Archive for December 26th, 2016

New Bengal social class under colonial auspices

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on December 26th, 2016 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar


(For details and referencing please see

Kochhar, Rajesh (2008)   Seductive orientalism: English education and modern science in colonial India, Social Scientist,   26, pp. 45-63.

Kochhar, Rajesh (2008)  Cultivation of science in the 19th century Bengal, Indian Journal of Physics, 82, pp. 1005-1082.)

In 1977 the noted film-maker  Satyajit Ray (1921-1992)  made a  Hindi/Urdu film Shatranj ke Khiladi ( chess players), set in the 1856 Oudh (corresponding to the present-day eastern Uttar Pradesh).The story dealt with two Muslim noblemen who were so obsessed  with chess  that they had no time or concern for either their families or their official duties. Ray’s story ends on an anti-climax[1]. The noblemen take note of the capture of their king by the British forces by declaring: ‘The rules of game have changed. The piece so far known as Vizier shall now be the Queen’.

The denouement is no doubt subtle but historically wrong. In the original story written in 1924  by Munshi Prem Chand (1880-1936)  the two  noblemen pick up a quarrel over a trifling and kill each other. This is consistent with the fact that the Muslim nobility chose to perish rather than support the new rulers. If instead of the Muslim noblemen their Hindu revenue officials had been at the chess board, they would have immediately crossed over. Taking artistic license, Bengal-born Ray has tried to transport into Oudh the Bengal phenomenon of which he himself was a part.

In Bengal from where the East India Company’s transformation from merchant to ruler began, the British enjoyed certain distinct advantages. Since the British were replacing Muslim rule, the Hindus were already favourably inclined towards them. Secondly, they enjoyed the convenience of dealing with a new Hindu social class which they themselves had created and which owed its wealth, social status and its community leadership position to its association with the Europeans. In contrast it the colonial administrators would face the odium of dethroning a Peshva Brahmin government, and have to come to terms with pre-existing elites which had their own notions of prestige and self-importance.

Unlike Bombay, which remained an isolated piece of real estate for a long time, Calcutta came with its hinterland. The British settlement of Calcutta came up in 1690 at a small fishing village Sutanati.  The settlement was fortified in 1696 with the erection of the (old) Fort William.  In a significant development, in 1698, the Company obtained the zamindari rights (that is the revenue and tax collection rights ) of the three underlying villages Sutanati, Govindpur and Dihi-Kalkatta  (distinct from Kalighat),[2] thus becoming a petty  zamindar under the Mughal administration. As the political situation in the country deteriorated with the decline of the Mughal Empire, the Company became more and more assertive. Calcutta became an increasingly more attractive destination for the natives because of the business opportunities and the security it offered.

The Calcutta Black Town, the residence of the non-Europeans, grew in stages. The first beneficiaries were the people who happened to be residents of the underlying Calcuttan villages. Quickly, the new city attracted people from the hinterland.

Not surprisingly the first to move into the Company orbit were the ones who had been on the margin in the traditional society, because of the low status of their caste or because of their own low social and economic position within their caste. As the British got entrenched, the quality of migrants to Calcutta improved. When the English merchants became rulers, Kayasthas and Kayasthized Brahmins (that is Brahmins in the Mughal service) smoothly transferred from the old rulers to the new. Unlike in the past, even kulin Brahmins joined colonial service through Persian, and finally impoverished lads from learned background, who received formal education in government-run institutions and became government servants, educationalists and social reformers.

In Bengal the old aristocracy drawn from upper castes was largely destroyed. The vacuum thus created was filled by the new wealthy class which earlier had ranked low in the social and ritual hierarchy. They sought higher ritual status which the Brahmins granted them so that they could accept gold and gifts from them. Interestingly, the new wealthy class also sought to acquire by fair means or foul the trappings of the old aristocracy such as family idols and libraries. The Brahmins’ acceptance of patronage from erstwhile Shudras constituted a drastic break with the past. This made the next step, namely working under the mlechcha umbrella, easy.

Bengal caste hierarchy

By way of background information, it may be noted that there are  four major traditional  caste groupings in Bengal.

