Legacy and Remembrance: Honouring Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur on His 115th Birth Anniversary

By Dr. Benjamin Debbarma

On the 115th birth anniversary of Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur, as we gather in different parts of the world to celebrate and honour the memory of a remarkable leader who left an indelible mark on the history of Tripura. Maharaja Bir Bikram, the last ruling Maharaja of Tripura, continues to be a source of inspiration for our state and its people. This auspicious occasion fills us with a sense of euphoria as we reflect on the legacy of this visionary leader.

The Maharaja’s birth anniversary, observed annually on August 19th since 1908, serves as a reminder of his enduring impact on Tripura’s development and progress. Standing tall in MBB Lampra, Khumulwng, is the statue of Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur, a tribute erected by the TTAADC government. Throughout the years, various organizations including the TSF, Maharaja Bir Bikram Welfare Society, and civil society groups have come together to honor his memory. These efforts manifest through diverse remembrance events hosted across the state. The Manikya Dynasty: Guardians of a Glorious Era

The history of the Twipra Kingdom, with its reign spanning the 14th to 16th centuries, is a testament to the grandeur and prosperity of the region. The Manikya dynasty rose to prominence during this period and held the reins of power over Tripura. The 1919 transition of Tripura to a British protectorate marked a significant phase in its history, ultimately leading to the declaration of Maharaja Bir Bikram as the ruler. Hill Tippera, a part of the greater Tripura Kingdom, stood strong under the leadership of the Manikya dynasty, demonstrating its resilience and independence.

Cultural Flourish and Royal Patronage

The legacy of the Manikya rulers encompasses a rich tapestry of arts, culture, and scholarship. Under the reign of Maharaja Bir Chandra Manikya, the arts and cultural pursuits thrived, with artists, musicians, and scholars finding patronage at the royal court. This marked the inception of Tripura’s modern era. The subsequent reign of Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya witnessed an even deeper engagement with cultural pursuits, with a particular interest in theater, music, and urban planning. His role as a reformer and his contributions to architecture and education continue to define the trajectory of modern Tripura.

The Royal Manikya Dynasty

The Twipra Kingdom was one of the largest and most prosperous kingdoms in India and the world. Its periods or reign is about 14th-16th centuries. It was at this period that Manikya dynasty became the ruling house of the Twipra Kingdom. In 1919, the ruler of Tripura, which had become a British protectorate by then, assumed the title Maharaja. Hill Tippera was never under the rule or administration of the British India, rather was once ruled for several centuries by the Manikya Dynasty— the independent part of the Tripuri Kingdom (aka Hill Tippera). Tripura before 1947 had been under the mighty Manikya Dynasty since early 15th century as an independent princely state. Evidences and various documented sources of facts had revealed that the Twipra Kingdom as historic, conquering and as a prominent successors. Since the time of Maharajas, Rajas the music, arts and cultures were very popular. Some of the instances, like Maharaja Bir Chandra Manikya (1862–96), a masterful painter, photographer, composer, scholar of Vaishnav literature, and connoisseur of all artistic endeavours which have marked the beginning of Tripura’s modern age. During the reign of Maharaja Bir Chandra Kishore Manikya cultivating visual and performing arts among numerous renowned Indian artists successively showcased their talents at the royal court. In the reign of the royal family, the essence of musical interests and practices persisted. The Manikya rulers of the nineteenth and twentieth century were enamoured more with literature and music than with art and architecture, education and sports.

The glorious reign of Maharaja Bir Bikram: 1923-1947

Maharaja Bir Bikram (1923-1947) during his reign and have control of the realm, had dire interest in theatre as well as arts and culture. He was a master in playing the sitar and asraj, as much as his father, Maharaja Birendra Kishore (1919-1923). Maharaja Bir Bikram is remembered as a reformer who modernized Tripura. In particular, he was interested in architecture and urban planning. He is also been considered as “the father of modern architecture” in Tripura, and it was during his reign that Tripura’s capital of Agartala was redeveloped, rebuilt, and expanded. In addition, he had designed and oversaw the construction of Tripura’s first airport, which was opened in 1942 and was used by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Maharaja Bir Bikram also set up the first higher education institution in Tripura. He planned to open a college as early as 1937, but it took 10 years to fulfill the plan because of World War II. The Maharaja Bir Bikram College opened shortly after Bir Bikram’s death. Tripura’s only state university, which was established in 2015, was also named after Bir Bikram to honour his contribution to the development of education in Tripura. The official records have found out that Maharaja Bir Bikram (1908-47), had ruled the state from 1923 to May 17, 1947, who had later decided to merge the then princely state of Tripura with the Indian Union by issuing a royal edict on April 28, 1947, appointing Barrister Girija Shankar Guha as his domain’s representative in the Constituent Assembly. He was the first to set up higher educational institution in Tripura. The entire planning of present day Tripura was initiated during his rule. He was also an educationist. He is the first ruler who visited Europe and America from 1931 to 1939. He was considered one of the pioneers for the land reforms.

