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Unknown Burmese Tombs of Berhampore

May 15, 2011, Sun 1:04 am

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T he town of Berhampore also shares its history with Burma ব্রহ্মদেশ(Republic of the Union of Myanmar). Five tombs said to be of the royal family members of Thibaw Min (থিবো মিন) the last ruler of the Alaungpaya or Konbaung Dynasty, Burma, are located here. Many people at Berhampore beleive that one of them may be of King Thibaw, whose remains were brought from Ratnagiri (Yadanagiri), Bombay, where he died. After Thibaw's defeat in the third Anglo-Burmese war, the Burmese royal family before being exiled to Ratnagiri, India, were brought to Murshidabad, and kept in exile at the Barracks of the Old Zilla Parishad (District Council) Building, Berhampore, which was said to be a Neel Kuthi (indigo centre) at that time. This building was also called as "Burma Kuthi" since members of Burmese Royal family were exiled here. There are five tombs of the Burmese royal family at the graveyard of the Central Sericulture, Berhampore, of which except one all are in dilapidated condition, covered with bushes. These five tombs are still awaiting for their real history to be unfurled.

Thibaw Min died on December 15, 1916 at Ratnagiri, Bombay. After His death, Queen Supayalat returned to Burma from India in 1919, and in September 1924 a local reporter was granted a rare interview with her (She was then 65 years old). When asked about King Thibaw's body she replied "When the King died, we didn’t have enough money for his funeral, and we didn’t have a chance to hold a traditional funeral rite. The body was first placed in a room of the mansion, and then, on February 9, 1917, it was placed in a tomb located in the yard. The tomb was moved into a forest in March 1919 by the authority concerned.
Princess Madarus Suphara: The tomb is so far from the palace that it takes half a day to get there. The tomb was on a hill at the center of the forest."
[1]

In Burma's history, Thibaw's rise to throne was marred by the massacre of a large number of royal family members. James Alfred Colbeck, mission priest of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel who was Present in 1878 and early 1879 and then returned again to Mandalay in 1885 with British forces, provides a unique look at the beginning and end of Thibaw's reign. He helped many Burmese royal members to flee Burma and take shelter in India under the British rule. "When I last wrote, I was expecting and watching for the arrival of refugee Princes escaping from an expected massacre; we did not know whether the King was alive or dead, and expected to hear a wild outburst of confusion every moment. I stayed up till the next morning at 3, and then turned in till 6 o'clock, nothing happened. Next day, according to secret information received, a "Lady of the Palace" came dressed as a bazaar woman, and shortly after came about a dozen others; they were more than I had bargained for, but 1 had to take them in and secrete them as well as possible. A few minutes after them came in a common coolie, as I thought. I got up and said, "Who are you?". He said, "I am Prince Nyoung Yan, -- save me. He was terribly agitated, had escaped from a house in which he was confined, and his Uncle had been cut down not killed in opening a way for the Prince to escape. This made me a party of 12; - The Prince and his wife, two daughters (Princesses), one son (Prince), Foster Mother and her daughter and attendants." [ September 18th, 1878 The Letters of James Alfred Colbeck ] [2]

The earliest contact of Burma with western nations was extremely limited, and was purely of a commercial character. The chief articles of sea-borne commerce consisted then of imports of sugar and muslin from Bengal, of linen and white and coloured kerchiefs, used as headdresses, from Madras, and of miscellaneous iron, brass, glass and woollen goods from Europe; while the chief exports were teak timber, lac, cutch, petroleum, and vegetable oils. Of these teak-wood, valuable on account of its essential oil, was by far the most important. The British fought three wars with Burma (ইঙ্গ-ব্রহ্ম যুদ্ধ) inorder to keep their supremacy in trade. The British needed timber for ship-building, which became practically exhausted throughout Britain during their naval warfare. To satisfy the requirements of the chief naval yards, a substitute for oak was found in teak {Tectona grandis) from Burma.

