TODAY -

Thang Ta: A journey
(Through the history of Kangleipak)
from an ancient combat art to a popular modern sport
- Part 4 -

By Dr. HanjabamCha Barun *



Section: C

(C.1) The Interaction The west & north- west Kingdoms - Tripura, Assam etc.:

As with the Burmese, various kingdoms on the west, north (northwest) also exercised much influence over the Meetei Kingdom, & her tradition (including Martial art). There are many non- Meeteilon terms of various Thang Ta movements & steps (like Kalak, Yalak, Shut etc). There were records of immigration of Takhels (from Tripura) during the reign of King Meitingu Moiramba (1278-1302), Meitingu Thangbi Lanthaba (1302-1324) & Meitingu Tonaba (1355-1359), who were settled at Takhel village, at the foothills of the Nongmaijing hills (Imphal East district).

In 1533, the Meetei King Meitingu Kabomba (1524-1542) defeated the Tripuris, & brought many Tripuri prisoners of war, also by Meitingu Khagemba (1597-1652) who brought about 200? Takhel war captives around 1633-34. The Meetei King Meitingu Pamheiba (1709-1748) invaded Tripura in 1734, & brought about 1100? captives, hence he was also known by the name Takhel Ngamba (Takhel~Tripura; Ngamba~conqueror /victor). These people were gradually absorbed into the Meetei Community, along with their traditions.

The first? encounter between the people of Cachar & Kangleipak probably happened during the reign of Meitingu Kongyamba (1324-1335), when the great King defeated & drove away the attacking Cachar people who have come from the Imphal Tamenglong road (Tongjei Maril), & constructed a fort at Hinglen Ching (a hill, 18kms north of Imphal).Certain interaction has already been discussed above in various sections.

Some scholars believe that the Meetei king Meitingu Khongtekcha (763-773) must have exchanged many captives due to its frequent military confrontation with north Bengal.

(C.2) The Interaction The west & north- west Kingdoms - The Muslims:

The major interaction between Meetei & Muslim (Mughals the Mughal Empire, India, 1526-1857? & their fighting system) took place in 1606, when Prince Sanongba (one of the younger brothers of King Meitingu Khagemba) rose in rebellion with his army in Cachar, which included many Muslims soldiers from the Bengal province of Mughal Empire (Jahangir was the then Mughal Emperor; the 4th Mugal Emperor of India, 1605-1627), {also from the Muslims who got settled in Cachar during & after the invasion of Cachari Kingdom {during the reign of king Yasonarayan, 1583-?1613?, who fought gallantly at Patharkandi/Karimganj, but lost, & hence, also all the territories to the west of the plains of Cachar} by the Subahdar/governor of Bengal & Dhaka cum army general of Mughal Empire in Bengal, Islam Khan (1608-1613, the title name awarded by Jahangir to his original name of Sheikh Alauddin Chisti)

{However as per some other source Mughal army under Islam khan was defeated ? by Cachari king Indra Ballabh Narayan? near Sylhet in early 17th century & hence, was adorned with the title Shatrudomon?}.

The great Meitingu Khagemba & his brave army defeated him (the prince) & brought many Muslims prisoners (~>1000) of war, who subsequently were assimilated into the community. Earlier also, many Muslims war captives from Tekhao (Assam) were settled at Mayang Imphal (in Imphal west district) during the reign of King Thingkhonba of Khuman Clan.

The Mughal Prince Shah Shuja (The 2nd son of Shah Jahan, the 5th Mughal Emperor of India, 1627-1658?) is said to have fled (through Tripura,) to Kangleipak {hiding & taking shelter in Ukhrul hill?; & Shujalok at Heimgang (Kairang), in Imphal East, where he died ultimately around~1691?} after he was defeated & pursued by Mughal army under Mir Jumla {1660-1663, Mir Muhammad Saeed Ardestabi, Iranian by birth, was appointed as Mughal Governor, of Bengal by Aurangzed, after his operation against Shah Shuja, forcing him to leave Bengal & Mughal India} as wanted by his brother Aurangzeb, 1658-1707, then Mughal Emperor.

{After being defeated repeatedly by his borthers, all fighting for the throne first by Dara Shikoh's army in the battle of Bahadurpur (~1658?, U.P.), then by Aurangzeb's army at Khajwa (~1658?, U.P.); & ultimately by Aurangzeb's army under Mir Jumla in Bengal ~1660?, he left Bengal & took shelter in Arakan (in Myanmar). However, due to a quarrel between him & the king of Arakan, Sanda Thudhamma (1652-1684), he is believed to have escaped to Tripura & finally fled to Kangleipak as mentioned above, while other believe that he might have been tortured to death by the Arakan king around 1660?}.

