The United Nations has proclaimed the period between 2022 and 2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL 2022-2032), to draw global attention on the critical situation of many indigenous languages. The International Decade aims at ensuring indigenous peoples’ right to preserve, revitalize and promote their languages.
As we enter the first year of this important decade, we need to remember the literary heroes whose efforts laid the foundation for language conservation. In Tripura, we must give credit to Thakur Radhamohan Debbarma who was the first person to write a book in the indigenous Kokborok language. He was the brightest star in the world of Kokborok literature. He is deemed to be one of the most creative, innovative and gifted writers Tripura has ever witnessed.
Thakur Radhamohan Debbarma was born in the family of Tripuri Thakur in Krishna Nagar, Agartala. Although there is no official record of his birth date it is believed that he was born somewhere between 1820-40. His father was Thakur Ramdulal Debbarma and his mother was Ananda Moyee Debbarma. We do not know how many siblings he had but we do know that he had an elder brother named Madan Mohan Debbarma. This information is listed in the diary of Thakur Radhamohan's son Rebatimohan Debbarma.
Thakur Radhamohan Debbarma grew up in the royal family around the time of Maharaja Bir Chandra Manikya’s rule. He lived and studied alongside Prince Radha Kishore Manikya and Thakur Samarendra Chandra. Radhamohan was an intelligent child and the Maharaja noticed it. As Radhamohan grew older, he was appointed as the Chief of Court and the Head of the Army. During his time as a court official, he wrote and published three books–Kokborokma (Tripuri Bhasha Vyakaran), in 1900, Tripur Kothamala (Kokborok bhasha prathamik pathya pustak) in 1906, and Tripur Bhasha Bridhan in 1907 AD.
It was during this time that Kokborok underwent a revival as till then the Court language was Bengali. His first book Kokborokma Ong Tripur Vyakaran was a grammar book that preserved the phonetics of the language.
Unlike popular perceptions, it is believed that all members of the Royal family were well versed in Kokborok and also wrote many poems and songs in it. Not only Kokborok, Tripuri royals were well versed in multiple languages like Farsi, Arabic, Sanskrit, Hindi and English.
Research on his life has thrown light to a lesser known fact that Kokborok used to be called Tiprakok during the times of Radhamohan. It was only in 1900 A.D that the word Kokborok came into existence through his writings.
Among Tripuris and also among royal members of Tripura, Thakur Radhamohan Debbarma’s work towards the development of Kokborok literature should always be remembered and taught to newer generations.
Source: Aitorma Magazine vol 4 no 03, 2016
About the author: Khapang Debbarma is a student of Civil Engineering at NIT, Agartala. He's a painter and poet. He has worked with various language, culture, and environmental organisations and translated many significant drafts in Kokborok. He's also teaching Tripuri language to foreigners through Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp through a page name "Learn Tripuri".