TODAY -

Maharaj Kumari (MK) Binodini
(Padmashree Awardee in the field of Literature and Social Work)

By Donny Meisnam Luwang *


Maharaj Kumari Binodini is the rare royal blood of Manipur (Kangleipak during those days) who eyewitnesses the whole royal chronicle of Manipur from the 20th Century to the present. She carries with herself two forms of Manipur's history; one of the by-gone years of the royal era and the other of present times.

She is known widely as "Imasi" by the people of Manipur. MK Binodini not only knows minutely the true and the very living style of kings and the nobles but also gives many contributions to the Manipuri society; and for this she is widely sung by the people of whole community of Manipur.

At Raj Bhavan

MK Binodini is the youngest daughter of the late Maharaj Sir Churachand Singh who was the then king of Manipur and Maharani Dhanamanjuri Ngangbi. She was born in the year 1922 on February 6th at "Sana Konung" (Manipur Palace). Among the five Maharajkumaris (Princess) sisters Tamphasana, Sanatombi, Tombisana and Angousana, Binodini, named Wangolsana, is the only one who is presently surviving.

Being a princess Binodini was brought up in the Palace where she received her early education through tutors, like the late Waikhom Selungba, and a British governess, Mrs. Jolly in her childhood. In those ancient days education for women was rare since it was assumed as big sin.

However, Maharaj Churachand being of a modern mindset was against the practice, and let her daughters to be educated in their life and every one of them started their studies under special tutors in the Palace. Later, when she grew older she went to Shillong for higher studies at Pine Mount School where she had a formal education.

Shillong, which is located in the Khasi Hills of the North Eastern Region of the country, was a hill station where the British and the Kings of the region including Manipur used to set up their Bungalows and other Rest Houses for their vacation during those days. It was a rich culture for royal families to send their children at Shillong for studies.

After the completion of her studies at Shillong MK Binodini again did her further studies at Smriti Mandir and did her secondary education at Tamphasana Girls School (popularly known as T.G. Higher Secondary School at present) which was built and dedicated in the name of her eldest sister Maharaj Kumari Tamphasana. She was again back to Shillong for higher studies at St. Marys' College and later transferred to Vidyasagar College situated at Bengal which is now West Bengal, due to the disruptions of World War II.

At her yaiskul home during the 60s

Maharaj Kumari Binodini's life took a most significant turn when she stepped into Vishwabharati University at Shantiniketan in Bengal for studies in art. Vishwabharati University was an ideal University which Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, the renowned Nobel laureate, established to impart the students in the rich Literature, Philosophy and other Kala Sanskrit of India in a traditional environment. Being a gifted child with many talents the Vishwabharti University years provided a rich and supportive ambience for MK Binodini to express and realize her artistic talents.

It was at the Kala Bhavan of Vishwabharati University, where Maharaj Kumari started her studies in the field of sculpture and painting, and she quickly became a perfect sculptor and painter in short time. But it could have been difficult for her to be in the position of outstanding sculptor and painter if she did not come across and receive the blessings from her renowned Gurus Ramkinkar Vaij and Nandalal Bose. It was these Gurus who had always been sympathetic to her achieving her goal, and through the guidance of the Gurus, MK Binodini was able to complete her education.

Being an enthusiastic scholar to learn more and more she learnt various forms of sculpture under the influence of Kinkar-da and she was also deeply influenced by Nandalal Bose. Fired by the exotic princess artist of Manipur and her enthusiasm and potential, Ramkinkar Vaij executed many portraits and paintings of the young MK Binodini as a subject. The entire Binodini Collection of paintings by Ramkinkar Vaij was acquired by the Gallery of Modern Art housed in New Delhi.

Receiving an award

After completing her studies from Vishwabharati University, MK Binodini returned to Manipur but the things were not the same compared to the lifestyle of Shantiniketan. When she came back from Shantiniketan she was quite an experienced woman fluent and conversant with English, Hindi and Bengali as well as in the field of Arts inspired by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore's poetry, writings and "Rabindra Sangeet" which had already enraptured the heart of Maharaj Kumari. She got married in the year 1950 with Doctor Laiphungbam Nandababu Roy, FRCS and she got two sons, Debabrata Roy and Somi Roy.

Following the starting of her married life Maharaj Kumari had to withdraw all her talents for some years since she was unable to devote her time for her Arts due to her domestic and other family duties, but though she gradually quit her sculpture and paintings she began, in her leisure time, writing short stories, lyrics of various songs in Manipur as well as drama which were telecast in All India Radio, Manipur and audience love to listen her songs and drama from those days.

And in 1965 her play called "Asangba Nongjabee" was performed and also produced as a radio-play, which she later published as a collection of plays. From this drama she started giving emphasis to writing and soon, she published "Nungairakta Chandramukhi", a collection of her short stories. It was her first book to bring her to the attention of the world of literature. In 1966 she was given "Jamini Sundar Guha Memorial Gold Medal" by the Satitya Parishad of Manipur.