Also during the reign of Meitingu Paikhomba (1666-1697, around 1678?), it's said that two Mughal Princes (or Makak princes- as Mughals were came to be known as Makak-mayum) - Sunarful {some source states that Sunarphul, from the word Shuna-i-pil, meaning 'officer-in-charge of elephants', was referred to Shah Shuja?, as he came to Kangleipak accompanied by guards & elephants given by the Tripura king, Chhatra Manikya/Nakhshatra Rai (1661?-1666?) around 1661? during the reign of Meitei king Meitingu Khunjaoba (1652-1666), also it was around 1679? that he returned to Kangleipak valley from his early hiding in Ukhrul} & Lakhiayrful, accompanied by saint Fulleicha Shantullah Shaikh, & traveller Millia Shaikh, with their slaves & attendants (~37) arrived on elephants in Kangleipak form Mughalpur (Makak).

These two Princes became the ancestral founders of Makakmayum {Sunarful- makakmayum Angouba, Lakhiaful- Makakmayum Amuba; according to the type of flowers they brought}.The Mangol Shanglen was converted? into Mughal Shanglen for them by the Meitei King.

[Meetei Muslims are called Pangals, derived from the word 'Bengal', as they came from Bengal (mainly as war captives). However, some actively argue that the word Pangal was derived from 'Pang tribes' (or Tai group: said to have come from northern & eastern sides of kingdom of Kangleipak)' who were the first to be converted into Islam.

Present day Meetei Pangals are considered by some to be descendants of various groups like- Pang tribes, Pashas (the Panshi in China, Panthay in Burma- the mongoloid Muslims coming from China, & upper Burma- through ancient silk route through Manipur: Manipur-Yunnan, China - it may be noted that many other learned strongly argue the silk route never included Manipur, even Indian mainland was never part of China-Europe silk route); the Bengalis, Mughal soldiers, Low caste Hindu converts etc.

It is said that earlier Muslim preacher like Hamza Ibn 'Abdul-Muttalib (568?-625), paternal uncle & foster brother of Prophet Muhammad (570?-632), also martially skilled (excellence in wrestling, swordsmanship, archery - he is said to have defeated then King of Bengal & King of Rosang in the south of Chattagram in Bengal, converting them to Islam) came to Kangleipak, as per some Meetei pangal scholars, during the reign of Meitingu Naophangba ?(428-518) & met the Meetei Scholar, Ashangba Laiba, & preached briefly here, living among the Pang tribes {The title 'Aribam' was conferred by the Meetei King (Meitingu Naophangba) to Muslims of that periods}. He was on his way to China, as per the saying of the Prophet 'Seek knowledge even unto China'.

During the reign of Meitingu Irengba (984-1074), two Pashas & one Pangal Village were recorded to have flourished in the ancient text, Ningthourel Lambuba.]

(C.3) The Interaction The west & north- west Kingdoms The influence:

We have already seen the influence of Hinduism & Vaishnavism. The first recorded entry of Hindu Brahmins (about 18) into Kangleipak was during the reign of Meitingu Kiyamba (1467-1508), & it was during the reign of Meitingu Pamheiba (1709-1748) that Hindu missionaries started immigrating in large numbers.

The Hindu immigrants, when they saw the Meetei race with their highest martial skills, the extra ordinary valor & courage, the life of honor & justice; starting linking them with one of their greatest hero, Arjuna {the 3rd of the five Pandavas of Mahabharata, all skilled martial artists, belonged to the Hindu warrior caste, Kshatriya- the Kshatriyas were excellent in various ancient Indian martial & combat arts: unarmed arts like Nara, Hsiang ch'a hsiang p'u, the Chinese name of ancient Indian martial art, Vajramushti etc; weapon arts like Shastra Vidya (like Kalaripayat), Dhanurvidya (in which Arjuna was the best) etc.}. Manipur was the place where the Pandava (Arjuna) faced defeat (according to the Aswamedha Parva of Mahabharata).

[After the Mahabharata war, Arjuna went to Manipur with the horse intended for Aswamedha. There he met Manipuri King Babhruvahana {who himself was the son of Arjuna & Chitrangada, the princess of Manipur, the only daughter of the King Chitrabahana, born during his (Arjuna's) exile in Manipur. But in accordance to the matrilineal customs of her people, Arjuna was not allowed to take away her & any of her children, as they were heir to Manipur, as a successor of her father, the King of Manipur.} on the way, & got into quarrel (they didn't know each other), & ultimately in the fight, Arjuna was killed by the Manipuri King Babhruvahana {Arjuna was later restored to life using a gem given by his (Babhruvahana) stepmother, Uloopi, the Naga princess- the name Manipur or the land of gems for the kingdom.}.

