Thang Ta: A journey (Through the history of Kangleipak) from an ancient combat art to a popular modern sport [2nd section]

Thang Ta: A journey
(Through the history of Kangleipak)
from an ancient combat art to a popular modern sport  [2nd section]

-4th Part-

(a) Wizard of Thang Ta – Paona:

Coming back to the reign of Meidingu Chandrakirti, there existed one of the greatest Meetei heroes & Thang Ta masters of all time. His name was Paona Brajabasi {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 many sword exercise or alphabets for Yannaba Thang- 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 Meidingu 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 Kangabam Chidananda (the great 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 foreign martial art expert (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 in the durbar/court.

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 ‘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 khujengkakpi 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 arts. (~ 1200 years according to some). More popularly, the word Gatka 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 singhs) 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, the greatest Sikh martial artist, who had trained the race right from the 1st Guru to the 6th Guru era. (Who was taught the art by the 1st Sikh guru, Guru Nanak himself- who had learnt the art form the God, as per a legend)- also he had learnt the ancient Shastra Vidya art form Rajputs, who taught him in gratitude when he helped them to free their 52 princess, kidnapped by the Mughals. But the greatest Sikh martial artist was the last Guru (10th Guru), 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 Meidingu Koiremba (~1508-1512, son of the great Meidingu Kyamba)- but this estimation may be of  less weight if the Manipur mentioned in the sacred chronicles may turn out to be the one in Orissa, the Manipur of Mahabharata), & established a Sikh Sangat here.

{Besides a great religious preacher, he was a great martial artist also, the founder of Sikh martial tradition (he defeated the queen of tantric cult, Shah Noor on the way to Manipur Kingdom; the trantric 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 Mardana (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 was said to have returned in the south-western direction (reaching Puri, Orissa, where he met Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, as recorded in the Chaitanya Bhagabat of Iswar dasa) – to be noted, if we assumed the Manipur to be somewhere near / in Bhadrak district (one of the probable location of the Manipur of Mahabharata) of Orissa, then also Puri lies to its south-western direction.]


(b) 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 Meidingu Kulachandra Dhaja (1890-1891), along with Chongtha Mia, both of whom were appointed to the posts of Major, from earlier Subedar} to resist (with only about 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(/silchar, 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 was 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 fire crackers or fire-works, with a long igniting thread/wire present for safe detonation].

Paona & almost all the Meetei army {including Khumbong Major, Chinglen Sana, Phunganai Sanglakpa,Yaiskul Lakpa, Mairaba, Loitongba Jamadar, Keisa Jamadar, Heirang khongja, Maipak Sana, Wangkheirakpa, Yengkhoiba, Wangkhei Meiraba & Chongtha Mia (he was wounded in the battle) & many more} 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 Leinou (some source: Madhu- who happened to be a gifted singer), who was an eye-witness 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 Mapal Kangjei-bung (polo ground), Thangal General (the great General, since many generations of the Meetei kings) & Jubaraj Tikendrajit (younger brother of the Meidingu Kullachandra) 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.Grimwood,British Political Agent- spared to death;Mr.Quinton, Chief Commissioners of Assam, Col.Skene, Mr.Cossins, Lieutenant Simpson & Bulger- beheaded by public executioner in front of the Kangla Sha) in the second attempt, made the British govt. to wage open war against Manipur.

(b) Kangla sha (Kangla dragon) 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, but were again constructed by Meidingu Narasingh (1844-1850) due to the destruction & dismantlement of the originals.{made during the reign of Meidingu Chaurajit,  who was defeated & dethroned by his own brother, Marjit Singh, in the year 1813, with the help of Awa (Burma)} by the invading Burmese. After the Kangla was seized by the British on 27th April 1891, the two statues were blown to pieces.]



-5th Part-

(a) 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 Meitei army & their deadly martial art, Thang Ta. Subsequently, Thang Ta was banned (upto ~ 1930). Anyone found practising or teaching the art was labeled as rebels or insurgent affiliates, & 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.


