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Maharaja-In-Council Of Manipur For Customary And Religious Matters Of Its People

The kingdom of Manipur began to exist centuries before Christ, unlike the Kingdom of Great Britain, which came into being only from 449 A.D. when Teutonic wild Tribes, the Angles, the Jutes and Saxons from the sea coast of North Germany landed in the Island, then mainly occupied by its autochthon people, called Celts, later on came to be known as Britons, from which derived the name, Britain. The name, English had been derived from the name, Angles and the Kings of kit this powerful group of people that have been formed by amalgamating the above 3 Teutonic Tribes, have been the ruling dynasty, beginning from Alfred, the Great, youngest son of king, Bthelwulf. Alfred became the Englis King from 871 A.D. onwards and the English Kingdom began to flourish under his very able ruling like the Kingdom of Manipur flourished under the able ruling of king Pakhangba and his descendents that have been there from 33 to 1949 A.D.

In 1600 A.D. a British Trading Company under the name East India Company was set up and the English Queen; Elisabeth signed a Charter allowing the Company to undergo trading business in India and in the Far East. Accordingly, the Company landed in India in 1608 A.D., firstly at Surat, sea port and began their business by setting up factories and cloth mills etc. after getting permission for it from the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, son of Emperor Akbar, the great through their Ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe, sent by King James I who succeeded Queen Elizabeth in 1603 and became the King of Great Britain.

The British merchants expanded their business gradually and with their better diplomacy and superiority in arm power they soon became the overlords of the vast country of India, including all the Native States, with their HQ established at Chittagong. For getting military assistance for expansion of their power eastward of India, the British became an Ally of the Kingdom of Manipur under Maharaja Bheigyachandra (Joy Singh) and then with Gambhir Singh with Treaties signed on 4th September 1762 by their Chief at Chittagong, Mr. Harry Verelst and 18th April 1833 by F.J.Grant, Commissioner and G. Gordon, Adjutant on behalf of the Governor-General and Supreme Council of Hindustan. Due to wide discontentment of the “misrule” of the East India Company a rebellion known as “Sepoy Mutiny” of India broke out against them in 1857 and as a result of it the British Government brought the administration of the vast country of India and of all the Native States under the direct control of their Crown in 188 1858 A.D. The British India Government had good relationship with Manipur till 22 March 1891, till Mr. Frank Grimwood was their Political Agent in the State, who along with his brave and quite enterprising Mrs. Ethel took lot of interest in keeping up the good relationship with the Ruling King, Raja Surchandra Singh and his younger brothers Kulachandra, the Jubaraj Tikendrajit Singh, the Senapati and other brothers, who were the sons of Maharaja Chandrakirti Singh, the king of Manipur from 1850 to 1886 A.D and a trusted Ally of the British, The Political Agent, Mr.Grimwood and his worthy Mrs. Ethel had a very good relationship particularly with the very able prince, Senapati, Tikendrajit Singh.

Then most unfortunately, due to quarrels among the royal family which could not be controlled by the weak king, Surchandra as their eldest, particularly over the quarrel between his high-handed uterine brother, Pucca Sana and Jilla Singh. Pucca Sana managed to get Zilla Singh punished by his elder brother Raja Surchandra Singh by depriving him of his offices and place in the Palace Darbar. Highly enraged with the one sided and very partial action of the Maharaja, Zilla Singh took revenge by allying himself with the Senapati, Tikendrajit, who had already had a very hatred and hostile relationship with high-handed Pucca Sana, by resorting to a Palace “coup” which broke out by opening of threatening firings at 2 a.m. on the night of 20 September 1890. The weak and terrified Maharaja, instead of making an effort to put down the revolt, fled to the British Residency along with some 2000 of his armed men, and conveyed of his abdication of the throne to his younger brother, Jubaraj Kulachandra Singh, to the Political Agent, Mr. Grimwood who tried his best to pacify the terrified king but to no avail, and who on the fervent request of the fugitive king escorted him out of the State by a small column of British Force for reaching Brindaban for a pilgrimage and finally settling down there for leading an ascetic life. But most surprisingly, when he reached Calcutta via Silchar, Sylhet and Dacca, he applied to the Government of India for his reinstatement as the king of Manipur as he had left the State on misunderstanding between him and the British Political Agent, Mr. Grimwood. The British India Government under Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne, after thoroughly looking into the matter, rejected his claim so made against his earlier versions conveyed to the Political Agent, and recognized Jubaraj Kulachandra Singh as the Raja of Manipur but to send out Senapati Tikendrajit Singh, the trouble maker, from the State, for which Mr. James Wallace Quinton, ICS, the Chief Commissioner of Assam was sent along with a strong Force of 200 men of the Gurkha 44th Rifles under Captain Boileau and Lieutenant Lionel Wilhem Brackenbury, and another 200 men of the 42nd Gurkhas, commanded by Colonel Charles McDowell Skene, DSO, and one civil officer, William Henry Cossins, ICS, who arrived in Imphal from their HQ, Golaghat on 22nd March 1891 in the morning after a long and tedious by-road journey. The Chief Commissioner was received at Sekmai by Political Agent, Mr. Frank St.Clair Grimwood, ICS and Senapati Tikendrajit Singh along with Thangal General and a large number of armed men of the Manipuri Army with a Guard of Honor given and with great civility He was then met by Raja Kulachandra Singh at the gate of the British Residency with ceremonial receptions given from the king, who was at once informed that there would be a Darbar at the residency at 12 noon of the day in which the Raja and all of his younger brothers were to attend. The aim of Mr. Quinton for holding a Darbar immediately after his arrival was to make arrest of Senapati Tikendrajit Singh during the holding of it without any delay, but the clever prince, who got a smell of his arrest intended to be done, did not appear for the Darbar in the pretext of ill health. Since the secret plan of Mr. Quinton had failed on that day, he adopted to a surprise raid on the residence of the Senapati lying on the north of the Kangla Palace in the night of 23 March 1891.

