious practice at the installation of a Raja, when he and the Rani appear in Naga costumes; also that he always has in his palace a house built like a Naga's, and whenever he goes he is attended by two or three Manipuris with Naga arms and accoutrements."8 The synthesized view is of course that the Meiteis have their ancient origin in China, although they seem to differ from the hill-dwelling tribals in having been the earliest category of `dispersed tribals'. As Commander-in-chief of the army, cavalry, and navy (river fleets) he was to become the real war leader. As incarnation of the legendary icons, he became the Chief Priest of the kingdom just like the heads of the other clans were the chief priests in their respective domains. His appearances as the High Priest of the State would of course be limited to such occasions as natural calamities or prolonged droughts. Then as the chief priest he would beseech the Supreme Being with some specific prayer at Nongmaiching hillock to the east of Imphal after having sanctified himself prior to such religious ceremony according to the Cheitharol Kumbaba. Or else, the Raja and Angom Piba might compete each other so that rainfall may occur. On later occasions, the same Cheitharol Kumbaba9 would record another form of praying to the Rain-God by milching one hundred and eight cows in the temple of Shri Govindaji's temple (still in vogue). 5.Lallup & Panna Systems As Introduced By Pakhangba: All the seven erstwhile principalities of Manipur became united under Pakhangba as the overlord. However, T.C.Hodson10 would doubt if the Moirang principality enjoyed independence even as late as 1413 A.D. Likewise even the Angoms and the Khumals would be doubted. But the otherwise irrefutable fact used to be the warring nature of all seven principalities, wherein such overlordship might easily be challenged at a particular point of time, thereby necessitating reclamation on behalf of the overlord. The upshot is however that Pakhangba attained unprecedentedly superior position over ancient Manipur. The significance of Pakhangba's reign lies in his bold attempt to turn the tide against joint family system by introducing Lallup (forced male labour in return for land-use) and to also restructure the then disorganized society in his kingdom into four Pannas or divisions and consolidate the system of administration, including stationing of 400 regular militia always available in Kangla. Lallup or forced male individual labour per se has been described by Brown as 'an institution�of the greatest consequence to the people of Manipur.'11 And this system of Lallup 'was first introduced, it is said, in the reign of Pakhangba, and it has undergone little change since.' For it remained in force till the Britishers overran Manipur and abolished it while introducing land revenue system based on permanent land settlement to farmers so as to realize land revenue with which modern administration with proper budgeting could be had. A brief account of Lallup as perceived by none other than Brown is thus in order: "The general system of lallup is based on the assumption that it is the duty of every male between the ages of 17 and 60 to place his services at the disposal of the state, without remuneration, for a certain number of days in each year�.The number of days thus placed nominally at the disposal of the state is ten days in every forty. This ten-days-service is so arranged that a man works his ten days and has an interval of thirty with regularity all the year round. On an individual coming of age to perform Lallup, he is entitled to cultivate for his support one purree of land, subject to the payment in kind of the tax to the raja. In the case of permanent illness or disability, a man under sixty may be excused from labour, but notice must be given and the authorities satisfied of the true nature of the case." "In the event of an individual wishing to escape his turn of duty, he must either provide a substitute or pay a certain sum, which sum goes to pay for a substitute if required, or the rest of the lallup may agree to do the extra duty receiving the money. In no case does the money paid for exemption go to Government. A payment of twelve annas will, it is said, exempt a man for forty days. Over every Lallup or class of labourer independent of number is an officer named the "Lakpa" who is responsible for the performance of the prescribed duties. There is no lallup for women."12 To summon all these lallup to the Kangla at the king's command, a big royal drum (Kangla Pungjao) had to be beaten five times to herald invasion by attacking enemies or declaration of war. Subsequently cavalry unit would be utilized to inform the people and gang up the lallup. Every able-bodied countrymen had to report running to the Kangla.13 Such signal used to play a vital role, as the palace had very few regular infantry. After 1627, the Kangla drum was replaced by gunshots. McCulloch describes the Manipur Royal Army as 'militia'. L.W. Shakespeare comments: "The Raja's army was of the nature of a militia 3,000 strong, of whom 400 men at a time were embodied for a year's service, after which they were changed for others, so that in course of time all in the militia received military training." 6. Growth of Kangla As a Fortress City Through The Ningthouja Clan: Kangla, the most sacrosanct place in the Manipur polity, is situated at the heart of the Imphal City, almost at the intersection of 24o N. latitude, 94o E. longitude at an altitude of 2,619 ft. above sea level on the western bank of the Imphal river as it now stands. (Photoplate:2.1) Much earlier when Kangla was first constructed, the Kangla was standing on the eastern bank of Imphal river, and its old dry bed is still evidenced on the approaches to the Kangla. However, the river course had been shifted towards the present course i.e. to the east of Kangla for security considerations. By virtue of its being the only fountainhead of all political and religious firmament, the Kangla had grown into a formidable fortress city through those over-eighteen-centuries of its existence spanning both the ancient and mediaeval period. It is from this capital that the Ningthouja kings gradually wielded enough political and military power in the 16th/17th century as to become the predominant monarchical dynasty in the history of Manipur. And naturally during their successive resplendent reigns they had built up Kangla as would befit the kingdom of Manipur. The royal chronicles give many references to the construction of the Kangla by various successive reigning kings during their respective reigns, each eventful in diverse ways. Some major landmarks in the Kangla fortress were constructed by king Khagemba (1597-1652) and later by king Garib Niwaz (1709-1748). The chronicle records that in 1632 Khagemba constructed a brick wall at the western gate of the Kangla fort. It appears that the art of brick-making was acquired from the Chinese prisoners of war who were captured during the Chinese invasion of the western frontier of Manipur. His son, Khunjaoba (1652-1666) improved on the fortification and beautification work of the Kangla fortress. It is this very king who excavated a moat (Thangapat in Manipuri) on the western side of the fort, whose authentic description was given by Mrs. Grimwood: "The whole palace was fortified. Five walls surrounded the Maharajah's enclosure... But the inner ones were very strong, built of brick and supplied with bastions, and they surrounded the inner palace on all four sides... The whole citadel was built with a view to resisting attack... it was a place which could easily be held against an attacking force, provided big guns were not brought to bear upon it."15 Another landmark in the growth of Kangla fortress was during the reign of Garib Niwaz who developed the royal citadel, most probably to defend against the Burmese invasion. Vijoy Panchali, which was written in Bengali by Kritichandra and two others during the reign of Bhagyachandra in 18th century, and were translated into modern Manipuri by Laishram Mangi Singh and Longjam Mani Singh,16 gives a literary account of the palace of Garib Niwaz, giving an idea of what was the royal grandeur of Kangla during the reign of this illustrious king which marks the climax of military and political power of Manipur. Kangla, the nucleus of the fort consisting the raja's palace, temple, houses of the noble, the British Residency etc. along with the market and the base villages then comprising the present capital area has been lucidly described by R.Brown: To be continue... #HistoryRead more
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