(i) At the top of the hierarchy are Brahmins, divided into three categories: Rarhi, Barendra  and  Vaidik ( the last one advisedly spelt thus to differentiate the term from the more generally used  Vedic). The pride of place in Bengal Brahmins belongs to the subgroup labelled kulin.[3] The first two categories are geographical indicators, referring  respectively to residence in  Western  Bengal and  Northern Bengal. Among the Vaidik  Brahmins those of the  Bharadvaja  gotra settled in the Navadvip district ( colloquially known as Nadia, also spelt as Nadiya or Nuddea)  were considered the final authority for settling questions of ritual purity and status. Maharaja Krishna Chandra (c. 1710-1782), the Brahmin zamindar of Nadia with his traditional capital in Krishnagar, was a great patron of  Sanskrit learning and  himself an authority on Hindu social order,

(ii) Immediately below the Brahmins rank the Navasakha castes (originally nine in number), from whom high-ranking Brahmins can accept drinking water. They are therefore designated  jalachal castes. The most prominent among these are the Kayastha and Baidya ( also spelt Vaidya).  Some Kayastha groups, in imitation of the Brahmins, separate the kulin from the Maulik.  Brahmins, Kayasthas and Baidyas have  been the biggest  beneficiaries of the British rule in Bengal.

(iii) There is a group of castes lower-ranking than the Navasakha , from whom the upper-caste Brahmins would not accept drinking water ( ajalachal castes).  Sonarbanias and weavers belonged here.

(iv)The fourth group, then called untouchables, though numerically strong, played no role whatsoever.


Growth of Calcutta Black Town

We shall now examine the phenomenon of the accretion onto Calcutta in some detail, giving examples in anticipation of the 19th century leadership profile.

(i) The first persons to come into contact with the European merchants were drawn from  the weaver caste with surnames such as Basacks and Setts, who acted as dadni merchants, that is they got cotton piece goods made by their caste men  against advance ( dadan) taken from the European merchants. Though wealthy, they could not attain leadership position because of their low-ranked caste[4].


(ii) The next were the social riff-raff from the hinterland who gravitated to the new city. The Tagore progenitor Panchanan came to the Govindpur part of Calcutta  in the closing years of the 17th century and ‘soon found a lucrative occupation in supplying provisions and doing sundry jobs for the white sahibs who sailed up and down’ .[5] Back home in Jessore , he was a degraded  Pirali Brahmin[6] , but for the fishermen among whom he  now lived and doubled  as their priest, he was a  high caste , worthy of being addressed  as Thakur (lord), later anglicised to Tagore .[7] Fortunately for the family, its house in Govindpur fell in the site chosen by the Company for the new , post-Plassey, Fort Williams, and was acquired by the Company at a high price from Panchanan’s son Joyram. Either he or his son (most probably the later) ‘further profited from his association with the building of the Fort’.[8] The Tagore clan would provide India with a galaxy of eminent personages including its first  Indian Civil Service officer ( Satyendra Nath Tagore 1842-1943), first Bar-at-Law (Gyanendra Mohan Tagore ) and first Nobel laureate (Rabindranath Tagore 1861-1941) .[9]

In 1884, Rajah Sourindro Mohun Tagore (1840-1914) plaintively added in a foot note to a pamphlet that ‘The Tagore family has sprung from Bhatta-narayana [one of the five  learned Brahmins sent   from Kannauj  on the request of the Bengal king Adisura]’[10], but nobody was ever convinced.   The more rigid Brahmins would not eat with the Piralis .[11] It is said that an un-named Pirali offered Raja Krishna Chandra of Nadia one lakh rupees, if he would only honour him with a visit for a few minutes, but the Raja refused. Similar offers, though of a smaller magnitude, were made again and again to the great pundits of Nadia, but were similarly declined.[12] In 1809, a government order included Piralis (spelt peerally) among the castes not permitted to enter the Jagannath temple at Puri. The ban on Piralis however was lifted the next year, but the episode does highlight the low ritual status. According to Dwarka Nath Tagore (1794-1846), the ‘sense of injury’ that the Tagores felt at the apartheid practised against them by ‘the more bigoted classes’ of their countrymen produced extraordinary energy and ambition in them.[13]

