Thiba Palace: The Remnant of Myanmar’s Royal Family in India

In the southwestern part of Maharashtra, in the small port city of Ratnagiri, lies a mystified historical monument, the "Thiba palace" (also known as Thibaw Palace). The grand Burmese monument looks a bit misplaced in the silent, small landscape of Ratnagiri. It makes us question- why was such a palace built in the first place and why in the far end of Ratnagiri?

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Thibaw Palace in Ratnagiri by Aniket Konkar

Located atop a small hillock in the Ratnagiri district, Thiba Palace is among the most famous attractions of Ratnagiri. The reason why it never fails to capture the tourists' eyes is because of its unique architecture and ornamentals, which are nowhere seen in the city. Although the elegance of the monument speaks for itself, it holds within its walls a sad story- the tale of the last monarch of Myanmar. Before we dig deeper into that, let's explore the majestic architecture of the palace first.

ARCHITECTURE OF THIBA PALACE

Thiba palace is a 20-acre historical palace that was constructed at the end of the 19th century. Since India was under British rule during 1906, the architecture of Thiba palace reflects a heavy Colonial influence. Surprisingly, it also possesses Burmese architecture. Built-in beautiful red brick, the three-storied structured palace is symmetrically constructed with teak wood and lava rock. It also has an exposed wooden roof system that serves as a ladder to view the sky.

Thibaw-palace
Image by Aniket Konkar

At the center of the palace, one can find a water fountain and a courtyard, a characteristic of colonial architecture. While the spacious courtyard provides wind circulation and aeration to the royal palace, the water fountain adds to the aesthetic appeal of the place. There are also scientifically built interconnecting passages to view the courtyard.


Inside the palace, colonial style small arches take the best seat for lighting and ventilation. In those days, due to a lack of electricity and technology, the constructors were keener on lighting and aeration. Another benefit- this type of construction withstands any climatic conditions! On the first floor, there is a large dancing hall tiled with marble flooring reflecting the obsession with dance and music in those times. There are also peripheral corridors that connect different paths of the palace. During those days, there were many hidden rooms and subways inside the palace for personal use. Similarly, Thiba palace has a hidden staircase that was only used by the royal family and the Britishers.

Thibaw-palace
Image by Aniket Konkar

Another beautiful feature of the palace are the semicircular wooden windows that are present throughout the building. These windows represent the stupas- bell-shaped structures in Burmese architecture. In addition to this, there is a Buddhist idol placed at the backside of the palace signifying a Burmese touch in the construction. Overall the Thiba palace shines and stands out for the well-thought combinations of colonial and Burmese architecture but what really makes it unique, is its history.

HISTORY OF THIBA PALACE

KIng-thibaw
King Thibaw with his wife and daughter

The Palace was built by the Britishers for the last Burmese King Thibaw and his family of the Konbaung dynasty. But why was a palace built in India for a Burmese King? Did the Britishers intend to construct it as a symbol of friendship with the Burmese royalty?

No, the Britishers neither cared about the common people nor the kings. Hence, what happened to King Thibaw is not surprising. He was defeated by the British on 29th November 1885 during the third Anglo Burmese war. This event led to the fall of king Thibaw’s rule as well as the Burmese kingdom. To take over all the powers from the King the Britishers exiled him and his family to a desolate place in Madras and later in Thiba palace. The palace was purposefully built for the confinement of the king and his family. Thus it became popular as ‘’Thiba Palace’’ after the king’s name.

During its construction, King Thibaw was allowed to view the site, which opened the door for Burmese architecture in the new palace. Though the Britishers built the Thiba palace for the confinement of the king, they made no compromise in its architecture. They spent almost 1 lakh 70 thousand rupees on its construction.

By 1910, the construction was complete, and the royal family of Burma was kept under house arrest here. Rooms on the first floor were given to the king, where he spent most of his time writing law books. Although he was imprisoned, it is said that King Thibaw admired the beauty of the place. Later in 1919, after spending years in isolation away from his motherland, King Thibaw died in Ratnagiri. One can still find his and his daughter's tomb in this secluded area.


Presently, the Thiba palace is converted into a museum and is under the control of the State government. The whole place gets lighted up during the annual arts festival at Ratnagiri. Archaeologists say that there are no elaborate details left off King Thibaw at the Thiba palace, but the architecture bears a remarkable significance to the Burmese culture.


Pratha Kirthika

Author

Kirthika Nandhakumar

Pratha Content Writing Intern