Sunday, 12 September 2021

Burma’s connection with Ratnagiri?


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Burma’s connection with Ratnagiri?

Many might wonder what Burma has to do with Ratnagiri. But you will be surprised to know there is a strong connection, a historic connection which can’t be forgotten. The Burmese king and the royal family lived here in a palace for many years, and still exist in Ratnagiri. It’s an imposing structure, with traditional design in red. A quiet reminder of the history of the days gone by which had seen better days and the glorious past during the British rule in India. Read on to know how did the Burma king, and his royal family arrive from faraway Burma to Ratnagiri, a little known remote town on the west coast of India in the state of Maharashtra.

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For many years on our journey from Mumbai to Goa, travelling by rail or road we passed Ratnagiri. We had heard of a few places of interest to be seen here. But never bothered to stop and explore the spots. Later we planned a specific trip to Ratnagiri to spend a few days and visit the places around. We went by road in two cars to enjoy the beautiful sights on the way. We booked accommodation in advance and stayed in a home stay; a well laid-out and furnished bungalow with modern amenities and parking. Through a contact, hired a vehicle from a local to visit and explore the tourist spots, beach, historical places and famous temples around Ratnagiri. It was worth a visit as we got a chance to see some interesting places, some historical sites and popular temples and monuments.

Ratnagiri is a port town in Maharashtra, western India and has a busy station on the route of Konkan Railway. And can be reached by road and rail. Overlooking the Arabian Sea, Ratnadurg Fort and the Bhagwati temple and a lighthouse are the main attractions. Northeast, a fish museum and aquarium that includes turtles and a whale skeleton draw crowds. North of the city, the popular Ganpatipule Temple is dedicated to Lord Ganesh. Northeast, visitors can visit Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary, a forest area sheltering tigers. Ratnagiri has a diverse range of tourist attractions in the form of monuments, temples, and beaches. The beaches of this region are the most popular ones and some of the famous sand trails are Pawas Beach, Ganeshghule Beach, Ganpatipule Beach, etc. Places to visit in Ratnagiri - Bhatye Beach, Mandavi Beach, Marine Aquarium & Museum, Thiba Palace/Thibaw Palace, Ratnadurg Fort, Ganeshgule Beach and temple are the main attractions.

Ratnagiri is the birthplace of Indian freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He was born here on 23 July 1856 after which he moved to Pune with his family when he was 10 years old. Ratnagiri was also is the place of confinement of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar from 1921 to 1935, initially in jail and subsequently under confinement.

The native and the most spoken language in Ratnagiri district is Maharashtra's state language Marathi along with a local dialet Malvani and other languages like English and Hindi are spoken in the urban areas like Ratnagiri and Chiplun. Mango, the king of fruits, is famous for its splendid taste all over India as well as the world over. The Ratnagiri district is famous for Alphonso mangoes. More than 65,000 acres of land is under mango cultivation, and the biggest production of Alphonso mangoes in India is in Ratnagiri.

I had read about the Burma connection some years ago. Thibaw Palace was the residence of the exiled king of Burma.  And it was during this trip, we found out about the Palace, the Burmese king, the Thibaw rulers and decided to visit the place. On the outskirts of Ratnagiri town we reached a large open area with a few vehicles parked on the road with tourists and people gathered at the huge gates leading to the palace grounds. Once inside, the pathway leading to the palace was bare with only plants and trees. And at the far end the palace, a massive red colour structure stood out. A mute spectator to the good and bad days of long gone by years.The palace was built in 1910 for the king, with a marble-floored dance hall and archaeological museum.

In 1886, King Thibaw of Burma was exiled to Ratnagiri after he was deposed and his country annexed by the British Empire. Along with his pregnant wife, his junior queen, and his two young daughters, he lived in Ratnagiri for many years, as a prisoner of the British Crown. Ratnagiri was chosen for its remote location, some 3,000 miles from Thibaw's former royal seat of Mandalay, accessible only by sea for parts of the year and far from any territory of any rival European power who could influence or try to rescue the king from here.

Burma (now Myanmar) was partitioned from India in 1935. Britishers took over the Burma kingdom and arrested King Thibaw last Burmese king. Thibaw, was interned under the British from 1886 until his death in 1916. The Thibaw Palace was built by the Britishers to keep King Thibaw under house arrest. Though the king was under British rule, he was given legal rights and was treated with state honour.

Thiba palace was built by British Government to keep the former king of Brahmadesh (now Myanmar) Thabba Min in house arrest. It was built in the year 1910. Until 1916, the king and queen of Myanmar lived in this palace. Now there is a museum in this palace. Some of the things used by King Thibaw are still preserved in this palace. The palace is a beautifully constructed three storied structure with sloping roofs. Semi-circular wooden windows with beautiful carvings are the main attraction of this structure. There is a dancing hall with marble floor on the first floor. One Buddha idol is installed at the back side of the palace. This idol was brought to India by King Thibaw. One can have a mesmerizing view of Someshwar creek, Bhatye Bridge and Arabian Sea from this point. This place is also famous for the beautiful Sunset.

British after defeating the local Rajas in battle did not kill or slay the rulers outright. The distant exiles were meant to assuage the feeling of the subjects. The King is housed at a distant place with no harm to them was the narrative. This policy allowed some time for the British to rebuild a semblance of the administrative machinery of the respective rulers and allow time for the subjects to accept British authority, rather than demanding abrupt overnight submission. A hefty financial package was allotted to each ruler so that they could live a comfortable life when in exile, also giving the rulers a stake in the arrangement and thus dissuading them from fomenting any trouble. It was astute thinking and smart policy of the British that helped them to control and rule vast territories. Bahadur Shah Zaffar, the last Moghul emperor was defeated and was exiled from Delhi to Burma where he died later.

The Burmese King and his royal family lived in comfort and a peaceful life away from his people and kingdom. The King was granted certain special favours to keep them happy and not create any problems for them in his land. They lived here till their end. Some of their descendants are still living a simple and an unknown life. Once the rulers now most of them live in abject poverty.

In 1995, Hindustan Times contacted the descendants of the Thibaw rulers in Ratnagiri. They even managed to locate the grand-daughter of King Thibaw, known as Tu Tu. As per the report -Tu Tu, was brought up in poverty and not being educated, forgot all about her royal heritage except having one sorry looking poster painting of her mother kept in her home as a faint memory among the many gods. Without money or education, Tu Tu married a local mechanic and had at least six or seven children, all of whom are more Indian in appearance, religion and culture. Tu Tu, for whom Burma is a forgotten past, still lives in Ratnagiri as an old woman and speaks fluent Marathi with a rural Maharashtrian accent.

This is the sad story of the Burmese King and his royal family, defeated by the British, exiled in a far away land and settled in a remote town so that nobody could reach him to plan or create any trouble for the British rulers in Burma. A sad end of the royal family compared to the glorious days in Burma.

The best way to reach Ratnagiri is to take a bus or a taxi from Mumbai if you plan a road trip. One can also reach by railway as almost all trains on the Konkan railway halt here. Ratnagiri station is about 7 km and Ratnagiri bus station is 1 km from the palace. Best time to visit Ratnagiri is from October to March. The summer here is pretty hot from March till May. Ratnagiri is famous for Haapus Aam (Alphonso Mango). Tourists can buy cashews, mangoes, aam panna, kokum sharbhat and other local delicacies.

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