Family History of Rabindranath Tagore

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Family History of Rabindranath Tagore

Family History

Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7, 1861 into the rich Tagore family of Calcutta (now Kolkata) in West Bengal.

His grandfather, Dwarakanath Tagore was an entrepreneur and the founder of the great Tagore family of Jorasanko. The contemporaries called him a prince as he had been to Britain where he was first described as a prince by the people coming in contact with him and also because his lifestyle in Calcutta (now Kolkata) was marked by princely grandeur and influence.

Dwarkanath was one of those agents and officers of European traders who made the first generation of the Bengali entrepreneurs and socio-political activists.

Like most other successful Brahmin families of Bengal, the Thakurs also claim their ancestry from those pure Brahmins believed to have been invited by King Adisura from Kanauj.

However, the founding member of the modem Tagore family was Joyram, an amin of the 24-Parganas. Joyram had four sons; one of whom was Nilmani, who served as a Serestadar in Chittagong district during British period.

Nilmani’s son, Ramlochan, a rich banian and businessman had adopted Dwarkanath. The family name Thakur (lord) is said to have been conferred by the people of the fishing village Govindpur, who felt to have been privileged by being served by the Pirali Brahmins ritually.

However, the members of the Thakur family proved to be immensely entrepreneurial. Such a trait was attributed by Dwarkanath Tagore to a sense of injury resulting from the indignity that other superior Brahmins had inflicted on them. No member of the Thakur family including even Rabindranath could set up any matrimonial connection with the superior Brahmin families due to alleged caste inferiority.

Tagore was born the youngest of fourteen children in the Jorasanko mansion of parents Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. After undergoing his rite at age eleven, Tagore and his father left Calcutta (now Kolkata) on February 14, 1873 to tour India for several months, visiting his father’s Shantiniketan estate and Amritsar before reaching the Himalayan hill station of Dalhousie.

Dwarkanath was one of those agents and officers of European traders who made the first generation of the Bengali entrepreneurs and socio-political activists. The first person of the Thakurs to leave their parental home in Jessore and join the rank of banians to the Europeans was one Panchanan, who worked with the French as a banian in the late 17th century.

Dwarkanath learnt, as an apprentice, the laws of the Permanent Settlement and also the laws and procedures of the Supreme Court of Calcutta, sadr and zila courts and started his legal career very successfully in 1815. Soon he started expanding the modest zamindari estate that he inherited from his father, Ramlochan.

In 1830, Dwarkanath bought in auction Kaligram zamindari in Rajshahi district and in 1834, Shahazadpur in Pabna district. His zamindari had many partners and co-purchasers. But Dwarkanath held four large estates— Berhampur, Pandua, Kaligram and Shahazadpur without partners and he placed them in trust for his sons and their descendants in 1840.

The unique aspect of Dwarkanath’s zamindari management was that he looked at it entrepreneurially, not feudally, as was the normal habit of his contemporary counterparts. He engaged several European experts to manage his estates.

Dwarkanath made his early fortune from his lucrative service as a Serestadar and later diwan, under the Board of Customs, Salt and Opium. He served for twelve years as a diwan.

Alongside his service, he joined credit market as a moneylender to salt manufacture and others, a practice that was interpreted by his colleagues and contemporaries as sheer bribe in disguise. Incidentally, once he was accused officially of the alleged traffic, but in the absence of concrete evidence, the court acquitted him with honour. In addition to moneylending, he had laid out capital in export trade with a famous form, Mackintosh & Company. He had shares in Union Bank, when it was established in 1829. All these including zamindari control were pursued alongside his service with the Company’s commercial department.

In 1835, the government honoured Dwarkanath with the post of Justice of the Peace, an honourary position newly opened to Indians.

By 1840, he stood at the summit of his entrepreneurial life. He had investments in shipping, export trade, insurance, banking, coal mine, indigo, urban real estates and in zamindari estates. He engaged several European managers to look after his concerns.

