I had visited Ratnagiri some time back during one of the Konkan trips. I had read and heard about a palace of the exiled king Thibaw(थिबा) of Burma who was under the custody of British rulers, in the palace in Ratnagiri. But unfortunately, I was not able to visit the palace and the museum as it was closed for some reason. The other day, I bumped on the small Marathi book, actually, a novella(128 pages, published in 2011) chalking out history of this king especially during his exile period. The author is Madhu Mangesh Karnik(मधू मंगेश कर्णिक), who hails from Konkan region itself and has written many Marathi books including classic Mahimchi Khadi(माहीमची खाडी).
The preface talks on how he went about writing this book and some sources he used. The author has been visiting the palace since his childhood and at a later stage in 1973 it occurred him that he should write a historical novel on the life of this king and started preparing for it. He got hold of old research paper written by W H Desai of Rangoon University titled Disposed King Thibaw of Burma in India. One important item which author also figured out is that, as the kings was being brought to Ratnagiri, he was made to halt at placed called Waghotan near port of Vijaydurg for a month or so. The reason was that the palace at Ratnagiri was not ready yet. That palace at Waghotan is till intact, it seems.
British wanted to control the opium production in Burma as the its trade was funding its empire. This was the main reason for their policy of accessioning the kingdoms to get full control. The king was in exile away from the kingdom till his death for almost 31 years. He, of course, happened to be the last king of Burma. After his exile the British annexed the kingdom to its empire. This biography starts with British taking seizure of king, soon after he became the king. It also talks of dramatic events that took place around the time when he was about to assume as a king. The whole story of ruthless rivalry and greed for the power, reminded me of recent movie Bahubali. In fact, I would not be surprised if someone makes a film on life of the king and exile.
The king and his family stayed in Ratnagiri palace till his death in 1916. All the family members which were still alive, returned to Burma, except Tu-tu who was king’s grand-daughter. She married to local man and she became popular among the citizens of Ratnagiri because of her social work. Anyways, why bother about such a king who neither was a noble king or brave enough to fight? The reason is obviously the drama associated with his life and also to understand British strategy of ruling either by hook or crook. It is also interesting to note that the king was pious student of Buddhist religion and Pali language, and was not entirely keen on becoming the king in the first place.
Anyways, the book is historical novella as I said, instead of documentation of the history itself and is focused on specific period in Ratnagiri. One thing did not become clear as to why British chose to have the king stay in Ratnagiri itself. Anyways, before reaching Ratnagiri, the king had halt at then Madras, and village of Waghotan near Vijaydurg as mentioned above. This novella successfully captures the lavish living style of the king and his kins, his helplessness, relation of British officer who were deployed for him, behavior of local people of various strata in the society that time
As I have mentioned few times on this blog that I have studied Indology. In that we had a course on Greater India which is about tracing history of mainland India’s influence on neighboring areas. Bramhadesh(or Burma or Myanmar) as the named suggests had Hindu influence which later became Buddhist state. It is interesting to note how this king was imprisoned in India while Indian leader like Lokmanya Tilak was jailed in Mandalay, a city of Burma, by same the British Empire, and last of Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II was imprisoned in Rangoon again in Burma!
I looked for other books on this topic out of curiosity. I bumped on one by Sudha Shah, which is titled King in Exile, published in 2012. This is quite bigger book and seems well-researched, compared to one by Mr Karnik which I am talking of here(I have already ordered that book). There seems to be a Marathi version also available. As per the blog on Amitav Ghosh’ site, Sudha Shah got inspired to write this history, from his book The Glass Palace. This is interesting. As Amitav Ghosh’ books/novels are the ones which cover the very Greater India aspect, specifically eastern part, which I have mentioned earlier. The Ibis trilogy novels of his traces opium trade and its impact. I have been always interested in getting my hands on his book because of this connection and have been planning to order them for a while now. May be this biography of King Thibaw is a trigger I was waiting for! Anyways, for those interested in this history visually, I am sharing the YouTube video link of a documentary I got hold of.