Limbuwan Gorkha War
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The Limbuwan Gorkha war was a series of battles fought between the king of Gorkha and the rulers of various principalities of Limbuwan from 1771 to 1774 AD. The war came to an end in 1774 with the Limbuwan Gorkha treaty which recognised Limbu peoples' right to Kipat land in Limbuwan and full autonomy.
After the conquest of Majh Kirant (Kirant Rai kingdoms) by the Gorkhas, they invaded Limbuwan on two fronts. One front was in Chainpur (present-day Sankhuwasabha District) and the second front was in Bijaypur (present-day Dharan, Sunsari District). Bijaypur was the capital of the Morang Kingdom of Limbuwan.
Gorkha-Limbuwan War 1771-1774 AD
Battles of Chainpur
In 1771 AD, the Gorkhas, with the view of attacking the land of the Limbus, crossed the Arun River. When the Limbu kings learned this, they brought their forces and fought a decisive battle on the banks of the Arun and Sowa rivers (in present-day Sankhuwasabha district). The generals of the Limbu army were General Sanbotrey, General Tesakpa, General Kangkarey and Commander General Kangso Rey. They made their fortifications on the banks of the Sowa River and fought bravely against the invading Gorkhas. During the first battle, eight or nine Gorkha soldiers fell at each volley of the Limbu archers. The Limbu army drove their enemies back from their land and, despite the Gorkha king sending frequent reinforcements, the Limbu army kept fighting for three years. The Limbu army drove their enemy back to a distance of about nine days and killed many Gorkha soldiers by guerrilla warfare in the eastern hills. During this first battle of Chainpur, the battlefield was the area between Chainpur and Dumja.
In 1774 AD, Gorkha forces again came to the banks of the Arun River to fight with the Limbu forces. Raghu Rana, a junior officer of the Gorkha force, asked the Limbu commander to fix a day for a combat between the commanders only. He proposed that the rest of the soldiers should leave their weapons at their base and attend the duel of their two commanders as spectators only. They agreed that the winner would win the battle and control of the armies.
On the morning of 25th day of the month of Baisakh of Bikram Sambat 1831, corresponding to the first week of May 1774 in the Gregorian calendar, all the soldiers of both sides stood on the upper and lower sides of the fighting ground situated on the southern side of Chainpur town. The combat between the Limbu General Kangso Rey and Gorkhali General Raghu Rana started. The soldiers stood watching, while the generals fought till afternoon. In the afternoon, Kangso Rey finally smote Raghu Rana a blow that killed him. Watching the defeat of their general, the Gorkha force immediately picked up their hidden weapons and attacked the Limbu General Kangso and his soldiers. Kangso died in the battlefield and the Limbu armies fought the Gorkhali army on the way to the Tamur River and by closing their way towards the river killed all of them. The Limbu forces then buried the bodies of Raghurana and Kangso on the upper and lower sides of the fighting ground and erected stone monuments over their graves.
After the annihilation of the Gorkhali army during the second battle of Limbuwan in Chainpur, King Prithivi Narayan Shah sent an army under the command of General Ram Bhadra Thapa Magar. This time the Limbu officers were General Manjit Rey, General Motreye and General Birjit Rey. When the Limbu forces heard about the arrival of the Gorkha forces at Chainpur, they made traps by digging trenches along the path leading to the town of Chainpur and set up ambushes along the traps. The Gorkhali forces made their way to Chainpur again and were killed in an ambush and guerrilla warfare. The news of the battle of Chainpur reached the Sikkim palace. The Sikkimese King Tenzin Namgyal, having alliances with the Limbu Kings, declared war against the Gorkhas. By this time, the Gorkhas declared ceasefire with the Limbus and the battle of Chainpur came to an end. In the mean time, Gorkhali representatives were negotiating peace terms with the Limbu ministers in Bijaypur, capital of Morang kingdom of Limbuwan.
Battle of Bijaypur
Bijaypur (near present-day Dharan, Sunsari district) was the capital town of lowland Limbuwan kingdom of Morang. It was ruled by King Buddhikarna Khebang. King Buddhikarna Khebang was the descendent of the ruler King Muray Hang Khebang of Phedap Kingdom and King Muray Hang’s descendents were made the hereditary prime ministers of Morang Kingdom starting 1584 AD.
Bijaypur was a very renowned town and thus it was not easy to conquer for the Gorkhali king, so he sought help from the British. But King Buddhikarna Khebang of Morang was already in close contact with the British, Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. When King Buddhikarna came to know that the neighbouring kingdom of King Karna Sen was annexed to the Gorkhas, he was determined to bring help from the British. King Karna Sen, his family and his minister Agam Singh Rai fled and came to take refuge at Bijaypur palace.
