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Tripura – The Saga of War and Victory – Jishnu Dev Varma

(An edited excerpt from the author’s unpublished book “Master of Time”. The views expressed here are personal and solely of the author )

It is somewhat unfortunate that most history books highlight the defeated battles of our people across the country to invaders . Such narratives go against the very spirit of nation building. It is said that “the nation exists as long as brave hearts exist.”

In this article I have tried to put forth that even in a so called remote state of Tripura, there were brave rulers, skilful generals and valiant soldiers, who laid down their lives for the glory and integrity of their motherland. A homage to them on this Republic Day. The Tripura royal emblem proclaims “ Valour is all”.

Somewhere in this vast world lies Tripura, once a kingdom ruled by a line of 185 kings. A few of them were intruders but soon removed by the real claimants; making way for the Manikya dynasty to sit on the ivory throne for many centuries.

The origin of this kingdom goes back to a legend that can be dated anywhere between 3500 BC – 1000BC. It remained a monarchy ruled by a single dynasty till 1949 AD, when it formally merged with the Indian Republic. The mainland of the Indian sub-continent though witnessed the rise and fall of many empires and dynasties. Tripura was arguably India’s oldest kingdom.

The history of this land goes back to thousands of years into the realm of myths and legends. It is rife with stories of battles, songs and dance; of much laughter and great sadness. The rulers and their subjects were bound by a common heritage; the king’s strength and vitality were rooted in his subjects .Together they enriched this legacy through conquests, victory, literature, art and music. I have not heard of any other indigenous kingdom with a history so rich and a legacy so deep, that even the assault of time and change has not been able to annihilate completely.

The ancient kingdom of Tripura spread its supremacy over the Sunderbans (in Bengal) in the west, Burma (Myanmar) in the east, Kamrup (Assam) in the north and again to Burma in the south. It was mentioned in the Seminar on History; held under the aegis of the Asiatic Society in December 1868AD that Reverend James Long referred to a Portuguese map of India, which he had seen in Paris in 1848 AD. In this map, the Sunderbans consisted of five famous ports named Paccaculi, Naldy, Dapara and Triparia. In the report of the same seminar it was also mentioned that ‘Triparia’ was a mispronounced name of Tripura.

Another scholar by the name of Somerset Payne opined that “In ancient time, there was a famous Tol (school) of Sanskrit in Sagar Island (Bengal) and a shrine was erected there by the Raja of Tipperah when their dominions spread further westward than they do now.” Ralph Fiche in his “Pioneers of India” wrote that in the delta of the Ganges on the verge of the Tripura District he found ‘people not yet subdued by the Mughal Emperors’.

Later the military power of Tripura grew and shrunk according to the rule in neighboring Bengal. When Bengal was weak, Tripura rose to prominence and extended its rule into the plains there but when Bengal was strong the kingdom consisted purely of the hill area, which was virtually impregnable for the Muslims to conquer. In this way, Tripura was able to maintain its full independence until the 19th century. Tripura rose to a political zenith during the 16th century, while Muslim rule in Bengal was weak. There were several military campaigns from Chittagong in the south to Sylhet in the north; both these places are now in Bangladesh. In 1592 AD Amar Manikya the king of Tripura constructed a Minar (victory pillar) in Sylhet after its conquest.

An excerpt from the Gazetteers of Dacca District (P23) on Invasion of Bengal by Vijay Manikya gave a picture of the brutal conquests of those days:
“Husain Shah also sent two expeditions in Tipperah. The first under Gaur Malik was driven back, The Tipperas damming the river Gumti and then letting loose the water upon the invaders. The second under Hyten Khan, was at first successful but was subsequently routed by the same expedient as has proved so successful against the former expedition. Some time after this (The date is uncertain it may have been after the death of Husain Shah) Vijay the Raja of Tripura, in retaliation, invaded Bengal with an army of 26,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry, besides artillery. He traveled with 5,000 boats along the rivers Brahmaputra and Lakshya to the Padma, spent some days at Sonargaon and then crossed to Sylhet”.
The canon which is on display in the heart of Agartala town was from the failed expeditions of Hussain Shah, it stands as a forlorn testimony of Tripura’s military might. The Rajmala ( Chronicles of the kings of Tripura) described the conquests of Vijay Manikya (1528- 1563 AD) in some detail from where one got a fairly good picture of his times.

Vijay Manikya’s began his reign with murder and bloodshed and he fought the bloodiest battles in the history of Tripura. During his reign he set out on three major expeditions. The first one was in the North to Sylhet and the Jaintia Kingdom (now partly in Bangladesh and Meghalaya (India), the second one was in the south to Chittagong (now in Bangladesh) and the third in the west to Sonargaon (now in Bangladesh).

The landlords of Sylhet saw the huge army of Tripura and could not muster up enough courage to resist, so they extended all their help to Vijay Manikya and showered him with gifts. Next he set off to conquer the kingdom of Jaintia and Khasi Hills which bordered Sylhet. The rulers of these hill kingdoms also did not resist the might of the Tripura army but came forward to welcome Vijay Manikya. The king in return presented them with elephants.

After the conquest of Sylhet, Vijay Manikya traveled back to his capital Rangamati ( now Udaipur) in Tripura. His eyes now fell on Chittagong, which was facing a lot of instability. In 1518 AD Portuguese pirates first landed on the shores of Chittagong, since then their visits were frequent. These pirates looted and kidnapped people and then sailed away. A local tribe of that area known as the Mogs assisted these pirates in their activities for a share in the booty.

Later some of these Portuguese pirates abandoned their lives of wandering in the seas and settled down in Chittagong. They joined the forces of the ruler of Tripura and shifted to the capital Rangamati. It was believed that they remained loyal to the throne; so when Krishna Kishore Manikya shifted his capital from Rangamati to Old Agartala in the mid nineteenth century he brought them along with him. They were settled at Mariam Nagar next to the new capital. It was however uncertain when they first came to Tripura. In the Rajmala it was mentioned that they were in the army of Amar Manikya at the end of the sixteenth century. They were Catholics and were the first to bring Christianity to Tripura.

The mis-governance of the Pathans who were ruling also added to the problems of Chittagong. Seeing the prevailing conditions there, Vijay Manikya made up his mind to send his forces to Chittagong. The march to Chittagong was however full of obstacles as there were no proper roads, no transportation, it had to be done on foot and on elephants.

The Tripura army under the leadership of Gaja Bhim Narayan (Naran) struck at the enemy that very night. First of all, he lined up the cavalry behind them the elephants and behind them again the foot soldiers. Gaja Bhim Narayan himself, built like a giant, rode an enormous elephant and as soon as the battle was under way he led the attack, shouting and spurring on his animal. The archers mounted on horsebacks rained their arrows on the enemy ranks. The elephants came in after the Pathan soldiers were thrown into disarray and many trampled under the feet of these enormous animals. The foot archers and artillery then came in, took aim at the enemy cavalry and cut them down one after another. Wild with pain and fear their horses ran amok.

The fierce battle lasted several hours, the Pathans under the leadership Mumarak Khan fought back with whatever strength they had. They were now fully surrounded by the Tripura soldiers and compelled to surrender. Mumarak Khan was wounded, taken into captivity and put into an iron cage.
. The Tripura army after their victory marched back to Rangamati with the captured general and other prisoners of war.

Pic . The Tripura King on the Ancient and Historical- “Ivory Throne “said to be from the time of the Mahabharata.

(To be continued ……..)


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