In the attempt of the surprise attack of the British Force the Manipuri soldiers guarding the Senapati opened fire which mortally wounded Lt. Brackenbury, who succumbed to his injuries and killed some British soldiers. However, Captain Butcher and his column of 70 men had taken over the residence of the Senapati but he could not be found there. Then as retaliatory attack the Manipuri Army started heavy shelling on the British residency from their positions taken nearby the Palace outer mud-walls opposite the residency and also firing from the back side from the western direction. The situation of the British Force at the residency was becoming quite alarming due to running out of ammunition and shortage of fighting men power. So Mr. Quinton helplessly called for a cease-fire at last, who later on 24 March 1891 in the morning, went inside the Kangla Palace with Mr. Grimwood, Colonel Skene, Lt.Simpson and Mr.Cossins without any armed escort but only with a sepoy bugler, as was directed to do so by the Manipuri authorities, to hold a Darbar in the Kangla Palace Darbar Hall for a peaceful negotiation, which failed and so the five unarmed British officers came out of the Darbar Hall, at the outside of which there were already a large crowd of angry Manipuris assembled and awaiting to hear the outcome of the Darbar. The crowd when they saw the British officers freely coming out they turned into an uncontrollable “mob” shouting “kill them” and attacked them and killed firstly Mr. Grimwood by spearing him from the back by one Pukhrambam Kajao Singh. The 4 officers were however rescued but on the pressure of the crowd they were kept as iron chained prisoners inside the Darbar Hall and later on, the approval given by cruel General Thangal they were executed (beheaded one after another) by the Palace executioners and their blood were smeared on the mouths of the giant Kanglashas standing just at the entrance of the Darbar Hall.

The Manipuri mob were mainly of the highly aggrieved dear and near ones (parents etc.) of the women and children killed mercilessly during the betrayed and surprise attack launched on the Palace by the British columns.

The result of the murder of the five high ranking British officers was that the Government of India declared war on Manipur on 31 March 1891 and 3 very strong columns of their Army marched in to punish the rebellious people and their leaders – one from the north through Kohima under Major General H.Collet, the over-all Commander of all the columns, another from the west from Silchar, Cachar under Colonel R.H.F.Rennick, and the third, the strongest column from Tamu, Burma under Brigadier General T.Gramham, who left Tamu on 23 April 1891 morning and reached Pallel on 24 April 1891 in the morning faced the stiffest battle with the Manipuris led by gallant generals, Paona Brajabashi and others, on 25 April 1891 at Khongjom, some 17/18 miles from Imphal on the south.