Uckroor Dutt

Uckrur [Akrur] Dutt (1722-1809)  was  a restless  Kayastha young man  in the Hooghly district who ran away from home on being  reprimanded by his  poor family for his waywardness. En route to Calcutta, it is said that  during a raid  by the lawless ‘Maratha Bargis’, he  cleverly saved  the life a rich zamindar’s widow, who in turn  rewarded him with gold bricks and coins. In addition she handed over to him the Shaligram shila of Lord Raj Rajeshvar, which became the family deity of Uckroor’s descendents.  He began his career in Calcutta  by supplying ‘odd articles like bamboos and ropes to the foreign ship-owners’, and eventually  established himself ‘as a very successful businessman holding the sole contract for handling the huge volume of the Company’s cargo, both inward and outward’ .[14]. His descendent, Dr Rajendra Dutt (1818-1889), a medical college drop-out and a failed trader, was a successful, and probably Bengal’s first , homoeopath.

Canto Baboo

(iii) Then there were those who had the good fortune of attaching themselves to the Company merchants when the latter were vulnerable , and profited from the connection when the latter came to power.  Krishna Kanta Nandi (d. 1794) better known as Canto Baboo or Kanta Babu was a petty trader in Kasim Bazar (Cossimbazar)  near  Murshidabad, where he made acquaintance with the Company’s commercial resident, Warren Hastings. Nandi saved Hastings life in  the pre-Plassey turmoil and was more than amply rewarded when Hastings became the Governor General . Favour to Nandi was an unsuccessful charge against Hastings in his impeachment.[15]  Canto Baboo was with Hastings when the latter raided Raja Chait Singh of Benares. When Hastings’ men threatened to invade the Ranis’ privacy, Canto Baboo successfully interceded with Hastings on their behalf. ‘Grateful for this act, the Ranis took off jewels from their persons, and presented Kanta Babu with the same. The Ranis also gave him Lakshmi-Narayan, Sila, Ekmukh, Rudrashi, Dakshinabratta, Sankha, and other idols.’ They came to occupy pride of place in the Kasimbazar Rajbari[16].

Material gain alone was not enough; higher ritual status was also required. Canto Baboo moved up his caste segment from the lowly Teli ( oil-presser and trader) to  the middling Tili (trader) by spending lavishly on funerals, building temples and persuading the Pandits to grant a higher ritual status as a prerequisite  for a  higher social status. The priests at the high-ranking Jagannath temple in Puri refused to accept gifts, though munificent, from Cantoo Baboo on the ground that he was low caste. He was  however able to get a testimonial  from ‘the Pandits of Nadiya, Tribeni and other celebrated Samajs’ who  helped him by indulging in clever word play  (tuladandadhari taulik, any one handling a weighing balance is a trader[17]. It is said that in the remote past the nose ring a woman of Nandi’s  caste  of fell into the food  while she was waiting on an upper caste man, who thus outraged  debarred her caste women from wearing nose rings. As if to underline the newly raised ritual status of his caste group,  Canto Baboo introduced the wearing of the nose-ring amongst the female members of his own caste, a practice copied from  Brahmans and Kayasthas.

He had a precedent. When Rajballabh, a Vaidya by caste,  and Diwan at Dacca during the crucial period of 1756-1757,  became wealthy and powerful in the service of the Nawab of Murshidabad, he persuaded the pundits to invest his son with poita ( the sacred thread), upgrading his caste in the process[18]. Interestingly,  Maharaja Krishna Chandra of Nadia, ritually higher but materially lower than Rajballabh, is said to have disapproved[19], but to no avail.

Maharaja Nubkissen

Calcutta-born Maharaja Nubkissen (1733?-1797) rose to become the largest land holder of Bengal and served as a bridge between the old order and the new. As a Persian-knowing lad, Nubkissen was hired by newly arrived Warren Hastings in 1750 as his moonshee, and  given a  Company appointment in 1756. Those were the days of intrigues and conspiracies, and a native who knew Persian but was not a Muslim commanded great value. Nubkissen was with Robert Clive when the Nawab’s treasury was raided after the Plassey victory.  ‘Thus, in the course of a single day, the Moonshee of sixty rupees per month became per saltum a millionaire!’ [20]  He  was also  at hand in 1765 when the Dewani rights were  assigned by the Mughal emperor to the Company. [21]

In an official document dated 28 April 1770 Nubkissen is referred to as Cawndoo [Kundu], which is a Subarnabanik sub-caste from which Brahmins would not accept water. He later successfully passed himself off as a Maulik Kayastha .[22]  This suited the Brahmins fine, because now they could accept water as well as gold from him and his descendents. With passage of time his family married into Kulin Kayasthas. The Kayasthas in turn received ‘strength and coherence’ as well as ‘a higher social position’ by having Nubkissen in their midst.[23]  Maharaja Krishna Chandra’s extravagance compounded by the famine of 1770 brought him to near ruin. In 1774 his zamindari was ‘taken out of his hands’ and vested in his son Sib Chandra. The Brahmins who had so far depended on the Nadia Raj  now had to look elsewhere.  Many transferred to Nubkissen’s sabha (assembly) who rewarded the most illustrious among them with land and property.

Acquiring Krishna Chandra’s Brahmins was not enough, Nubkissen wished to acquire, by fair means or foul, the former’s symbols also. Nubkissen borrowed (or ‘seized’) the image of Shri Gopinath of Agradwipa from its rightful owner,  Krishna Chandra of Nadia, and  offered him three lakh rupees for it (or offered to write off the outstanding loan of that amount). When forced by a court order to return the idol, Nubkissen kept the original and returned instead a replica which he had stealthily got made in the meantime.[24]

Nubkissen’s grand nephew and adopted grandson, Raja Radhakanta Deb (1783-1867), became a great Sanskrit scholar and leader of the conservative group.[25]

Jay [also spelt Joy] Narain Ghossaul

(iv) As already noted, the British rule provided a new opening for Brahmins who were  kulin by birth but unlearned in Sanskrit. The first beneficiaries were Calcutta residents, as can be seen from the family history of  Jay [also spelt Joy] Narain Ghossaul [Ghoshal] ( d. 1821) of the Bhukailash Raj.  His grandfather, Kandarpa, was a resident of Govindpur, who was relocated in Kidderpore once his village was chosen as a site for Fort Williams in 1758. His son Gocul [Gokul] Chand (d. 1779) came into great wealth thanks to his connection with Henry Verelst (1734-1785). Gocul made his first fortune through salt trade.  In 1760 when the Company appointed Verelst as the chief of the newly ceded district of Chittagong, he took Gocul as his Dewan. He made full use of this first official position (1761-1764) in which capacity he supervised the revision of the land revenue system. Verelst placed on record his appreciation of Gocul Chand’s ‘thorough knowledge of the business of the revenue’.  Through a deadly combination of this thorough knowledge, official patronage, ruthlessness and total lack of scruples, Gocul came to own vast tracts of land.   It is said that he used to feed 1800 people every day. Gocu was succeeded by his brother Krishan  Chand’s son He settled in Bhukailash near Kidderpore  in Calcutta and founded temples there. Jay Narain left Calcutta to live in Benaras on falling very ill, leaving the management of his worldly affairs  to his son Colly Shunker  Ghossaul [ Kali Shankar Ghoshal]  (Sinha 1962 , pp. 35, 223; Buckland 1901 , pp. 1078-1079,  Kumar and  Desai 1983, p. 112).

Joykissen (Jay Krishna) Mukherjee

The influential Uttapara zamindar Joykissen (Jay Krishna) Mukherjee’s (1808-1888) family enjoyed great prestige because of its impeccable kulin credentials. It is said that in the mid 18th century, his family chose to flee the ancestral  village in Nadia district rather than accept in  marriage the daughter of their  Maharaja, Krishna Chandra, on the ground that  the latter carried ‘a slight blemish’ in his lineage’. [26] The family’s British connection began with Joykissen’s grandfather, Nand Gopal,  who joined  the Collectorate  of Dacca as a Munshi.[27] Joykissen’s father (b. c.1792), Jag Mohan, came to Calcutta, learnt some English, and when His Majesty’s 14th Regiment of Foot arrived in 1808, he began his association with it as a mess clerk. As soon as his son turned sixteen , in 1824, an appointment was arranged for him also. Both father and son  participated in the Regiment’s 1826 siege of Bharatpur, ‘and obtained their share in the prize-money from the East India Company’.[28] This was Joykissen’s first pile. Thanks to a combination of landed wealth and high-caste status, he became an important community leader of his time.

Kayasthas and Kayasthized Brahmins

(v) Once the British replaced the Murshidabad Nawabdom, Kayasthas and Kayasthized Brahmins made a smooth  transition from Persian to English. These included Kayastha families  like  Dr  Rajendralala Mitra’s (1822-1891), whose fifth ancestor , Ramchandra, had been a Diwan ( senior revenue officer) in    the Nawab’s service. Mitra’s great grandfather, Pitambar, was part of the Warren Hastings-led force that suppressed Raja Chait Singh of Benaras in 1781. Pitambar took charge of Chait Singh’s vast collection of Sanskrit manuscripts , which later became the ‘prime spring’ for Rajendralala Mitra [29] who  rose to become the first Indian President of the Asiatic  Society , Calcutta, in 1885 .

The most celebrated Kayasthized Brahmin was Rammohun Roy ( 1772-1833) , who came to Calcutta  only in 1815.[30]  His fifth ancestor , Parshuram Banerjee, had joined the Mughal administration , circa 1690, as a revenue official , and became propertied. He was given the title Raya-Rayan , which the family shortened to Roy for use as family name. Rammohun Roy’s father, Ramkanta, was a sarkar ( accountant) in Murshidabad in 1757. Post-Plassey, he undertook to manage some estates belonging to Maharani Vishnukumari, the mother of  the big landlord, Raja Tejchand  of Burdwan .  While his father was still alive, in 1796, he   formally handed over Rammohun his share of the ancestral property .[31] Using income from his ancestral property as the initial capital, Rammohun Roy successfully  lent money to Company officials for private trade and speculated in Company securities. He was able to buy zamindaris from his self-earned income   which gave him a  comfortable  annual income of about Rs 10,000, leaving him free for  his social and intellectual pursuits. For a brief and intermittent period ,  Rammohun  entered the private service of one of his borrowers , John Digby, and also of the Company , carrying the designation, Munshi, Sheristadar and Diwan.[32]

In his communications to the Company, Rammohun Roy  described himself as a kulin Brahmin. In an earlier period , traditional authorities would have contested his claim on the ground that his mother was a bhagna [ broken] kulin. The mis-alliance has been sought to be explained through the following story. Rammohun’s paternal grandfather Brijvinod  unwittingly gave a boon to  Shyam Bhattacharya , who ‘asked permission to bestow his daughter in marriage upon one of Brajabinode’s sons’. The girl  turned out to be from  a Bhanga kulin family, ‘ but having sworn by the Ganges, he could not break his word’. Starting with the eldest of his seven sons , all refused one by one till the fifth one  Rammohun’s father, agreed reluctantly.  This is a rather defensive story, standing in sharp contrast to that of Joykissen Mukherjee’s family , which, as we saw above, chose to flee rather than marry into taint.

On the basis of primary source material not taken into account earlier, I have recently argued that contrary to popular perception, Rammohun had no role whatever in the 1817 establishment of the Hindoo College Calcutta.[33] Rammohun was not a hero for the generation that set up the College. He became one for generations that came out of it. Rammohun was the first Indian to put the Upanishads to contemporaneous use and shift focus from the puranic Hinduism as practised to a theoretically constructed Vedantic one.

Rammohun  was bestowed with the title Rajah in  1829  by the titular Mughal Emperor Akbar as a prelude to sending him to Britain as his envoy. Aware of the incongruity of the situation, Rammohun sought Governor General’s sanction to use it. On his failure to get a positive response, Rammohun decided to proceed to Britain  as a private individual rather than as the Mughal envoy.[34]  He  however used the title in Europe for its exotic value. As is known, he died in England.  Thus although the title Rajah is prefixed to his name now, it was never used by him or for him in his own lifetime in India.

Ramtanu Lahiri  and  Ishvar Chandra Vidyasagar

(vi)  Finally, kulin but pauperized Brahmins from respectable  backgrounds received education in government –run institutions and went to build their careers and formidable. reputation . Ramtanu Lahiri (1813-1898) [35] and  Ishvar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1878) .

Ramtanu, who was brought to Calcutta in about 1825 for obtaining English education, would walk a long distance to David Hare’s residence,  wait at his gate, and run beside the palanquin every time Hare entered or left his house, uttering his request that he be taken as a student in Hare’s School. ‘One evening, alighting from his conveyance, the sahib noticed how pale and tired the boy looked, and, rightly conjecturing that he had had no food during the day, asked him if he would eat anything. Ramtanu, fearing to lose his caste, denied having fasted the whole day; but when he was told that the food would come from the confectioner’s shop, he burst into tears, and said that he was suffering from extreme hunger’. On this, and many occasions subsequently, Ramtanu was served with a good meal of sweetmeats.’ Two months passed this way, Ramtanu being the pursuer, and David Hare the pursued, after which the latter, being convinced that the boy was really anxious to learn English, and that it was cruel to put him off any longer, promised him free education. Ramtanu passed out of Hndu college and became a college teacher.

An almost destitute 14 or 15 year old Thakur Das ( later to be known as Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar’s father) came to Calcutta in search of livelihood and eventually found an opening  which brought him two rupees a month. This was at a time when wealthy students at Hindoo college ( then still a school) paid a tuition fee of five rupees a month. Isvar Chandra joined the Sanskrit College (founded 1824)  in 1829 and completed his studies  in 1840. He learnt English after that and served as the first Indian principal of his alma mater from 1852 till 1858

Both Ramtanu and Isvar Chandra joined government service, earned the respect of their European superiors, and commanded respect from their own society for their rectitude. With the entry of this class of people, accretion on to British India, at least in Bengal, may be said to have been completed.


Social churning

The Company connection produced social churning. Joykissen Mukherjee  could combine the advantage of the English – period riches with his traditional kulin Brahmin status  to claim social leadership. In other cases old taints were either  removed altogether (Rajah Rammohun Roy)  or diluted ( the Tagores).

Economics of a big city upturned old hierarchies. A Brahmin, Dwarkannath Tagore’s grandfather, Nilmani Tagore (d. 1793), accepted a piece of land in Jorbagan  as charity from  a wealthy Vaisnavdas Seth of the weaver cast , and built his residence there (Kripalani 1980, p. 16; Ray 1986, p.37).  A starving kulin Brahmin, Thakur Das, who arrived  in Calcutta from his village gratefully accepted the job of a cook in a Shudra’s house[36]. Similarly, Zamindari-related litigation acted as a great  social equalizer . When   one Jadulal Mullick won an election  for the Vice- Presidentship of the British Indian Association, in spite of  the opposition  of   Raja Peary Mohan Mukherjee, the latter asked tauntingly : ‘Shall we be guided by a Banik class?’. Jadulal’s reply was biting: ‘Is this the word of a son of a convict?’ The reference was to the fact that Mukherjee’s father Joykissen had been to jail on a criminal charge.[37]

Concluding remarks

Decay of the old political order and its replacement by the British brought about social change in Bengal that was of profound significance not only for Bengal but the entire country. In Bengal, old aristocracy was destroyed and replaced by a new class made up of people who would have ranked low in the traditional society. Brahmins were compelled to grant higher ritual status to the new wealthy and the new influential. Brahmins now accepted erstwhile Shudras as their new patrons. This was a revolutionary break with the past. The next step, namely the Brahmins’ moving under the mlechchha umbrella, was a natural corollary. Given the compulsions of new economy, new learning and new urbanization, old caste prides disappeared.

The British showed sustained, genuine secular and respectful interest  in Sanskrit language and literature including Hindu sacred texts. Brahminical tacit knowledge and old manuscripts now became an internationally marketable commodity. The new administration gave Brahmins lucrative appointments. Brahmins in return showered their blessings on the new rulers which turned out to be  very efficacious indeed.


Alexander, James Edward (tr.) (1827) Shigruf Namah-I-Velayat. of Itesmaddin (London: Parbury, Allen & Co.).

Bhattacharya, Jogendranath (1896) Hindu Castes and Sects: An Exposition of the Origin of the Hindu Caste (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink and Company) .

Biswas, Arun Kumar (2000) Gleanings of the Past and the Science Movement (Calcutta: Asiatic Society).

Buckland, Charles Edward (1901) Bengal under the Lieutenant-Governors, 1854-1898, 2 vols. (Calcutta : S.K. Lahiri)

Dutt, