Tribal litterateur and folk writer Benichandra Jamatia was accorded the Padma Shri award for his contribution in the field of literature and education on Saturday. He is among the 118 personalities who have been accorded the Padma Shri along with 23 others for the Padma Bhushan and 7 Padma Vibhushan awardees.
Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb took to Twitter to congratulate the Padma awardee, “I congratulate Shri Benichandra Jamatia of our state on being awarded prestigious Padma Shri for his immense contribution in the field of Literature and Education. It’s a matter of pride for the entire state and I wish him all the best for his future endeavours.”
Born to Suchitra and Padasingh Jamatia, Benichandra was one of the ten siblings. His exact date of birth is not known since it was hardly registered during that time, but it is ascertained that he was born in the early 1930s.
Despite the lack of access to formal education, both his parents were literate in Bangla. His mother used to read the Puranas in Bangla and later narrate the stories to her son in the indigenous Kokborok tongue. His parents even hired a tutor to teach him elementary education for some years.
Hailing from an agriculture background, Benichandra’s days were taken up by farming and cattle rearing. But he would religiously read any text available to him every night. His hunger to learn soon made way to writing and music, eventually leading him to poetry.
Benichandra is credited for bringing ‘baul’, a Bengali country folk heavily laden with existential philosophy, into Kokborok literature for the first time. His granddaughter and researcher Hamari Jamatia informed that he published a collection of his poems under the title Dormo Lam bay Kok Borok Baul that translates to ‘The path of Dharma and Kok Borok devotional songs’ in 1992. The book was published by Kokborok Sahitya Sabha Karimani.
“A self-taught person, my grandfather would collect newspaper wrappers from local markets and read them till late night under the fickle light of a kerosene lamp. He also regularly procured newspapers and magazines, borrowed books whenever possible and spent all his free time engrossed in the pages,” Hamari said.
Benichandra was also a sang devotional songs. He started a small troupe of traditional tribal musicians and performed at different parts of the state.
On her father’s accomplishment, Benichandra’s eldest daughter Pabitra Rani Jamatia said, “My father was a very spiritual man. He composed songs from anecdotes of the Mahabharata. We are all very proud of him. He would often write devotional poems and compose them using a teen-tara (three-stringed instrument) that he had made himself. My father’s poems focused on the life and times of Lord Krishna, especially from the Mahabharata.”
He was also a political worker for several years. He was associated with the Congress and Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS), a tribal regional party, both of which formed a coalition government in Tripura in 1988. He also served as gram pradhan at Maharani gram panchayat situated in now-Gomati district, 60 km from capital Agartala, between 1988 and 1993.
Benichandra married Durga Mati Jamatia and has nine children. Today he lives with one of his daughters in Maharani village.
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