(b) The Revival:

The gradual revival of the art started slowly near & after the independence. Under the leadership of Meidingu 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 Hijum Irabot), 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.


(c) Ojha Rajkumar Sanahal – One of the greatest Thang Ta masters:

Ojha Rajkumar Sanahal 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.

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 intensified & near its peak under Mahatma Gandhiji, & his followers (Ganghiwadis), with their non-violence & satyagrahi andolans etc, The 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 (Pandit Raj Atombapu Sharma, Manipur raj pandit; H. Irabot, noted people’s leader; 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.

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.


(d) 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 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. He is a living legend, a source of constant inspiration; not only is he a living 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 fellowship from the Sahitya Akademi, & from Sangeet Natak Akademi; the prestigious Padmashree award in 1987, many other honors & awards, he has given us many valuable books & records on Meetei Martial arts. Even today many well known Thang Ta teachers still sit besides his feet, & under his guidance, for the exploration of the endless secrets & depth of this ancient Meetei art.

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 Meetei. Having learnt the art under different eminent Thang Ta Ojhas (including Ojha Thoudam Chaoba), he earned various name & fame (Gold medal by Meidingu Bodhachandra,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 (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. 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 to them all.



-6th Part-

(a) 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) is not the intended result – 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].


(b) A Thought – Changing the way Thang Ta used to be viewed completely:

Does this mean they are superior to our Thang Ta of Ipu Athoupa Pakhangpa? not at all. They- all of which were once battle field killing arts- have only been moulded & modified as per the need & demand of the time- the sport movement, gaining immense popularity. Not only their culture, language & national identity is propagated, these martial arts are also major source of foreign exchange for their countries; for which higher qualifications or certificates, one definitely has to go there & learn from their masters, or invite them (in spite of the popular belief that martial arts were originally exported from Indian in ancient times). No surprise, if the practitioners of these foreign styles come out to be far exceeding those of our own indigenous styles. So much manpower, time, resources including brains have been deflected due to them (foreign martial arts), the benefit of whose could have been ours (Thang Ta).

Just imagine how it would like to have Thang Ta in the international Olympic arena; with our young players competing & bringing medals & honor in our own art; just like the Meetei lalmee (soldiers), in olden days, using Thang Ta, for protecting the dignity of the motherland.


(c) A Master with a distant vision & a strong vow – Ojha H. Premkumar Singh:

Foreseeing the gravity of the situations much earlier, one Thang Ta teacher, with his modern & revolutionary ideas, much ahead of his time, not only dreamed of Thang Ta as an official Olympic medal event, but also constantly working for its realization. His name is Ojha Huidrom Premkumar Singh. Born in a lower middle class family, to Shrimati H.(ongbi) Shakmacha Devi, & (late) Huidrom Pashot Singh on 30th Sept.1959, he was the direct, first generation disciple of the  great Thang Ta master, Ojha Rajkumar Sanahal.

Although sparring in Thang Ta with Cheibi (a cane stick covered with leather, instead of sword) etc- with or without Chungoi, or buckler/shield- has been in practice since olden days, as a means to sharpen the actual battle field skills (Yanna Thang: sword fighting etc), or for just comparing martial skills/techniques

{we have already read the duel competition between the great Paona & a foreign martial artist during the latter reign of Meidingu Chandrakirti (1834-1844, 1850-1886). Also the practice using Cheibi was common during the reign of Meidingu Churachand (1891-1941). Hence, the sport aspect of Thang Ta, in the form of competitions etc, using ‘Cheibi’, was already there since very ancient times, & as an integral component of the curriculum of traditional teaching & practice of Thang Ta.

Only what was needed was to standardize, systematize & popularize it, thereby presenting, as per the need of the present society, to international sport arena, & hence ultimately up to the level of Olympic status. His association is constantly working with this very goal.}.

