Maharaja Gambhir Singh
Dr Budha Kamei
Contd from previous issue
Govind Chandra requested Chourjit Singh and Gambhir Singh for military assistance on the promise that they would be granted lands for habitation. When the invading Manipuri armies heard about this, they refused to fight and retreated. Later on, the two Manipuri princes established themselves in Cachar. Govind Chandra fled to Sylhet and sought the British help which was declined. In 1819, a large Burmese army under General Maha Bandula invaded Manipur. It was a time of growing Burmese power under Bagidaw. Marjit Singh was defeated and fled to Cachar, where he surrendered to the authority of Manipur. Chourajit Singh forgave his brother and distributed the confiscated lands; he ruled Sonaimukh, Marjit Singh ruled Hailakandi and Gambhir Singh ruled the rest of Cachar.
By June, 1823, the Burmese had more become aggressive that they re-conquered Assam. Burma had completely controlled Assam. Manipur was under her suzerainty. In Cachar, Marjit Singh and Gambhir Singh were united against Chourajit Singh, who went to Sylhet in British India. The political condition created the north eastern frontier to a military conflict between Burma and the British. The British were in search of an ally from amongst the Manipuri princes who could help them to drive away the Burmese; Gambhir was more assertive. Lord Amherst, the Governor General of India regarded Gambhir Singh as a usurper of Cachar kingdom; but he was inclined to agree the proposal of David Scott to take the help of Gambhir Singh in the eventual liberation of Manipur from the Burmese rule.
On 15th January, 1824, the Burmese forces invaded Cachar from 3 (three) sides, first column from Nowgong, second column from Jaintia and the third column from Manipur. The British fought back against the Burmese force. The Burmese first invasion failed. And from the British point of view, Cachar was liberated from Burma. On 5th March, 1824, the first Anglo-Burmese war was declared and hostilities between Burma and British existed. David Scott had well knowledge of the three Manipuri princes and his proposal was approved by the Governor General that Gambhir Singh be chosen as the ally of the British to drive away the Burmese from Manipur. In April, 1824, David Scott persuaded Gambhir Singh to have an understanding tantamount to a sort of alliance. Gambhir Singh was not a formerly declared king. But David Scott was impressed by the intelligence, military skill and patriotism. Gambhir Singh proceeded to Badarpur, where he had a serious consultation with Davis Scott and ultimately he joined the British detachment.
On 20th April, 1824, Gambhir Singh was informed that Manipur would be given to him if he could conquer Manipur from Burmese forces. Gambhir Singh was to build up a military force of 500 Manipuri soldiers. The Levy was to be equipped, paid and disciplined by the British officers but it was under the command of Gambhir Singh himself. It was named as Raja Gambhir Singh Levy. He was given the title of Raja. Nar Singh and Gambhir became the partners in the fight against Burma.
By October, 1824, all the Burmese were cleared of Cachar. They concentrated in Manipur and Kabaw Valley. The British appointed in January, 1825, Brigadier Suldham to lead the invasion of Manipur and upper Burma. On reaching Baskandi on 24th February, 1825, Suldham realized the impracticability of building the road to Manipur. After the withdrawal of Suldham’s army, Gambhir Singh proposed to liberate Manipur with his Levy of 500 soldiers. Permission was granted to the Levy to march to Manipur. Lt. RB Pemberton of the Native Light Infantry volunteered to accompany the Levy as he was interested in the survey operation to obtain precise information regarding the different passes, the resources and the strength of the Burmese forces.
Gambhir Singh and Lt. Pemberton, accompanied by Nar Singh left Sylhet on 17th May, 1825 on their march toward Manipur. They reached Baskandi and proceeded through the Western Hills of Manipur through the Akhui route. The force advanced through constant rain as it was monsoon season and suffered all sorts of hardships without the slightest complaint.
They were patriotic soldiers determined to liberate their motherland. They were inspired and spirited soldiers under the inspiring leadership of Gambhir Singh. On 10th June, 1825, the Levy appeared on the western edge of Manipur Valley and they encountered the Burmese forces at Maklang, a small village, 12 miles to the west of the capital. After a hard battle with the Burmese forces stationed at the Manipur palace, Gambhir Singh gained victory and the Burmese fled.
On 11th June, the Burmese had evacuated the capital and halted at Andro. Gambhir Singh proceeded to Andro; but on the way it was learnt that the Burmese had deserted Andro and left Manipur. Gambhir Singh after the occupation of the capital formally ascended the throne of Manipur.
Maharaja Gambhir Singh liberated his ancestral kingdom from the genocide rule of the Burmese.
RK Jhalajit Singh wrote, “Gambhir Singh owed his throne greatly to his own effort.” His immediate task was the restoration of Manipur to her glorious past and the reconstruction of his devastated country. His political wisdom, his gallantry and his undaunted patriotism had won for him good will of all concerned including social support of his countrymen. He was socially and politically supported by the courageous and popular Senapati Nar Singh. Gambhir Singh died on the 9th day of January, 1834.