This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: MWY 58).


Bodh Chandra Singh, Maharaja of Manipur, is crowned in a traditional ceremony at Imphal.

Outside a large, stately building (a palace?) a crowd of attendees of the coronation, many of them in white. A few people in British military dress can be seen, as can a number of photographers. A number of elephants also stand outside the building. A group emerges and descends the steps; a number of people prostrate themselves as they approach. The royal procession crosses a steel road bridge; some are barechested but wear elaborate headdress, others all in white with white turbans. Some carry ornate staffs (?). Some may be Gurkhas. Apparently all are men, and behind them follow two elephants and then a more general throng. Mounted escorts at head of the procession, with people and the elephants (three abreast) following. At a sacred site a woman stands up and adjusts her clothing. A priest apparently going into a trance; he convulses and another man appears to wave a wet bunch of leaves over him. Pan of the crowd. Crowd beginning to move off again; a ladder is set against the side of a waiting elephant. Alternative angles (shot by Jemadar Singh?) shows the Maharajah in traditional dress, attended by warriors, descending the steps. Close-up. He mounts an elephant. Seated, he lights a cigarette and casts aside his match. The three elephants move off. Procession passing with palace behind. A guard of honour presents arms as the elephants approach. Elephants and crowd passing. Children in front of the procession. More of the procession. Wise women in white. Close-up of a musician playing some kind of instrument which looks like two large sea shells. People watching proceedings, including a British (?) man. The elephants halt and the Maharajah dismounts. Maharajah standing with warriors. Close-up Maharajah. Nissen hut with Gurkha troops outside. Seated crowd. Man, in white (priest?), holding a tall and decorative object (a chime of some sort?). Musicians with stringed instruments with bows and bells. Playing same.


Series note: The MWY series of films is believed to be part of a ‘pool’ of film received by the Government of India from various sources, including South East Asia Command, the Indian Inter-Service Public Relations Directorate, the Ministry of Information, and from Allied governments. This footage would have been considered for editing and release through the Indian Newsreel Parade; see INR series.



This film covers the coronation of Bodh Chandra Singh as Maharajah of Manipur, which took place on 1 December 1944. Bodh Chandra Singh had come to the throne three years earlier but the War had made it impossible for full coronation ceremonies to take place. Manipur borders Burma, and had been targeted by Japanese troops following their capture of Burmese territory in 1942. Imphal, Manipur’s capital, along with Kohima in neighbouring Nagaland, suffered the only incursions of Japanese troops into mainland Indian territory during the Second World War. The Japanese began their advance towards both towns in March 1944, commencing fierce combat in each area. Allied forces proved victorious in Kohima in May 1944, and then advanced towards Imphal, which was relieved on 22 June 1944 (Jackson, 2006, 397-98). These victories were important turning points in the Allied campaign to reclaim Burma from the Japanese; by December 1944 Japanese troops had withdrawn deep into the country.

It was the decision of the Maiba, the wise women of Manipur, that the first of December was a propitious day for the coronation ceremony to take place (Honowar). According to Life magazine, which covered the event, ‘The British encouraged Manipur to go all out in ceremonies for the coronation’ (Life, 30 April 1945, 75). Manipur’s royal family claims descent from the Golden Snake (Life, 30 April 1945, 75), and the ceremonials included a visit to the old coronation hall – bombed during the fighting for Imphal – where rituals were performed for the snake goddess. According to town elders this was the first time that such a ceremony had been celebrated in 40 years (Honawar).

Manipur is a physically isolated region, bordered from the rest of India by high mountains.  It came under British rule as a princely state in 1891, the last kingdom to be incorporated into British India. Bodh Chandra Singh supported the Allied cause during the War, but following Indian independence he urged unity in his state, following what he considered to be the ‘dulling effect’ of British control (Singh, 1948, 311). In 1948 he declared Manipur to be a sovereign state, with its own democratically elected government. This situation was to last for less than a year: in October 1949, Bodh Chandra Singh agreed to the accession of Manipur to the republic of India. However, there remains a separatist movement in the state which campaigns for sovereignty.

