My tryst with the state archives in Manipur began in 2011. I was following a trail of official correspondences regarding war compensation for damages in the state during World War II at the National Archives, New Delhi. Manipur became a dependent frontier state with the establishment of a Political Agency in the State after the first Anglo-Burmese War.
However, the establishment of a proper colonial archive began in the record room of the Political Agency Office of the State Secretariat building in Imphal in 1893, where the documents produced by the state were kept. The documents were initially handwritten or typed by an army of clerks. Later, with the introduction of the state printing press in 1910, copies of the documents and government reports were printed and circulated.
The durbar in Manipur produced several types of documents such as maps, letters, political and religious treatises, genealogies and other types of records. The establishment of the Political Agency in 1835 led to the proliferation of correspondences, reports and letters between the durbar, office of the Political Agency and British administration in Shillong and Calcutta.
Those records were kept in the record room of the old Secretariat building until March 1982, when the Manipur State Archives was established under the Directorate of Social Welfare, Art and Culture. With the bifurcation of the department, it is now under the jurisdiction of the Directorate of Art and Culture.
In the heart of Imphal city
Manipur state archives is located in the heart of Imphal city, near the Keishampat junction, and is easily accessible by both public and private means of transportation.
It is within five minutes walking distance from the Paona international market and the Kangla fort.
The main building looks quite dilapidated as if it has not been repaired or maintained for several years, and it shares the building with the State Central library.
The record room is located in the first floor of the building. Earlier, the record room was located in the right wing of the building, while others amenities such as the microfilm department and digitisation room were located in the left wing.
They had a small dusty reading room with few rickety chairs and a single table, just outside the record room for the visiting scholars.
However, the building does not have any facility for providing drinking water and food to the visiting scholars.
However, in the last few years, significant changes have been made in the layout of the archives. The record room has been moved to the left wing of the building. They have also constructed a much larger and safer study room for the visiting scholars with better furniture.
There are a few small tea-stalls, just outside the gate of the building where scholars can take small chai breaks with local savouries like pakoras(fritters) and singju (spicy vegetable salad).
Otherwise, one of the major markets in the city is at a walking distance, and there are plenty of options for food in the market. Imphal city also has a large number of cafes where scholars can continue to work after the archive hours, over cups of coffee or local tea.
The Records – 1891 onwards
A large number of files were transferred from the record room in the old secretariat building to the new archive building in 1982. However, many files are still retained in the library of the old Secretariat building.
Any visit to the record room of Manipur state archives should be followed by a visit to the library in the old secretariat building. The record room has a huge collection of files, especially from 1891 onwards when the state administration was taken over by the colonial state.
The records are divided into four categories— public records, private records, manuscripts and rare books. It also has microfilms of early newspapers and journals from the early 20th century.
These records are very useful for studying the history of the former princely state of Manipur, and it holds most of the major records such as Manipur State Administrative Reports (1869-1962), Diaries of Political Agents of Manipur (1886-1947), Proceedings of Manipur State Durbar (1907-1947), Manipur state Gazettes (1932-1975), land revenue records and judicial records. These records are informative on questions regarding the frontier policies of the colonial state.
It also has a huge collection of private papers donated by many well-known scholars and public figures of the state. Besides colonial documents, it has a huge collection of pre-colonial manuscripts (locally known as Puyas) written in old Meetei script or in Bangla/Assamese script. This rich corpus of manuscripts has yet to be researched by scholars. Another interesting collection are the large volumes of photocopies and microfilms of files and correspondences related to the former princely state (1826-1950) collected from archives outside the state such as the British Library and archives in Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati etc. Most of the documents are in English, or in Manipuri, in either the old Meetei script or Bangla/Assamese script.
Accessing the Record room
There are several issues while accessing the record room in the Manipur State Archives. Firstly, the catalogue is in a fragile condition, and visiting scholars are often given a list of handwritten catalogues, from which they make selections and requests for requisitioning.
Secondly, this catalogue is far from being exhaustive, and only lists a fraction of the files inside the record room. Hence, it becomes extremely difficult to access some significant files such as Hill Administration records (1891-1972), Electricity and Power records (1891-1947) and Manipur Jail records (1891-1977), etc. Perhaps the remaining records will be catalogued and digitised in the future.
Thirdly, the opening timings of the record room can be uneven. Scholars and students might have to be prepared to wait beyond 9 AM for the opening of the record room. However, some of the junior archivists earnestly help any visiting scholar to navigate through the catalogue and the records in the archive. Over the years, I learnt the importance of their enthusiastic support in successfully gaining access to the rare manuscripts and uncatalogued files in the record room. With their permission, scholars are also allowed to take photographs of some of the documents.
“Bring your institutional credentials”
The administrative office of the archives maintains a strict record of visiting scholars, and they insist on producing an identification document and a supporting letter from the university or research institution. Foreign scholars are expected to produce a copy of their passport and visa.
Imphal city is located in the oval shaped valley in the middle of the state, and is surrounded by lush green mountains which make the weather pleasant throughout the year for visiting scholars.
However, scholars should avoid visiting the state for archival work during the major local festivals such as Yaoshang, Ningol Chakouba and Christmas, as it is unlikely to find the employees of the archive in the record room or anywhere in the office during these festivals.
Deepak Naorem is an Assistant Professor at Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi, New Delhi. His research interests include History of Colonial Northeast India and the Trans-Himalayan Region, History of literary cultures in Southeast Asia and History of Second World War in Southeast India.
Some of his publications are ‘Japanese invasion, war preparation, relief, rehabilitation, compensation and ‘state-making’ in an imperial frontier (1939–1955)’ in Asian Ethnicity, ‘A Contested Line- Implementation of Inner Line Permit in Manipur’, in Kafila on September 15, 2015, ‘Myth Making and imagining a Brahmanical Manipur since 18th century CE’, and ‘Remembering Japan Laan: Struggle for Relief, Rehabilitation and Compensation’, in NE Scholar Journal (July 2018)