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We remember the 91st birthday of writer, social activist and Rabindra Sangeet vocalist M. K. Binodini Devi (Febr 6, 1922 – Jan 17, 2011)

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on February 6, 2013

Maharaj Kumari Binodini Dev Manipuri (source:

Maharaj Kumari Binodini Dev Manipuri (source:

Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi (February 6, 1922 – January 17, 2011) was an Indian writer from Manipur, a Southeast Himalayan state in North-east India and a member of the erstwhile royal family of Manipur. She was notable for bridging the two worlds of ancient royalty and modern art. Born as a princess into a palace life which she lovingly recalled in a series of late essays, she made her name in the wider world as a novelist and a writer of short stories, essays, plays and award-winning screenplays, lyrics and ballet scripts. She received the Padma Shri in 1976, one of India’s highest civilian awards, followed by Sahitya Akademi Awardgiven by Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of letters) in 1979 for her novel Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi (The Princess and the Political Agent) based on the true life story of a Manipuri princess, daughter of Maharaj Surchandra Singh. However, she returned the Padma Shri to protest the alleged rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama by 17 Assam Rifles personnel in 2004.

M. K. Binodini Devi wrote under the single name of Binodini. Her screenplays were made into award-winning feature films, directed by her long-time collaborator director Aribam Syam Sharma, such as My Son, My Precious, 1982; The Chosen One (1990), that have also been screened in the London Film Festival as well as the Museum of Modern Art, and Cannes, Toronto and Locarno Film Festivals. Her wildlife and environment themed script for a modern ballet was made into Sangai, Dancing Deer of Manipur, a performance film that won the British Film Institute’s Outstanding Film of the Year Award in 1984.

She died at 8.04 pm at her Yaiskul Police Lane residence in Imphal on January 17, 2011. She is survived by her two sons.

Arts and activism

In her writing and in her arts and social activism, M. K. Binodini is recognized as a pioneer of a non-doctrinaire thinking in Manipur that borrows little from conventional modernism and is rooted deeply in Manipur’s own traditions.

Although M. K. Binodini Devi is known best for her writing, she is an also an accomplished sculptor. While a student at Tagore’s Santiniketan, she became celebrated as the muse of the Indian sculptor and painter Ramkinkar Vaij. Portraits and sculptures of her by Vaij are in the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.

Her vocal renditions of Rabindra Sangeet have aired over All India Radio. She is a Founder Member of Roop Raag, Manipur’s pre-eminent association of writers, poets, dancers, musicians and dramatists since 1960. This association paved the path of a lifelong immersion in the arts for her.

M.K. Binodini Devi served as the first Secretary of the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy where she pioneered the incorporation of martial arts into the canon of classical Manipuri Dance and took the first all-Manipuri dance troupe on a tour of Latin America, North America and Europe in 1976.

She ignited environmental awareness in Manipur with Thoibidu Warou’houee, her 1972 essay on the state’s wetlands and wildlife. An elegy to the brow-antlered deer, the essay was the basis for her script for Thoibi (1972), an environmental ballet she wrote during the time she ran the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipuri Dance Academy. Other contemporary Manipuri Dance ballet scripts with an environmental message include Keibul Lamjao (1984) and Loktak Isei (1991) a ballet on the wetlands of Manipur. Her environmentalism often takes on an active aspect as with The Nong’goubi Project, a series of community actions taken in 2002 to clean up the Nambul River.

She has also held elected office as was a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manipur and founded micro-financing for women in Manipur with the formation of Manipur’s first women’s cooperative bank in 1973.


M. K. Binodini Devi was honored with India’s National Book Award (the Sahitya Akademi Award given by Sahitya Akademi, India’s national arts and letters academy) in 1979 for her novel Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi (The Princess and the Political Agent). The Sahitya Akademi also commissionedBinodini: A Writer’s Life (2001), a documentary film on her literary career, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma. In 2007, the Sahitya Akademi selected her for their Eminent Senior Writer Award.

Other awards include the Jamini Sunder Guha Gold Medal in 1966 by the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad for Nung’gairakta Chandramukhi, her collection of stories; and the 2002 Kumari Barooah Foundation Award for Culture.

In 1976 she was awarded the Padma Shri (India’s national honors list) by the President of India for her contribution to music, drama, dance, film and literature, She subsequently returned the award in 2001 in protest to India’s plans to alter Manipur’s historical boundaries.

(Source: 02/2013 –

M. K. Binodini Devi makes an appeal on the animals’ behalf  (Oct 2009)

The Funeral Ceremony…

M. K.Binodini Cremation and Ashes Retrieval Ceremony in Jan 2011…

The funeral pyre included a special construct called the keiren keijao in recognition of her status as the youngest daughter and princess born to Maharaja Churachand Singh and Maharani Dhanamanjuri Devi of Manipur.

For the Vaishnav Hindu ceremony called Asti, her older son retrieved her ashes and her younger son took it to the Palace Temple and to her residence in Yaiskul. The procession was led by polo ponies and a sankirtan pala (choir of classical Manipuri music). The contingent consisted of close friends and family and community members.

These two rituals precede the funeral in Manipuri tradition. The slideshow was based on photographs by Oinam Doren.

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