Bir Tikendrajit Singh was a great patriot and a prince from Manipur, a state in the north-eastern region of India, who laid down his life during India’s struggle for Independence. He was called the ‘Lion of Manipur’ as he fearlessly fought against the British.
Tikendrajit Singh was born as the fourth son to Maharaja Chandrakriti Singh and Chongtham Chanu Kouseswari Devi on December 29, 1856. Koireng, as he was popularly known as, loved freedom since his childhood. After the Maharaja’s death on May 20, 1886, the eldest son of the royal family Surchandra Singh ascended the throne of Manipur. The princes were appointed as heir-apparent, army general and police chief. Later on, Tikendrajit became ‘Senapati’, the general of Manipur army.
Tension began to develop gradually as some misunderstandings crept up among the princes and finally the royal family split up into two factions, one led by Tikendrajit himself and the other by Pakasana. The king remained unaware about the situation and chaos increased to a great extent. According to Tikendrajit, the king was in favour of Pakasana. He disliked the British attitude towards the local rulers as they expanded their empire by usurpation. So he thought of a plan and made efforts to protect the sovereignty of the state. He was also aware of the fact that the Britishers waited for an opportunity to change Manipur to a colony of their own.
On September 22, 1890, Tikendrajit along with two other princes Angousan and Jilangamba, revolted against Surchandra Singh and overthrew him. The monarch fled from the palace and took refuge in the residence of the British. Then Kullachandra ascended the throne and Tikendrajit became ‘Jubaraj’, the heir-apparent. This incident is known as ‘Palace Revolt’ in Manipur history.
Later, the former ruler Surchandra Singh, left for Calcutta but informed Tikendrajit that he was on his way to Vrindavan. After reaching Calcutta, he sent a petition to the Government for restoring his throne in Manipur. The matter was taken into consideration and British Viceroy of India Lord Landsdowne then took a decision to retain Kullachandra as the king but remove Tikendrajit from Manipur.
On March 22, 1891, Chief Commissioner J.W. Quinton reached Manipur with a troop of soldiers. A secret plan was arranged to arrest Tikendrajit but the secret got leaked and the plan failed. Grimwood, the political agent then asked the king to hand over Tikendrajit to him. King Kullachandra refused and so the British used force to arrest Tikendrajit.
Two days later, in the evening of March 24, the British troops attacked the residence of Tikendrajit in Palace Compound and killed many civilians, women and children who were watching a programme on Ras Lila. The Manipuri soldiers fought back and succeeded in their offensive struggle. Five British officers, Quinton and Grimwood among them, had to flee to seek shelter. Feelings of revenge arose among the people whose family and relatives had been killed and thus they executed all the five officers.
On March 31, the Anglo-Manipur War took place as the British Government announced war on Manipur. Three columns of the army, namely, Kohima commanded by Major General H. Collet, Silchar commanded by Colonel R. H. F. Rennick and Tamu commanded by Brigadier General T. Graham were sent to Manipur while the Manipuri army was led by Tikendrajit himself.
On April 27, the Kangla Palace was taken over by the British and Major Maxwell became the chief political agent. Later, Churachand Singh, a minor was given the throne as Manipur turned into a princely state, while Tikendrajit along with some other leaders went underground.
The British Indian Government constituted a special court formed under Lieutenant Colonel John Mitchell for the trials and the court commenced on May 11. Tikendrajit, Kullachandra and Thangal General were found guilty and were sentenced to death. Some efforts were made by Queen Victoria to save Tikendrajit but remained unsuccessful as the Governor General confirmed the death sentences of Tikendrajit and Thangal General. A protest movement was also launched but failed. Kullachandra, however, made an appeal to the Government and his sentence was thus converted into transportation of life.
On August 13, 1891, the order was announced and at 5 pm in the evening, both Tikendrajit and Thangal General were hanged before the general public at Polo Ground in Imphal. This place was later named as Bir Tikendrajit Park and to remember his heroic deeds, Manipur celebrates the day as Patriot’s Day.
Bir Tikendrajit was a true nationalist and he will always be remembered for his courage and patriotism.
[Published in the blog ‘North-East India’ on 12 January 2012]