Lieutenant Honawar and Jemadar Singh shot this film for the Indian Army’s Public Relations Film Unit. This unit, based at Tollygunge, Calcutta, had been set up during the War by the British cameraman Bryan Langley (Gladstone). Langley trained Indian soldiers as cameramen, and he later recalled his satisfaction in teaching ‘four or five of those lads’ who went on to film military operations in India and Burma (Langley, 1987). The footage taken by this unit was used internally for Indian Army purposes. Some of the footage would also be edited into films that received a wider distribution, both in India and, via the Ministry of Information, abroad (for example, Burma Victory (1945), and Johnny Gurkha (1945)).



Just as the British authorities encouraged Manipur to go all out in the ceremonials for the coronation, this film goes all out to capture those events. This is evidenced by the range of the events covered: the film provides a chronological account of the ceremonies, capturing the procession to the site of the coronation hall, the rituals for the snake goddess, and the return of the procession to the royal palace. It is also evidenced by the presence of two cameramen employed to cover this story. The cameramen deliberately filmed from different angles; in his dope sheets Lieutenant Honawar notes that Jemadar Singh specialised in shots of ‘the crowd, the Maharja and other interesting figures like musicians, wise women etc.’ (Honawar). Their footage has been edited together for this final film, but otherwise does not appear to have been cut. As such, certain sections of the action are duplicated and there are on occasion unexpected sections of footage (a segment showing Nissen huts, for example).

The film’s long shots reveal something of the military intrusion into civilian life. British military personnel can be seen witnessing the procession at certain stages of the route, and military vehicles can be glimpsed in the background of some of these scenes. Moreover, scattered throughout the crowds, and occasionally seen standing guard, are a number of Indians wearing contemporary military uniform. What the long shots convey most effectively, however, is the scale of events: there are hundreds if not thousands present.

It would appear that one of the main objectives of these coronation ceremonies, and of the film itself, was a display of Indian regal splendour, returning to its full majesty as the tide turned in the War. Consequently, the footage concentrates primarily upon the most traditional and striking aspects of the coronation ceremony. Honawar noted that the celebrations included a cocktail party, to which General Slim and other army and airforce officers were invited, but this is not featured in the footage. Instead there is the exotic gathering of the ritual for the snake goddess, where a priest can be seen descending into a trance. Singh’s close-ups focus upon wrestlers, ‘whose costumes go back to the dim recesses of tradition’ (Life, 30 April 1945, 78), and upon Indian musicians, who are shown blowing on conch shells or playing handcrafted stringed instruments. The mute nature of this film further enhances its ‘traditional’ representation of the coronation events: Life magazine noted that there was also a police band present at the ceremonies, which ‘varied’ the music played by the Indian musicians with their renditions of ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’, but this band is neither seen nor heard in the film (Life, 30 April 1945, 78). The Maharajah is at the centre of this ancient splendour; he is pictured wearing an elaborate headdress and is shown in an elevated position, riding on an elephant’s back in a decorated howdah. Nevertheless, he also undercuts the representation of exoticism. He comes across as an aloof figure, and the close-ups capture his westernised habit of chain-smoking branded cigarettes.

Richard Osborne (April 2010)


Works Cited

Honowar, Lt., ‘Coronation of the Maharajah of Manipur’, Dope Sheet, 4 December 1944.

Jackson, Ashley, The British Empire and the Second World War (Hambledon Continuum, 2006).

Gladstone, Kay, ‘Borg el Arab: Filming in the Desert’,

Langley, Bryan, ‘BECTU Interview Part 3 (1987)’,

‘Maharaja Returns: Jap Defeat Permits Coronation of Manipur’s Ruler Four Years Late’, Life, 18/18 (30 April 1945), 75-78.

Singh, Bodh Chandra, ‘Proclamation of His Highness Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh on the Inaugural Function of the First Manipur State Assembly on October 18, 1948’, in Dr S.M.A.W. Chishti, Political Development in Manipur 1919-1949 (Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, 2005), 309-15.



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
7 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
614 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Public Relations Directorate, India
Honawar, P H (Lieutenant)
Singh, G (Jemadar)
Production company
Indian Public Relations Film Unit