Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Malay RoyChoudhury's Ancestory:

Malay Roychoudhury (1939), and his elder brother Samir (1933), of the Hungry Generation (Hungryalism) literature Movement (1961-1965) fame, belong to the Uttarpara (District Hooghly, West Bengal, India) clan of the Sabarna Choudhuries. Having been born in to this clan has given them a sense of being rooted to the pre-colonial history of West Bengal, as well as an organic geographical sense of belonging to the soil, which most of the contemporary Bengali writers are deprived of. It was natural that these two brothers alongwith Shakti Chattopadhyay, resident of Joynagar-Majilpur, formed the core of the Movement.

The Sabarna Choudhury clan of Uttarpara, like the clans at Halishahar, Birati and Kheput, is a branch of the Behala-Barisha (Kolkata) Sabarna Choudhuries. However, the clan did not suddenly emanate at Behala-Barisha. Like all rarhishreni Brahmins, this family also traces its origin in pre-Islamic Bengal, reportedly, from one of the five Kannaujia Brahmins, brought to his kingdom by Adisura-Sriharsa.

Atul Krishna Ray in his book ‘Lakshmikanta: A Chapter in the Social History of Bengal’ (1928) has mapped the course of the descendants of one of such 10th Century Brahmins in this order: Vedagarbha (980AD), Shobhana, Shauri, Pitambara, Damodara, Kulapati (1182), Shishoo, Gadadhara, Halayudha (1282), Ayurama, Binayak, Jiyo, Paramshwar and Panchanan.

The historical mist gets clearer from the time of a person in flesh and blood at Amati village of Katoa in Burdwan who shifted to Gohatya-Gopalpur (now Goghat) in Hooghly district. His name is Panchanan Gangopadhyay, who gave up hereditory brahminical vocation of religious activities, and joined Humayun’s Afghan cavalry. There is no record as to how he developed the skills of a sword fighter; nevertheless, his ingenuity, bravery and quality of leadership during the reign of Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar entitled him to be conferred the military title of ‘Sakhtkhan’, and a promotion to commandant’s grade. He came to be known as Panchu Shakti Khan, a hero of oral ballads. Malay and Samir carry his genes.

The wealth he had amassed as a commandant allowed him to shift his base to a place which later came to be known as Halishahar. He had built a haveli or a palace, and the town was called Haveli-Shahar at that time. He invited vaidyas of Bikrampur, kayasthas of Konnogar, yajurvedi Brahmins from Orissa and Tamilnadu for settling at Havelishahar. Since vocations were caste-based at that time, he had arranged for the settlement of artisans, craftsmen and traders from various areas. Panchu Shakti Khan’s son Shambhupati (1500) reverted to Gangopadhyay title, and engaged himself in developing the area as a business centre; the centre was connected by river route with Bhushana (now in Bangladesh).

Shambhupati’s son Jia (1535-1620) broke the newly-built family tradition and reverted to religious inclinations. He moved from one temple to another with his wife Padmavati, probably because she was unable to bear a child. The couple visited the then Kalikshetra Kalipeeth, now known as Kalighat, the abode of goddess Kali. The legend, narrated in Kalikshetra Deepika by Suryakumar Chattopadhyay and Kalighat Itibritta by Upendranath Mukhopadhyay is that Padmavati in her trance saw a halo of light descend on the adjacent pond; she wanted to take a dip in that halo of light, which she did, and became pregnant. Hence the custom of childless couples taking a bath in the adjacent water-body. Presently it is waiting to be cleaned of filth. Next day Padmavati saw a hand right in the middle of the pond, signaling her to find out what is concealed at the bottom. On excavation, a piece of goddess Sati’s feet was discovered, reported to be locked in the temple-chest forever.

Padmavati gave birth to a son, and as the story goes, died after three days. Jia renounced samsara, and became an ascetic and moved to Varanasi; thenceforth he was known as Mahatma Kamdev Brahmachari, having been ordained by his guru Atmaram Brahmachari who was well versed in Persian, Arabic, Hindvi and Sanskrit. The present image of goddess Kali at Kalighat was installed by Kamdev Brahmachari. Since then ‘Sabarna’ is a password for clan members to enter the sanctum sanctorum of this overcrowded temple. Malay and Samir do have the spiritual tolerance of Kamdev Brahmachari.

