History finds royal quarters - Tripura Congress, INPT oppose name for palace museum

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By SEKHAR DATTA
  • Published 20.09.13
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Portraits in oil and artefacts kept in the museum at Ujjayanta Palace in Agartala. Telegraph picture

Agartala, Sept. 19: They were gathering dust in obscure corners of Ujjayanta Palace, the home of Tripura’s royalty, for 40 years till destiny cleared away the cobwebs and the process to restore them to their former glory began.

And now, the invaluable oil paintings, artefacts and memorabilia that once adorned the beautiful royal palace will find pride of place among exhibits collected from all over the state to be housed in the upcoming state museum in a part of the palace.

Built by King Radha Kishore Manikya in 1901 following the collapse of the earlier palace in a devastating earthquake in July 1897, the palace housed these bits and pieces of history associated with the princely rulers since King Krishna Kishore Manikya, who ruled the erstwhile princely state from 1830 to 1849.

But in 1973, the then Congress government acquired a large part of the palace to accommodate the state Assembly. The paintings, artefacts and memorabilia were dumped in a small part of the palace left in occupation of the royal family.

King Krishna Kishore Manikya (1830-1849), a close friend of Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore’s rich grandfather Dwarakanath, had shifted Tripura’s capital from Puran Haveli, 7km east of here, to Agartala in 1830. Krishna Kishore died in a lightning strike in 1849 and since then, five of his successors, Ishan Chandra (1849-1862), Birchandra (1862-1896), Radha Kishore (1896-1909), Birendra Kishore (1909-1923) and Bir Bikram Kishore (1923-1947) ruled Tripura till the princely state merged with the Indian Union on October 15, 1949.

Restoration of the rulers to their deserved status and their home seemed impossible at one point of time. Even the Leftist successors of the Congress have been consistently trying to downplay their contributions. But a peace accord between the third Left Front government and the erstwhile All Tripura Tribal Force (ATTF) on August 23, 1993, paved the way for restoration of the royal residence to its former glory.

The accord had a condition that the state Assembly should be shifted to another location and the royal palace restored to its former glory by setting up a government museum there. Going a step further, chief minister Manik Sarkar said the palace and its surrounding area would be named Ujjayanta Chowk.

The state Assembly was duly shifted to the new capital complex while the palace was restored. Standing in majestic isolation on the northern banks of two sprawling lakes — Krishna Sagar and Kshir Sagar, the palace is ready to house the museum.

A controversy over the museum’s name has, however, turned out to be a spoiler barely a week ahead of its inauguration by vice-president Hamid Ansari during his visit to the state on September 25.

Opposition Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT) and Congress have opposed the name Tripura State Museum and demanded inclusion of Ujjayanta Palace with it. “Since the museum has been shifted to the palace the name should include its name to preserve its history and heritage,” INPT president Bijay Kumar Hrangkhawal said.

He has also written to Ansari, accusing the state government of consistently trying to undermine the history and heritage of the erstwhile princely state. Letters of protest have also been sent to governor Debananda Konwar, President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, demanding renaming of the museum.

Royal scion and Congress leader Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma said, “I welcome the government’s decision. But at the same time, I find it extremely unfortunate that the name ‘Ujjayanta Palace’ is being dropped from the museum’s official name. The palace was named by Rabindranath Tagore. Does this not bear significance for the state government? It is no longer my personal property but it is the embodiment of Tripura’s centuries-old history and heritage.

“How can the Left Front government disregard the sentiments of the people and the state’s history? During the past 30 years, the government has destroyed many monuments and memorials associated with the royal family but the latest decision to drop the words ‘Ujjayanta Palace’ from the museum’s name is totally unacceptable. I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that the words are retained in the official name. My party, the Congress, has already protested the state government’s decision, as has INPT. The people of the state want the name of the museum to have historical relevance.”