Also many others associations/institutions have been working in this field (sport aspect of Thang Ta) since very early times. But he was the one who brought this (sport aspect of Thang Ta) to such a level, very popular, well systematized & scientifically sound, in accordance with the need & demand of the time; recognized & approved by the concerned authorities; well appreciated, & hence  most wide spread both nationally & internationally. {Hence, regarded as Grandmaster, in the world of sport Thang Ta today}

Ojha Premkumar belongs to a family with martial arts in the blood {specially in Mukna, indigenous Meetei Grappling & wrestling style; besides all his brothers, relatives & students are very much active in this field – younger brother, Shri H. Dinachandra is the present ( year 2010) secretary of TTFI (Thang Ta Federation of India), after Shri Th. Priyokumar (the founding Secretary); Shri Ibomcha (the present,2010, Secretary of the Academy), Shri H.Kiran Kumar, the youngest one, & many  others- , working very hard – understanding the taste of the younger generations – & much focused to the Olympic goal, that only a few places are left in the country (increasingly also beyond) where they have not given demonstrations & trainings, immensely popularizing the sport}.

He was just in class two when he saw Thang Ta moves for the first time, in a local drama (or ‘Sumang Leela’- in those days, it was common for such dramas to be based on topics related with Meetei Kings & Kingdom- with many Thang Ta moves- swords fight etc, with ‘original’ weapons.) in one of his neighbors; the scattering sparks coming from the clashing of swords & spears ignited the passion of Thang Ta in his heart for eternity.

He used to watch very carefully & tried to imitate what the local drama artists did as they practised in their drama rehearsals (as taught by invited Thang Ta teachers- from Imphal etc- such as Ojha Ningthem etc). Deeply influenced, he started, with few of his friends, a youth drama (Leela) party, under his uncle, a drama enthusiast. But, with the tempest & his curiosity in Thang Ta growing much stronger inside him, he started searching for a  right master, & finally ,in  the year 1976, under the great Ojha Rajkumar Sanahal, he started serious & formal training of the ancient Meetei art. He gave various demonstrations, displaying his skills of the art, in many functions & festivals.

Even up to now, no one has forgotten (the sound of the sword clashing, the applauding claps still lingers afresh in the ears) the amazing & breath-taking demonstration (Thang-Ta Chainaba: sword vs spear fight) given by him& his group in the ‘Indian Martial art Seminar’ organized by the (late) Karate Sensai (=teacher), Mr. Moses Tilak, at Chennai, in the year 1980, in front of many Gurus of different Indian Martial arts.

So  deeply impressed by his mastery of the art, was one of the Kalaripayat guru, Shri Balan Gurukal (from Mepiel Village, Calicut) that he requested the Ojha to teach basics of Thang Ta to his son, Sunil. In 1985, overcoming the distance & language barrier, Sunil came (he stayed for nearly one month) to Manipur, & was taught the basics, after getting the permission from Ojha Sanahal.

Having influenced by this incident, & with the goal to popularize Thang Ta worldwide, Ojha Premkumar decided to open various institutes & teach the basics of Thang Ta outside Manipur. This was one of the earliest major attempt & daring step by a Thang Ta practitioner, especially as Thang Ta was considered a secret & exclusive art of Meetei, & outsiders were not generally given access to it.

Finally in the year 1986, with the permission & blessing of his master, he started teaching & spreading the art in different parts of India, starting first with Assam (Lakhipur), & other northeast states (now in almost all Indian States). Soon he realized, if Thang Ta has to reach far & wide, the sport aspect must be well developed also. The trick used by almost all oriental countries for their martial arts must be used. Besides, sport aspect (amateur), is much easier to teach, less time consuming, & readily acceptable & spreadable; also with it, the culture, language, history & pride of Manipur can still be promoted (the legends & greatness of our fore-fathers & ancestors can be told to every corner of the world).

With this great aim & goal in his mind, The parent academy was re-registered with the original name (Meetei Huyen Langlon Thang Ta Academy) in 1987; & with it, as the apex body, the wave of the movement was propagated in all direction. For the first time, an application was written to Sport Department, govt. of Manipur, for permitting a state level Thang Ta Competition in the year 1987. Much amazed by the proposal, an enquiry asking how ‘Thang Ta’ could be played as sport (the popular performing aspect of Thang Ta comes under the Art & Culture department) was sent back from the department.