Jia’s son was reared, educated and trained by Atmaram Brahmachari and his assistant Ananda Giri. The boy was named Lakshmikanta (1570-1649). The Sabarna Choudhury clan starts from him. Lakshmikanta was trained in the traits of Panchu Shakti Khan; the boy was a mathematical wonder. His mathematical prowess, command over several languages and wrestling skills drew the attention of feudal lord Srihari Guha of Gaud, who was a minister at Afgan Sultan Daud Khan’s court. Lakshmikanta got a job at Saptagram revenue department, and rose to become an advisor to Srihari Guha’s son Pratapaditya.

In Bangadhip Parajay written by Pratapchandra Ghosh, and Jashohar Khulnar Itihas written by Satishchandra Mitra, when Daud Khan was defeated by the Moguls in 1576, Srihari Guha divided his fiefdom, gave 70% to Pratapaditya and 30% to his brother Basanta Ray. Pratapaditya started encroaching upon the fiefdoms of other feudal lords and increased his domain spreading over Khulna, Jessore and 24 Pargana. Lakshmikanta’s diplomacy ensured a pact between Mogul subedar Islam Khan and Pratapaditya. Pleased with the quantum of revenue, Emperor Akbar conferred the title of Maharaja to Pratapaditya, and Majmuadar (Revenue Commissioner) to Lakshmikanta.

The title of Maharaja changed Pratapaditya to a different man. He broke the conditions of the pact, and along with eleven other feudal lords, refused to pay requisite quantam of silver to the coffers of the Emperor. He also conspired to kill his uncle Basanta Ray and his son. Lakshmikanta refused to be a part of the conspiracy, and fled to Halishahar. Akbar had sent a couple of military expeditions to defeat Pratapaditya but did not succeed; later, Emperor Jahangir sent a huge army contingent under Man Singh. On his way to Bengal, Man Singh had sought the blessings of Mahatma Kamdev Brahmachari at Varanasi. After capturing Pratapaditya, Man Singh requested the Emperor to establish Kamdev’s son Lakshmikanta as a feudal lord. Lakshmikanta was conferred with the titles of ‘Roy’ (for an annual fortune of one million silver) and ‘Choudhury’ (for a huge tract of land by the sea).

Roy Lakshmikanta Majmuadar Choudhury, the name did not go well with the brahmin caste to which he belonged. Since Gangopadhyay brahmins are sabarna gotra, his priests and the advisors decided to call the family Sabarna Choudhury. His kingfdom being spread over Behala to Dakshineshwar, Pargana Magura, Khaspur, Kolkata, Poikan, Anwarpur, Amirabad, Havelishahar, Hatigarh and a large area of Sundarbans, Laksmikanta established revenue collection centres at various places, important ones being Behala and Dihi Kolkata. The East India Company arrived and these two centres became quite busy. Malay and Samir have the organizational skills of Lakshmikanta, otherwise Hungryalist Movement would not have been possible.

According to Atul Krishna Ray, Lakshmikanta had seven sons: Ram (1590-1650), Gauri (1600-69), Gopal, Bireswar, Krishna, Gopi and Mahadeva (1639-1730). Ram had three sons: Ramballav, Subuddhi and Jagadish (1620-1690). Jagadish had four sons: Vidyadhar (1640-1720), Raghudeva (1642-1722), Ratneswar (1670-1720) and Rameswar (1674-1739). According to ‘Bangsha Parichay’ (1911) written by Amarnath Bandyopadhyay, Ratneshwar is Vidyadhar’s son. However, from this generation onwards the title Majmuadar was dropped, and Roychoudhury was exchanged for Gangopadhyay.

Vidyadhar established himself at Behala-Barisha, and the Sabarna Choudhuries of this area are his decendants. It was Ramchand (1658-1732), son of Vidyadhar, who with his cousins, Manohar (1730), Pran (1653-1700) and Rambhadra (1700), signed the deed of transfer of rent collection of three villages i.e. Dihi Kolkatah, Sutanuti and Govindapur to East India Company. These three villages came to be known as Calcutta (now Kolkata).

