Author Khapang Debbarma, in the following article, outlines the life and achievements of Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Deb Barma, who is credited with altering the course of Tripura's history, through his progressive ideas and secular rule.
India has been home to many great philosophers, mathematicians, poets, writers and leaders. Yet, there are heroes amongst us who, despite their contribution to the country, remain forgotten. One such legend was the visionary and progressive ruler Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya who achieved much in a very short lifetime. He belonged to the Debbarma clan of the Tripuri community.
Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya born on 19th of August 1908 in the princely state of Tripura to Maharaja Birendra Kishore Debbarman Bahadur and Maharani Arundhati Mahadevi. The young prince showed great intellect discipline and promise from an early age. He started assisting his father in matters of the state while continuing his formal studies and military education at both Shillong and Agartala. He was not just excellent in his education, but also an expert polo player and an artist like his father. Unfortunately, after the demise of Maharaja Birendra Kishore, Bik Bikram Manikya had a tremendous task ahead of him assuming the throne at the tender age of sixteen. He was invested with full power when he became twenty years of age on 19th August 1927. His investiture Darbar was attended by his Excellency the governor of Bengal Lord Jackson and over 20 lakh people from within and outside the state, attended the solemn but the grand five-day event.
The magnificent Ujjayanta Palace at Agartala witnessed two important events in December 1940. The National Geographic magazine USA portrays the grandeur of Tripura and the joyous mood of the people as they witnessed the tikka or investiture of the crowned prince Yuvraj Kirit Bikram Kishore the sole heir of Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya on 12 December 1940. This was followed by the wedding of Maharajakumari Meena Devi, sister of the Maharaja on 14th December 1940 with Maharajkumar KS Nirmal Singh of Bhavnagar, Gujarat. The procession of 100 elephants, amidst music, chanting and the participation of hundreds of people portrays the ambience in Tripura at the time. The reign of Maharaja depicts free and happy citizens of Tripura, despite the second world war and communal violence in different parts of British India.
He introduced a modern democratic constitution on 1st Baisakh T.E, corresponding to the Tripura era, or New year on 14th April 1939, with a bicameral Legislature and a neutral judiciary; "Panchayati Raj" and a Municipal Council; steering the administration in many modern directions. The progress of education in west impressed the Maharaj so much so that on his return he immediately drew up a model scheme vidhyapatan or an educational institute that included colleges of arts, science, agriculture, technology and medicine along with a rural college. Apart from this, he also established more schools and vocation-oriented institutes in different parts of Tripura. In Dharmanagar, he established the Bir Bikram Institute schools, where promising students were provided with scholarships. He established training centres for the artisans and convicts in prison, for people with special needs and also for women. Boarding schools were established, and school bus facilities were provided. Infrastructural facilities were provided to both Sanskrit centres and Madrassas, indicating the absence of religious bias.
The Maharaja had good relations with poet Rabindranath Tagore, until his death. On the poet's invitation he visited Shanti Niketan to stay with him for some time when he was formally given reception at the famous Amarakunja. The Maharaja bestowed the title of 'Bharat Bhaskar', son of India upon Tagore on his 80th birthday. This was received by him with honour and came much before the country recognised Tagore.
For the development of the rural areas especially inhabited by the indigenous people in the hills the Maharaja tried to modernize the village system. He wanted the villagers to manage their own affairs through elected members by creating a Gram Mandal from 1938 onwards. In the southern areas he strengthened the Tripur Kshatriya Mandal and regulated and modernised social customs. As a secular ruler he wanted all round development for all sections of the society. He setup social organisations such as Manipuri Kshatriya Mandal and Laskar Mandal, with the intention of improving his citizen's way of life. He also received many honours from Muslim organisations, outside of Tripura, such as Ajuman. He also ordered magnificent constructions like the Neer Mahal palace.
Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya travelled a lot, and after seeing the plight of the native American tribes in the USA due to influx; he took steps to protect the rights of the indigenous people by starting one of the first reserves in India. It consisted of large tracts of forest and reserved areas for their welfare in 1941 and 1943. Temples like Buddha Mandir were also designed by him, and it was inaugurated by his son Yuvraj Kirit Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur. He is known to have commissioned 41 airplanes to airdrop food and supplies for the refugees in thousands flocking his state, along with providing protection and shelter to the riot affected people in 1941, during the Dacca riots and in 1946 during the Noakhali riots. In 1943, he also provided food and shelter to the refugees entering his state, after being affected by the famine. Apart from these, Maharaja's royal administration extended their cooperation to the migrants. Also, in order to maintain communal harmony, the Pritibhardhayak community was formed.
On May 17th, 1947, only two months prior to India's Independence, the Maharaja succumbed to chronic pneumonia and passed away prematurely. Nonetheless, he altered the course of Tripura's history and is credited with being the 'Modern Architect of Tripura'. Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya lives on. Although, neglected by the mainstream Indian history, the Maharaja is remembered by the entire state of Tripura. The Agartala airport has been named after him. He held on to his vision of a better future for his people and showed that selflessness, dedication and unity working towards a common goal, can achieve the impossible, leaving behind the differences that divides us.
About the author: Khapang Debbarma is a student of Civil Engineering at NIT, Agartala. He's a painter and poet. He has worked with different languages, cultural, and environmental organisations and translated many significant drafts in Kokborok. He's also teaching Tripuri language to foreigners through Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. His page is called "Learn Tripuri".