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Jadonang – A Challenge to British Imperialism

by Tanzan Newme
Haipou Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu are two most enigmatic personalities in the historical mosaic of tribal Northeast India. The mystic personalities have made them mysterious prophets, rebels, martyrs and freedom fighters. In his contemporary world, Jadonang was an unknown Naga revolutionary whose revolt was nipped in the bud but Gaidinliu who came to the attention of a highly sensitive and patriotic Jawaharlal Nehru was popularized through his writings. The contemporary British officials, who dealt with the phenomenon of Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu, perceived Jadonang differently. J C.

Higgins, political Agent in Manipur who condemned Jadonang as s rebel for the ‘Naga Raj’ did a great harm to his reputation and British sense of justice by executing him. But J. P. Mills – an anthropologist romanticized Jadonang as “Messiah King’’ of the Nagas to whom the people were waiting for centuries. To a great patriot and humanist like Jawaharlal Nehru fighting for his country’s freedom, Jadonang, and subsequently Gaidinliu’s anti-British fight was perceived as a specific case of participation of tribal India in the national freedom struggle.

A missionary sociologist Stephen Fuchs in his Rebellious Prophets (1965) while dealing with the revolts of Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu confounded the confusion over the highly spiritual Naga Prophets with Divine Powers by referring to earlier works on Jadonang. Another Church historian, FS Downs in his Mighty Works of God (1970) gave a highly prejudiced and biased description of Jadonang and his movement as heathen and anti-Christian. This view is not shared by historians of national repute. Because of this propaganda, we ignored our own heroes who sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom of Nagas against British invasion and preservation of eternal religion and culture.

Today, the situation is changed. Throughout the country, the people feel proud of the freedom fighters from their community. They venerate them and pay tribute to them. In Naga society, a new awakening is perceived when they feel proud of their forefathers waging war against British expansion and fighting for preservation of eternal religion and culture. I, therefore, pay my tribute to brave Angami warriors of Khonoma, Mezoma, Kikruma and Kohima wherein over a thousand Angami brothers laid their lives to halt expansion of British rule and western culture. Naga forefathers were not Christian but they were brave and free from evils. They were not head-hunters and wild as western anthropologists described. As such Haipou Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu were legendary warriors who challenged the mighty British Empire. I shall, therefore, throw some light on the life of Haipou Jadonang. Extra-ordinary Child hood: – Jadonang was born in 1905 in the village of Kambiron and from very childhood he had shown many miraculous activities and because of that people regarded him as the child with divine power. One day baby Jadonang was sleeping on a mat in the portico of their thatched house, a tornado carried away the sleeping child, the mother was crying for him. Later in the day, the child was found lying on fresh shrubs near her house. The mother and the neighbours were astonished to see the miracle. When he reached the age of four or five, Jadonang used to have trances some times for five days later on 10 days even. The frequent trances were regarded and described as “long sleeps” by his mother and worried maternal grand parents and uncles. As he grew up bigger, the trances became more frequent. His mother would cry that her son would never wake up.

Jadonang told her mother – “Mother, why do you cry when I was sleeping. I went to the house of Tingkao Raguang and met him. He gave me instructions”. Jadonang was divine healer and fortune teller. His predictions were true. He used to roam about in thick jungles alone.

He used to talk to himself. He sat alone in meditation. By nature he was very mild, soft spoken and truthful. He was kind, helpful and hard-working. Seer of Kambiron: – With the growing age, the divinity and spirituality of Jadonang grew which was already there in him by birth.

His saintly day-long routine spread over the twenty four hours of the day, his frequent long trances (samadhi), his kind and helpful behaviours, meditation, divine healing, religious preaching, unwavering devotion to motherland, eternal religion and culture and ever-readiness to welcome the guests and visitors –are some of the rare virtues of Jadonang which attracted and influenced one and all.

People called him divine healer. He was formally ordained as the Priest after observing the necessary and prescribed rituals and pujas. God revealed him the Bhuvan Cave in his dreams, Jadonang explored the jungle path and reached the Bhuvan Cave where he met Lord Bishnu. Lord Bshnu blessed him with many divine powers. Slowly and gradually, his fame spread in all the villages in Tamenglong hills, Cachar plains, Imphal plains and Naga Hills. He set out on a pilgrimage to the holy caves of God Bishnu and Bhuvan Hills in large batches of his followers drawn from even distant villages. His house was used as the congregation place. He walked down to Lakhipur along the Cachar bridle path, crossed the great Barak and halted at Binakandi – a Rongmei village. From here, he walked 20 km to reach Bhuvan Cave. Here, he met people from various villages including Bengali Hindus. He visited almost all villages in Cachar treating the sick, praying for the dead and interpreting dreams.

