Paona Brajabashi: Fearless Manipur General Who Led Fierce Battle against British in 1891
Many of you have heard about the 300 brave Spartans, who under the leadership of King Leonidas fought bravely in battlefield against thousands of Persians. A film was produced based on this historic battle titled 300. I have watched it. Many of you might have watched it too. But have you heard about the brave 300 Manipur army led by Paona Brajabashi who fought bravely in battlefield against the British in 1891? Historians describe this Anglo-Manipur Battle of Khongjom as one of the fiercest battles in the annals of Indian history. This was the last War of Independence of Manipur against the British.
There is another valorous instance from Indian History – of 300 Maratha army led by Bajiprabhu Deshpande who fought bravely in battlefield against a 12000 Adilshahi army led by Siddi Masood in 1660. Indian History is full of such heroic exploits. The only pity is that we, as the citizens of the country, hardly know about our brave warriors who gave a stiff resistance to Muslim rule and British supremacy. These brave warriors from east to the west, north to the south, hardly find a place in History textbooks.
When all of the 299 Manipuri soldiers were martyred in the battle of Khongjom in 1891, Paona Brajabashi singularly fought until he was caught by the British. Tribal weaponry used by the Manipuri warriors were no match to the advanced artillery used by the British. Paona Brajabashi was so skilled in the art of warfare that the British commander admired him. Here is a conversation between the British commander and Paona Brajabashi in the battlefield after he was caught.
British commander: We shall reward you with a big post if you join the British Army. And if you refuse, you will be executed.
Paona Brajabashi: Death is more welcome than treason.
Saying this, the brave Manipuri warrior took off his protective cloth wrapped as headgear and offered his head. “I refuse your offer. Behead me,” he said.
This is the saga of our brave freedom fighters, who fought until their last breath and embraced death rather than accept British supremacy. This is the historical chronicle that will inspire generations and will continue to inspire the sons and daughters of Bharat Mata till eternity.
Khongjom, the place where the last Anglo-Manipuri war took place is located on the Indo-Myanmar road in the district of Thoubal, 36 km from Imphal. At the foot of this hill, Paona Brajabashi and the brave Manipuri warriors fought against the British until their martyrdom. A War Memorial has been built on the top of Kheba hill in Khongjom. 23rd April is celebrated as Khongjom day every year in memory of the martyrs.
Not much information is available about Paona Brajabashi, except his role in the 1891 Battle of Khongjom. He was the Major general of the Manipur army.
The Burmese had annexed Manipur in 1819 until the war between the British and Burmese took place in 1824. The British won and the Treaty of Yandaboo was signed in 1826. It was because the British supremacy in Bengal was threatened that the British declared war against Burma. Thousands of Manipuri soldiers participated in this war, siding with the British against a promise that if won, their sovereignty won’t be questioned by the British. Except a few Manipuri territories, the sovereignty of Manipur was restored as promised. Due to internal conflicts between the princes of Manipur, the British grabbed an opportunity of cleverly interfering into the internal affairs in the name of ‘friendship relations’ and gradually establishing their supremacy by recruiting political agents in every region. The Manipuris revolted which resulted in the Anglo Manipuri war in 1891. It started on 31 March and ended on 27 April.
Maharajah Chandrakirti , the king of Manipur died in 1886. He was succeeded by Maharaja Surchandra, though there were eight princes including step brothers as contenders to the throne. Surchandra’s ineffectiveness in governance led to political instability in Manipur and the eight princes divided into two groups. Each prince wished to be the king. Crown prince Kulachandra and his younger brothers, backed by the support of Tikendrajit, the Senapati revolted against Maharajah Surchandra on September 21st 1890. Maharajah Surchandra lodged a complaint to Lord Landsdown, the then Viceroy of India, against his step brothers. He also complained against Senapati Tikendrajit.
Landsdown sent Mr. JW Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam with 400 Gorkha soldiers under Colonel Skene to capture Tikendrajit. They reached Imphal on the 22nd March 1891. They attacked Kangla, the palace of Manipur the next day. Many innocent civilians including women and children were killed in this attack by the British. The Manipuris retaliated, killing five British officers including Mr. JW Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam and wounded many.
On March 31, 1891 the British declared war against Manipur. They sent three huge forces of their army from three different directions. British troops that entered from the North were commandeered by Major General H. Collet, the west by Colonel RHF Rennick and the south by Brigadier General T. Graham.
The west front took possession of Kangla on 27th April 1891 despite resistance from the Manipuri warriors, so did the North. It was the south front led by Brigadier General T. Graham that witnessed the stiffest of resistance. And the battle in this south part of Manipur was fought at Khongjom. One of the Manipur army units fighting against this front was led by Paona Brajabashi.
Before the declaration of war by the British, Paona Brajabashi was posted as a Subedar in the Manipur army. The Maharajah promoted him and Chongtha Mia Singh to the post of majors. Following the orders of the Maharajah, Paona Brajabashi and Chongtha Mia proceeded to Pallel through Burma road with 300 soldiers. They reached Thoubal and made their camp on the Western Side of the Khongjom River. They took position in trenches on 22nd April. The south British front had occupied Pallel, Kakching and Langathel then and they camped at Langathel hill. Early morning on 23rd April, the British under Brigadier General T Graham fired guns from the top of the hill camp towards the Manipuri camps.
This was followed by the marching of the British army towards the base of the hill of Khongjom where the Manipuri forces under Paona Brajabashi and Chongtha Mia waited to attack. A fierce fight ensued between the two parties. The Manipuri warriors gave a stiff resistance until all of the Manipuri soldiers except Paona Brajabashi were martyred. Though heavily wounded, Paona continued to fight unabatedly and with renewed zest. His enthusiasm in the battlefield drew admiration from the British forces. At last the British were able to capture him. It was then that the aforementioned conversation took place between Brigadier General T. Graham and Paona Brajabashi. As the brave Manipuri warrior refused the offer, he was beheaded in the battlefield.
Manipur fell into British hands on 27th April. The British pulled down the native royal flag and hoisted the British Union’s Jack Flag. They appointed Churachand, a five year old as the King of Manipur and started direct rule. H.St Maxwll, the Political Agent, was appointed as the Superintendent of Manipur. On 13th August, the British hung Tikendrajit, the prince of Manipur and General Thangal to death in broad daylight.
Salute to Paona Brajabashi and the brave Manipuri warriors. Jai Hind!
Featured image courtesy: thenortheasttoday.com and E-Pao!