"Asangba Nongjabee", the collection of plays was released in the year 1967. And in 1976, she released her first and only novel based on the true life story of a Manipuri Princess, daughter of Maharaj Surchandra Singh, popularly known as "Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi". For this book she got various awards comprising from Sahitya Akademi Award of New Delhi to State Kala Akademi Award, Manipur and in the same year of publication of "Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi" Maharaj Kumari Binodini was honoured as Padmashree by the Indian Government for her contribution in the field of literature and arts. She also released another book called "Amasung Indrajit" which was a translation of the book by Badal Sircar.

Maharaj Kumari Binodini was the Secretary of Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy for sixteen years during the 70s and 80s, and while she was the secretary she went to Mexico, USA, Canada, Germany and France in 1976 leading a troupe of dancers from the academy. She wrote a travelogue namely "Ho Mexico", and in the year of 2008 she was awarded the "Ningombam Pramodini Literature Award" and in 2009 she was awarded "Seram Mukta Award".

The people do notknow her widely enough still as an author but she also served the people of the state by writing films scripts, all of them memorable ones, and some of them are "Olangthagee Wangmadasoo", "Eshanou", "Imagi Ningthem" and "Sagol Sanaabi" which were directed by the world renowned film director of Manipur, Aribam Syam Sharma and all the movies were outstanding and the public today also love to watch the movies.

"Imagi Ningthem" received the Grand Prix at the Festival des Trois Continentes at Nantes, France. "Eshanou" was participated in the International Film Festival at Cannes. All the movies were entered in the Indian Panorama and received national awards. Dozens of her songs were broadcast in radio. She also wrote two short films known as "Paokhum Ama" and "Mayophigee Macha".

Having been brought up from the royal era period and believing in the rich heritage in culture of Manipur, Maharaj Kumari Binodini has always been in the path to preserve the Manipur culture. She has been a steadfast supporter of the traditional arts and artistes, a close friend of the maibees and pena players of Manipur, an enthusiastic supporter of the culture of horsemanship and the polo.

She is presently the lifetime Patron member of All Manipur Polo Association and also a Patron member of Red Cross Society of India. She has played an important and constructive role in the development of the Manipur University as a Senate and Syndicate member. An ardent admirer and enthusiast of the cinema in Manipur, she was a key player in the establishment of the Manipur Film Development Council, and later, of the Manipur Film Development Cooperation as a member of the Board of Directors.

She was thrice a jury member of Indian Panorama section of the National Films Festival. She was also a founder of Roop Raag, the music band based on modern cultural music and presently serving as its President. She founded "Leikol (Leimarol Khorjeikol)" which is only for women in Manipur who love Literature, and is its life-time President; and she has made huge contributions to the different organizations based on literature and culture in Manipur, and is also serving as President of IPTA (Indian People's Theatre Action) Manipur.

Throughout her life, Maharaj Kumari Binodini has been a very active and energetic woman with a deep social consciousness. She has always provided the impetus in moving forward the movement of Manipur culture, Apart from being an author and cultural activist, she had to spare her time to go abroad to represent the state outside the country like in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Canada, France, Germany, the erstwhile USSR, and Hungary.

She traveled to the newly liberated Bangladesh in 1973 in visit the Manipuri Diaspora there and to renew her acquaintance with friends, and express her solidarity with the people of the nascent country. And she not only show her talents in the field of literature and other forms of arts abroad but also makes Manipur proud of her. And her never loosing spirit let her to visit Silchar, Tripura, Assam and parts of Bangladesh where Manipuri are surviving and made them to come together with Meitei (Manipuris) people and love and care each other.

She is also outspoken on critical social issues such as the environmental crisis, human rights, and women's rights. Her ballet "Sangai", performed by the Ballet Unit of the JNMDA, received international accolades for its conservation message carried on a vehicle of outstanding choreography, and was later filmed by the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

She supported the Nupi Keithel and strongly joined her voice in the market women's struggle against erosive threats that endangered the very existence of this traditional institutional and economic pillar of Manipur. A woman of letters, she contributes regularly to the local dailies such as Poknapham, Naharolgi Thoudang and the Imphal Free Press with letters, stories, articles and commentaries of current social and political issues in Manipur.

In 2004, protesting the custodial sexual abuse and brutal killing of young Thangjam Manorama Devi by the personnel of a unit of the Assam Rifles then stationed in the Kangla at Imphal, and in solidarity with the public outcry for the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 from the State of Manipur, she took the unprecedented step of returning the Padma Shri award to the President of India.

Maharaj Kumari Binodini was also honoured by the American Manipuri Association in United States of America in the year 1992 for her outstanding contribution to Manipuri Culture. She is currently staying with her two sons, her daughter-in-law, Anna and two grandchildren, Ishanou and Sanatombi, at Yaiskul Police Lane.

Related article/Photo Gallery on Maharajah Kumari Binodini Devi


* Donny Meisnam Luwang is a young Manipuri writer / reporter based at Imphal. He is a regular contributor to e-pao.net.
This article was webcasted at e-pao.net on 19 November 2009.


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