Religious Activities: – Kambarion became the centre of religious activity of Jadonang. From individual treatment to the affairs of villages he dealt with. He was very successful as a divine lealer, dream interpreter and fortune teller. His predictions and prescriptions for the cure of patients were very accurate, mostly the performance of or offering sacrifices to the concern Gods and Goddesses. And thus, the sick and needy people rushed to Kambiron from all over the area for the redressal of their sufferings and spiritual rejuvenation. On being approached, Jadonang prayed for prosperity of the villages. The involvement of the villages in the community pujas necessitated the participation of men, women, boys and girls in Jadonang’s religious activities. The worship of God and offering of sacrifices required observance of rites and rituals, singing of hymns and dancing by the participants. He composed suitable and meaningful devotional hymns, patriotic songs and evolved various indigenous dance forms which are now very popular in the community. Slowly, Kambiron became the centre of organizational activities as well.

Pilgrimage to Holy and Religious Places: – One innovation started by Jadonang, as directed by God Bishnu, was the frequent visits to holy places. His visit to Bhuvan Cave was very significant step towards the discovery of and the restoration of this otherwise unknown cave to its original role as the abode of God Bishnu, the dispenser of welfare of mankind. He explored the jungle clad and pathless Bhuvan Hills to find out the cave. He visited Zailad Lakes with a thousand followers from distant places as far as Binakandi village in Cachar Hills. Jadonang constructed two temples at Kambiron – one at Kekru Naga and the other at Binakandi in Cachar. Rani Gaidinliu also constructed one temple at Lungkao in the mean time.

Abolition of Taboos and Gennas :- With the temple as the centre of religious and other socio-cultural activities, attaining full status of successful man and spiritual path-finder after the performance of his Taraang Kai sacrifice Jadonang set out to introduce reform in the religious beliefs and accompanying customs. He had successfully introduced the worship of Almighty Tingwang in the spiritual system.
He had revived the cult of God Bishnu. He had institutionalized worship of God in the temples. He had introduced the images of God Bishnu in religious system. At the peak of his popularity and influence, the people called him – “the Messiah deliverer”. He introduced the system of shrine and images of God and Goddess in the dress of a typical Rongmei man and woman as described by Higgins. The male god was Bishnu and female was his wife. The mithun in the shrine is the bull of Mahadev. He emphasized the cleanliness of the body and mind in worshipping God.

His last pilgrimage to Bhuwan Hills, January 1931 :- His last tryst with Lord Bishnu at the caves of Bhuvan was the apex of his career. He was now greatly assisted by a young girl Gaidinliu who was destined to play a more tumultuous role in the Zeliangrong history. Jadonang and Gaidinliu visited Bhuvan cave in January 1931, they offered sacrifice of a mithun. Jadonang accompanied with Gaidinliu had a series of conversations. Lord Bishnu had given instructions and tenets of new religion which later on surfaced as Heraka religion. Thus, the Seer of Kambiron had become the harbinger of a new reformed religion.

The Revolutionary: – From a religious ascetic and social reformer to a political visionary and armed revolutionary was the logical development in the ever-evolving career of this “Seer of Kambiron”. Like other sage revolutionaries of India, such as Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda and Maharshi Arvind, he – Jadonang also had successfully brought about reforms in Zeliangrong religion and in the process, engineered a massive social movement involving every section of Zeliangrong society of Manipur, North Cachar Hills and Naga Hills Province of Assam. He wished to protect, preserve and advance his eternal religion and culture from being swallowed by alien religion and culture. On the other hand, he aimed at establishing Makam Gwangdi (Naga Raj). This Makam Gwangdi was a natural response to the British colonialism which was always resisted and never compromised by him nor by his people after him. The concept of kingdom or Naga Raj was an alien idea borrowed from the kings of Manipur, Kachari Kingdom and Kings of Indian States. He gave the exciting slogan of “Makameirui Gwang Tupuni” (Makam people will be the rulers.)

