TODAY -

Thang Ta: A journey
(Through the history of Kangleipak)
from an ancient combat art to a popular modern sport
- Part 5 -

By Dr.HanjabamCha Barun *



(D.2) Thang Ta : To die honorably than to surrender for a life of disgrace:

It was also the Paona (& every Meetei soldier), who stretched the limits of Thang Ta in the Great Khongjom war (23 April, 1891; the Anglo-Manipuri war), immortalizing the heroism, the valor & highest sense of devotion & patriotism shown by them in the hearts of every Manipuris for eternity. Paona was in his retirement (~58 years old) when he was selected {by Meitingu Kulachandra Dhaja (1890-1891), along with Chongtha Mia, both of whom were appointed to the posts of Major, from earlier Subedar} to resist (with~ +400? Meetei sepoys) the invading British force from Tammu {Burma, from south-east, under the command of Captain Rundall, 2-4th Gurkha Regiment; the other two columns of invading British army: from north- Kohima (Nagaland),under the command of Major General H.Collett; from west- Cachar (Assam), under the command of Col.R.H.F.Rennick}- he was selected with a reason.

[Almost everyone knew that, as concerned to physical prowess, it was already a lost battle; so the best feasible forces were sent to protect the Kingdom, as the Meetei preferred to die honorably, rather than surrendering for life of disgrace. Khongjom (~36km from Imphal, on the Indo-Myanmar road) front was the most dangerous; hence was given to Paona].

So gallantly they fought till their last breath, against the much larger & superior British Army & their steam roller attack, with a meager supply of small arms {like jinjals; unfortunately during the battle, there was non-compliance of even three consecutive request for immediate supply of pounders of high caliber to the Commander-in-charge of Manipuri force at Thoubal (under Wangkheirakpa & Yengkoiba Major)- hence it was Thang & Ta against the flying bullets & bombs form British army], earned the respect & admiration of even the British.

[Paona is said to have cut the igniting/detonating threads/wires of the British bombs in the air, hurled at Meetei army, with his mere sword before they exploded. The design of such bombs is very similar to the present day firecrackers or fire-works, with a long igniting thread/wire present for safe detonation].

Paona & almost all the Meetei army {including Yaiskul Lakpa, Chinglen Sana, Mairaba etc} scarified their lives, without any hesitancy & second thought, for the motherland. Every year on 23rd April, Khongjom day is observed in memories of all these martyrs. Their extreme heroism & patriotism carved such a permanent imprint & inspired the Meetei that, they started singing (coming out spontaneously) the glory of Paona & his heroic feats during the battle, as Khongjom Parva [meaning the episode of Khongjom- its musical narration on the beats of a dholok- said to have been started by one Dhobi Lairou? (some source: Madhu- who happened to be a gifted singer), who was an eyewitness of the battle, as he was one of the washer men of the Meetei army at Khongjom.].

Even today, when one hears the Khongjom parva, with each beat of dholok, a vivid picture of the battle unfolds; the heart becomes heavier, tears roll down, with goose skin all over, & a feeling of content; a deep adoration & salute comes out automatically for them.

With the fall of Paona (and the failure to resist other two columns of British army), Manipur lost her freedom on 27th April 1891. On 13th August 1891, at present B.T. park (Bir Tikendrajit park, earlier - pheida pung, Mapan Kangjei-bung / polo ground, Imphal), Thangal General {1817-1819, a Manipuri hero, born as Lungthoubu in a Thangal (officially referred as Koirao tribe) family of Thangal Surung village (to Saraingamba Thangal) & served the kingdom for 60 years (from 14 to 74 years) from the reign of Meitingu Gambhir Singh (1825-1834) upto that of Meitingu Kulachandra (1890-1891), taken into the Meitei community in Kangabam clan (as Kangabam Tulinaha Major?).

