The 1891 Battle of Khongjom was a defining moment in the history of Manipur which heralded the beginning of colonial rule in an independent kingdom which was once a minor regional power at the crossroads of South Asia and southeast Asia.
The Manipuris were a martial race and they are known and feared for their valour in battle. It was one of the fiercest battles fought in hand to hand combat in this part of the world. The British forces attacked from three sides and powerful legions were sent from Kohima, Tamu and Silchar. The hero of the battle was Major Paona Brajabashi whose name is being epitomised by the Manipuris for his bravery and patriotism even in ballads which came to beknown as Khongjom Parva.
It is said even the British were awed by his bravery and love for Manipur, his motherland. It was the spirit of independence and a race which refused to cow down to colonialism of any kind. There were several other heroes who fought in the Khongjom battle like Major Chongtham Mia, Chinglen Sana,Khumbong Major, Loitongba Jamadar, Keisa Jamadar, Heirang Kongja, and many more unknown soldiers who sacrificed their lives at this battlefield. Every year, on April 23, the whole state of Manipur pays homage to those great warriors at the Khongjom War Memorial Complex.
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The solemn memorial site stands at the very place where the warriors gracefully accepted the historic defeat. It stands there as a living symbol of the spirit of patriotism and heroism of Manipuris. The prominent figures who played a dominant role in the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891 against the British imperialists were hanged publicly at Pheidapung on August 13, which is now known as Bir Tikendrajit Park. Bir Tikendrajit, Thangal General, Pukhramba Kajao,and Chirai Thangal were hanged before the very eyes of the general public while many unknown soldiers laid down their lives gracefully in order to save the nation from colonisation by the mighty British imperial forces.
So far, the state has also been celebrating the life and sacrifice of these patriots and the unknown soldiers who gave their lives for the independence of Manipur. Perhaps unknown to many, the observation of Patriots Day was brought to state level first by Pan Manipuri Youth League in 1968 and taken over by the state government in 1972 when Md Alimuddin led Manipur People's Party (MPP) after Manipur attained statehood. While the ring leaders of the revolt against the British usurpers were hanged, some Manipuris, including Maharaj Kulachandra were exiled beyond the ocean at Kalapani, which is the infamous Cellular Jail located at Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Reports are still scarce as to how many Manipuri were exiled at Kalapani. Some reports suggest that 16 persons were exiled to the islands after Manipur was defeated in the Anglo-Manipur War while various sources indicate that altogether 23 people exiled at Kalapani at different batches and at different points of time. It has been reported that the first batch includes 15 Anglo-Manipur War Heroes (AMWHs) including Maharaj Kulachandra Singh followed by transportation of the remaining war heroes. Besides the list from the Manipur State Archives (MSA), another deported war hero named, Abungjao Yengkhoiba, was also reflected in the colonial proceedings of the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891 as well as in the list of first batch of AMWHs deported to Kalapani, but could not be traced in the later correspondence for release from Kalapana.
In addition to the AMWHs, a Manipur Prince 'Sana Chahi Ahum' alias Prince Narendrajit alias Prince Ranjit, son of Maharaja Chourjit Singh of Manipur (1803-13) was also transported to Kalapani in the year 1858 for leading the Sepoy Mutiny popularly known as the First War of Indian independence at Cachar, Barak Valley of Assam. Well, that is history. Today, we celebrate the brave hearts who laid down their lives for Manipur.