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Know about the freedom-fighters from North-East: Thang-Ta expert Paona Brajabasi

Like many other things, we have very little knowledge about the freedom movement at North-East and the great freedom-fighters who were in this beautiful area. We must know about them. In this article, let us know about Paona Brajabasi, a great general of Manipur, who fought against the British against insumountable odds.

Even after more than 70 years of independence of India, there is ignorance among most of the Indians about the north-easter part of the country. Difficulty in communication is the main reason behind the artificial mental distance of majority of the Indians with the people of north-eastern states. We don't know about the colourful and simple people of these states, their life-style, different tribes and their custom, their food-habits, their hunting traditon, etc. We are unfortunate that we don't try to explore the lush green beauty of the north-east. We generally are not interested to visit the forests and historical places located in these states.

India wrested freedom from the British rulers due to the sacrifice of thousands of freedom-fighters all over the country. Like every other part of the country, the freedom-fighters from north-eastern states also sacrificed their lives and suffered atrocities in the hands of tyrannical British rulers. But very few of us know about the sacrifice of the freedom-fighters from north-east. In the present article, we will learn about the unparalled courage of Paona Brajabasi, a great warrior of Manipur, who consciously chose death over treason at the great Battle of Khongjom in April, 1891.

Early life

Unfortunately we don't get much information about this great soldier's early life. We know that he was a general of the kingdom of Manipur. He was born in 1883 (or 1834) and was an influential courtier in the court of Surachandra Singh and later in the court of Kulachandra Singh. He was a great exponent of Thang-Ta, the traditional Manipuri kung-fu, and learnt some other forms of martial art prevalent at that time. He was an ally of Veer Tikendrajit Singh and Thangal General. He was instrumental (along with Tikendrajit and Thangal General) to dethrone Surachandra Singh and ascending to throne by his brother Kulachandra Singh.

Background of British-Manipur dispute

The dispute between the British and Manipur kingdom started in 1823 during the reign of Gambhir Singh. Without going into the details we must say that the British created a dispute among Manipuri kingdom, Burmese kingdom and themselves. They were trying to end the independent Manipuri kingdom by various direct and indirect means.

The problem escalated in 1886 when Maharaja Chandrakirti of Manipur died. His son Surachandra Singh ascended the throne. He was incompetent. There was a palace revolt against him, and Yuvraj Veer Tikendrajit Singh, Thangal General and Paona Brajabasi helped Kulachandra Singh, brother of Surachandra Singh to ascend the throne of Manipur. Surachandra left Manipur and complained against his brother to the British Viceroy.

On 22nd March, 1891, Mr. Quinton, the then Chief Commissioner of Assam, reached Imphal with 400 British Army personnel to arrest Veer Tikendrajit. Fighting started. However, in the evening British declared a ceasefire and a darbur was held. The darbur was remained inclocusive. Manpuris were angry with the British and they killed five British officials including Mr. Quinton. However, the Manipuris didn't do any harm to Indian soldiers and allowed them to leave Manipur.

The Battle of Khongjom

Knowing the serious situation, three very powerful British Army columns were sent from Silchar, Kohima and Tamu. Manipuris also got united under Veer Tikendrajit, Thangal General and Paona Brajabasi. Manipuris living both in the hills and in the plain fought the war united. To resist the advancing British column from Tamu, 700 Manipuris were sent to Thoubal under the joint command of Wangkheirakapa and Yenkhoiba Major. Major Paona Brajabasi and Major Chongtha Mia Singh were sent to oppose Tamu column with 400 Manipuri soldiers.

While Manipuris at Thoubal built up a strong stockage, Majors Brajabasi and Chongtha Mia Singh proceeded towards Palel by Burma Road. When they saw British troops in the vicinity, they changed the original plan and a mud fort was quickly constructed on the banks of Khongjom river. On the previous day of the battle, the reconnoissance party of the British was fired by the Manipuris.

These Manipuri soldiers were only carrying small arms, so the force commanders (Majors Brajabasi and Singh) sent an urgent request to the Manipuris stationed at Thoubal for supply of pounders of high calibres. But British force blocked the reinforcement route successfully.

On 23rd April, 1891, Captain Drury with 50 Gurkha Rifles, Lt. Grant with 50 Madras Infantry and Lt. Cox of with 35 Mounted Infantry attacked the Manipuris at Khongjom carrying only small arms. Manipuris never gave an inch without fighting. The British ultimately won but with terrible loss of men and materials.
Paona Brajabasi impressed even the British with his spirited leadership, gallantry and martial art techniques. When an officer of the British Army asked him to switch side considering the imminent defeat, Paona replied:"Death is more welcome than treason." He died in the battlefield like a true patriot and soldier.

Final words

Every Manipuri remembers the Battle of Khongjom with immense pride. After this decisive battle, British forces captured Yuvraj Tikendrajit and Thangal General. They were hanged to death on 13th August, 1891.

Every year on 23rd Apil (Khongjom Day), the Manipuris remember Paona Brajabasi and other Manipuri soldiers who were martyred in the Battle of Khongjom to protect the honour of 'Kangla Sha' (the symbol of Meitei kingdom). 13th of August is observed as Patriots Day in the state to remember all Manipuris who fought to protect their independence against the British.


Author: Umesh30 Jan 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 3

The author's deep study on the subject, as well as the clear and explicit narration, is praiseworthy.

It is really unfortunate that we do not know many of our heroes who fought with Britishers with the real nationalist zeal.

Another point which this article has brought out is the sad part that we are not at all connected physically or mentally to some of the areas in our country which in fact defies our claim of unity and coexistence.

Author: Partha K.30 Jan 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

Thanks to Mr. Umesh for reading the article on legendary Manipuri freedom fighter Paona Brajabasi. Actually, I have planned to write some articles on the freedom fighters of the north-eastern part of the country, about whom we know very little. This article is the second of this series, the first one being my article on Rani Gaidinliu. I request the members to go through those articles also.

A remarkable feature of these freedom-fighters of north-east is that almost all of them firmly believed and followed the principle/concept of armed struggle against the British imperialism. Only Trilochan Pokhrel (the Gandhi of Sikkim) is an exception. Pokhrel believed in the non-violent way of struggle against the British.

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