Tripura: Ancient Seat of Vaisnavism


Temple of Tripura Sundari
Nicholas Roerich, c. 1932

Feb 09, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — A two-part exploration of the ancient city of Tripura, a northern outpost of Vaisnavism and the Bhakti Cult.

Rituals and practices of ancient Tripura spiritual society

In his article, Social History as Revealed in the Manuscripts of Tripura, author Rabindranath Das Shastri further describes the extant literature that helps to place ancient Tripuri as a center of Vaisnava faith and the Bhakti Cult, along with other religious/social practices of the day. He writes: "Gopinath Sharma copied a manuscript titled Vājasaneyi Upanayana Paddhati in 1577 S.E. The upanayana is a ritualistic ceremony of the Hindu Brahmins as mentioned in Smriti Shastra.

In this context we may also cite a manuscript titled Śrāddha-Tattvam of Raghunath Bhattacharya copied by Shri Dwija Rammohan. Astrological practices were very much in vogue in Tripura. Reference can be given of the two manuscripts Dwadashbhava Phala copied by Umakantacharya (1768 A.D.) and Bhairava Stavarajir Punthi copied by Kailashchandracharya (1894 A.D.) which are related to the practice of astrology. Recovery of the manuscript titled Rajmala Punthi from Vangiya Sahitya Parishad Granthasala in 1949 revealed that the manuscript was copied by Ram Narayan Deb. The Horoscope of Maharaja Kalyan Manikya (1625–1660 A.D.) was casted in this manuscript as,

    Bhadramase diva dui prahar samay Avijit muhurta take jyotisheke kay Tahate janmile raja Kalyan Manik Lagne o shuthir Debaguru Brihaspati

In this very manuscript the benevolent practice of grant of land to the Brahmins is mentioned. It appears that in 1380 S.E. Maharaja Dharma Manikya donated –

    Namna Shri Dharma Manikya bhupadatavyeyah kriyanidhi

Practice of traditional medicine can be traced from the manuscript titled Bhasaktousadhapustika wherein the copyist took pains to mention the remedy for several common ailments as per Ayurveda. Another manuscript on traditional medical practice reveals the treatment of diabetes (Helanchigacha sameta prate kichu siddha kalimarich diyakhaile bahumutra khande). It was a practice to warn the thieves with a view to protect the manuscript from robbery.

In the post-colophon of the manuscript of Mahabharata, the copyist Gangagobinda Das remarked in corrupt Sanskrit:

    "Jatnena likhitam shastra ja Choreyati pustika Sakati tasya mata Pita tasya gardhava"

The voice of warning was also raised in the Sannyāsakaraņa Vidhi manuscript of Tripura which also mentions fear from fools:

    "Murkha haste nadatavyam Evam badati pustakam".

The materials used for preparing the manuscripts were locally made from bark of trees (balkal), pulp of cotton (tulat), covering of betel nut tree (khal), palm-leaf, birch bark (bhurjyapatra), all being the eco-friendly alternative for paper. These materials were pressed into sheets by conch-shell and stone. Wood, leather, cloth, cotton wrapper (kantha) were used to make the covers of the manuscripts.

Paint brush (tuli), shalaka, peacock feather were used as pen. Ink of different hues – red, black, brown — made of natural ingredients – juices of plants, haritaki (myrobalan) and animal bone were used. In the Sanskrit drama Malati Madhav, shalaka is mentioned as writing material. M.M. Gaurishankar Ojha also reported the use of such materials in his book in 1918.

Temple of Tripura Sundari
Tripura State

While one of the Ph.D. students was undergoing her research works under my guidance, we have come across one fascinating manuscript preserved in the Shri Shri Shri NilakantamaniJiur Mandir of Shri Shri Prabhu Badi, Shri Pat, Agartala. The Manuscript of Shrimad Bhagavat prepared during the reign of Maharaj Birachandra (1862–1896) was found to be wrapped up with a cotton wrapper (kantha). It was far more fascinating to note that the kantha has a whole long poem copied on it with needle and red thread by one Muktamala Roy. The poem was lucidly composed by Maharaj Birchandra:

    "Ahe Radheshyam aji kisukher din Jhulan mangal he bhava makha saraca Hani jugal adhare hasi shri ange pulak Natha mana saha jhulana dolani Radha

    Puna Vrindavane jabo jugalrup heriba sukhe Birchandra Manomohini puro bancha Shri Radharani"

The writing on the kantha is unique and far surpasses the social importance of kantha gleaned in the famous 'Nakshi Kathar Matha' – a Bengali lyrical poetical work by Jasim Uddin of East Bengal (presently Bangladesh).

Last but not the least, I would like to highlight the paintings on the manuscripts of Tripura which bears testimony to the social appeal of the people towards such activities.

Maharajkumar Nabadwip Chandra Debbarman, the son of Maharaj Birchandra Manikya in his book ‘Abarjanar Jhuri' mentions that during the period of his father and grandfather, there was one designated painter Alam Karigar, Muslim by religion in the king's realm whose works correspond to Mughal art, the school of art that was widespread in the provinces of India. Vipra Shiveswara copied Padakalpataru in 1802 A.D. which has 13 paintings by Alam Karigar relating to Radha-Krishna Leela. These paintings depict and uphold the devotion of the people of the then period towards Shri Radha-Krishna.

In the manuscript of a part of Ramayana copied by Gangagovinda Das (1207 B.S.), a painting bears the continuity of Indian tradition of rejoicing the victorious Rama against the evil forces of the society.

To conclude here, it is beyond our admittance and expectation that the manuscripts of Tripura are sufficiently equipped to be the source materials of the history of the State. Not only the manuscripts like Champakvijaya by Sheikh Mahaddi, the Gaji Nama by Manohar Sheikh, Krishnamala by Ramganga Sharma and Jyanta Chantai, Shrenimala by Durgamani Ujir, but also each and every one of the available manuscripts in Tripura can unfurl the social scenario of the Princely State of Tripura, if in-depth studies are undertaken. However, let us first of all save, protect and preserve these endangered treasures of source materials then only our young generation of researchers can reckon with."

Rabindranath Das Shastri is former Principal, Tripura Government Sanskrit College, Agartala

Source: 'Kriti Rakshana', National Mission for Manuscripts


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