Tikendrajit Singh (1856–1891), who is popularly known as Koireng, was a prince of Manipur. This north-eastern state was a protectorate of the British at that time. Koireng was the commander of the Manipuri army. He engineered a palace revolt that led to the events known as the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891 or the Manipur Expedition.
Koireng was the fourth son of Maharaja Chandrakriti Singh and Chongtham Chanu Kouseswari Devi. He was born on December 29 in 1856. He loved freedom since his childhood. After the Maharaja’s death on May 20 in 1886, the eldest son of the royal family Surchandra Singh ascended the throne of Manipur. The other princes were appointed as heir-apparent, army generals and police officials. Later, Koireng became Senapati (General) of the Manipur army.
Split in the Royal Family
However, tensions developed in the family, which led to the split of the royal family into two factions, one led by Tikendrajit and the other by Pakasana.
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. Therefore, he chalked out a plan to protect the sovereignty of the state. He was aware that the British wanted to colonise Manipur.
On September 22 in 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 a British officer. Then Kullachandra ascended the throne and Tikendrajit became Jubaraj, the heir-apparent in what came to be called Palace Revolt.
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 British Government of India for restoring his throne in Manipur. The matter was taken into consideration and British Viceroy Lord Landsdowne decided to retain Kullachandra as the king. Tikendrajit was asked to leave Manipur.
On March 22 in 1891, Chief Commissioner J.W. Quinton reached Manipur with a troop of soldiers. A secret plan was arranged to arrest Tikendrajit but the plan failed as the information was leaked. 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.
Massacre During Ras Lila
Two days later, on 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 forcing five British officers, including Quinton and Grimwood, to flee. Feelings of revenge arose among the people whose families and relatives had been killed and thus they executed all the five officers.
On March 31, 1891, 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. 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. Tikendrajit along with some other leaders went underground.
Trial in the Special Court
The British Indian Government constituted a special court formed under Lieutenant Colonel John Mitchell for the trials. The court commenced on May 11. Tikendrajit, Kullachandra and Thangal General were found guilty and were sentenced to death. Efforts were made by Queen Victoria to save Tikendrajit but remained unsuccessful as the Governor-General had confirmed the death sentences of Tikendrajit and Thangal General. An agitation was launched, which failed. Kullachandra appealed to the Government, so his sentence was converted to transportation of life. He was sent to the Andaman Islands where he died as a prisoner in 1934.
On August 13 in 1891, an 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.
– The writer is a senior journalist and media consultant. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda