Matter of Symbols


Despite so much said on the matter, nobody seems moved. The once imposing figure of a monarch taming a rogue elephant was once upon a time the most prominent landmarks of Imphal city, but today it has been reduced to a caricature. For decades, the king and the elephant braved the elements, telling and retelling an endearing story from a heroic and historic antiquity, but a present insensitive to either history or religion has undone that magic moment so comprehensively. The famed rogue of Tekhao is now no more fearsome than a purring house pet, and the king less than a discarded toy. In the months ahead, they will be subject to further ignominy, condemned to an eternity of eating dust, watching the underbelly of a flyover. Can the disrespect for the symbols of history and mythology be more blatant than this? We earnestly request the government once again to restore the grandeur of the statues. Let the magic moment from the annals of Manipur history not be forgotten. Shift the statue elsewhere if need be. The roundabout outside the western gate of the Kangla could be a befitting place. If the statue must remain where it was originally installed, the government should at least renovate and restore it. Perhaps recast it in bronze. It should not cost too much either. A lot more have been wasted on numerous government white elephants, and this elephant is definitely not a white elephant.

The flyover is here to stay, and in hindsight, maybe there was no other way considering the matter Imphal was and is growing. The old must ultimately give way to the new. But something must be done so this statue representing a mystic and historical moment is not subverted altogether. It may be recalled this, Bheigyachandra, or Chingthang Khomba, was the grandson of Pamheiba, the great king known for his arambai warriors, and for his decision to make Hinduism the state religion of his kingdom. On this occasion, Bheigyachandra was a fugitive in the Ahom kingdom (Tekhao), during a devastating raid on Manipur by the Burmese. In Burma, after the fall of the Tongoo Dynasty, to which event King Pamheiba’s raids had a great share (DGE Hall), the Konbaung Dynasty had just ascended the throne. So bitter was the venom of the past, it is said King Alaungpaya, the founder of the Konbaung Dynasty, himself took part in the first of these raids of the period and these raids happened to be the time of King Bheigyachandra’s troubled era, marked by a succession war that lingered, and quite naturally too, for it would have been difficult for the vacuum left by someone like King Pamheiba to be filled. The mythologized story goes that Tekhao ruler King Rajeswara came to doubt if the man he was sheltering in his court was actually King Bheigyachandra, after Bheigyachandra’s uncle a collaborator of the Burmese, sent a message he was an imposter. The story continues, Rajeswara ordered the exile to prove he was actually the king he claims to be, and since Bheigyachandra was reputed for having mystic powers, to do this by taming a wild elephant recently caught. This was like a death sentence, and Bheigyachandra thought this was his end, and bade goodbye to his wife who was with him in exile. The night before the elephant encounter, he went into a trance, and it is said he had a vision of Krishna assuring him he would be in the arena the next day to help his devout follower. The king was also shown a vision of the Ras Lila which he was told to choreograph after he returns to Manipur. The next day, at the ring, the king still not out of his trance totally saw Krishna sitting on the elephant and rushed at the elephant to pay his obeisance. Probably startled by the unexpected turn of event of a man rushing at it, the elephant cowered before the king. The audience who saw only the man and elephant thought it was the mystic power of the king which tamed the elephant. The myth is charming and the moment historic. Let all this not be made profane.


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