Rani Rasmoni:The Queen of a Forgotten History
Can you imagine that at one time Rani Rasmoni owned sixty lakh bighas of land in Kolkata? But in course of time, the family members of Rasmoni had to go to court to demand compensation – it is very sad. In 2004, the Kolkata High Court directed Shyamoli Das and Amitabh Das, the grand granddaughter and the grandson of Rani Rasmoni’s eldest daughter, to serve in the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple. Despite being descendants of Rasmoni, they had no opportunity to serve in the temple. According to a source, Rani Rasmoni’s granddaughter is now fighting a lawsuit over 60 lakh bighas of property by placing a xerox machine in the prayer room with the original documents of Rasmoni’s property filled with seven cupboards.
The monarchy in the sub-continent has come to an end. There is no kingdom. But in many places even today the authority of the dynasty is intact. Everywhere the property of the royal family and zamindars has been khas, but compensation has also been given equally. The only exception is in the case of Rani Rasmoni. Her property has been confiscated for the sake of forged documents but no one think of saving it. The battle of Palashi, the defeat and betrayal of the Bengalis are involved in every sigh. But most of the Bengalis do not remember Rani Rasmoni’s bravery and victory over the English. When one says about the puja of the Banedi Bari ( aristocratic family) in Kolkata, usually think about the puja festival of the Rasmoni Kuthi at 13, Rani Rasmoni Road. This puja still draws the attraction of Bengali after a long journey of more than 250 years. According to the history, the puja was introduced by Rasmoni’s father-in-law, Pritiram Das. Unfortunately, most of the people do not remember the contribution of this family.
Rani Rasmoni was born on September 28, 1793, in a small village called Kona in Halishahar in North 24 Parganas, West Bengal, India. Her father’s name was Harekrishna Das and his mother’s name was Rampriya Dasi. It is known that Harekrishna Das was an ordinary poor farmer and house builder by profession. As a child, Rasmoni was named “Rani” (queen) by her mother Rampriya Dasi. Later everyone started calling her by this name out of love. She was extraordinarily beautiful. At the age of eleven, she married Rajchandra Das, a wealthy zamindar of Janbazar, Kolkata.
Rajchandra Das and Rani Rasmoni had a total of five children, of which their first child died shortly after birth. The other four children were her daughters. Their names were Padmamani, Kumari, Karuna and Jagdamba respectively. Both Rani Rasmoni and Rajchandra were very kind. Rani Rasmoni and Rajchandra used to serve the poor, the miserable, the beggars or the hungry people with all their heart and soul. No one would be neglected from their kindness and love. Rasmoni and her husband spent most of their family’s wealth on social activities, religious purposes and charitable causes. Of course, many of their family members disagreed in various ways, but the two of them never stopped serving people.
After the death of Rajchandra (1836 AD), Rasmoni took the charge of his estate on her own and managed it very efficiently. In her private life, Rani Rasmoni lived a very simple life like an ordinary pious Bengali Hindu widow.
Many stories are associated with the life of Rani Rasmoni. In 1848, the rich widow, Rani Rasmoni, organized a pilgrimage to Kashi to worship goddess Annapurna. She left in 24 boats with his relatives, slaves and supplies. According to a legend, goddess Kali appeared to the queen in a dream on the eve of the journey. The goddess said to her, “There is no need to go to Kashi. Worship me by setting up an idol in a beautiful temple on the banks of the Ganges. You will worship as soon as I appear in that idol.”
Dakshineshwar Kali Temple
After this dream, Rani immediately bought land on the banks of the Ganges and started construction of the temple. Construction of this huge temple began in 1848 and ended in 1855.
The 20-acre plot of the temple was purchased from an Englishman named John Hasty. The place was popularly known as Saheban Bagicha. Part of it was the tortoise-shaped Muslim cemetery. So in Hindu Tantrism the place was considered suitable for the worship of Shakti. This temple was built in eight years at a cost of nine lakh rupees. The idol was erected in the temple in a grand procession on 31 May 1855, the day of the Snan Yatra festival. Earlier the goddess of the temple was called Mata Bhavatarini Kalika. Ramkumar Chattopadhyay was the chief priest of the temple and his younger brother Gadadhar or Gadai ( Ramakrishna Paramahamsa) became his associate. Later his nephew, Hriday, also continued to help him.
Rasmoni became popular among the common people by showing courage in many works. She put iron chains on the Ganges to claim the right to perform Kalabou Snan or Nabapatrika Snan (a ritual performed in the Durga Puja festival) in the Ganges, stopped the procession of British troops in the area of Dakshineswar temple and continued the right of Bengal fishermen to fish.
During the British rule, indigo was cultivated by the Indians. Once an English indigo planter started torturing the people of Mokimpur area of present day Bangladesh to force them to cultivate indigo. On learning this, Rani Rasmoni rushed to help the people there. Again, with her intervention, everything stopped as before.
Rani Rasamoni became famous for her various philanthropic work. She dug a canal at a cost of about one lakh rupees for the betterment of the people, which connected the Ganges with the Madhumati river.
She came to Kolkata and established markets at Beleghata and Bhabanipur and built Kalighat. On the occasion of the worship of Jagannath Deva, once Rani Rasmoni, her family and maids were going to Jagannath Dham (Puri). As she walked along, she noticed that the roads were very bad. The rest of the pilgrims were having a hard time going that way. Seeing that, Rani’s mind was filled with great sorrow. She then repaired all the roads for their benefit. But she did not stop there, spending about 60,000 rupees at that time, she also made three diamond-studded crowns for the three idols of Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra.
Besides, she built the famous Babughat, Ahiritola Ghat and Nimtala Ghat in Kolkata for the benefit of the people of Kolkata. She donated a lot of money to the establishment of the Imperial Library (now the National Library of India) and the Hindu College (now the Presidency University).
Rani Rasmoni was a woman of strong character. Her outlook was far greater than that of other contemporary women. She taught us how to serve people with devotion. She never expected anything from the people in return for her services but always gave them various things as gifts. Her great deeds have made her memorable to all. On February 19, 1861, at the age of 68, this great and majestic woman passed away.
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By Krishna Das