First Burmese War (1824)

The English had a good relation with Burma, but during the reigh of Bodaw Paya (Bo-daw-hpaya বোদোপোয়া) (also known as Sinbyumyashin or Mindayagyi; 1782 - 1819 AD) their relation started deterrioting. On 1784 Bodaw Paya attacked Arakan, and defeated Maha Thamada (who came into throne in 1782). The conquest of Arakan brought the Burmese Empire into contact with the British power in India, and ultimately led to the first Anglo-Burmese war (5th March 1824 - 24th February 1826). Britain declaring occupied Rangoon on 10th May 1824 without difficulty under Major General Sir Archibald Campbell. The Burmese fled into the Jungles and resorted to guerilla tactics. Ultimately at the battle of Prome (30th November 1825 - 2nd December 1825), the Burmese commander Nemyo was killed, and his army destroyed, freeing the British to march upriver to the then capitol of Burma, Yandobo, where the Burmese sought terms. By the treaty of Yandabo ইয়ান্দাবুর (24th February 1826), the Burmese surrendered Assam, Arakan, and the Tenasserim coast.

Second Burmese War (1852)

Again during the reign of Tharawadi Min (থরওয়াদি মিন) The Second Anglo-Burmese War (5th April 1852 – 20th January 1853) was fought with the British. The war resulted in a revolution in Amarapura although it was then still called the Court of Ava, with Pagan Min (1846–1852) being overthrown by his half brother Mindôn Min মিন্ডন মিন(1853–1878).

After Mindôn Min's death a rebellion broke out and Thibaw Min (থিবো মিন) the last ruler of the Konbaung Dynasty came to throne, on October 1878 (two days after King Mindôn's death). At this time relations between the British and Burmese governments were strained. Information was received by the British that a treaty with the French had been signed in Mandalay and sent to Paris for ratification. The terms of the treaty included the building of a railway with French capital from Mandalay to Tong-King and the establishment of a French bank, which was to advance money to the king at twelve per cent interest per annum, to manage the ruby mines, and to enjoy a monopoly of the trade in pickled tea.

The interest on the railway loan was to be secured by the transference to French control of the river customs and earth-oil dues. The British government found an opportunity for intervention in the oppressive dealings of the Burmese government with the Bombay-Burma Trading Corporation. A sum of twenty-three lakhs of rupees was claimed from the Corporation on account of duty on teak exported or of fines inflicted by the courts without any proper hearing of the Corporation's defence.

Third Burmese War & The defeat of Thibaw (1885)

An ultimatum was despatched under orders of the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin on October 22nd, 1885. Thibaw rejected them, and issued a proclamation defying the British and threatening to drive them into the sea. As a result the third Anglo-Burmese War broke out on 14th November 1885. Thibaw was defeated in the war against Britain, and after his surrender on 29th November 1855, Thibaw along with his pregnant Queen Supayalat, their very young daughters, and the king's junior wife, Queen Supayagale, were exiled to India in the remote town of Ratnagiri, where the king, and the rest of the family, were kept under virtual imprisonment. The family was permitted to carry some of their valuables with them and for several years was able to supplement their expense by sale of these items. They were forced to live off a meagre pension from the British. But as they ran out of their valuable possessions, the king wrote endless letters to the British government requesting a larger allowance, better accommodation, and for the right to be addressed as His Majesty instead of His Highness. The princesses, too, were not allowed to interact freely with the residents of Ratnagiri. So they lived, attended to by an army of servants and assistants, until all of the princesses were in their thirties.