But the point to be noted is the Manipur of the Mahabharata is believed to be located somewhere in the Indian State of Orissa (near the eastern sea coast?, as concluded by many scholars, & not the present Manipur State of India) . The name Manipur itself was known to neighbors or outsiders ~ after 2nd half of the 18th century AD for the Kingdom, the Kangleipak (which was the name much before 2000BC?, as proposed by some scholars, around ~15,000 BC?) christened by the Meitingu Pamheiba ~ in the first half of the 18th century, as influenced by the immigrants Hindus missionaries, so as to relate to the Manipur of Mahabharata.

In spites of this fact, the story is given special importance by Manipuri Bishnupriyas (having sharp Indo-Aryan features, & speak a language similar to Kamrupi) who believe they were descendants of immigrants from Hastinapur & Dwarika after the Mahabharata war, led by Babhruvahana (who had earlier returned to Hastinapur with his father), or from a group of people coming from Mithila (Videha), the eastern frontier of Aryan culture.

Most accepted one is that they were originally war captives brought by Kangleipak kings, who subsequently were settled & absorbed into the community [as believed by some, to be before 700AD, as in the same year when the Kangleipak Valley was invaded? by the Chinese, they referred them (Bishnupriyas) as Khalachai (In southern Chinese - children of the wide lake; Kha=lake, La=wide, Chai=children) who had settled around the Loktak lake.

{the claim being based on the writing of the great Chinese Buddhist monk traveler, Xuanzang /Hiuen-Tsiang (600?-664) who came to India around 630? in search of ultimate knowledge of Buddhism, & subsequently visited the kingdom of Kamrupa - the first historical kingdom in Assam - around 640? as per the invitation by the king, Kumar Bhaskara Varman (600?-650, the last king of the Varman Dynasty, 350-650, Assam)

However, this Chinese invasion claim is rejected by many scholars due to the lack of evidence of considerable strength. They are of the opinion that these people were mostly from Cachar etc, who were first settled in the Kangleipak as war captives during the 14th century AD, & the name 'Bishnupriya' was given to them (Bishnupuri / Bishunpuris / Kalisha / Kalacheiya / Kalachaya - originally worshippers of the Hindu Goddess Kali) by the Meitingu Gambhir Singh in the year 1827 AD}]

Section: D

(D.1) Wizard of Thang Ta Paona:


Coming back to the reign of Meitingu Chandrakirti, there existed one of the greatest Meetei heroes & Thang Ta masters of all time. His name was Paona Brajabasi (1833?-1891) {Brajabasi- a Hindu honorable title for those who had been to Hindu sacred places like Brindaban etc}. His skill of Thang Ta was matchless & was so excellent that he was considered to have magical powers. Many techniques & moves of Thang Ta have been attributed to him {like Atharo Lakri Thangbi (one of the most advanced vocabulary (not alphabets) - starting from 2 counts to 18 counts - of Yanna Thang (combat skill) - combat applicable fighting system in Thang Ta) etc}.

As we have seen earlier, there was a shortage of skilled Thang Ta masters (not in the group of the king) in reign of Meitingu Chandrakirti, who had regained the throne in 1850 (around 18 years of his age). He had received some education when he was in Cachar, but no formal training in martial art. There was earlier reluctance from the part of the King to learn the Meetei martial art from the masters in his groups {about 10 in number, including Thangal General, Paona Brajabasi, Yengkhoiba etc.}, as they were basically his servants {also the age factor, especially in case of Paona who was about a year younger then the King himself}.

Accordingly, the King expressed his desire to learn other martial art styles (outside Kangleipak). There came a martial art expert from lahore (believed to be a Punjabi / a Sikh?: exact information about him is lacking who he was, where he came from, what style of martial art he practised etc) to teach the Meetei King. Obviously, there was much resentment among the Meetei Thang Ta experts, & after much objection & request to the king for at least giving a chance to test the martial skills of the foreign martial artist, finally after the king's consent, a competitive duel was organized at Paona's (Naol Singh) teacher's house (Longjaba Loma) located at Keisamthong Longjam Leirak.

Paona was chosen unanimously for this, due to his excellent skill & expertise of Thang Ta. Among the many techniques used by Paona, a special one was 'Khudum Phubi/Khujeng kakpi' {cutting/striking the weapon bearing wrist of the opponent(s)}. Just as the Competition began, the foreign master could not understand & counter the lightning fast Khudum Phubi/Khujeng kakpi of Paona, & his weapon slipped from his hand to the ground. Ultimately, feeling helpless to the showering of thunderous techniques & martial skills of the Paona, he conceded his defeat {in the competition, in place of sword, stick or Cheibi (cane stick covered with leather) was used, much like the present sport sparring of Thang Ta}. Thus Thang Ta once again arose supreme.

