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The court chronicle of the kings of Manipur: The Cheitharon Kumpapa, vol. 2, 1764-1843.

The court chronicle of the kings of Manipur: The Cheitharon Kumpapa, vol. 2, 1764-1843

Edited and translated by SAROJ NALINI ARAMBAM PARRATT

New Delhi: Foundation Books, 2009. Pp. 147, 137.

doi: 10.1017/S002246341100021X

This is the second volume of a carefully translated and annotated edition of the Manipur court chronicle, covering the period between 1764 and 1843 CE. The first volume appeared as The court chronicle of the kings of Manipur, vol. 1 (33-1763 CE), ed. and trans, by Saroj Nalini Arambam Parratt (London and New Delhi: Routledge and Foundation Books, 2005). A facsimile reproduction of the original text in ancient Manipuri script--certainly a kind of text few scholars of South or Southeast Asian history are able to use--forms the second part of the book. As pointed out in the introduction to the first volume, the chronicle in its present form was written down at a rather late stage, in the middle of the twentieth century, though making use of older traditions which had been kept at the court of the kings of Manipur in Kangla (modern-day Imphal). Actually, the copying of older records had already begun in the late eighteenth century (p. 34), showing that history writing in Manipur has a much longer tradition than the late date of the chronicle would suggest. From beginning to end, the complete chronicle spreads over approximately two millennia, from 33 to 1949 CE.

The influence of the older material surfaces in the basic features of the chronicle. The basic order of the text is strictly chronological, and as is typical for many premodern chronicles written in areas of Asia, which had been exposed to Indian influence at one point, there are many calculations to synchronise the lunar and solar years. As an additional cross-reference, eclipses of the sun or the moon and earthquakes are duly recorded as well. Regarding the subject, much space is dedicated to events concerning the royal family and the succession of kings, life at the palace and engagement with neighbouring chiefs, both peaceful and belligerent. The routine of court life is interrupted by occasional hunts (mainly of elephants and tigers) and a few encounters with headhunting tribes who submit tributes (shrunken heads, obviously).

The volume is of particular interest to the scholar of Burmese history, as it covers the period of the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26). The Burmese had for centuries reclaimed suzerainty over Manipur, and since the second half of the eighteenth century, especially since the time of king Bodawpaya (1782-1819), Manipur seems to have accepted this status as a tributary state. However, before the hostilities broke out, the English entered into a treaty with the king of Manipur to make sure that they would not be attacked in the rear of the deployment area against the Burmese. The chronicle does not mention this treaty with the English; what it does record instead are the various attempts by Burmese officials and envoys to restore the former relationship, both openly and clandestinely, during the years immediately after the war. However, by then a British resident had been appointed to the Manipuri court, who thwarted any of these advances by the Burmese. Here, the chronicle offers a valuable third-party account for this precarious relationship phase of Anglo-British relations.

Tragically, the author passed away recently, having just fully completed her editorial work. The third volume, which is expected to be published in the near future, will thus be her legacy to Asian studies. Already now it can be stated that this edition of the Manipur chronicles is a valuable addition to the still small body of edited and translated chronicles (and other historical sources) from Asia.


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Author:Frasch, Tilman
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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