The Burmese View of “Seven-year Devastation” of Manipur
By: Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh – April 19 2012
Though we can not always trust historians who often tend to manipulate, we can not do without them. For example: historians who study the life of Jesus draw a wide range of conclusions. While religious historians will write about Jesus as real historical figure, non-religious writers will go at lengths to prove that Jesus was a fictional figure as they will about Krishna.
As I hardly know anything about Manipur’s “Chahi Taret Khundakpa”- “Seven-year Devastation” (1819-1825), I continue to swim over the shallow tides of that part of Manipur’s history. I believe, ‘Ningthourol Lambuba’ has a record of this but the text is unavailable for general reading.
The chance to read an old record of this bit of history came when my wife, my son and I went on a holiday to Burma (Myanmar) in March 2012.
In Rangoon (Yangon), a city like Mumbai, I found one book: ‘History of Burma from the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824’ by G E Harvey (London, 1925). The book is based on a mass of original sources – Burmese inscriptions and chronicles, together with English, Dutch, and Portuguese sources and translated Chinese chronicles.
The seven-year devastation was a long awaited revenge by the Burmese for what the Manipuris did to them over the years. It only came to an end when the British East India Company defeated the Burmese and the Treaty of Yandebo was signed on February 24 1826, between General Archibald Campbell and the Governor of Lagaing, Maha M H K Htin.
To authenticate that my essay is not a concoction I will quote GE Harvey directly, as he would not have had any interest in fabricating Manipuri history.
Before that I will dwell a bit on the Burmese who were known at that time of history, as Ava (Innwa), who the Meiteis called Awa (corrupted by Hindus and Malays).The Europeans called them Ava. The Burmese called the Manipuris as Kathe or (corrupted) Cassey.
The Burmese civilisation was a long way ahead of the Manipuri’s. They are Mongolian, yet, their traditions refer to India. Even their folklore is largely Hindu with Hindu gods. Hindu immigrants came to upper Burma through Assam while in lower Burma they came by sea from Madras.
Their Hinduism began to include Buddhist elements after 261 BCE, when Asoka conquered Kalinga and introduced Buddhism into south India. It spread from there to lower Burma and over a long period of time to upper Burma. That was how the
Burmese began to use Tamil alphabet in the 5th century after Christ.
Ava was also the ancient capital of the dominant Ava kingdom that ruled Burma from 1364-1557. It is situated on the south bank of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River, as it bends east from Mandalay, which is situated on the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy River.
According to British ethnologists who invented all kinds of ethnic migration theories, the name Burma was derived from the majority ethnic group called Bamar (Burmans) who came down with the horse-riding Nanzhao invasions from the present-day Yunnan. Nanzhaos left but the Burmans stayed and founded a small city of Pagan (now Bagan with the ruins of two thousand pagodas and temples) in the central Irrawady valley, c.849 (9th century). They established an empire and their common language became Burmese. It is now the lingua franca of Myanmar.
By 1281, the 250-year-old Pagan Empire was destroyed by the invading Mongols of Kublai Khan. The Mongols left but the Shans who came with the Mongols did not. They established
many separate Shan states in the entire northwest through central to eastern Burma until 1556.
In 1364, the most powerful Shan kingdom of Mogaung (in the present-day Kachin state) sacked the Shan kingdom of Sagaing, just 20 km south west of Mandalay on the Indian border. During the devastatation and in the same year a Sagaing prince Thadominbya emerged and founded the Second Ava kingdom. The Ava kingdom became synonymous with the central and northern Burma.
“In 1557 the Ava king Bayinnaung (1551-1581), conquered Manipur. Later, Ava King Bodawpaya acquired Arakan in 1785, Manipur in 1814, and the Ahom Shan kingdom of Assam along the Khasi hill district in 1817.” (GE Harvey pp165, 283)
There is nothing left at the old capital site of Ava except for a 200-year old teak Okkyaung monastery (built in 1818). It is a little village now; to reach there, we travelled by boat down the Irrawady from the Mandalay waterfront to Minguine for an hour.