[Sikhs have a long tradition of Martial art {some trace it to ancient Shastar Vidiya (Shastar~arms, Vidiya~knowledge), other considered it to have been handed down from the period of the 6th guru, Guru Hargobind (1595-1644)}. More popularly, the word Gatka (after its primary weapon, while some give the meaning as: Gat~excellence, grace, respect in one's own power; Ka~belonging to or of) is used to refer to all traditional martial arts of Sikhs. Gatka (related terms: Gadka, Khutka, Gadd, Gadaa etc- believed to originate & derived from Sanskrit word 'Gada' or mace or Indian club) is a stick or club covered with leather, used for teaching & practicing fencing or club fighting.

This martial art has been thoroughly battle-tested, used by the Sikhs (Nihang, an armed Sikh order; Nihang~crocodile, name given to them by Mughals as they fought ferociously like crocodiles) to defend against the foreign invaders like Mughals. It was the 6th Sikh guru (Guru Hargobind) who propagated the idea of warrior saint, & popularized the practice of martial arts (for self defense), as demanded by the situation.

He was trained by the great Baba Budha Ji {1506-1631, the greatest Sikh martial artist, who had trained the race right from the 1st Guru (1469-1539) to the 6th Guru (1595-1644) era, who is believed to have been taught the art (Shastar Vidiya?) by the 1st Sikh guru, Guru Nanak himself (he met the guru for the first time in 1518, who had learnt the art form the God, as per a legend)} - also during his time, there occurred exchange of martial culture with the Rajput (another ancient martial race /Kshatriya of India) who in gratitude, said to have shared their martial style (~Shastar Vidiya??) after he helped them to free their 52 princess, kidnapped by the Mughals.

But the greatest Sikh martial artist was the last Guru (10th Guru, 1666-1708), Guru Govind Singh. He was the one who founded the great Khalsa army (the brotherhood, all specialized in Gatka- he fought & won many battles against the Mughals).

However, the Gatka as we know today, specially the sport part (khel; the other one- rasmi or ritualistic & traditional) was developed gradually around & after 1860's {after the 1857 mutiny, with the relaxation of the earlier banned on Sikh martial arts (after the 2nd Anglo-Sikh War, 1848-1849), & increasing British Indian influence (their sword practice); influence form other foreign styles (1880's) - application of western fencing rules etc}. From late 19th century, there has been active revival process undergoing, with the realization of its immense value - physical, cultural, spiritual, & as a potent bonding & unification factor.

It is believed that many Sikhs began to settle in Kangleipak valley near the end of 18th century. As per the population estimation of the Kingdom done by the British political agent, Mr. R.Brown (in 1873); & according to E. W. Dun (in 1886; about 105 foreigners including the Sikhs) confirmed the existence of Sikhs, as minority group in the Valley of Kangleipak.

But the influence of Sikhism (& their martial style) can be traced much earlier. There are records (Sikh chronicles like Janam Sakhi) of Guru Nanak having visited (~1509-1510) the Kingdom of Manipur, as proposed by some enthusiast scholar, during the reign of Meitingu Koiremba (~1508-1512, son of the great Meitingu Kiyamba) - but this estimation may be of less weight if the Manipur mentioned in the sacred chronicles may turn out to be the Manipur of Mahabharata (in Orissa?), which definitely is not the present Manipur state of India), & established a Sikh Sangat here.

Besides a great religious preacher, he is believed to be a great martial artist also (was born in a Kshatriya family), the founder of Sikh martial tradition (he is said to have defeated? the queen of tantric cult, Shah Noor? on the way to Manipur Kingdom; the tantric belts of Northeast India are said to extend form Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Assam & other parts of Northeast, & Bengal).

The story goes like this that He, the holiness, the 1st Guru , came to Manipur (through Kamrup & Guwahati, Assam,) accompanied by a disciple name Bhai Mardana (1459-1534, a Muslim by birth); where they met one Jhanda, a local carpenter, & Indersen, nephew of a local chief, who became his disciples. After a brief preaching, he is said to have returned in the southwestern direction {reaching Puri, Orissa, where he met Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1485?-1533) in the famous Jagannath temple of Puri, as recorded in the Oriya palmleaf manuscript of Bhakta Panchak by Jasobant Das of Sisu Math, Puri (~15th century?), & manuscript of Shri Chaitanya Bhagwata (~16th century/18th century?) by Ishwar Das}]

To be continued....


* Dr. HanjabamCha Barun (C.G. Pradesh Thang-Ta Association, Pt.J.N.M.Medical College, Raipur (C.G.)) contributes regularly to e-pao.net. The writer can be reached at dr(dot)barun(dot)hanjabam(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on May 26th, 2010 and updated on July 9 2010 and later updated on March 15 2011.



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