They overcame the battle in which many gallant Manipuri soldiers and General Paona Brajabasi and others laid down their lives for the defense of their motherland, and they proceeded towards Kangla and reached there on the early morning of 27 April 1891. The column from the west under Colonel R.H.F.Rennick, who did not face much resistance, reached the Manipur Capital, Kangla first on the same morning of 27 April followed by the column from the north. Thus all the 3 British columns converged on the Capital and occupied the already deserted Palace in the morning of 27 April 1891 and they hoisted their flag, the Union Jack after pulling down the Royal Manipur’s Flag, and since then the Manipuris lost their “age-old independence” and came under the yoke of the powerful British rule, Kulachandra, Tikendra and two brothers, Thangal and the other leading personnel were arrested and they were tried by a special SBMxi Commission. Tikendra and Thangal were convicted of waging war against the Queen Emperor and abetment of the murder of the British officers, namely, the British Political Agent of Manipur, Mr. Frank Grimwood, Chief Commissioner of Assam, Mr.J.W. Quinton, Colonel Skene, Lieutenant Simpson and Mr.Cossins, and were sentenced to death and “hanged” at Imphal Polo Ground on 13 August 1891 evening in the presence of a big gathering of weeping crowd and loudly “wailing” female relatives of the two great heroes of Manipur, Tikendrajit Singh and General Thangal (Kangabam Chidananda Singh, 87 years old). Kulachandra Singh, his younger brother Jhalakirti Singh and others were sentenced to transportation for life and were sent to Jail in Andaman Nicobar islands. The State was declared confiscated in September 1891. The question as to whether the vanquished and confiscated Manipur should be annexed to the British India or not, was seriously debated in the British Parliament in London. As Lord Northbrook and some Members opposed the question, Queen Victoria issued a Royal Proclamation finally for the State to remain under a “Native Rule” with reduced powers i.e. under the supreme control of the British Government. A search for a new Raja (Chief) was therefore started in the right earnest. Since the British lost their confidence and spirit of friendship with the descendents of Maharaja Gambhir Singh, after the “Anglo-Manipuri war” had taken place, though he was earlier their confident Ally, they picked up, after weighing things nook and corner, one Churachand Singh of 8 years old, youngest son of Rajkumar Chaobiyaima, grandson of Rajah Nar Singh, younger cousin brother of Maharaja Gambhir Singh, who rendered very valuable services to the British in their war against the Burmese, and installed him as the minor king of Manipur (the 67th king of Pakhangba’s dynasty) on the 18th of September 1891 with a gun salute of 11 guns granted and groomed him to become a king quite faithful to the British sovereignty as Churachand did upto the end of his reign in November 1941. The minor king Churachand Singh was sent out of the State and educated at the princes’ Mayo College at Ajmer, Rajasthan (then Rajputana Province) along with his step brother, Rajkumar Dijendra Singh from 1895 to 1905 during the period of which Major Horatio St.John Maxwell, the Political Agent of Manipur administered the State as Superintendent. Major Maxwell, a very enterprising Engineer and who incidentally married the daughter of Maharaja Surchandra Singh, princess Sanatombi Devi, built a very neat and admirable looking new Palace of Manipur with a new Temple of Govindajee within its enclosure and other infrastructures at the then barren land lying in Wangkhei area known as “Guru Lampak” where Churachand Singh shifted after he became the full fledged king and took over the full charge of the administration of the State on attaining his age of majorship and lived quite luxuriously and aristocratically under the well protection and control of the British Government of India.

Under much restricted powers of the British Government Maharaja Churachand Singh brought lot of social reforms and improvements for the people of Manipur, particularly for the valley people, in education, in modern sports and games, in cultural and religious activities. Then in the year 1940, sometime in November/December, he left Manipur for Nabadwip, West Bengal where he rested undergoing treatment of a protracted illness, TB (Tuberculosis) in his royal enclave (Gopalkunja) established by him. However, he succumbed to the chronic illness and he “breathed his last” there on 5 November 1941 in the late evening. Before that he abdicated the throne of Manipur in favor of his eldest son, Jubaraj Bodhchandra Singh very rightly, in accordance with the “primogeniture Law” in force. Thus Juabaraj Bodhchandra Singh became the full fledged Ruler of Manipur from 30 September 1941 but his reign became a very short one as it abruptly ended on 15 October 1949, as was very rightly predicted by the Manipuri Puya saying that he was a “bubble king” i.e. he was a king who will rule very shortly, as the State was merged with the interim Dominion of India under a Merger Agreement signed under “duress” in Shillong on 2l September 1949. His short reign also underwent a period of “solacing days” from 10th May 1942 to 1945 prevailed from the great “woes” of the second world war taken place between the defending allied Forces under Lt.General William Joseph Slim of the British 14th Army and the invading Japanese Forces under Lt.General Renya Mutaguchi of the 15th Japanese Imperial Army. Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh was forced to sign the Manipur Merger Agreement despite his strong plea made saying that he was no more the “plenipotentiary of the State” since he had already handed over his independent political powers to a peoples1 Government formed by elected Members and he, by that time, remained only as a mere Constitutional Monarch under the provisions of the Manipur State Constitution already framed independently in 1947 when she regained her “age-old sovereignty” again.