The title 'General' was awarded in 1885 by Sir James Johnstone, as promoted by Meitingu Chandrakirti (1834-1844,1850-1886). However, some scholars consider him as a Meitei, born in Ningthouja Salai to Kangabam Khetri Singh & is believed to be the 18th line of descendent from Meitingu Yarba (799-821 AD)} & Jubaraj Tikendrajit {1858-1891, another Manipuri hero, also known as Koireng (~Tiger Hunter), son of Meitingu Chandrakirti (1834-1844,1850-1886) & younger? brother of the Meitingu Kullachandra (1890-1891)} were publicly hanged till death.

[(a) It was the failure to arrest Jubaraj Tikendrajit twice?, & the killing (although the Meetei King wanted to keep as prisoners) of British officers (Mr. St. Clair Grimwood, Indian Civil Service, British Political Agent in Manipur - spared to death on the step of the Durbar hall; Mr. J.W. Quinton, Chief Commissioner of Assam; Col. Skene, Commanding Officer 42nd Gurkha Light Infantry; Lieutenant W.H. Cossins, Indian Civil Service, Assistant Secretary to the Chief Commissioner of Assam; Lieutenant Simpson & the Bulger who accompanied them - beheaded by public executioner in front of the two Kangla Shas, considered, by the order of Jubraj Tikendrajit & Thangal General in 24 March? 1891) in the second attempt (& the subsequent attack of all the British outposts in Manipur by Manipuri force, killing Mr. W.B. Melville & Mr. O'Brian, superintendent of Telegraph Department, Assam division & a signaler respectively at Mayangkhang, in northern side, on the orad between Manipur & Kohima), made the British govt. to wage open war against Manipur.

(b)Three more Manipuri warriors were also hanged inside the jail Niranjan Subedar (1852? 8th June 1891, ex-British army who left & fight against them on the side of Jubraj Tikendrajit); Kajao Singh, Jamandar/Pukhramba Phingang (1856? 25th May1891, he speared Mr. Grimwood to death); & Chirai Thangal (1861? 13th Oct.1891, he was among the Manipuri Troops which attacked British Telegraph Officers at Mayangkhang he killed Mr. W.B. Melville).

{Many more were transported for life Kullachandra Dhaja Singh, (Ex-King, died in 1934 at Radhakund,U.P.); Prince Angao Singh, Senapati(1866?-?, son of Meitingu Chandrakirti); Lokendrajit Birjit Singh, Wangkheirakpa (1848?-?); Samu Singh Colonel alias Luwang Ningthou (1831?-?); Chongtham Nilamani Singh, Awapurel Major (1836?-1897, incharge of Burmese affairs, in command of the king's bodyguard & of the citadel); Chongtham Mia Singh,Major(1841?-?, arrested at Thoubal, spent his last days at Radhakund, U.P.?); Uru Singh, Usurba; Chauba Hada, Machahal; Ghun Singh, Kongdram (1841?-?); Kumba Singh, Laishraba (1864?-?); Dhaja Singh, Mayengba (1858?-?); Nam Singh, Nepra, Machahal(1863?-?); Trilok Singh, Nongtholba Satwal (1831?-?); Dhon Singh, Sagolsemba (1841?-?, he was the one who beheaded the British officers with a Tendong Thang- a sword with a long handle - in front of the two Kangla Sha); Ghun Singh, Indujamba Jamadar (1849?-?); Ningthouba Singh, Chingshuba Jamadar (1850?-?); Thaoba Singh, Phanjao Jamadar; Tonjao Singh, Mangsataba Jamadar; Chaobatol Singh, Heigrujamba Subadar (1829?-?); Paradhumba Singh, alias Ashangba kut (Havildar of Mayangkhang post); Chowkami Naga of Mayangkhang; Gowho Naga of Mayangkhang}

(c) Kangla sha (sacred Kangla beast), the national emblem of Meetei Kingdom; two huge brick statues of which stood on either side of the way to Kangla uttra; which were originally erected by the Chinese prisoners of war, brought by Kangleipak king (some scholars believe that they were built during the reign of Meitingu Mungyangpa, 1562-1597), but are again said to have been constructed/repaired by Meitingu Narasingh (1844-1850) due to the destruction & dismantlement of the originals by the invading Burmese. After the Kangla was seized by the British on 27th April 1891, the two statues were blown to pieces.]

