Paona Brajabasi was a brave officer in the Manipur Army, who later came into prominence when he decided to fight against the British as he wanted his motherland to be free. When the British Army entered Manipur with the purpose of annexing the province, Paona Brajabasi fought back valiantly. When Paona Brajabasi had the opportunity of joining the British Army and gaining a lucrative position, he chose death because he wanted to defend his nation till his last breath.
The military officer from Manipur was born in 1833. After growing up, he joined the Manipur Kingdom’s military, rising to the rank of Major by 1891. In the same year, he fought against the British Empire in the Anglo-Manipur War. He fought against the British rule because they wanted to conquer the state and he was the commander of manipuri state. It is important to discuss Manipur’s political condition in the 19th Century to understand what happened in the onslaught by the British.
Threatened by the Burmese invasion of Bengal, the British declared war on Burma on March 5, 1824. Manipuri refugees agreed to fight for the British to restore Manipur’s sovereignty under Prince Gambhir Singh. Burmese forces were ousted from the area in 1826, and Manipur was re-established as an independent monarchy. The subsidiary alliance was signed by Gambhir Singh. However, after King Gambhir’s death, Manipur was thrown into political upheaval. To ease communication between the British and the kings of Manipur, the British created a residency at Imphal in 1835. The British’s influence became out of control, and as a result, a leader developed in Manipur politics to counteract the British’s power. Senapati Tikendrajit was his name. Tekendrajit was the manipuri Prince who led the palace revolution which led to Anglo-Manipuri war. The British saw Tikendrajit as a threat to their plan, and they took every precaution to prevent him from succeeding. There was a fight for the throne of Manipur after Maharajah Chandrakirti died in 1886. The crown was thereafter ascended by Maharaja Surchandra, who was a weak and incompetent ruler who had aligned with the British. The Crown Prince, Kulachandra, and Senapati, Tikendrajit, revolted against King Surchandra as a result of this. As a result, Maharaja Surchandra sought assistance from British Viceroy Lord Lansdowne.
Paona Brajabasi is said to have continued battling against adversary despite being severely wounded. Only Paona Brajabasi remained in the combat, after majority of the Manipuri warriors had died. After witnessing Major Paona’s gallantry, Brigadier General T Graham offered him the choice of joining the British Army or death if he refused
In exchange, Lord Lansdowne dispatched Chief Commissioner of Assam JW Quinton, together with 400 soldiers led by Colonel Skene, to capture Tikendrajit. In 1891, Quinton arrived in Manipur with 400 Gurkha troops. The major goal was to capture the Senapati and crown Kulachandra as Manipur’s monarch. The British held a darbar, to which King Kulachandra attended but not Tikendrajit. The British declared war on the Manipur kingdom as a result of this. The British invaded Kangla on March 22, 1891.
The British were forced to re-enter Manipur after a succession of coups, exiles, and calls for assistance. A group of British officials and 400 Gurkhas landed in Imphal to apprehend Tikendrajit, the prince in insurrection, and depose Maharaja Kulchandra Singh, the incumbent ruler. In 1891, when the Maharaja refused to resign or hand over the prince, the British attempted to seize Tikendrajit in a surprise nocturnal attack. The imperial scheme, however, was immediately thwarted by Manipuri soldiers. On March 24, 1891, King Kulachandra, enraged, ordered the killing of the five British officers. 700 Manipuri soldiers were dispatched to Thoubal, a significant town, to confront British forces marching from Tamu (on the border between Manipur and Myanmar today). They were led by Major Wangkheirakpa and Yenkhoiba. Sensing that they might not be able to stave off the British, the Maharaja ordered another 400 troops to bolster the earlier squad, led by Paona Brajabasi and Chongtha Mia Singh, who was raised to Major from Subedar. At Thoubal, Wangkheirakpa’s party built a powerful stockade. Majors Paona Brajabasi and Chongtha Mia Singh were given orders to march to Palel via the Burma Road. The Manipuri soldiers battling with conventional weaponry, on the other hand, suffered huge casualties.
The British army was outraged, and on March 31, 1891, they launched a massive attack on Manipur. Major General H.Collet, Colonel RHF Rennick, and Brigadier General T.Graham were in charge of these forces. On April 25, 1891, the Anglo-Manipur conflict began. This combat took place in the southern region of Manipur between Brigadier General T Graham’s army and Paona Brajabashi’s forces. Paona Brajabashi and his 400 men arrived in Thoubal on the Khongjom River’s western bank. Pallel and Kakching were taken by the British in exchange. The British employed heavy artillery to attack the Manipuri camps on April 23.
The British soldiers advanced to Khongjom hill after the artillery attack. This was when the 400 Manipuri men displayed their valour and unwavering courage. The Manipur soldiers, led by Paona Brajabashi and Chongtha Mia, attacked the British forces, killing a large number of them. Despite having more manpower and ammunition than the Manipuri, the British encountered fierce resistance. One by one, Manipuri soldiers died, and Paona Brajabashi is said to have continued battling against the adversity despite being severely wounded. Only Paona Brajabashi remained in the combat after majority of the Manipuri warriors had died. After witnessing Major Paona’s gallantry, Brigadier General T. Graham offered him the choice of joining the British Army or death if he refused.
Paona Brajabasi, on the other hand, was rejected and died there as a martyr. Paona’s legend lives on because he chose death over escape or submission. Manipur commemorates Khongjom Day, every year on April 23, to honour him and other Manipuri warriors who sacrificed their lives.