Thibaw died at 12 pm on December 15, 1916 at the age of 58 after 30 years in exile, and was burried at Ratnagiri, Bombay. Queen Supayalat was allowed to return to Burma in 1919. Queen Supayalat wanted to take Thibaw’s mortal remains to Madalay, but the British colonial rulers did not allow it for fear it would ignite Burmese nationalism and incite a rebellion. The 'little princess' Hteik Supayagale who was also Thibaw's wife, stayed in India and died a few years later and was burried next to Thibaw. The king's eldest daughter, Ashin Hteik Su Myat Phaya Gyi also returned to Rangoon in 1947, but she was unwelcome because of her marriage to an Indian commoner and was compelled to return to Ratnagiri. She came back a year later to Ratnagiri with her daughter, Tu-Tu. Tu-tu, also married a local man, Shankar Yeshwant Pawar; he too had once been an employee of the royal family. Hteik Supayagale died here on 3rd June 1947.

Mindôn Min had four chief wives who were queens, and many lesser wives. He had many lesser wives, perhaps there were fifty or more of them. King Mindôn's chief queen Hsin-byu-ma-shin, Queen of Alenandaw (also known as Lady of the White Elephant), who was also Mindôn's half sister, had no son, but she had three daughters, and all of them became queens to King Thibaw. There was Hteik Supayagyi or the great princess (she was about the same age as the king), Hteik Supayalat or the middle princess (with the official title of Siri Suriya Prabha Ratana Devi. She a year younger than the king, all the years of her life she had loved Prince Thibaw), and Hteik Supayagale or the little princess.

Thibaw had two sons and six dauhters :
  • A Prince (Shwe Kodaw Gyi) born at the Royal Palace, Ratnapura, 9th September 1879 (s/o Supayalat).
  • A Prince (Shwe Kodaw Gyi) born at the Royal Palace, Ratnapura, November 1885 (s/o Queen Suhpayagale).
  • A Princess (Hteik Suhpaya) born at the Royal Palace, Ratnapura, August 1880 (d/o Supayalat). She died of smallpox, at the Royal Palace, Ratnapura, on March 1883
  • A Princess (Hteik Suhpaya) born at the Royal Palace, Ratnapura, July 1881 (d/o Supayalat). She died of smallpox, at the Royal Palace, Ratnapura, March 1883
  • Hteik Suhpaya Myat Mibura Gyi [Ashin Hteik Su Myat Phaya Gyi]. Born at the Royal Palace, Ratnapura, 1882 (d/o Supayalat). Married at Ratnagiri, Bombay, India, Gopal Sawant, who was employed as a Gatekeeper at Ratnagiri. She died at Ratnagiri, Bombay, India, 3rd June 1947, having had issue, one son and two daughters
  • Hteik Suhpaya Myat Payalat. Born at the Royal Palace, Ratnapura, 1884 (d/o Supayalat). Married at the Collector’s Bungalow, Ratnagiri, Bombay, India, 20th February 1917, Thakin Kin Maunglat, Private Secretary to Ex-King Thibaw. She died at Kalimpong, India, on 4th April 1956
  • Hteik Suhpaya Myat Phaya. Born at Madras, 7th March 1886 (d/o Supayalat). She died from cancer at Maymyo on 21st July 1962, having had issue, one daughter
  • Hteik Suhpaya Mayat Payagalay. Born at Ratnagiri, Bombay, India, 25th April 1887 (d/o Supayalat). Married 1921, U Naing, a former monk. She died at Moulmein, 3rd March 1936, having had issue, four sons and two daughters



References :
  • Thibaw's queen (1899) - By Harold Fielding-Hall (1859-1917)
  • Burma under British rule and before 1901 - By John Nisbet (1853-1914)
  • A short history of Burma (1919)- By Samuel William Cocks (1868)
  • Forty years in Burma (1917) - By John Ebenezer Marks (1832-1915), William Charles Bertrand Purser
  • [1] Interview of Queen Suphayalat with a Rangoon reporter (1994) Back
  • Christopher Buyers, The Konbaung Dynasty Genealogy, Royal Ark
  • [2] SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 1, No. 2, Autumn 2003. The Letters of James Alfred Colbeck, Originally Selected and Edited by George H. Colbeck in 1892 Back




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