Section: E

(E.1) The Initial Ban:


The first & the foremost reform done by the British was the abolition of the Meetei Lallup system- with their nightmarish experience at the Khongjom- the ferocity of the Meetei army & their deadly martial art, Thang Ta. Subsequently, Thang Ta was banned (upto ~ 1930). Anyone found practising or teaching the art was labeled as rebel or insurgent affiliate, & summarily prosecuted.

Thang Ta, specially the combat aspect, was confined to the secret home schools of individual teachers, passing the knowledge down from generation to generation behind closed doors. Some of the teachers even started using different name for the art, so as to mislead the British. Thang Ta suffered enormously under their rule (early part- especially before 1930; the British rule in Manipur: 1891-1947) as the colonial administration took draconian measures to stamp out any form of resistance.

(E.2) The Revival:

The gradual revival of the art started slowly near & after the independence. Under the leadership (the President) of Meitingu Churachand (1891-1941), Nilhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha (NHMM) was established in 1934? (originally to regulate the religious activities, but latter exercising major influence in the socio-political domain). Due to the cooperative hard work of many Thang Ta teachers & members of NHMM (like noted people's leader like Hijam Irabot, 1896-1951, the Vice-President), the ban on Thang Ta was lifted up, as per the 8th resolution of NHMM.

Some of the then eminent Thang Ta teachers were Ojha Rajkumar Sanahal, Ojha Thoudam Chaoba (who was a student of the Great Paona Brajabasi), Ojha Moirangthem Anganghal, Ojha Sagolsem Indramani, Ojha Angom Leiren Singh, Ojha Hijum Ibohal Singh, Ojha Mutum Maipak Singh, Ojha Chanambam Birahari Singh, Ojha Lairenmayum Damu Singh, Ojha P. Tarango Singh, Ojha Toijam Birahari Singh, Ojha Paonam Tonsana Singh (youngest son of Paona Brajabashi), Ojha L. Ibungohal Singh, Ojha P. Manikchand Singh, & many more.

(E.3) Ojha Rajkumar Sanahal One of the greatest Thang Ta masters:

Ojha Rajkumar Sanahal (1901-1988) was one of the greatest Thang Ta teachers of all time. As a lineage of royal blood, he was born in the year 1901. Being a matriculate of 1924 (under the then Calcutta University), he recorded various techniques & aspects of the secret art, as revealed by his great teachers (who were mainly illiterate), for the future generations. His skill of Thang Ta was well known & admired by everyone at that time, specially the bare hand techniques against weapons.

Ojha Sanahal, Thang-Ta master, &
Sintakpurel Meitei Huyen Lallon Thang-Ta Academy


There is an interesting incident in the history, highlighting his mastery of the art. In the early 1930's, the movement of Indian Independence was growing & intensifying under Mahatma Gandhiji (1869-1948), & his followers (Ganghiwadis), with their non-violence & satyagrahi andolans etc, north east India was no exception. It was very common for the non-violent, unarmed Gandhiwadis in their satyagrahi andolans, to be beaten severely & lathi-charged by the British.

In one such common discussion, the leaders from Manipur {H. Irabot (1896-1951), noted people's leader; Pandit Raj Atombapu Sharma (1889?-1963, Phurailatpam Atombapu Sharma, court Pandit); Officer Somorendro?} happened to mention about the Meetei Thang Ta, & the ability of blocking even swords by bare hands. Subsequently, with increasing request from the Gandhiwadis, a demonstration was decided to be organized in one of the conference of Indian National Congress in Guwahati, Assam; for which Ojha Rajkumar Sanahal was invited to demonstrate the ancient art.

In front of the curious & amazed eyes of Gandhiwadis, with their heart beats shooting sky high, breaking the pin-drop silence, was the secret art revealed by Ojha Sanahal. The fierce, forceful attacks of the sharpen sword (by one martial art master- believed to be a Punjabi/Sikh?- as selected by them, Gandhiwadis) were met with such softness & peacefully, subduing the violence, & deflecting all the directed force towards the attacker himself (the weapon flied off uncontrollably, as a result), that all the heads bowed down automatically & involuntarily, in respect; yet again the ancient Meetei art rose supreme.