The way towards Statehood

The then queen of Tripura (Maharani Kanchan Prava Devi), under sever condition at that time had to dissolved the Council of Regency to became the Regent on 12 January 1948. Thereafter, on 9 September 1949, she signed the Tripura Merger Agreement which came to effect from 15 October 1949. Under the agreement Tripura from then onwards became one part of the Indian Union. It was first administered by a Chief Commissioner (Sri Ranjit Roy, I.C.S) as a ‘C’ category state. Then from November 1, 1956 onwards, it was recognized as a Union Territory.  After then, the administration of a Council of Advisory was appointed by the President of India to advice the Chief Commissioner. Under the Act of State Re-organization the Territorial Council was set up consisting of 32 members including 2 nominee members. Later, with the consent of the President of India the Territorial Act was enacted on May, 1963 and under the provision of Article 239 of the constitution of India a representative administrator of the President was appointed. The Territorial Council was abolished and in accordance with the Constitution Act 1962 provision was made for the creation of Legislature and Council of Ministers. Tripura Territorial Council was converted to the Tripura Legislative Assembly on 1 July, 1963 and Council of Ministers was formed for the first time under the leadership of Sri Sachindralal Singha. The first Legislature of the State began with strength of 30 members. This there by continued up to 1971. With the objective of giving full-fledged democratic rights to people of Tripura and subsequently granting a Statehood by Act of Parliament, as per the North-East Reorganisation Act, 1971 on January, 1972. After which the General Election was held on March, 1972 by overwhelming majority under the leadership of Sukhamay Sengupta from the congress party. Thereby, Sukhamay Sengupta became the first Chief Minister of the State after attaining Statehood and Sri B. K. Nehru, I.C.S. became first Governor of Tripura State. Today, Tripura is known as one of the third-smallest state of India, located in the North-East Region.

Shatter harmony: Amid the two junctions

Taking all alone a burdened of mass migration (from the partition of India-Pakistan 1947, the war of Independence for Bangladesh in 1971) which have remained an unsolved problem causing tension of high demographic imbalance. The scrapping of about 800 kilometres tribal reserve set up by Maharaja Bir Bikram. High growth of economic inequality and particularly the refugee rehabilitation cards (such as Atharacard’ (Eighteen Cards) or ‘Baiscard’ (Twenty-two Cards). Until 1947, indigenous communities had been a majority in Tripura state, or Hill Tippera. Now, that they have become minority in their own homeland.

The state administration of Tripura under sever demand, protest for identity, for socio-economic development, preservation of language and culture of the tribal (Indigenous) had constituted Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) in 1982 under the 7th Schedule of the Constitution and later on,  1985 the TTAADC was brought under the 6th Schedule. The TTAADC at present encompasses 68.10% of the state’s total geographical territory and is home to roughly one third of the state’s population. Besides all the administrative convenience, decentralization has been taken further ahead by forming eight districts, 23 subdivisions, 58 rural development blocks, 591 Gram Panchayats, 8 Jilla Parishads, 9 Nagar Panchayats, 10 Municipal Councils and 1 Municipal Corporation. Furthermore, in order to find and serve the aspirations, developments and upliftments of cultures, traditions, languages, customs and comprising of 587 village committees are working as Gram Panchayats under 6th Schedule areas. Contrary, to all the initiatives taken to safeguards, providing equal opportunity in works and services, developments and many more the indigenous communities’ remains amid the two junctions. Where the indigenous population were burden of viz., diseases, malnutrition, mental health, unemployment, lacking infrastructures, school drop-outs, drinking waters, basic health facilities and more to addictions in drugs, alcohols. Of all cases of the burden as much as almost all the families of the indigenous were caught up with unemployment, addictions. The indigenous people should be recognised in terms of what are their serious, special needs, concerns by the Government of India on urgent basis. The government have had set various goal to bridge the gap in several platforms be it on social, political, economic, cultural, and development but have somehow failed on certain reasons and on certain grounds.

To conclude, Tripura had always been in the fore-front in depicting a unity with diversity. The birth anniversary marked the remembrance as occasion, auspicious, euphoria being praised by the state authorities.  At present, the government officials narrated the Kings as “Maharaja” citing as the architect of modern Tripura. The contribution in planning developmental state cannot be forgotten at all. And have claimed “Maharaja as our history, identity and our pride. Thus, always needed an instant healing from politico-historical agendas. Today, the political, social, economic need as much as to the harmony, tranquillity, peace, equality as a whole.

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