King Buddhikarna gave charge of his state affairs to his Chief Minister ShriShun Raya Chemjong and went to Calcutta to ask for military help. In 1773 AD, the governor general Warren Hastings was in Murshidabad at the time, so Buddhikarna went and sought help. It was agreed that British soldiers would help protect the Morang kingdom from the invading Gorkhas. With this assurance King Buddhikarna wrote a letter to King Prithivi Narayan not to invade Morong because he had British help on his side. But soon Raja Buddhikarna realised that the Gorkhali king had also written a letter to the British against him and realised he would not get any help from the British. He then went to Tibet to ask for help from the Chinese Emperor.
During King Buddhikarna Khebang’s absence in Bijaypur, the Gorkha king sent his army to Bijaypur town to capture it. The Chief Minister Shrishun Chemjong and ministers of the time Shrikum Phung and Srijung peacefully surrendered themselves to the Gorkha king on the condition that they would be given full autonomy in Limbuwan.
Thus, in August 1774, the Gorkha King Prithivi Narayan Shah’s representatives Abhiman Singh Basnet, Parath Bhandari, Kirti Singh Khawas and Bali Baniya met the ministers of Morang state and agreed to come to good terms with the Gorkha kingdom and accept the Gorkhali king as maharaja and that in return the kingdom of Gorkha would retain the right of self-government of Limbu rulers in their kingdoms.
Gorkha-Limbuwan Treaty of 1774 AD
The Gorkha Bhardars, Abhiman Singh Basnet, Parath Bhandari, Kirti Singh Khawas and Bali Bania on behalf of Gorkha king Prithivi Narayan Shah agreed to take an oath and swear on “noon pani” (salt water) promising that Gorkha king would never confiscate Limbus’ Kipat land (self-autonomous land) nor destroy them. If their Kipat land was confiscated and destroyed, then the god, upon whom Gorkha raja had swore upon and put faith on, would destroy him, his descendents and his kingdom. With this swearing ceremony, a big copper cauldron was brought in front of Gorkha and Limbu representatives and one pathi (eight pounds) of salt was put into it. Limbu ministers then poured water into it and stirred properly to mix the salt with water. Then the ministers asked the Gorkha bhardars to extract salt out of the water. They answered that salt had mixed and had become impossible to extract out from the water.
The Limbu ministers then said, ”Although the salt had melted and it is impossible to extract it from water, yet the water has become tasteful. You, the Gorkhas, are like water and we the Kirant Limbu people, are like salt. You Gorkhas people want us to melt in you, but you will not remain as before. When we mix or amalgamate with you, then you Gorkhas will be more exalted than before. But, if you betray us by taking our right of Kipat land, then what oath will you take for not violating this agreement?” The Gorkha bhardars, on behalf of Gorkha raja took a handful of salt water in their hands and swore that the Gorkha raja would never betray them by forfeiting the Kipat land (self-governing autonomous land). If the Gorkha King did so, his descendents would melt like salt and disappear from the world. The Gorkha bhardars, then questioned the Kirant Limbu ministers, saying if they will betray the Gorkha raja by violating "noon pani" agreement what oath would they take for never violating such agreement. The Kirant Limbu ministers took a handful of salt water and swore that they would never go against the Gorkhali king. If they did so then their descendents would also melt like salt and disappear from the world.
After making such agreement on salt water (sacred and important elements), the Gorkha bhardars on behalf of Gorkha raja, gave the following treaty paper or Lal Mohor to the Limbu ministers of Bijaypur.
|“||Let this be our agreement that I want to have you as the members of my own family. My religious mind is good. You are under my protection from now. By my power, your country is now mine but you are still ours. I will take the responsibility of progress and protection of your families. I will retain your rights to anything you possess. You keep in contact with my officers, help them and enjoy your land with full right as long as it exists. You are different from Nau lakh Rai, because their kings will be displaced. You who call yourselves Kings are not destroyable. I know your policy and good intentions.||”|
|“||The Kingdom of Sikkim had not come to terms with us. My officers have come to your land with full instructions. You will come to now everything through them. You agree with them and enjoy your land individually in a manner as mentioned above. I, hereby, agree to abide by the above-mentioned terms of agreement of never taking your land by force and destroying you. I swear on the copper plate and say that if I violate the above-mentioned promises, then let the God upon whom I and my family depend and worship, destroy my descendents and my kingdom. I have written the above-mentioned agreement and hereby hand it over to the above-mentioned Limbu brothers on this day of twenty second shrawan of Sambat eighteen hundred and thirty one at our capital city of Kantipur may it be blessed and fortunate.||”|
When the allies of the Morong kingdom heard the news of agreement between Gorkha and Morong kingdoms, the Limbu rulers of Mewa kingdom, Phedap kingdom, Maiwa kingdom and Tambar kingdom also came to Bijaypur to join the alliance with the Gorkha king under the same terms and conditions of the treaty. Rulers of the above regions, Papo Hang, Thegim Hang and Nembang Hang, under the leadership of Chemjong Hang (Shrishun Rai) decided to join the Gorkha king on the same conditions.
