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Thang-Ta: A Legacy of Bravery – Honoring the Courage of Our Ancestors

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Thang-Ta: A Legacy of Bravery - Honoring the Courage of Our Ancestors

By: Denish Ngangom and Somony Yumnam
Thang-Ta, the ancient Manipuri martial art, embodies the unyielding spirit and resilience of our ancestors. For centuries, the people of Manipur have embraced Thang-Ta as a way of life, cultivating physical and mental discipline, combat skills, and self-control. Beneath its surface lies a rich cultural heritage shaped by the bravery and determination of our forebears. This article delves into the stories of our courageous ancestors who fought against all odds to preserve their traditions, land, and people. We explore Thang-Ta’s history, from its origins in Manipur’s misty hills to its current status as a symbol of regional pride and identity. Through the lens of Thang-Ta, we discover the unwavering dedication, sacrifice, and courage of our forefathers, and how their legacy continues to inspire future generations.
In the esteemed manuscript “Thanglon Thangcha”, the origins and evolution of swords are meticulously chronicled. This revered text vividly describes the divine swords’ forms and shapes, showcasing the ancient mastery of Thang-Ta. Our ancestors’ proficiency in this martial art proved instrumental in their triumphs on the battlefield, as they successfully overcame formidable foes in numerous challenging situations. The legacy of Thang-Ta continues to inspire, a testament to the prowess of our forebears.
The history of Manipur is marked by a legacy of bravery and martial prowess, with the Meitei community of the Valley exhibiting exceptional valor under their courageous rulers until they lost their freedom to the British in 1891 AD. The Manipuris, or Meiteis, are a warrior race, with fighting for honor and justice ingrained in their culture. An ancient Manipuri text, ‘Chainarol’ (Accounts of Fights), chronicles the duels between commoners renowned for their courtesy and sense of honor. This text states, ‘Death is the younger brother, shame is the elder brother,’ emphasizing the preference for an honorable death over a life of disgrace. Our ancestors wrote vivid descriptions of gallant fights for honor, even in the face of certain death. With a fatalistic outlook, they viewed armed combat as a divine ordeal. When challenged, an unarmed individual could fetch their weapons and schedule a contest. In spear bouts, rivals would measure out a mutually acceptable distance, stand at fixed points, and hurl spears at each other. Surrendering the first choice was a point of honor. A slight scratch was enough to acknowledge defeat, and the defeated would graciously allow their head to be chopped off. Sometimes, the victor and vanquished would share a meal and enjoy wine together in a sportsmanlike spirit before the vanquished’s head was cut off.
These tales of Manipuri chivalry have inspired generations to stand as brave and heroic people against all odds. Although Vaishnavism, with its emphasis on humility, may have softened the people over the last two centuries, scratch a Manipuri youth, and you’ll still find a warrior within. Traditions and visions die hard.
Through the annals of history and the oral traditions passed down to us by our ancestors, we learn about the bravery and valor of our forefathers. Their stories, which have been treasured for generations, reveal their unwavering commitment to truth, patriotism, and the protection of sovereignty, even at the cost of personal safety. These accounts of courage and valor are explicitly recorded in ancient Manipur texts such as “Chaitharol Kumbaba”, “Ningthourol Lambuba”, “ThawanThaba-Hiran”, “Shamsok Ngamba”, “Takhel Ngamba”, “Awa Ngamba”, and “Khagi Ngamba”, serving as a testament to the unyielding spirit of our ancestors.
In the early 18th century, the mighty Awa kingdom trembled with fear at the mere mention of the Manipur Cavalry Horse Warriors, a small but formidable force. According to DGE Hall’s book, “A History of South East Asia,” Garibaniwaj (1709-1746), the skilled leader of the Manipuri warriors, struck terror into the hearts of the upper Burmese. His expert horsemen repeatedly defeated the Burmese forces sent to secure the frontier, with notable victories in 1738 near Taikhang. In a daring raid, Garibaniwaj’s armies stormed the fortified Kuang stockade, razed the revered Mudaw Pagoda built by Tha-lun, and left a trail of destruction, burning every house and monastery up to the very walls of Ava.
In the ancient Manipuri text, “Ningthourol Lambuba”, the bravery of Meitei Kings is recounted in vivid detail, showcasing their leadership in battle. Similarly, other ancient texts like “Samsokk-ngamba”, “Takhel-ngamba”, and “Tilain Soknaba” paint a picture of Meitei kings and warriors fighting valiantly on the battlefield. Notably, when Brigadier General Shuldham, with a formidable force of 7,000 troops, including elephant-riding warriors and cavalrymen, attempted to invade Manipur from Cachar, he was thwarted by Maharaja Gambhir Singh, who successfully repelled the attack with a mere 500 soldiers, demonstrating the unyielding spirit of the Meitei people.
In the realm of martial traditions, the art of Thang-Ta stands as a shining testament to the cultural heritage of our ancient land. Its stories, deeply rooted in myth and legend, have been passed down through generations, becoming an integral part of our collective identity. The exceptional skill and prowess of Thang-Ta practitioners have become synonymous with our people, as if it’s ingrained in our very being. We, the descendants of warrior heroes, proudly carry the torch of this legacy, fueled by an unwavering love for our motherland, a deep sense of patriotism, and an unrelenting desire to preserve our culture and traditions for generations to come. On the global stage, the Meitei community can now excel and reach the pinnacle of success in various fields – be it politics, sports, cultural programs, or scientific and technological pursuits – both mentally and physically. This is made possible by the unwavering courage and unrelenting spirit of our forefathers, whose legacy continues to inspire and empower us to achieve greatness.
(The author are Student of Department of Thang-Ta, Manipur University of Culture

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