The Zeliangrongs in the valley of Manipur : A historical viewpoint

Dr Budha Kamei
Manipur, once an Asiatic kingdom is located at the extreme corner of Northeast India. With an area of 22,327 sq. Kms., Manipur of today is bounded by Nagaland in the north, by Myanmar (Burma) in the east and south, by Mizoram in the south-west and by Assam in the west. In the past, Kabaw valley was also a part of Manipur. A very charming hilly state, which had once separated Assam and Myanmar before the creation of present Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram out of Assam. Manipur had enjoyed the fortune and glory and experienced sorrow and vicissitudes of her long history. It had been witnessed the transformation from a primitive tribal state to an independent kingdom and later on from native state of British India to a state of the Indian union. The Meiteis in the valley and different ethnic groups at the surrounding hills occupy the state.
The Zeliangrongs are one of the natives of Manipur belonging to the Mongolian race of the Tibeto-Burman family.  Tradition says, the Zeliangrong ancestors originated from a cave locally known as Mahou Taobei, which is believed to be located somewhere near Makhel, Senapati District of Manipur.
They moved to Makhel and to Ramting Kabin, and then to Makuilongdi, a place where they had developed their social, political, religious and cultural life. From Makuilongdi, they migrated to different directions: the Rongmeis to the South; the Zemes to the West and the Liangmais to the North of Manipur.
The population of this ethnic group is found mainly in the Western hills of Manipur in present Tamenglong and Noney districts. These people are found scattered in the valley districts of Imphal East and Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur. The paper is an attempt to trace how and when the Zeliangrong people came down from the Western Hills and settled in the valley at differences places.
Materials and method
The study has adopted purely historical approach. The necessary data have been collected from available primary and secondary sources. Primary sources consist of Cheitharol Kumbaba, Ninthourol Lambuba, Ninghtourol Kumpaba etc. and secondary sources cover available published works.
The 18th century was a landmark epoch in the history of Zeliangrong people.
It was during this period, a large number of Zeliangrong warriors engaged in the famous Burma campaign of Garib Niwaz (1709-1748) and also in the war of liberation of Manipur from the Burmese occupation under the leadership of Bhagyachandra (1749-1798).
Thus, the Zeliangrongs were permitted to settle in the valley at different places like Langol Hills, Chingmeirong, Langthabal (at the present site of SBI, MU campus)  and Heibokching and started an era of friendship between the Meiteis and the Zeliangrongs. During the time of next successors like Gambhir Singh (1821), Chandrakriti Singh (1850-1886) and Churachand Singh (1891-1941) after the British occupation of the Kingdom witnessed the wave of the Zeliangrong settlement in the valley of Manipur.
But Zeliangrongs settlement started since the time of Khagemba (1597-1652) at Nongei in present Thoubal District, where a Kei, a royal granary was established by Khagemba and operated by the Zeliangrong people. A Zeliangrong village was there but now deserted for some historical factors.
Pamheiba popularly known as Garib Niwaz (1709-1748), the 50th Raja, ascended the throne of Manipur after his father (Charairongba) death, on the day of Wednesday, 23rdday of Thawan (August), 1709 at the age of twenty. The hill Chiefs were invited at the coronation ceremony. The official and ministers of his administration received the hill Chiefs, made friendship and intimacy with them.
The king entertained the hill Chiefs with good feast and wine. Garib Niwaz was often designated as Maharaja because he was the head of seven Pibas of Angom, Khuman, Moirang, Luwang, Khaba-Nganba, Chenglei and Ningthoujas.
Following the footsteps of his father Charairongba, Garib Niwaz also maintained friendly relations with the hill Chiefs. Some colonial writers mention that Garib Niwaz was a Hillman by birth because of his intimacy with the hill people.
1735, Maharaja Garib Niwaz issued a royal decree according to which village functionaries like Khullakpa, Khunbu, Luplakpa and Lambu were introduced; and he replaced the traditional village Chief by Khullakpa.
In fact, it is a policy to centralize his administration.
He tried his best possible means to put in force the new administrative system even in the remote villages of the hills and those who opposed it, were punished and invaded. As a part of punishment, he invaded at Zeliangrong villages of Tokpa (Mukten), Nungnang Taobi (Lungrang), Rangkhong (Rangkhum), Thinglon (Thiulon village in the west bank of Barak) and Charoi Chagotlong (Poulinglong) in 1748.
In his Charoi invasion, a Tamna, an insect of green colour was presented to the king by the village Chief as a token of love and respect. By the middle of 18th century, the writ of Manipur kingdom over several Zeliangrong villages like Noney, Rangkhong, Nungtek, Charoi Chagotlong and Haochong was established.
