Sunday 28 January 2018

What connects Ratnagiri and Burma’s forgotten royals?

Travelling is an exercise which enables you to explore places and find hidden gems and information, which you never knew about.

For example, did you know that Ratnagiri, a coastal town in Maharashtra, has a link with Myanmar?

Yes, it sounds a little odd, but this is a fact. In the late 19th century, the last king of Burma—Thibaw Min—was living in exile in the sleepy village of Ratnagiri.

The evidence of this is the Thibaw Palace in Ratnagiri, which was built to accommodate King Thibaw and his family, who were deported from Burma (now Myanmar) by the British in 1885.

The Thibaw palace is a beautiful red-brick structure strategically located on top of a hill. It is interesting to note that King Thibaw who lived in Ratnagiri for 31 years, spent less than half of these years in this palace.

The information chart at the palace mentions that the British had sanctioned Rs 1,25,000 for the construction of the palace in the early 20th Century. Construction started in 1906, and the king and his family moved into the palace in 1910.

While it was being constructed, King Thibaw took a great interest in seeing the structure come to life.

This is why, the palace, built of laterite and lava rock, on a 20-acre property, has traces of Burmese architecture.

The palace itself is a modest structure, in terms of scale and size, compared to the other palaces in the country. However, it draws a fair share of an audience during the annual arts festival organised by the Ratnagiri Arts Circle.

When I visited the palace, I was expecting a museum which spoke about King Thibaw and the way he lived. However, there is not enough information available to visitors, and there are very few items on display.

A room on the first floor is dedicated to the king. There is also a chart which gives out basic information about his life. I learned that he belonged to the Konbaung dynasty, and was very well lettered in Buddhist scriptures. He had also published law books and created a code of conduct for his officers and town heads. It also stated that in Burma, he spent the royal money for freeing slaves and for their rehabilitation.

His reign ended when Burma was defeated by the forces of the British Empire in the Third Anglo-Burmese War, on 29 November 1885, and he was captured and exiled (along with his family) to Ratnagiri.

Today, the Thibaw palace is a state-protected monument. In case you are intrigued with this story, you should read the book, ‘The King In Exile: The Fall Of The Royal Family Of Burma,’ by Sudha Shah, which chronicles the poignant life of the last king of Burma.

(Source: TBI)

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