It was this political ideology which made Jadonang clash with the British and his political struggle made his movement relevant to the Indian freedom struggle going on in other parts of the country under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhiji and other fire-brand armed revolutionaries like Subhash Chandra Bose, Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh etc. He was simply trying to achieve the political integration of his people after the achievement of social unity through Heraka religion. The strategy of Jadonang for the achievement of religious and political goal was a messianic prophecy for the coming of kingdom blessed by God; training up of youths for military and armed struggle, training in religious physical acts in dance, music and martial arts, collection of tribute in the form of mithun from the villages offering of which was the expression of support and loyalty of Jadonang and his cause, collection of arms-both traditional spear, dao and guns including 30 muzzle loaders and sending out a customary spear to the loyal villages. Jadonang’s soldiers were called ‘Riphen’ which reached up to 500. They performed military drill; Jadonang had meticulously coined the words of military command. The women wing was trained by Gaidinliu in ‘Jadonang dance and songs’ which had political themes, secret messages, to count people in secrecy, to call names in code words etc. The villages council or Pais and the Khangtans, the fighting force of every Rongmei, later on Liangmei and Jeme villages, sent a spear for forming a military alliances as per the custom. He rode a horse and had a pet python which helped him in interpreting the dreams.

Imprisonment of Jadonang :- Jadonang was aware of freedom movement of Indian National congress under Mahatma Gandhi which was going on in Assam province which he knew during his frequent visit to eastern Cachar specially Binnakandi and Lakhipur and Rongmei villages. In 1928, he made a prediction that the British rule was coming to an end very soon. Such prophesies were spread orally and greatly exaggerated that Jadonang had become the King, S. J. Duncan , SDO, Tamenglong could not tolerate and issued parwana (warrant of arrest) to arrest Jadonang. He directed the people not to pay house tax and stop porter service. He started a disobedience movement and instructed his people that no Govt. order should be obeyed. He alerted his people and his army against the imminent war against the white invaders who would be destroyed and driven out. Jadonang was regarded and looked upon by the people as the real ruler, blessed and ordained by Tingkao Raguang.

Spring Incident of 1930 :- Jadonang was away visiting Lungkao village in the house of Gaidinliu’s father, Lothonang to teach dancing and singing to boys and girls for the sacrifice of Taraang. One day in March 1930, four Manipuri betel leaf traders came to Kambiron and stayed at the rest house within the village gate.

There was a genna called Dinei-worship of mother earth at Kambiron and fire was forbidden. The unsuspecting traders lit up candles in the rest house and were cooking oblivious of genna in the village.

The village mob in the given surcharged atmosphere were greatly suspicious of any outsider. These four traders enquired about Jadonang, his temples and his python. Further there was suspicion over “no fire” genna in the night. Moreover, in the afternoon of that fateful day, Buinuk the killer of animals in the sacrifice had a quarrel with four traders over the price of a cotton shawl to be sold by one of the four Manipuris. The violation of genna, suspicion over spying against Jadonang and quarrel with Buinuk all rolled into one, was enough to enrage the villagers who fell upon the four traders and killed them. On his return to Kambiron after 15 days, Jadonang gave a serious reprimand to those who were involved.

The disappearance of the four Manipuri men were forgotten in course of time. Jadonang continued to make more active preparation for the coming conflict, Jadonang decided to declare war at the end of 1931. He made his last pilgrimage to Bhuvan cave in January 1931 when he was away in Cachar, the retaliation by the British began.

Arrest of Jadonang: – A Muslim police officer of Assam police of Lakhipur police station named Imtiaz Ali in plain clothes invited Jadonang to his house on the plea of consultation with him. Gaidinliu smelled a rat in whole matter and advised Jadonang not to go there. However, Jadonang crossed the Barak in a country boat to the north side, Lakhipur because of insistence of Takhenang – a close associate of Imtiaz Ali and a christian convert. Here, he was trapped on the river bank on 29 January 1931 and lodged in Silchar Jail.

Demonstration March: – After getting the news of Jadonang’s arrest, Higgins with a column of platoon of Assam Rifles under one British officer, Major Bulfield and a Gorkha officer with 190 coolies marched to Kambiron via Bishnupur on the Cachar road. He arrived on March 2, 1931. They visited the house and temples of Jadonang. One of his python was shot dead and others escaped. The temple was burnt down. Higgins proceeded to Lungkao and met Gaidinliu. Then the calumn went down to Jirighat to receive Jadonang from Assam Govt. authorities. Jadonang was taken to Lungkao, then to Tamenglong and brought at Imphal via Lukhambi and Kangchup on 19 March 1931. The cruel Higgins enchained the hands and feet, removed the clothes of Jadonang and thus, he was made to walk along the Imphal Kangchup road to Khwairamband bazar and to Imphal jail. The common people who had seen him enchained and guarded by Assam Rifles sympathized with him.

