The traverse of the course of human history has always been one of the primal basis on which cultures and civilisation seek continuance as they continue to reside still in certain annals of the past or otherwise draw from such references of the times of yore that yield indeed immense significance for their very existence and identity. Intertwined with present day lives and future assertions of how identities will go on to evolve and emerge are these trails along which the past has unravelled its account of distinction, shaping therefore existences in such mannerism that the successors of those heralding this lineage of antiquity hold this earlier account of events in rather pride and esteem.
With such manifestations of what had characterised happenings earlier in the times being so poignant a reminder of one’s identity, pursuing in rather high held esteem the glorious recollections of past events that has been vital in leading cultures and races and civilisations to their present stature in dwelling is a proclivity we lean to as part of our nature. Stemming from such an awareness of what the times that we otherwise hold in knowledge to be passing by indeed for forever still harbours the potential of doing to present existences is a certain singular development that has recently come to characterise two distinct parts of our diverse country. Across two distinct expanses of territory marked though in their identity as Indian as well as in the prominent aesthetic allure of their natural pristinity but separated by a distance of some thousand kilometers, it is the prominent manifestation of the events of history that has come to assume a role of current domination.
The allusion would be more than apparent, for it has amassed for itself a coverage that has well traversed the physical demarcations set in stone and land and water by geography. And equally apparent by now should also be the history associated with this considerable enough development of the times. What we are referring to indeed is the recent change in identity witnessed by a certain mountain peak in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that comprise a part of the Indian mainland as a union territory. The third highest peak of the region and one that is a definite tourist attraction in all its grandeur and beauty, Mount Manipur might be a revelation in its as glorious steeping in history but of rather prominent allure has been this particular cynosure of eyes that until very recently was known instead as Mount Harriet. That itself had been an identity bestowed upon it in a certain celebration of historical measure, having taken after its awe inspiring visuals to be named after a pioneering photographer of the British ruled India.
Harriet Christina Tytler, herself a prominent photographer in addition to being a writer and artist was the wife of the British soldier, naturalist and photographer Robert Christopher Tyler and along with her husband had lived in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for a couple of years from 1862 to 1864. The then Superintendent of the Convict Settlement in Port Blair, it was Tytler’s brief tenure there that saw the couple imprint their name on the tremendous repertoire of natural treasures that had been doing up forever the spectacular beauty of the island region. It was one of such brushes with the exotic allure of Andaman that led to this 1100 foot high island hill in the southern part of the region being discovered by and subsequent named also after the lady as Mount Harriet. Standing tall in an area that now is protected as part of the Mount Harriet National Park, Mount Harriet today though speaks also of another definite history unravelling along its already historic prominence, albeit in altogether distinctive mannerisms and essence of its exploration.
Expressing very evidently through its new identity is this popular already peak of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that manifests this time its deep seated connect with the northeast Indian state of Manipur. Harbouring of a crucial political dimension is this recent turn of affairs that has come to this particular hilly expanse far removed from the state after which it is now named being bestowed with this referral with intricate links still to an India of the British times. As a tribute to 23 freedom fighters of Manipur, the name change has been effected in honour of the role played by these otherwise unsung heroes of the state in resisting the oppressive British rule during the 1857 and 1891 revolutions. But the significance rests most prominently with the events that unfolded during the course of the historic 1891 Anglo-Manipur war when the then Maharaja of Manipur Kulchandra Dhwaj Singh and 22 other freedom fighters were exiled to the British penal colony in the Andaman Islands.
Even when it is the colonial prison of Kala Pani or the Cellular Jail that is most notorious as being the expanse along which the British carried out their torture upon the Indian freedom fighters of the 19th and 20th centuries, it instead was the hillock of Mount Harriet where Maharaja Kulchandra Singh and his 22 accomplices including his brothers were imprisoned after being ‘transported for life’ to the island the British had been using as a confinement center ever since the Indian Rebellion of 1857. An important symbol therefore of the 1891 Anglo- Manipur war that was fought out over a period of a month between the kingdom of Manipur and the British forces is this towering presence of the Mount Harriet, infamous for holding captive the war heroes of the state. The rechristening of the peak as Mount Manipur is an ode to the contribution of the Maharaja himself as well as the others along with him who by virtue of their unrelenting show of valour and resistance delivered indeed a blow to the British prestige even through the course of a war they eventually came to lose. While Maharaja Kulachandra and some of the others were shifted elsewhere later from Mount Harriet even as some still faced death there, these 23 war heroes have been the reason why a peak nestled so far off in the wilderness of the Andamans ended up being so vital a presence for the Manipuri sentiment that led to the ultimate tribute being paid to these unsung warriors by a renaming of it after the identity of the state.
An epochal episode in the history of Manipur that despite leading the state to come under the British Raj presented still a significant show of resistance and in fact a valiant assertion of the impetus gained by the freedom movement through such acts of torture committed by the British, the Anglo- Manipuri War is a reminder of the glorious history that the state has forever found pride in. And while the naming of the peak to Mount Manipur effecting also therefore the corresponding change in identity of the namesake national park is itself befitting and exemplary enough a show of gratitude to the war heroes of the state, the move is also set to be supplemented by an announcement that proposes the setting up of a memorial site at the same. As the only state that had its own constitution even when it continued to be under the British rule, Manipur indeed set the precedent for the other north eastern states to put a strong resistance to the alien regime that had by then come to engulf the whole of the nation with its treacherous premise of oppressive domination. In dignifying itself therefore with such esteemed placing in history, Manipur also lay to ‘claim’ the grand allure harboured by the towering expanse of the Mount Harriet behesting upon it a remarkable identity that ventures way beyond the physical explorations afforded by geography.