(d) 1st Stepping stone of success:

Finally, having satisfied with the arguments & justifications given, for the first time in the history of Manipur, the first State Level sport Thang Ta competition (although many such competitions had been held before by many associations, including his; but were not in recognition by the sport department, Govt. of Manipur.) was organized at Yumnam Huidrom in the year 1988, under the banner of the Academy & the sport department, govt. of Manipur (for which a grant of Rs 3000/- was given by the govt.).

Since then many state levels have been organized successfully (21 up to 2010). With increasing popularity of Thang Ta sport nationally, Thang Ta Federation of India (TTFI) was established as a national apex body in 1993; under which banner, the first National Thang Ta Championship was organized in Manipur in the same year (at Yumnam Huidrom; from 21st to 25th Nov.1993- in which 12 States participated. Since then, up to 2010, 17 National Championships have been organized; with 27 State associations participating in the last one, & one National Federation Cup for  National Team selection at Delhi 7-9 Jan. 2011).

Due to the persistence hard work & dedication of the Academy & National body, Thang Ta sport was introduced for the first time, as demonstration game in the 5th National Games, held at Imphal, Manipur on 20th feb.1999 (in which, 10 State Associations participated.).


(e) The Day when the half dream is realized – The day when sweat turns nectar:

The latest scientific views; the emphasis on safety aspect, & the high efficiency as a martial art (including self defense, & health promotion), coupled with the hard work of the National federation & Academy, make Thang Ta a very popular sport; such was the popularity that Indian Olympic Association in its Annual General Body Meeting held on 20th Dec. 2006, gave recognition to the Thang Ta Federation of India.

This was  really a historic moment, a first step towards the realization of the ultimate goal of international Olympic.(inclusion of Thang Ta sport as one of the official medal games in the International Olympic); a day, each & every Manipuri should feel proud of;  an emotional moment too for Ojha Premkumar (& his group)-  because of whom, this was possible (this success was a tribute for his master, who had left this world for the heavenly abode in the year 1988, before witnessing the dream come true of 1st State Sport Thang-Ta Championship, as recognized by the Govt. of Manipur.)- who in spite of all the adversities & obstacles (financially- sometimes the situation was so bad, he was even forced to mortgage his only piece of land; socially- sharp criticism from traditionalists; health & family issues etc), continued to fight & stand without retreat selflessly, for the future of the art & us, so that one day, with raised heads & much proudly we can tell the world, Thang Ta sport is a gift of our ancestors.


(f) No turning back – Doubling everything, set out to conquer the world:

Catalyzed by this event, all the efforts for the development & process of popularization were doubled.

Many state governments (Sport & Youth welfare department) began granting recognition (& hence all those benefits- financially & others- like admission to various Govt. courses/job etc under sport category/quota, in J&K etc) to Thang Ta sport (1st-Manipur govt.; 2nd- Jammu & Kashmir govt.; 3rd – Chhattisgarh govt. & so on.). With increasing valuation of the sport Thang Ta medals & certificates, no wonder, Thang Ta sport becomes one of good & much sought after career option, in the world of martial arts, which was unknown few decades ago. There has also started initiation regarding the introduction of NIS level Coaching programmes, & research courses at Universities in Thang Ta martial art & sport.

The fame of Thang Ta sport (like a burning ember piercing the dark covering of even thick cloths) also started spreading outside India. [Already many foreign countries have seen the amazing performances given by many performing artists of Thang Ta in various cultural functions etc .Even some of them have also tasted few preliminary lessons by some of traditional practitioners living outside India etc. This has helped much in the spread of Sport Thang Ta as well. ].

Starting with Bangladesh (in2003), the sport Thang Ta movement has already spread to many countries- Burma (Myanmar), Nepal, Bhutan, Sri-Lanka, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, China, Canada, Japan, USA etc, the number increasing day by day. The World Thang Ta Council (WTTC)/World Thang Ta Federation (WTTF) was established under the Chairmanship of Ojha Premkumar, as an international apex body, with Meetei Huyen Langlon Thang Ta Academy being the international Headquarter.

