In Orissa,a former king now depends on villagers for meals

‘Then I was the king. Now I am a pauper. But I have no regrets’

Written by Debabrata Mohanty | Puruna Tigiria | Published:August 12, 2013 4:25 am

There are no rusting swords or throne in his house. No trophies on walls to serve as reminders of his hunting trips. No yellowing photographs of his younger,glory days. The palace where he lived with his wife and children till 1960 now houses a girls’ high school.

All that 92-year-old Brajraj Kshatriya Birbar Chamupati Singh Mahapatra,erstwhile king of Tigiria in Cuttack district,has is a mud hut with some plastic chairs. The asbestos roof is leaking,so a torn tarpaulin sheet covers his wooden cot. There are a few books,a plastic saline bottle,a torch,some raw tomatoes and lots of cobwebs.

Estranged from his family,the former king now leads an impoverished life. While cataract has taken a toll on both his eyes,he finds it increasingly difficult to hear too. In Puruna Tigiria village,where he has been living alone since 1987,few know that he is the only surviving royal member of the 26 erstwhile kings of the princely states of Orissa who signed the merger agreement with India on December 15,1947. Tigiria was the smallest of the 26 princely states of Orissa,with an area of just 119 sq km.

With his palace sold to the government for Rs 75,000 in 1960,the former king-turned-recluse now survives on the charity of his former subjects. “The villagers give him his meals everyday. It’s a lonely life for him,” says Lalit Krishna Das,a local advocate.

Dharanidhar Rana,a villager,says Mahapatra is a frugal eater. “He just takes tea and a couple of biscuits for breakfast,some rice and dal for lunch and a roti at night. He eats chicken once in a while,” says Rana’s daughter Champei.

Clad in a lungi and kurta,as he walks with the aid of a stick,it is difficult to picture the bearded Mahapatra as a former king.

“He was a ruling chief till 1947-end,after which he became the ruler of the princely state,and now lives like a commoner,” says Jayant Mardaraj,the former ruler of the princely state of Nilgiri.

After a diploma from Rajkumar College in Raipur in 1940,Mahapatra married Rasmanjari Devi,princess of Sonepur. The couple had three sons and three daughters.

“I would often visit Kolkata with my friend,the former king of Puri,and stay at the Majestic and Great Eastern Hotel there. I would drink to my heart’s content and have a good time. I liked Black Label,White Label and smoked 999 and State Express 555 brand of cigarettes. If a new car model came to the market,I had to buy it. I owned 25 cars and jeeps,including a Roadmaster,Chevrolet and a Packard. We had 30 servants,” recalls Mahapatra.

He was a keen hunter and claims to have shot 13 tigers,28 leopards and a tusker. “I didn’t want to shoot the elephant,but villagers forced me to do so as it was destroying their crop,” he says. Mardaraj adds that he was also a good short story writer and painter.

After merging his princely state in 1948,Mahapatra continued to receive an annual privy purse of Rs 11,200 till former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi abolished the system in 1975. But long before that,he had sold off his palace in Tigiria town and separated from his wife.

After selling the palace,he lived with his friend,Gajapati Maharaja,in Puri for the next 12 years. He then lived with his elder brother,the erstwhile king of the state of Mandasa in Andhra Pradesh. In 1987,he returned to Tigiria,built a hut and started living there. His wife,a former MLA of Tigiria,lives just a kilometre away,but the two have not met for decades.

Recalling the day when the merger agreement was signed,Mahapatra says,“I travelled to Cuttack to sign the merger agreement in the town hall while my diwan,Uday Nath Sahu,waited outside. Sardar Patel had given us an ultimatum… When the king of Ranpur refused to sign the agreement,Patel threatened to send the Army.” He adds that former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik asked him to join politics,but he refused,saying he does not know how to “bow to people”.

Asked if he regrets losing his kingdom,his palace and other riches,he replies,“Then I was the king. Now I am a pauper. But I have no regrets whatsoever. Do you think I would have been living so long if I were unhappy?”

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