Thus the Limbuwan Gorkha War came to an end in 1774 with all the principalities of Limbuwan joining the Gorkha kingdom, except the kingdom of Yangwarok (the kingdom of Yangwarok consisted of parts of present-day Taplejung and Panchthar) and kingdom of Ilam (present-day Ilam district), ruled by King Hangsu Phuba of Lingdom family.
In 1775, King Yong Ya Hang of Yangwarok was not satisfied with the condition of self-government proposed by the Gorkha king and instead went to the Sikkim palace and incited the King of Sikkim to declare war against the Gorkhas. He raised his Limbu army and joined it with the Sikkimese army. The Bhutia Sikkimese army general Tipu Taka attacked Chainpur and drove back a small Gorkha force from the Siddhipur fort. Reinforcement of the Gorkha force arrived with full war equipment and they drove the Sikkimese back to the Tambar River where a decisive battle was fought. The Sikkimese army retreated to their country and the Gorkhas pursued them as far as Ilam. The Limbu king of Ilam Hangsu Phuba surrendered to the Gorkha king conditionally. The Gorkha king later gave him full autonomy and kipat in his region with the Lal Mohor on 1869 BS (1813 AD).
Although the Bhutia Sikkimese army was pushed back to Sikkim, the Limbu forces of King Yong Ya Hang and the Sikkimese Lepcha army attacked Morong under General Chyok Thupp and defeated the Gorkhas in 17 battlefields. So the Sikkimese Lepcha general Chyok Thup Barphongpa was called “Satrajit” by the Gorkhas and “Athing” by the Lepchas.
After that the Bhutia battalion under General Tipu Taka came back and joined the Lepcha and the Limbu forces of Lepcha general Chyok Thup and Limbu general Sunuhang. The Gorkha king sent a huge reinforcement to drive the Sikkimese army from Morong, but in a big battle near the Rangeli town, the Gorkhas were badly defeated and the Gorkha officers appealed for peace. The Gorkha-Sikkim treaty was signed in Bijaypur.
Gorkha-Sikkim War in Limbuwan 1775 AD
In 1775 AD, the treaty was signed between Gorkha and Sikkim, but in the same year King Pratap Singh Shah, son of Prithivi Narayan Shah, invaded Sikkim through Taple Jong and Ilam. Under the leadership of Purna Alley Magar, they took over western Sikkim. The Sikkimese forces retaliated and pushed the Gorkha forces back. After this invasion, the Sikkimese generals Depchaang Rinzing and Chhangzat Chyok Thup became determined to drive away the Gorkhas from Sikkim and even from Limbuwan. They pushed the Gorkha soldiers back to Arun River and Chainpur.
The Limbu rulers who had joined the Gorkhas following the Gorkha-Limbuwan treaty of 1774 were fighting alongside the Gorkhas. When they saw other Limbus fighting from the Sikkimese side, they challenged them. A big battle took place among the Limbus themselves at the Nigrum battlefield. After the Gorkha-side Limbus were reinforced with other Magar Gorkha soldiers, the Limbus siding with Sikkim were defeated and they fled.
Besides Chainpur, pockets of Gorkha soldiers were fighting in Yangwarok of Limbuwan. The Sikkimese won the battle of Yangwarok and the Gorkha soldiers were either slain or taken prisoner in Yangwarok fort. Besides Chainpur and Yangwarok, a big battle also took place at Phu of Morang, and under general Chhyok Thup the Sikkimese defeated the Gorkhas.
Meanwhile, General Depchhang Rinzin commanded Bhutia soldiers and crossed the Arun River and attacked Dingla fort and Phai fort (in present-day Bhojpur district) and occupied them.
Finally, the Gorkha king sent a huge battalion of reinforcement and attacked the Sikkimese army at Dingla and Phali forts and chased them back to Sidhipur fort in Chainpur. In the battle of Chainpur, the Sikkimese general Depchhang Rinzing was hit by a bullet and was killed. With their general dead, the Sikkimese force fled from the battlefield and withdrew to Sikkim. Thus, the Sikkim-Gorkha War in the Limbuwan region ended in 1776.
This also brought the last of the Limbu principality Yangwarok kingdom of Limbuwan into the Gorkha kingdom. The annexation of all the Limbu kingdoms of Limbuwan was completed through the treaty in 1774 AD and by the war in 1776 AD.
Mass migration of the Limbus
Following the Sikkim-Gorkha War at Limbuwan, Gorkha officers started searching those people who had sided with the Sikkimese and started giving them death penalties. Seeing this, all the Limbus who had fought against the Gorkhas by siding with the Sikkimese king assembled at the place called Ambe Pojoma and decided to leave Limbuwan forever. They were altogether 32,000 in number and migrated in three groups. The first group went to Sikkim and settled in Rung, Rhino and Magnesia villages, the second group migrated to Bhutan and settled in Kuching, Tendu and Jumsa villages and the third group migrated to Assam and settled in Beni, Kalchini and other Meche and Koch villages.
- Iman Singh Chemjong, History and Culture of Kirant People.