Though Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh was “illegally” and quite “unconstitutionally” stripped off of his political powers he remained as the Supreme Head of the people of the State in the customary and religious matters, the “de jure”, the “de facto”, the “non-alienable and non-abolishable” royal powers and rights of which were exercised by him upto the end of his life through the service of a Customs Secretary appointed by him, namely, his former Darbar Member and Guardian Tutor, Shri Waikhom Chaoba Singh of Loklaobung.

Then Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh, greatly shocked by the “betrayal” and “ill-treatment” done to him by the then Congress Party of both the centre and the State renounced his worldly life in 1954 and led an ascetic (yogic) life and had spent his last days at his Ashrams at the premises of Thongam Mondum Shiva Mahadev’s Temple near Kakching Khunou, at GourNagar established by him at the foot of Baruni Hill and at Khallong on the top of it, and finally he “breathed his last” very peacefully at the simple thatched roof cottage temporarily constructed just adjacent to Govindajee’s Mandir on the northern side from an illness of coronary Thrombosis in the brain in the early cold morning of 9 December 1955.

He was succeeded by his son Okendrajit Singh, younger brother of Princess Tamphasana Devi who could not ascend the Manipur Throne she being a female. Maharaja Okendrajit Singh who succeeded his father at the age of 5 as a minor king also fully exercised the non-alienable and non-abolishable royal rights as the Supreme Head of the customary and religious matters of the people through the Customs Secretary, Shri Waikhom Chaoba Singh. Then after the sudden death of Maharaja Okendrajit Singh in the year 1977 his eldest son, Leishemba Sanajaoba succeeded him and ascended the “unabolished age-old deitic Throne of Manipur” and under the provisions of the “unabolished” Manipur Constitution of 1947 he is very much functioning presently as the “Maharaja-in-Council” with Members appointed by him and he had been carrying out as the Supreme Head of the Royal Council for Religious (indigenous Sanamahi cult) and other customary functions and ceremonies of the people of the State. The powers so exercised by him “undisturbingly” so far are fully protected by the Mandatory Provisions of the Articles II and VI of the Manipur Merger Agreement of 21 September 1949, which say – “His Highness the Maharaja of Manipur shall continue to enjoy…….the Authority over religious observances, customs, usages, rights and ceremonies and institutions in charge of the same in the State ……” and the “Dominion Government guaranties the Succession, according to law and custom, to the gaddi of the State and to His Highness’…”.

But most confusedly (lidli), as against the Mandatory Provisions that have been so thoughtfully and “trustworthily” kept by the Government of India, the Manipur State Assembly, had just recently, passed an “amendment Bill” empowering the so called “Govindajee’s Temple Board” to control “also” over the functioning of the age-old indigenous “Umang Lai Haraoba festivals and ceremonies of the people of the State” to the vehement “disapproval” of many sections of the people of the State, saying that the authority of the Govindajge’s Temple Board, which had been constituted only in the year 1967 is “confined only to the exercising” of powers over the day-to-day’s managements of the Govindajee’s Temple, and not even having the over-all powers of controlling over all the Hindu festivals and ceremonies of the Vaishnavite Hindu people of Manipur, and also even of the managements of the once Maharaja’s personal institutions, Mahabali Thakur and Kallmai Mandir which have been are running by private individuals, the descendents of the sevaites appointed by the Maharajas.

Therefore, bringing the age-old indigenous festivals and ceremonies of Umang Lai Haraoba etc., which are of very much different entities of their own, under the control of the Govindajeefs Temple Board would be tantamount to “seizing the powers and rights of others without legal authority”.

It will be therefore better, in the fitness of things, to withdraw the bill as early as possible as it will be violating definitely the Mandatory Provisions of the Manipur Merger Agreement, and also the Constitutional rights and safe-guards enshrined under articles 13 and 26, which makes the customary matters of the people to be beyond the ambit of the Legislative Laws and purviews, and which gives no power to anybody to interfere with the fundamental rights of the others1 religious freedom, respectively.

*The article is written by Damodar Waikhom.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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