On the 4th November of 1934, under Ojha Sanahal, 'Meetei Huyen Langlon Thang Ta Academy' {the epicenter & origin of the modern sport Thang Ta movements, hence he is respected & remembered as the 'Sintakpurel'(1st Grand Master)} was established at Yumnam Huidrom Village, Imphal to preserve & revive the ancient art of Thang Ta, to the level of its past glory.

Meitei Huyen Lallon Thang-Ta Academy, Yumnam Huidrom Leikai


The expressive/demonstrative aspect of the art was started to be shown in various festivals & public gatherings etc. The academy was registered under the society registration act as 'Scientific Defense Cultural Society' in the year 1965-66, with registration no.:808.

(E.4) The Rise of Thang Ta, & The Masters:

Many other Thang Ta teachers, whose teachings were earlier confined to closed doors & secrecy, started forming open/public institutions/associations, working cooperatively for the development & preservation of the art.

The popularity of Thang Ta began climbing sky high, with the demonstration of many choreographed Thang Ta moves - Leiteng Thang {like two swords/a sword with a shield decorative play, duels/more than two participants - like sword fight (Thang Yannaba), Sword vs spear (Thang Ta Chainaba), Dagger vs axe/spade fight (Thangjou-shingjang/yopak Yannaba) etc, with such high realism- scattering of sparks all around, from clashing of the weapons} or sometimes even without weapons/open handed - before audience as a performing art in mid 1950's.

Many of the traditional Thang Ta institutes/associations are very much active still today with the same zeal, nurturing the ancient tradition among the youths.

Every Meetei is familiar with the name Pandit Ningthoukhongjam Khelchandra Singh (1st Sept. 1920-2011). He is a legend, a source of constant inspiration; not only was he a right authority on the ancient Meetei literature, art & culture; but also a vast ocean of the Meetei martial art, Thang Ta. As a recipient of double fellowships from the Sahitya Akademi, & from Sangeet Natak Akademi; the prestigious Padmashree award in 1987, many other honors & awards, he had given us many valuable books & records on Meetei Martial arts.

Many well known Thang Ta teachers used to sit besides his feet, & under his guidance, for the exploration of the endless secrets & depth of this ancient Meetei art. The great soul departed for its heavenly abode in the night of 31st Jan. 2011 (90years old), leaving behind a vacuum which will be felt for eternity, yet immortalizing in each & every one of us.

In 1951, Nonpok Naharol Seva Marup (latter recoined as Kanglei Enat Thang Ta Shindam Sanglen) was established under the Chairmanship of the famous Thang Ta teacher, Ojha Leitanthem Heramot Meitei (born on 30th Sept. 1930). Having learnt the art under different eminent Thang Ta Ojhas (including Ojha Thoudam Chaoba), he earned various name & fame {Gold medal by Meitingu Bodhchandra (1941-1955),1951; 'Huyel Saphaba' title by Akhil Manipuri Kalakar Sammelan, 1975; Manipur State Kala Akademi Award, 1988; Sangeet Natak Akademi Purushkar, 2008 etc}- his contribution is immense & immeasurable- still passing the knowledge as a living legend as one of the famous living Thang Ta masters. He is credited with the creation of 'Laphu-kakpa' (a performing art, demanding highest skill & control- slicing/cutting a trunk of banana tree, kept perpendicular to the ground, into seven pieces with a sword, without disturbing its original position)

Another great living Thang Ta teacher of today is Ojha Gurumayum Gourakishor Sharma (born on 15th April 1936, a student of Ojha Sanahal, & many others great masters) from a family having a long tradition of Meetei martial arts. It was under his leadership that 'The Huyen Lallong Manipur Thang Ta Cultural Association' [which has been given recognition from Manipur State Kala Akademi, & Sangeet Natak Akademi since 1979; besides the provision of subsidies, & from 1994, a salary grant from the department of culture, Ministry of Human Resources Development] was established in the year 1958., & still very much active in its goal of preserving & promoting the tradition of Meetei martial art. Thang Ta, as a performing art on stages has been presented & popularized on both national & lately international stage. He has been conferred with many awards & honors, in recognition of his contributions & dedication for the art {fellow of Manipur State Kala Akademi, 1978; Sangeet Natak Akademi award, 1983; 'Kala Ratna' title by Manipur Sahitya Parishad, 1985; & recently the prestigious Padmashree award, 2009}