With a view to establish good relationship with the hill people, he visited at Noney and Noney Khullakpa was privileged to ride an elephant of the king. And on the day of Saturday, 18th day of Langban (September), 1746, he also gave permission to the three villages of Chingkhoupum and Luwanglon (Ganglon-Khullen and Khunou) to sell their commodities in the market of the state capital. It is suggested that the present Hao Macha Keithel near Majorkhul was the market place of that time. Chingkhoupum was untouched by the king.
Now, it is clear from the above historical facts that the then king of Manipur, Garib Niwaz tried his best to keep his hegemony over the small villages inhabiting mainly in the area of Chingkhoupum and Tongjei Maril and at the same time, he also attempted to maintain friendly relations with the Zeliangrongs with the objective of bringing unity to fight against the Burmese locally known as Awa/Ava.
In this regard, Gangmumei Kamei has rightly stated that Garib Niwaz invited the hill people, Tangkhuls and Zeliangrongs to join the Manipur army in his invasion of Burma.
Many of them went up to the Irrawaddy and survived to return home. Garib Niwaz allowed the Burma veterans among the Zeliangrongs to settle in the Manipur valley, Chingmeirong, Langol Hills and Langthabal and began an era of friendship between the Meiteis and the Zeliangrongs. According to Ningthourol Kumpaba, an unpublished text, it was in 1735 that the Zeliangrongs who returned from Burma campaign (Expedition to Myedoo in upper Burma) of King Garib Niwaz were allowed to settle at Langol Hills and Chingmeirong.
The Meitei Puyas has mentioned that the Zeliangrongs who had rendered help to the Meitei Kings in their war against the Burmese in 1734 were permitted to settle on the Chingmeirong and Langthabal Hills.
It was during the reign of Bhagyachandra also known as Chingthangkhomba from 1759-1762 and 1763-1798; a new chapter of friendship between the two communities was opened despite the religious orthodoxy of the Hindu Meiteis.
It is noted that this was the key achievement of the noble king Chingthangkhomba. Chingthangkhomba, this name of the king was popular among the hill people and womenfolk in the valley. Like his grandfather Garib Niwaz, Bhagyachandra also strictly followed the appeasement policy towards the Hills people; as a result, there was mutual understanding and co-operation with the hills people during his reign. It was during his reign, Alaungpaya of Konbaung dynasty, a powerful king of Burma  and his successors like Hsinbyushin invaded Manipur several times and defeated Manipur due to lack of unity among the ruling princes.
From 1758 to 1826 within this period of 68 years Manipur was overrun and dominated by the Burmese times without numbers.
Wayenbamcha Khellemba/Khenlei Nungnang Telheiba, maternal uncle of Chingthangkhomba, the Chief of Moirang (Khellemba was appointed as Chief of Moirang by Gourashyam (Moramba) in the year 1757) rebelled and seized the throne of Manipur.
So, the fugitive king Bhagyachandra took refuge in the land of Zeliangrongs and appealed to the Zeliangrong people to help in fighting against the Burmese. Then, he proceeded to Ahom (Tekhao) and exiled there from 1765-1768. 
Manipur was ruled by Khellemba as puppet king for three years under the protection of Burmese army. In 1768, Bhagyachandra returned home with the forces of Ahom king Rajeshwar Singh of the Tunkhungia dynasty (1765-1769). On the way back, at the Merap River there halted for sometimes and he raised a force and as he proceeded, almost all the people of the country welcomed him as their king that time the Burmese army left Manipur on hearing the arrival of the Ahom forces.
Meitei Ningthourol states that Bhagyachandra by disguising as Hao who alone came back from Ahom and organized all the Khullakpas of Zeliangrong villages inhabiting near the Tongjei Maril road (narrow tube like road) to help him when he returned with the forces of Ahom to liberate his motherland from the Burmese forces. Later, Khellemba was murdered brutally by the emissaries of Bhagyachandra at the Lousee Lake.
Even today, there are relics left by Bhagyachandra in the Zeliangrong villages at Awangkhul (Longchum), there is a stone slab with Hanuman image along with ineligible inscription, Nungnang (Lungrang)- there are stone bounders where he spent his days, and at Khebuching (Puching)–he performed the Khousaba, spear fighting and vowed to liberate his motherland.
He left his weapons at Akhui which were presented by the Akhui people to the Maharaja Churachand Singh in the twentieth century. He and many royal princes spent times at Wairangba and Tamenglong village. Construction of Tekhao road which is connected with Ahom (Assam) is an evidence of friendship and co-operation between the Meiteis and Zeliangrongs because the said road runs through the Zeliangrong land without any hindrance from the side of the later. (To be contd)