Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya: The Pathfinder of Modern Education in Tripura

By Pares Debnath
September 8, 2023

In the annals of Indian history, certain visionary leaders stand out for their exceptional contributions to society. One such luminary was Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya, whose life and legacy are a testament to his dedication to education and culture in the erstwhile princely state of Tripura. Born on August 19, 1908, Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya ascended to the throne in 1923 at the tender age of 16, marking the beginning of an extraordinary journey.

The Globetrotting Monarch

Maharaja Bir Bikram was not content to rule from his palace; he was a monarch with a global perspective. In the early 20th century, he embarked on journeys that took him to some of the most influential figures of his time. In 1930, he met Benito Mussolini in Italy, and in 1936, he had an audience with Adolf Hitler in Germany. Even during the tumultuous years of the Second World War, he made a trip to England and met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States.

The Vidyapattan Scheme

While his travels broadened his horizons, Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya’s most enduring legacy was his commitment to education. In 1937, he initiated the Vidyapattan Scheme, a visionary plan that aimed to transform Tripura’s educational landscape. Under this ambitious scheme, he donated a staggering 234 acres of land for the establishment of various educational institutions, each dedicated to specific disciplines.

The institutions included a higher English school, technical schools specializing in carpentry, weaving, and smithing, a fine art college for painting and sculpture, a college for music and dance, a middle English girls’ school, a school of physical culture, a school of agriculture, a medical school, a public library, and 11 hostels. Each institution was named to honour various members of the royal family and dignitaries, reflecting Maharaja Bir Bikram’s deep commitment to preserving and promoting Tripura’s cultural heritage.

Building a Legacy: Maharaja Bir Bikram College (MBB College)

The cornerstone of the Vidyapattan Scheme was the Maharaja Bir Bikram College (MBB College). Initially named Maharaja College, this institution’s blueprint was meticulously designed by Maharaja Bir Bikram himself. Construction began in 1937 but faced interruptions during the tumultuous years of the Second World War when the college was repurposed as a military hospital.

Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya’s untimely passing in 1947 was a significant loss to the region. However, his legacy endured, thanks in part to the dedication of his wife, Maharani Kanchan Prabha Devi, who contributed her personal fund of Rs 1 lakh to ensure the completion of the college.

On September 9, 1947, MBB College admitted its first student, Ranjit Chakraborty, with Professor Indra Kumar Roy joining the faculty on September 6, 1947. Professor Ashwini Kumar Mukherjee became the first principal on November 17, 1947. The college offered a comprehensive array of streams, including arts, science, and commerce, with classes commencing on November 25, 1947, initially at Umakanta Academy. In its inaugural year, a total of 339 students enrolled in the 1st year, with additional admissions in the 2nd and 3rd years, bringing the total number of students to 464, including 20 girl students. Students from Comilla, Mymensingh, Sylhet, and other neighbouring places took admission in this college.

The college achieved formal affiliation with Kolkata University on January 9, 1948.

A Patron of Arts, Literature, and Music

Beyond his contributions to education, Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya made significant strides in the fields of literature, arts, and music. He inaugurated the Bengal Sahitya Sanmelan in Comilla and composed essays and dramas, including “Chand Kumodini” and “Shri Radha-Krishnar Lila Villas.”

Notably, his relationship with the renowned poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore was profound. He inaugurated the 70th Rabindra Jayanti at Kolkata Eden Hall, Rabindra Art exhibition, and fair. Maharaja Bir Bikram was also honoured at Shantiniketan, established by Rabindranath Tagore, where faculties and students of Vishwa Bharati were present. The 80th Rabindra Jayanti was celebrated at Ujjayanta Palace, where Maharaja bestowed the title of “Bharat Bhaskar” upon Rabindranath Tagore. The title was conferred after a special educationist from Tripura, Bhupendra Chandra Chakraborty, was sent to Shantiniketan. Maharaja expressed profound sorrow at the passing of Rabindranath Tagore.

Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya was not merely a monarch but a visionary leader whose contributions to education and culture in Tripura continue to shape the region’s destiny. His dedication to knowledge and art, as well as his global perspective, remain a source of inspiration for generations to come. The Vidyapattan Scheme and the enduring legacy of institutions like MBB College stand as a testament to his unwavering commitment to the betterment of his people and the preservation of Tripura’s rich heritage.

Pares Debnath serves as an Assistant Professor in Department of History at Maharaja Bir Bikram College, Agartala.

References:

  1. N. Dilip Kumar Singh, “Vidyapattan – Maharaja Bir Bikramer Swapna” (Bengali Article)
  2. Ranjit Chakraborty, “Smritir Album Theke” (Bengali Article)
  3. Puranjan Prasad Chakraborty, “Tripura Rajmala”
  4. N. R. Ray Chaudhury, “Tripura Through the Ages”
  5. “Tripura Rajya Gazette,” September 1939

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