Any discussion on Thang Ta, is incomplete without mentioning about late Ojha Sinam Devabrata Singh (1939-2010). He was one of the most experienced & highly qualified Thang Ta teachers of today (recipient of the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, 1992). He is also considered to be the first Thang Ta Ojha to have demonstrated the art at the level of international (at the age ~ 49 years, at the Indian Cultural Center, Cheiri, Italy, 1988; & at ~ 55years at the Festival of India, China, 1994).

As a master of many styles of Thang Ta {mainly the 'Paona' style (after the great Paona Brajabasi - among many of the famous Thang Ta Ojhas who taught him was Ojha Paonam Tonsana Singh), the Poila (after Ningthoukhongja Poila), & many more, also have a deep knowledge of Mukna}, he founded HULA (from HUyen LAllong) Sindamsang in 1977, & since then dedicated his life for the promotion, popularization & most importantly, the unification & preservation of the priceless knowledge of all the different styles of Thang Ta. His untimely departure for the heavenly abode has created a gap, never can be filled, in the world of Thang Ta & Meetei arts. We pray for the great soul.

There are many other Thang Ta Ojhas also, who have been constantly working for the betterment of the art, dedicated their lives for it, popularizing the way of being a true Meetei warrior, spreading the message of love, peace, unity etc, making us, the younger generation, aware of the importance of our culture, tradition & identity. It's impossible to mention them all in this little endeavourer of mine. With my head bows down, I salute them all.

Section: F

(F.1) The Sports aspect:


However, there is another equally important aspect of Thang Ta (the sport aspect), which was left unheeded or not so seriously considered. Though the expressive or the performing form of Thang Ta on stage looks very impressive & attractive, but some modern Thang Ta lovers & practitioners fear that it might eventually just remain as any other exhibitory item or a commodity product. As the time has changed much, with the scientific advancement, & the availability of many futuristic weapons of mass destruction, training in martial arts for warfare is not as useful as in olden days, even the chance of using it in self-defense has much reduced.

What remains to learn is the spirit, the inner knowledge, & essence of the art, which has taken thousands of years, blood & sweat of our fore-fathers to accumulate. The understanding of which not only fulfills one's physical (including health & fitness), inner & spiritual necessity, but more importantly fosters the cultural identity & the nationalistic pride. But, the problem is to convey the message effectively to the youths in this fast, busy, highly competitive, result & career oriented, impatient present society. To be sincere, very few have the time, hard work, seriousness, sincerity & dedication- which too with no lucrative career option; becoming a warrior (that too of swords & spears etc., in this nuclear world) which generally is not the intended by many - as required in the teaching style of olden days.

As popularized by almost all martial art countries (mostly orient countries & some western countries), the sport aspect of Martial arts is becoming much more preferred. Along with the cultural & spiritual components, if additional benefit of a career in sport is there, no doubt, the concerned art will be much more readily acceptable & spreadable. Here, starts the birth of sport movement in the world of Martial arts.

Using this formula, we all know, how much advancement are made by the Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai & many other south east Asian (some western also; which give their martial arts the status of their national sports - WTF Taekwondo, South Korea; Muay Thai, Thailand etc) countries in the development of their martial arts. Their martial arts have been included in our schools, colleges, universities, as a part of NIS teaching curriculum, even research-phd programmes. They are the official sport events in our national games, common wealth games, Asian games & some even in Olympic games

[Taekwondo (it was a demonstration sport in 1988 Olympic, & finally after 12 years, in the year 2000 Olympic, it became an official medal event), Judo (first introduced in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games, but dropped from 1968 Mexico Olympic; & finally restored for Munich 1972 Olympic games.) etc].

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 June 13, 2010 and updated on July 9 2010 and later updated on March 15 2011.



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