From the Desk of the General Secretary, Rabindra Bharati Society
As a part of our yearlong Platinum Jubilee Celebration, today we are meeting virtually for our Budhbarer Boithoki Adda to reminisce on one of Bengal’s illustrious personality, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, in connection with Rabindra Nath Tagore. We first saw a short clipping of his life from birth to death, showing his birthplace, his school, his life style during growing years and lastly his tomb and epitaph.
Since the Former Chief Justice Chittotosh Mukherjee, President of Rabindra Bharati Society, who had recently recovered from a bout of covid, was present amongst us, I requested him to say a few words. He opened his speech by welcoming all members present worldwide. He said Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born in 1772 and was solely responsible for the new renaissance. During his childhood he had shown great interest in everything that was going on around him. Later on he broke all the then prevailing rituals like child marriage, widow immolation, etc. Raja Ram Mohan Roy saw his own boudi, brother’s wife, fall prey to satidaha which left an indelible mark in his life. With the help of Lord Bentinck he abolished “satidaha”. He was hailed as the Delhi Badshah and was sent as a representative of India to London. There he met Maxmuller and they became great friends. He encouraged his writings of demanding an independent India. Justice Mukherjee concluded by saying that in the House of Commons it was Raja Ram Mohan Roy who had the courage to mention that there should be no difference between the British and the Indians.
Then I requested Sri Aniruddha Rakshit, Member, Brahmo Samaj, to throw some light on the life of Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Sri Rakshit said that the British used to send padris, to India to give the British Government information about the Indians. East India Company was also set up to spy upon the Indians. This way the British would study about the Indians whom they called “natives”. The English Raj thus got to know the social rituals of Bengal especially in the remote villages. From 1814 Raja Ram Mohan Roy started living in Kolkata and noticed how the rich people of the society would fritter their time by engaging in meaningless activities as relaxation, e.g. kite flying, making fireworks, lavish wedding of their pet cats, competitive durga pujas, gambling, drinking, etc. The British tried to bring the Brahmins who were the upper caste of the society under their control. It was then that Raja Ram Mohan Roy founded Brahmo Samaj. Though he was a hard core religious Bengali with profound knowledge in Hinduism, he was equally adept with knowledge of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. He was a genuine linguist knowing nine different languages. Sri Rakshit ended his speech with Rabindranath Tagore’s poem on Raja Ram Mohan Roy and then a prayer written by Raja Ram Mohan Roy himself.
I thanked Sri Rakshit for his speech and welcome Dr. Bibekananda Chakraborty, a National Awardee Headmaster, to kindly put forth his views. He sketched the relationship between Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Dwaraka Nath Thakur. He said Dwaraka Nath Thakur was born in 1794 and so Raja Ram Mohan Roy was 22 years his senior. At first it was a relationship of respect between the duo which later grew to be strong bond and between 1815 – 1830 they became very close friends. On 19th November, 1830 Raja Ram Mohan Roy left for England as an ambassador to Britain. In 1842 Dwaraka Nath Thakur went to England and was invited by the then Queen Victoria to the Royal Palace. Greatly impressed by his pleasing demeanour, strapping physique and superb knowledge of English, she bestowed him with the title “Prince”. Raja Ram Mohan Roy on the other hand was fluent in nine languages. He learnt Sanskrit specially to study the Hindu scriptures viz. Vedas and Upanishads, learnt Persian to study the Quran and Hebrew to study the Bible in their original language. He came to the conclusion that god is one…”Ekam Aditiam” and was against idol worship. At the age of 16 years he wrote a book on Hinduism titled “Nirakar” and later “Vedanta Bhassa”. He read scriptures to prove his standings against idol worship. Prince Dwaraka Nath Thakur was the founder of Jorasako Thakurbari. He was a flourishing businessman when he met Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1814 in one gathering and in 1815 in a meeting in Brahmo Samaj. They would later meet in Jorasako Thakurbari or in Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s bagan bari. In 1816 Raja Ram Mohan Roy met David Hare of Scotland when he came down to Kolkata. They both reformed and brought the eastern and western education together and in 1817 founded Hindu (now Presidency) College. In 1822 they founded the Anglo Hindu School in Hedua where all their children and the children of the elite class of society studied. In 1821 Calcutta Unitarian Committee was founded and in 1828 Brahmo Sabha which later became Brahmo Samaj was founded with “Om Brahmo” being their mantra. After the death of Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1833 Debendra Nath Tagore took the legacy forward and founded Adi Brahmo Samaj and later Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. Raja Ram Mohan Roy died in England on 28th November, 1830 from a 8 days fever due to meningitis. His tomb is still preserved in Bristol. Later when Prince Dwaraka Nath Thakur went to England in 1842 he visited his tomb.
It was a real pleasure listening to Dr. Chakrabarty and after thanking him, I welcomed Dr. Saktisadhan Mukhopadhyay to say something on the great reformer. He said Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a merger of western and eastern culture and responsible for Bengal’s Renaissance, revival of Indian learning and acceptance of western education and synthesis of both cultures. Few learned English men were Hindu college teachers. Rabindranath Tagore contributed towards Bengal’s Renaissance with his powerful writings. Once when Tagore was asked to name the hero or heroine in his life, he mentioned that Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the root of his tree of knowledge, of which he was the fruit and flower. During that period Bengalis were engrossed in meaningless rituals and festivities. Raja Ram Mohan Roy despised them and was the first to openly proclaim that god is one. Thus people labelled him as a “Jabardast Maulabi”. Italy Renaissance pointed out the co-relation between wealth and learning. Debendra Nath Thakur was the wealthy Jorasako icon and Raja Ram Mohan Roy the man of learning. It was a perfect and harmonious blend. Dr. Mukhopadhyay ended by saying “viva activa” (be active) and “viva contempletiva” (know thyself).
I thanked Dr. Mukhopadhyay and requested Sri Prasun Gangopadhyay to say a few words. He said that Raja Ram Mohan Roy was an epitome of dharma, religion, social, education, business and all other goodness that one could think of. He was thus truly hailed as the “Brother of Bengal” for his immense contribution for the Bengalis. More than 100 years have passed since his death and yet he is revered amongst the Bengalis with the same spirit for his reforms. He was equally look up by the British as well for his versatile knowledge. No wonder he was beckoned to inaugurate the famous London Bridge. There used to be an inconspicuous Restaurant on The Strand which had an Italian manager. Whenever clients would visit his eatery, he would show them a photograph of a tall handsome person with a big turban. He would go to the House of Commons through that street and would frequent that joint. It was he who set his father in the right path and so they all treat him like God. He was none other than Raja Ram Mohan Roy. He is so greatly admired that even 250 years after his birth people are remembering him with respect.
After thanking Sri Gangopadhyay, Sri Ranjit Nayak, Asst. Secretary of the Society, then announced about a “Sangeet Alekho” on Raja Ram Mohan Roy where the commentary would be read by me in between melodious Brahma Sangeets sung by Rinadolon Bandopadhyay, Prabuddho Raha and Himadri Mukherjee. All present was mesmerised and captivated by the musical soiree.
We then opened the floor to an interactive session of questions on today’s learnings from those present and their answers by the respective Speakers. There was so much knowledge gained in this session.
I thanked all the Speakers, the participants of Sangeet Alekho and all present for giving their valuable time to making this 4-hour programme immensely successful.