The story of the Uttarpara clan of Sabarna Choudhuries starts from Ratneshwar. Mahatma Kamdev Brahmachari had advised the family to spread out west of Ganges (Hoogly river in West Bengal), Varanasi being on the western bank of the river. In 1709 Ratneshwar purchased the northern tract of Chakbali of Sheoraphuli fiefdom of Manohar Roy; the area being on the north of Chakbali, it came to be known as Uttarpara. His palace, which has since been demolished for constructing a housing colony, was known as Sabarna Villa.

In his book Atul Krishna Ray has dealt with the genealogy of Behala-Barisha and Halishahar clans. For Uttarpara clan the book by Amarnath Bandyopadhyay is authentic, as it enlists all the families of Uttarpara in 1911. Malay Roychoudhury himself though did not get a copy of this book when he wrote Chhotoloker Chhotobela (2004) and Autobiography in Volume 14 & 215 of Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series. We may chart out the genealogy in this manner as given by Bandyopadhyay:

Ratneshwar->Ramjivan->Madhusudan->Gangaram->Ram Narayan. Ram Narayan had four sons: Chandicharan, Bhavanishankar, Bharatcharan and Gourmohan. Since we are interested in Malay and Samir’s ancestors, we proceed from Chandicharan (1691), whose son Jay Gopal (1718) had four sons: Jadunath, Trailokyanath, Kalachand and Kedarnath. Jadunath had three sons: Baikunthanath, Harinarayan and Lakshminarayan (1799).

Lakshminarayan’s sons are: Pramod, Sushil, Ranjit, Anil, Sunil and Bishwanath. Malay and Samir are Ranjit’s sons. Lakshminarayan left Uttarpara and reached Lahore where he learned photography and painting from the Museum Curator John Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard Kipling’s father. Thereafter he, with his wife and children, was always on the move from one princely state to another, painting huge portraits of the members of royal families. Assisting him, his children learned photography and painting. Lakshminarayan died at Patna while drawing portraits of family members of Darbhanga maharaja. The brothers were forced to settle at Patna, whereas Apoorvamoyee, Lakshminarayan’s wife, along with Anil, went back to their twelve-room Uttarpara bungalow.

Promod joined Patna Museum as Keeper of Paintings and Sculpture. Sushil opened a photography studio at Chhapra, Anil at Uttarpara, and Ranjit at Patna. Malay and Samir were also trained in the trade. The two young boys, guided by uncle Promod, had the rare opportunity to spend their holidays in the corridors of Patna Museum, and this experience has given them a sense of history of the micro and macro-level world that would be impossible to get by reading books. This experience has definitely been a contributory factor to the Hungry Generation Movement.

Ranjit was married to Amita (Bandyopadhyay) of Panihati, a vaishnava centre across the river. Amita’s ancestry is traceable from Durgadas Bandyopadhyay, who was incarcerated by the British in 1857 for inciting soldiers in the guise of religious preaching. His son Nanilal was a part of the 19th Century renaissance, and got his three sons Lalmohan, Haridas and Kishorimohan educated in science, law and English language. Amita is Kishorimohan’s daughter.

Kishorimohan wrote articles in English and Bengali, and subscribed to various radical magazines of his time. He was made a member of the Royal Malaria Commission

(1899) and assisted Ronald Ross as a field investigator. Ronald Ross was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1902 for discovering the reasons and cure for Malaria. The responsibility of anti-Malaria campaigns rested on Kishorimohan. He traveled most of the affected areas in India, and used slide-shows for anti-Malaria campaigns. In 1910 the Imperial Government awarded him with a 500gm gold medal at a function at Kolkata, which was attended by a large number of intellectuals and politicians. He was also one of the founder members of Panihati Cooperative Bank, having made an initial contribution of Rs. 100000 and 1000gms of gold. Malay and Samir have Kishorimohan’s socio-political sensitivity.

Neither Malay nor Samir reside in any of their clan sites. They live in Kolkata and try to keep in touch with the Sabarna network, which by now has 20000 members spread all over the world. Malay’s son Jitendra (1975) and daughter Anushree (1969) also do not reside in any of the clan sites. Malay’s uncle Sunil’s children and grandchildren, however, live in the housing colony built on the land where once Ratneshwar’s palace stood in architectural glory.

1 comment:

Papri Chakraborty said...

Where exactly in Uttarpara this Ratneshwar’s palace stood? what was the exact location?