As its first maiden step, much work & preparation are being done for the 1st ever International (~world) Thang Ta Championship to be held at Khuman Lampak Indoor Stadium in Imphal, Manipur, from 11 to 14 March 2011, in which about 15 countries – Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Canada, Malaysia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan & amongst others – are expected to send participants, a first of its kind in the history of Thang Ta & Kangleipak.

With such a fast pace of development of Thang Ta, its immediate acceptability & immense popularity both at home & internationally, if sufficient support from the government (Thang Ta should be declared the national/state sport; & accordingly financial & other needs should be provided sufficiently-for better promotion, preservation & popularization of Thang Ta) is there, it is safe to predict that the day will soon come when the Thang Ta is included as one of the official medal games at International Olympic.



-7th Part-

(a) Think bank – Traditional vs Sport concept:

As, in case of any new major initiative in the history of mankind [the great scientist Galileo was put behind bars because of his theory of the earth revolving around the Sun!],& as with many martial arts, the initial phase of Sport Thang Ta movement didn’t go smoothly & wasn’t welcomed by all. Most traditionalists felt the sacred ancient art form being threatened; the purity might get diluted by this new sport aspect.

The traditional way (as in ancient times) is the learning & teaching the art as a way of life, as a means of self-defense & survival- protecting one’s life at all cost (to incapacitate opponents as quickly as possible), with emphasis on the expressive component (the performing art). The emphasis on competitive sparring is generally missing (if there, mostly choreographed/pre-planned) as, if a technique is designed to be lethal, how it can be practised as such on (a) partner(s). So, to develop martial skills, only two methods remain (besides, what learnt in the actual battle, if survived) – through practice of forms/patterns (pre-planned martial movements), & cooperative/controlled sparring training with (a) partner(s).

On the other hand, the sportive training of martial arts mostly concentrates on non-cooperative/free-sparring practice. The main aim is to win the match any how (& hence, more focusing on the scoring techniques, even if non realistic/non-effective in real life situation: as an example, one can see modern WTF Taekwondoins using 90-98% foot techniques which is more scoring, neglecting the upper half techniques).Also, there are so many restrictions or rules (for safety purpose), & other measures {mats, gloves, chest guards, padding etc- many lethal & dangerous or useless (as mentioned earlier, in competition) techniques are forbidden, & hence neglected}.

Many new innovations or modifications are added subsequently with time, so as to suit the players & officials etc. This fact is the greatest worry for the traditionalists who feel, the very originality of the art might thus one day be even lost.

However, as for sportive training, it greatly improves (may be even better than those- not all- traditionalists who generally have little experience against non-cooperative opponents; & hence often unfamiliar with the feel of being stuck/taken down suddenly/unexpectedly) a fighter’s abilities (even if against a single opponent), by approximating a real fight situation (although in a restricted format), allowing the fighter to test the skills without the fear of getting hurt mortally. For this sport person, the free sparring becomes a laboratory for applying the learnt techniques, & discovering, through trial & error, which suit best, according to the situation, & how to execute them.

For most weapon martial arts, the modern sport forms are like an evolution for surviving the transition into modern times.

So, a combined approach should better be done regarding the training of the martial arts. In sport form, in addition to the sparring competitions (including the unarmed part: Sarie – Sara, with elements of Mukna), much more emphasis should also be given to the competitions of forms/patterns {including the performing components whose demonstrations, our traditionalists have been giving since olden days.}, & a systematic, good grading systems & training curriculum (respecting all the styles of Thang Ta; which not only will produce skilled martial artists & players, but also inculcate in them – our tradition, our culture, our history, our origin, the sacrifices made by our ancestors, & their greatness- as a potent bonding & unification factor-we as a one, for our motherland).

[the forms competition should include: fixed forms -single/dual/group-with/without weapon(s) (as decided by appointed & approved technical committees, taking into consideration all the major styles/forms of Thang Ta); & free/individualized forms {including various choreographed fights etc: created by the player(s) with the help of teachers/coaches etc}-single/dual/group-with/without weapon(s)].


