Maharaja Bir Chandra Manikya: A multifaceted genius in literature and art

Jushnu Dev Varma

Statue of Maharaja Bir Chandra Manikya donated by me being installed at Birchandra State Library in Agartala.

Maharaja Bir Chandra Manikya (1862-1896) was a multifaceted genius in literature and art.

It was during his rule that art and culture was at its peak in Tripura. He was also the pioneer of photography in India, of the first two cameras that came to India one was for him. His photography is treasured today in many collections nationally and internationally.

He was the first one to recognise the talent of Rabindranath Tagore, when after reading his novel”Bhagna Hriday” he called Tagore to Kurseong and announced that “one day you will become a world poet.” Tagore has mentioned this many times in his speeches and writings.

Bir Chandra was referred to as the “Akbar of the East” as like the former he too had Navaratna in his court or 9 Jewels outstanding personalities in diverse fields. Jadu Bhatt was the renowned musician of his court. The king too composed many songs and was a proficient musician himself, he also wrote poetry his book of poems titled “Suhaag” reflected his poetic genius. During his reign; Tripura it is said went through a cultural renaissance. His songs for Holi the festival of spring:

Manda Manda Bahata Pawana

Birahini jana Hridaya dahana

Piya ki Karana Jharata Nayana

Maheri phaguna aaye rey……….”

“Softly blows the spring breeze,

Fanning the fire within many hearts

That are longing for their loved ones,

Bring tears to their eyes,

The month of Phagun (Spring) is here…….”

The language used here is Brajaboli a mixture of Hindi and Bengali that was commonly used to write Padabali or Vaishnav devotional lyrics used by famous poets like Vidyapati and Jayadeva and which was used by Tagore much later for his book of devotional lyrics “ Bhanu Singher Padabali”.

Bir Chandra also brought in many administrative reforms and laws during his rule. He was an interesting ruler and was portrayed as one of the main characters of the novel Prathom Alo (প্রথম আলো) by Sunil Gangopadhyay the celebrated author the book is in English titled “ First Light”

His youngest son Samarendra Chandra Deb Barma was also a photographer par excellence, his photograph of a young tribal girl is displayed in the British Museum, London. He also authored an important book , “ Tripurar Smriti “ on the the archeological sites of the Tripura Kiingdom.

Bir Chandra’ s daughter Ananga Mohini Devi is regarded a a major women poet in Bengali literature with her books “Priti “ Sokgatha” and “Kanika”. His successor and eldest son Radha Kishore Manikya who became the ruler was a great patron of the arts and a philanthropist. He helped the scientist sir J C Bose financially

to set up the Bose Institute and was the first to help Tagore to set up Viswa Bharati, which the poet acknowledged gratefully. Radha Kishore also built the Ujjayayanya Palace now the state museum. So Bir Chandra left behind a rich legacy.