Thousands of market women at Imphal went out to see him. Meeting with Mahatma Gandhi :- Jadonang was aware of the contemporary Indian struggle for freedom under the leadership of Indian National Congress. He went to meet Mahatma Gandhi alongwith Gaidinliu in 1927 after the Congress session at Guwahati. He was so inspired by Gandhiji that he composed the following song in the honour of Mahatma Gandhi  Apou Gandhi Puno Heigwang Lemkhang  He Pati kheizo He Pati Kheizo  Oh, Lord Gandhi  Become Our king  Come Forth  Come Forth
The Trial: – Forty days after his arrest at Lakhipur by Imtiaz Ali a sepoy in civil dress on 29 January 1931, Jadonang was lodged at Imphal jail on 29 March 1931. During this period of demonstration march for 39 days across the whole breadth of western Manipur hills from Jirighat to Kangchup, Jadonang was steadfast in his demeanor. British moved Jadonang for 39 days long period from village to village to scare the villagers.
J. C. Higgins managed the trial. He was political agent who conducted the operation to arrest Jadonang. He also arranged the prosecution proceedings and delivered the judgment on him. The role of the police, prosecutor and judge were combined in J. C. Higgins. Can justice be expected from such a court? In addition to this, Jadonang was not allowed to have defense lawyer. J.C. Higgins managed to win over all the witnesses by conveying them through Lulungpou that if they would speak against Jadonang, they would not be punished and as such, most of the witnesses spoke against Jadonang. In hatching this conspiracy to kill Jadonang, Lulungpou – a Christian convert and linkman of J.C. Higgins played key role to mobilize most of the witnesses to state against Haipou Jadonang.
Accordingly, J.C. Higgins managed to frame murder charges against Jadonang and finally the conspirator – Higgins succeeded in killing our leader Haipou Jadonang by awarding him capital punishment on 29 August 1931. If our people could remain united solidly behind Jadonang, his life could have been saved to our privilege. But J.C. Higgins succeeded in applying on us the famous British policy of “divide and rule”.
Jadonang in Imphal jail when heard about the death sentence took it stoically. Though appeals were made to the Governor of Assam and Governor General of India, he was sure of the outcome of his appeal-sure death. He was already told of his coming death by God Bishnu in Bhuwan cave in January 1931.
The Execution : Saturday 29 August 1931, 6.00 AM. :- The preceding accounts and the subsequent events after his death clearly show that Jadonang was a religious leader, social reformer and a political revolutionary who by accident was implicated by the imperial authorities in a murder in which he was not involved but framed up with his followers going the way of Juda Iskariot and betraying him. All martyrs either Khudiram Bose or Bhagat Singh or Birsa Munda or his contemporary Saya San of Burma were condemned as murderers by the imperialist British. All martyrs to them were murderers but not so to their people and followers.

A large crowed of people, both Nagas and Meiteis gathered to witness the public hanging of Jadonang behind the Imphal jail between two mango trees on east bank of Nambul river to the south of Residency, the official residence of Political Agent. There was special security arrangement made by the Assam Rifles and some Manipur State police. At the strike of 6 ‘O’ clock in the morning, Jadonang was brought out from the jail and taken to the scaffold. The rope was put an his neck and he was hanged. After he was declared dead by the civil surgeon his body was put into a coffin and usual rites connected with a funeral ceremony was performed. The people sobbed, wailed and paid their lost tribute to the leader they admired most.

The Consequences: – The martyrdom of Haipou Jadonang was followed by series of revolt under the charismatic leadership of Gaidinliu – the spiritual successor of the “Messiah”. The rebellion was Zeliangrong protest against the British imperialism and a logical sequence of the master’s ideology and strategy which would have taken shape but for the sudden, swifts and unexpected British clamp down on the protagonists of freedom from foreign yolk. The charge of the revolt was taken over by his brilliant disciple – Gaidinliu to put up his ideology into practice.



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