(b) Think bank – Unification & cooperation, need of the hour:

With so many different systems of practice & teaching of Thang Ta, there arises a need (one of the most important thing) for standardization (especially for forms/patterns, teaching curriculum & grading system etc) & unification. There were some initiations in the past, but proved not so successful.

Regarding this, we may learn many things from China – after creation (post 1949) of standardized modern Wushu (from many parent traditional Chinese martial arts), the government is trying everything for its promotion & popularization, & hence for inclusion in the international Olympic.

[As we all know, China has a long tradition of martial arts, with many hundreds of different styles. After the fall of Qing dynasty, 1636-1911 (or Manchurian dynasty, which banned martial arts, from 1644-1911,so as to prevent the Han Chinese from rebelling); & the turmoil of Japanese invasion & the Cultural Revolution of China itself (1969-1976); there was revival of traditional Chinese martial arts- with increasing access to general public.

Martial art was increasingly felt as a means to promote national pride, & for building a strong nation. The central Guoshu Academy {the term ‘Kuoshu/Guoshu’, meaning ‘the art of the nation’ was encouraged to be used, rather than the term ‘Kungfu/Gongfu’} was established in 1928 to preserve & promote a systematic approach for training in Chinese martial arts. For the 1st time, practitioners of all the different styles sat down, & shared knowledge together.

A group of Chinese martial artists demonstrated their art for the first time at the 11th Olympic Games in Berlin, in the year 1936. After 2nd world war (~1937-1945), martial art training was established at the National Athletics Institute (although the communist government deleted combat training portion, & application- so as to discourage possible unification of martial artists against itself – hence, only forms were given more emphasis even, until late 1980’s). ‘Wushu’, meaning ‘art of war’ was created post 1949 by the People Republic of China in an attempt to nationalize the practice of traditional martial arts.

With the realization of serious negative effect (of only emphasizing on forms, & neglecting the traditional combat aspects), a ‘Martial arts investigation team’ was organized by the govt. to search for surviving old traditional masters (many of whom were either killed or had fled during the Chinese cultural revolution; & the reluctance of remaining ones to share their treasure of martial arts knowledge), & recorded their knowledge for preservation.

In 1958, the govt. established the All-China Wushu Association, as an apex body to regulate martial arts training. Common standardized forms (including teaching curriculum, & grading system) were created for most of the major traditional arts by the Chinese state commission for physical culture & sports. Wushu was introduced to both at school & university level.

Another body, ‘the Chinese National Research Institute of Wushu’ was established in 1986 for the research & administration of wushu activities. With increasing importance given to traditional teaching of arts {already ‘Sanshou/Sanda’ – sparring competition, based on traditional Lei tai or raised platform fighting (appeared first in the Song dynasty, 960-1279 AD) has been included}, & the de-politicizing of organized sports (the closing of state sports commission or the central sports authority, in 1998), the govt. moved the sport policies towards a more market-driven approach.

The establishment of the International Wushu Federation in 1990, was an important landmark; which holds the world Wushu Championships (since 1991, the first one, in Beijing, China). Their seriousness for the Olympic dream is obvious, IOC (International Olympic Committee) even allowed them for ‘2008 Beijing Olympic Games Wushu Tournament’ during the 2008 Olympic at Beijing (although wushu was neither one of the 28 official Olympic medal games, nor was a demonstration game, but very soon it may be).]


(c) Think bank – Realizing one’s potential & learning from oneself:

Thang Ta has tremendous potentials as a sport, & if we only concentrate on stage shows, then one day even if we want, we might not get even a place to stand in the sport arena, because of many cheap duplicates & imitations of Thang Ta- with so   many name & fame seeking opportunists all around us- just because of our negligence- (already there exists one such so called martial art/sport, even with national & many state associations- a serious threat & a single major  hindrance in the realization of our dream).

Just look around, many traditional Indian martial arts (whose working area was once mostly limited to few demonstrations in festivals or religious activities) have already started entering the world of sports (many are also enjoying as popular sport games), leaving the confinement of the four walls of their traditional ‘Akharas’.

