The heroics of Kunjarani Devi, who won numerous medals for India at International Weightlifting competitions is a part of Manipur’s sporting folklore. The gallant Manipuri girl went on become India’s most decorated athlete ever.
Today, her name is a synonym for success, which she inherited from her hard work. During her hay days as a sportsperson Kunjarani Devi observed severe militancy actions radicalizing her beloved state. It was at that very moment she decided making sports her career, and inspiring her surroundings to take up sports as a real life developing option.
Kunjarani’s contribution hails Manipur as the unofficial sporting capital of India. Every year thousands of youngsters from various sporting disciplines represent Manipuri nationally and internationally. All thanks to this power weight lifter, whose instrumental in inspiring a generation from the 1980’s.
After retiring from sport, she has taken up coaching to bring India glory, and relive her golden moments. The results of her dedication and coaching have transcended on the Indian weightlifting stage. Her students not only from weightlifting, but from other sporting disciplines are making India proud nationally and internationally.
The iron lady from Manipur has been awarded several times by the Indian Government with Padmashree, Arjuna Award and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award. She has an astonishing 50 plus medals to her credit.
Early Life and Struggle of Kunjarani Devi
Kunjarani Devi studied at the Sindam Sinshang Resident High school in Imphal and graduated from Maharaja Bodha Chandra College. Sports is a culture in most of the Northeastern states, she took up weightlifting in her teens. She started participating in sports right from her school days.
By the time Kunjarani was over and done with her graduation from the Maharaja Bodha Chandra College in Imphal, weightlifting came as a natural choice before her. She served the Central Reserve Police Force and till date is serving as an assistant Commandant for the force.
During her initial struggle period Kunjarani Devi continued her winning parade in the Police Championships. She captained the Indian Police team from 1996 to 1998.
Manipur’s Inspiration Kunajrani Devi
Manipur till date has produced a number of top-class weightlifters who went on to win laurels for India. A look at the list of weightlifters competing in the National Weightlifting gives you some interesting statistics. In the overall weight lifting circuit, there are just a handful of teams who are competing without a Manipuri in their ranks.
It was Kunjarani Devi who acted as a catalyst to promote weightlifting in Manipur. In the early 80’s, power lifting was the rage. During the 1985 National Games, Kunjarani won the gold in the 44kg category and that was the start of a revolution.
The revolution is still on right from Monica Devi, Sanamacha and Renubala Chanu at the Delhi CWG. Here latest protégée Mirabai Chanu, who is trained under Kunjarani scripted a sensation national record in 2017. The young girl created a national record by lifting 194kg at the world weightlifting championship to win India its first gold medal in 22 years.
Due to Kunjarani’s efforts we have at least 80-100 lifters, most of whom are competing at junior level and they will be ready for the top-class international action soon.
Kunjarani Devi and her Medal Hunts
At the 1985 national weightlifting championship, Kunjarani Devi participated and won gold in the 44kg, 46kg and 48kg category. In 1987, at the same competition held at Thiruvananthapuram she created two new national records.
The winning run continued in Pune in 1994 as she clinched yet another gold medal. In 1998, the national weightlifting championship was hosted by Manipur. Here she could only manage a silver, but her popularity in the state rose to new level.
International recognition for Kunjarani Devi
After winning accolades at the national level, it was time for some international rewards for Kunjarani Devi.
In 1989 she participated at the world weightlifting championship in Manchester. At the event she won here silver medals. An interesting trivia about Kunjarani is that she participated in the world championship seven on the trot. The only event she missed in her illustrious career was the 1993 Melbourne event.
Her hard work and persistence earned her a medal at each world championship event. The only thing missing out in her eventful career is the Gold medal, which unfortunately she never won.
Performing at world events proved tough for Kunjarani Devi. At the 1990 Beijing Asian Games and 1994 Hiroshima Games, she returned without any medals. However, at the 1989 Shanghai Sports meet, Kunjarani she clinched one silver and two bronze medals. And at the 1990 Indonesia sports meet she won three silver medals.
Her best performance came in the 1995 competition in South Korea. She won Gold twice and one Bronze in the 46-kilogram category. Her form dwindled in the in 1996 and she settled for Silver twice and one Bronze in the sports meet held in Japan.
The high point in her career came at the 2006 Commonwealth Games at Melbourne. Kunjarani Devi made India proud by winning the Gold in 48kg category.
During a 2001 championship Kunjarani Devi tested positive and suspended for six months.
Controversies surrounding the career of Kunjarani Devi a face-off with Karnam Malleswari
An active athlete career spanning over 15-20 years, was not at all an hunky dory ride for this Manipuri legend. She came in the news for her face off with Olympic medalist Karnam Malleswari.
The Olympic bronze medalist shot back at Kunjarani Devi for putting her weight behind the Indian Weightlifting Federation. Malleswari was not happy with her compatriot`s view regarding the office bearers of IWF. She termed Kunkarani’s comments as ‘unwarranted and sponsored.’
During a press conference surrounding the controversy, Karnam Malleswari said that “The outburst of my compatriot (Kunjarani) on this issue after a period of hibernation is unwarranted and sponsored especially when the concerned office bearers (of IWF) are silent. As per the legal saying, their mere silence amounts to acceptance.”
She further said, “Till now my compatriot Kunjarani Devi have been complaining against the working of the Federation and was not at all happy with the Federation. I was really surprised (to see) how within a few months her views have taken `U` turn.”
Malleswari`s response came after double Asian Games bronze medalist lifter, Kunjarani extended full support to the national federation and termed the former`s statement against the IWF current office bearers as “baseless”.
After the all-out face-off Malleswari resigned as vice-president of IWF. The Olympic bronze medalist was upset with the working style of the fedaration. She felt it is run by people who do not know anything about the sport.
Malleswari also contested Kunjarani`s claim that the performance of Indian weightlifters have improved by leaps and bounds under the leadership of the current regime.
Moulding the future of India’s next gen Weightlifters
Currently designated as the coach of Indian weightlifting team, Kunjarani Devi is silently moulding the future weightlifters from India. Her students Sanjita Chanu and Mirabai Chanu brought great laurels for India.
Both the girls have made a mark at the national and international sports meet. Sanjita and Mirabai gave India a historic gold and silver at the 20th Commonwealth Games.
At the recently concluded World Weightlifting Championship Mirabai Chanu made her idol Kunjarani Devi proud by winning India its first gold medal in 22 years. Mirabai dedicated the award to her hardworking coach, Kunjarani.
Kunjarani Devi also known as Nameirakpam Kunjarani Devi will always remain the single most influential athlete from India. Her contribution to weight lifting and especially Indian sports has been a remarkable journey as well as achievement for her as well as the Indian citizens.
Team KreedOn wishes her all the success for the future events of Indian weightlifters under her guidance. This Manipuri girl has truly inspired a Generation.