Influenced by his European friends, Dwarkanath Tagore resolved to visit Britain like his friend and philosopher Raja Rammohan Roy. On January 9, 1842, he boarded his own steamer, The India, for Suez. His European physician Dr MacGowan, his nephew Chandra Mohan Chatterjee, his aide-de-camp Paramananda Moitra, three Hindu servants, and a Muslim cook accompanied him.

In London, the British Prime Minister Robert Peel; President of Board of Control Lord Fitzgerald; Prince Albert, the Duchess of Kent, and Queen Victoria received him.

He spent June 23 with the Queen, reviewing troops. On July 8, he was invited to a dinner with the Queen. The Queen noted in her diary, ‘The Brahmin speaks English remarkably well, and is a very intelligent, interesting man’.

Same year Dwarkanath left England for Paris, where he was received by the French king Louis-Philippe at St. Cloud on October 28.

He returned to Calcutta (now Kolkata) in December 1842. The business recession of the early 1840s and his newly acquired princely lifestyle led to the collapse of his business empire and made him a debtor to many people and companies. The debts accumulated until his death were so huge that it took his son, Devendranath Thakur, almost all his life to make the family free from encumbrances. It was not only Dwarkanath, whose businesses went red in the hard days of early 1840s, but also many others like him were ruined due to the depression.

Rabindranath’s father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore was born on May 15, 1817 at the Tagore family of Jor&sanko in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Debendranath studied at home from 1823 to 1825. In 1827, he got admitted to Anglo-Hindu College, established by Raja Rammohun Roy.

After studying there for some time in Anglo-Hindu college, he began looking after his father’s property and business as well as cultivating philosophy and religion. The death of his grandmother in 1938 brought about a psychological change in him. He became attracted to religion and began studying Mahabharat, Upanisads, eastern and western philosophies and many other subjects.

He soon lost interest in worldly affairs and started to seek God. He set up ‘Tattvaranjani (Tattvabodhini) Sabha’ in 1839 to facilitate discussions on different philosophies; this was later renamed as ‘Tattvabodhini Sabha’. At this time he published a Bangla translation of Kathopanisad.

In 1842, Debendranath headed the Tattvabodhini Sabha and Brahmo Samaj. The next year Tattvabodhini Patrika appeared with his financial support and under Hhe editorship of Akshay Kumar Datta.The journal started publishing the Upanisads alongwith Debendranath’s Bangla translation. It was at his initiative that the Vedas started being read at open meetings.

In 1844, Debendranath introduced the forms of Brahmo worship and from 1845 the Brahmo Samaj began using them. Long years of exercise with the scriptures convinced him that it was not possible to base the Brahmo religion only on the Upanisads. So in 1848, he started serialising the Bangla translation of Rig Veda in the Tattvabodhini Patrika. This was published as Brahmadharma in 1869. Debendranath’s other book, Atmatattvavidya, was published in 1850. In 1853 he was made secretary of the Tattvabodhini Sabha and in 1859, he established a Brahmo school.

Debendranath stopped Hindu puja ceremonies and introduced ‘Magh festival’, ‘Nababarsa’, ‘Diksa Din’ and similar festivals. In 1867, he bought a vast tract of land called Bhubandanga in Birbhum district of West Bengal and set up a hermitage in it. This hermitage is famous now as Shantiniketan.

He was also a founder of the Bethune Society of the Hindu Charitable Institution. Debendranath was involved in active politics for some time. He was made secretary of the British Indian Association when it was set up on October 31, 1851. He made relentless efforts to remit for the poor village people the chowkidari tax and sent to the British parliament a representation demanding autonomy for India.

Debendranath was a great supporter of Hindu widows remarriage but opposed child marriage and polygamy. He made a significant contribution in spreading education in his country.

In 1867, Radhakanta Deb called him a ‘protector of the national religion’ and the Brahmo Samaj gave him the title of ‘Maharshi’ for having preventing Indian youths from coming under the influence of Christianity. He died in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on January 19, 1905.