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The Brave Queens of Tripura and “The Pathar Bati” (Stone Bowl) (An excerpt from my unpublished book “Master of Time)

Jishnu Dev Varma

September 22, 2022, 11:40:50 AM

In an interview, our paternal grandfather, Maharajkumar Brajendra Kishore ( Rabindranath O Tripura) recalled his meeting with Sister Nivedita, the disciple of Swami Vivekananda, who worked for the upliftment of women and for the poorest among poor. He said: “Sister Nivedita expressed her desire to know more about women in the state. I told her the stories of two brave women from Tripura. We had heard these stories in our childhood. invaded Tripura, the then Maharaja expressed his inability to protect his kingdom. Seeing the desperation of the people to defend the sovereignty of their land, the Maharani took up arms and led the army to defeat the invaders. This story was written in gold letters in the history of Tripura.

Brajendra Kishore continued with the other story, “The Maharaja was dead and there was the tradition of Sati at that time in the neighboring state of Bengal and among the people of the plains. However, since the yuvraj (crowned prince) was a minor; the Maharani decided not to immolate herself on the funeral pyre of her late husband. She understood that her minor son would become a puppet in the hands of selfish people, so she took the reins of power and taught her son the rules of administration. On the other hand, she ordered that her husband’s funeral pyre be kept lit. Once her son became able to rule Tripura, she performed sati, leaving behind her a shining example of love for the country. Thus, she became immortal.” Interestingly, however, among the mountain people of Tripura, there was no tradition of ‘Sati’. On the contrary, the remarriage of widows was a normal practice. So it was quite confusing that the queen expressed her desire to set herself on fire at her husband’s funeral pyre. This could only be explained by an outside influence.

Brajendra Kishore recalls, “Hearing these two stories, Sister Nivedita was very impressed. Maharani Tripura Sundari and Maharani Jayabati were glorious examples of Indian womanhood.”

The Brave Queens of Tripura and 'The Pathar Bati' (Stone Bowl) (An excerpt from my unpublished book 'Master of Time)
In 1243 AD, Maharani Tripura Sundari went into battle against invading Tugan Khan on behalf of her husband Kirtidhar Manikya, also known as Sengthumfa. This story found mention in the History of Bengal written by Major Charles Stuart. This incident was also dramatically described in the ‘Rajmala’ – The Chronicle of the Kings of Tripura (Sengthumfa Chapter). The second story was that of Janhabi Devi (Jayabati) who ruled Tripura from 1783 to 1785 AD on behalf of his minor son Rajdhar Manikya and thus saved the kingdom from invasion and anarchy. Both of these battles were for independence and to protect the sovereignty and integrity of their land from invaders and looters. These wars took place long before 1857 which is now accepted as the first war of independence led by Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi.

There was another example of a Maharani standing up to her duty to the throne and her people; it was the legend of “Pathar Bati (Stone Bowl)”. There was a stone bowl, which was kept among a tribe known as the Reangs in Udaipur; the ancient capital of Tripura. Incidentally, according to scholars, the term “Reang” came from the deformation of the word “Biangma” in their language, which had a similarity with the Sanskrit word “Bihanga” meaning a bird. Therefore, the Reangs considered themselves the “Garuda” descendants; the mythical bird, which was the vehicle of the Hindu god Vishnu. This was an indication that Hinduism was deeply rooted in the tribal society of Tripura. The Hinduism practiced here however seemed somewhat different from elsewhere but inherently it highlighted the symbiotic relationship between man and nature – Prakriti and Purush.

The Rais or chief of this tribe told a story related to this revered stone bowl. In the past, on a certain day, the Maharaja would perform Gaang Puja (river worship) ritual. It was then that the banks of the Gumti River, which ran through Udaipur, were fenced off. No one was allowed to enter its waters. As the rituals were performed by priests, they saw a raft carrying tribesmen approach. There was a heated altercation between the priests and the tribesmen on the raft. They were eventually arrested for disobeying the royal order and thrown into prison. When news of this incident spread, there was discontent among the Reang tribesmen, as they felt that harsh treatment had been meted out to their brothers and so they revolted against the king. The Maharaja immediately ordered the leaders of the Reangs to be captured and beheaded to quell the revolt. The Maharani, on the other hand, believed it was not only cruel but also a grave sin to take the lives of their subjects. She also knew that it was her duty to prevent her husband from committing such a sin.

The Brave Queens of Tripura and 'The Pathar Bati' (Stone Bowl) (An excerpt from my unpublished book 'Master of Time)She approached her husband and asked forgiveness for the Reangs; who languished in prison. Initially, the king refused, saying, “If I release them without exemplary punishment, the Reangs will no longer fear and respect me.” In the future, they will no longer remain under my control. Imagine, what a bad precedent that would set for my other subjects.” The queen however persisted: “Maharaj, I give you my word that they will forever become your most obedient and loyal subjects. Please forgive them.” Hearing this, the king said to himself, “There was no harm in trying. renounce their revolt; she sympathized and shared their concerns on many subjects.

The Reangs were pleased with what they had heard from the queen and called her “mother”. She then offered them milk in a stone bowl and said, “Now that you have accepted me as your mother and taken the milk I gave you, you are now our sons. So promise me that you will never revolt against your father; the king.” The Reangs agreed and promised to become faithful children. As a reminder of this promise to future generations, they took this stone bowl with them. History has proved that the Reangs carried on and gave brave generals such as Rai Kachak and Rai Kasam to Tripura; they led their men to conquer far and wide.

The Reang called Queen Dayabati (the compassionate one); you never knew if that was her name or if it was attributed to her because of her generosity to them. It was interesting to note that previously the kings of Tripura were called by their subjects ‘Fa’ meaning father and the queens ‘Buma’ (mother). The queens of Tripura are distinguished by their simplicity and their roots in their land. These early queens wore the simple Rignai (a hand-woven piece of cloth around their waist, much like the sarong worn by women in Malaysia and the Risha (hand-woven chest cloth); and on their foreheads found the heart-shaped (vermilion) sindoor. They were very unlike their counterparts in other states where the Maharanis were highly “decorated” in jewelry and costume. In fact, wearing a sari (the traditional dress elsewhere) entered the palace once the Maharajas began to intermarry with royalty from other states.Not only the saree, but many other cultural influences also entered the palace and spread throughout the State.

Many early kings had two names, one sankritized and the other indigenous. For example Kirtidhar Manikya was also Sengthum Fa; the word Fa (Father) was suffixed to their names, maybe it had something to do with this legend. It is because of these stories of bravery of queens that Reverend James Long in his “Analysis of The Rajmala” (Asiatic Society Journal, Vol XIX, page 535) wrote: “Women present a very different character from others in general, and in audacity and moral force recall the women of Rajputana or Maratha country.”

(The opinions expressed are solely personal of the author)

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Sherry J. Basler