There, on the bank of the Irrawady, an open and very welcome 4- star restaurant with chilled beer, among the leafy trees, awaited the visitors in the hot Burmese Sun.
After lunch we travelled by horse carts along a very bumpy village road for an hour to the village of Ava
The ruins of Ava are similar to Yandebo – a pottery village by the Irrawady River, where the Treaty of Yandebo was signed under a tree, between the Court of Ava and Sir Archibald Campbell. You can reach the village by boat down the stream from Mandalay. It is 80 km (50 mi) from Ava.
Under the treaty, the Court of Ava agreed to cease interference in the affairs of Jaintia, Cachar, and Assam and to cede to the British their provinces of Arakan and the Tenasserim, and that the Burmese government recognise the “independence of
Manipur.” They had to pay the British a large indemnity in gold and silver. For the Burmese it was the very beginning of the end of their independence.
GE Harvey wrote: “Manipur though tributary to Burma under Bayinnaung 1551-81 had gone her way since his time. In 1647 and 1692 the raja [Manipur] had raided.
Thaungdut on the Chindwin River, but these were only ordinary forays. On the other hand, in 1704 he [raja of Manipur] presented a daughter. But under Gharib Newaz 1714-54 Manipur became a thorn in the side of Upper Burma.
The country was famous for its ponies, and in those days, every man, however humble, possessed two or three. Polo played forty aside, was universal, and made them expert horsemen. They started in 1724 by saying they would present another girl to provide company for the one presented in 1704. But when three hundred lords, ladies and attendants from the Ava Court came to escort her at the mouth of Yu river in the upper Chindwin district [not far from Tammu] they were met not by a tame princess by wild horsemen who carried them all away captive into Manipur.
The Burmese sent an expedition in revenge, but it was ambushed in the swamps near Heirok, southeast of Thoubal, and losing heavily retreated in haste.
In 1735 the Manipuris came to Myedo in Shwebo district [north of Mandalay] and carried off loot, cattle, and a thousand people, mainly descendents of De Brito’s Indians Muslim war captives.
In 1737 they killed two thirds of a royal levy sent to oppose them, including the Commander, who was drunk, and swept down to Tabayin in Shwebo district, burning everything they met.
In 1738 when the king garrisoned these two places and Minguine in the upper Chindwin district, against them, they simply cantered past, camped at the Thalunbyu west of Sagaing [south of Minguin], burnt every house and monastery up to the walls of Ava, stormed the stockade built to protect the Kaunghmudaw pagoda [at Sagaing].
They slaughtered the garrison like cattle in a pen and killed the commandant, a minister of the Hluttaw Council; the old door-leaves of the pagoda’s eastern gateway show a gash made by the sword of Gharib Newas when he was forcing an entrance.
One reason why the Manipuris raided Burma was that they had just been converted to Hinduism by preachers who said that if they bathed in the Irrawaddy River at Sagaing all blessedness would attend them. Indeed. Their chief Brahman insisted on coming to Ava himself in 1744 in order to convert the Golden Palace, but he fell ill and died after staying a month, and his suite of lesser Brahmins then returned home.
The Manipuris raided again in 1740 but in 1741 they sent an envoy with a jacket for the raja’s [Manipuri] kinswoman who had been presented to the Ava harem in 1704;
he also brought complimentary presents for the king, whose orders were that his presents should be sent in at once and then he [envoy] should be kept waiting for a month before being granted an audience or seeing the princess.
In 1749 Gharib Newaz came on his last raid, thinking “if there is an opportunity to fight, I will fight; and if there is not I will present a daughter.” On reaching Ava he found the Burmese forces so numerous that they stretched from Shweketyet [in
Ava] to Londawpauk (in Arakan, west of Ava]; moreover, during the night his standard was blown down, a terrible potent; always celebrated for his royal wisdom, he now perceived that this was not an occasion to fight, and instead he presented his twelve year-old daughter who accompanied him.”
The writer is based in the UK