The nation has just seen the rise of Bodo martial art, & its grand introduction in the international combat (martial) sport community- how serious are the Bodo people, especially the govt., & leaders for popularizing their art- it feels much pain & discontent looking back to our own situation- our govt. & leaders should learn from them.

The Sikhs have already taken a step ahead. The international Gatka Federation (IGF) was established in 1982, & formalized in the year 1987 (based in Berlin). Another apex international body, the International Gatka Organization (IGO) has been working constantly in this field since the early 1990’s, & on 18th March 2006, a Gatka tournament was held in Oldbury (at Gurudwara Amrit Parchar Dharmik Diwan), England. National & State Gatka Assos. are trying hard for the game to be recognized by IOA, & by Sports Ministry.

The memory of the first Asian Silambam Championship is still afresh in the minds of all Indian martial artists, which was held successfully at Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, recently (03-06 Dec.2009), with 9 participating countries.

[Silambam (much like the southern style of Kalaripayat of Kerala) is an ancient martial art style originated in the southern part of Indian peninsula (the state of Tamil Nadu). Although a complete martial art {weapon art (staff; knife- kathi; swords- vaal; even deer horn- maduru etc), unarmed art (kuttu varisai- footworks: kaaladi; locks & counter locks: pottu thirappu etc; striking & blocking: kolluvuthal etc), including the pressure/ vital point art- varma kalai, & meditation etc (thapa)},when one refers to sport Silambam, a scene of stick/ staff  fighting / fencing come in front of our eyes (as the main weapon used in the art is the staff; the very word ‘Silambam’ refers to the bamboo/ wooden staff used)- a very popular & govt. recognized sport in Malaysia today- thanks to the Tamil immigrants there, who have set an example for all of us.

It has a long history (~5000years), & as per a legend, its genesis is credited (however, some relate the art to the lord Muruga himself) to the great sage, Agasthya (who was taught by the lord Shiva. He is also considered the first practitioner of Kalaripayat by many living gurus of the art. He composed the famous, ‘Agasthyar Kampu Soothram’, the ancient text – describing various aspects of the art).

The efficacy of the art was well known & used by the famous kings of south India- the Chola, the Chera, the Pandya  etc, & by the king Veerapandiya Kattabomman & his soldiers (1760-1799) against the British. The staff fencing game of the art can be traced as early as 1st -2nd century A.D.(there are references of the sale of Silambam staff, among various other weapons, to foreign traders in the ancient Tamil literature, Silappadikkaram, 2nd century A.D.

Today Silambam sport is becoming very popular as a result of many associations – national (All India Silambam Federation) & International – working persistently for the popularization of the art]


(d) The Conclusion:

Thang Ta has been cradle of our race, the very reason for our existence today. We are very fortunate that our forefathers have given such a priceless gift to us, & it is the duty of all of us to preserve & promote it; & through it, let each & every corner of the world, know the greatness & legends of them, who had protected us & our motherland, using the Thang Ta. Now the time has come for us to repay them & our motherland, even if a little bit, using the same thing- the Thang Ta.

Instead of negatively criticizing & fighting among us, lets unite as one, as sons of the Lord Sannamahi & Ipu Athoupa Pakhangpa , for the common goal, the major battle ahead- the Olympic dream; giving equal emphasis to the sport aspect as well, like the performing art component, as both being opposite sides of the same coin, the two climbing steps towards success – essential & inevitable for the overall progress & development of not only Thang Ta & our culture, but also our motherland, & we, the Meetei (undivided) race, as a whole.

The day will soon come when our youths will earn name & fame, in international & Olympic arena, not only for themselves, but more importantly, for the motherland, as players of Thang Ta, the very tradition of our great forefathers.

Dr.HanjabamCha BarunMBBS,DSM(sports medicine) std.,NS NIS,Patiala,Punjab,India,Martial artist & Thang Ta practitioner.Chief Instructor & founder,C.G.Thang Ta Association,Raipur,C.G.,
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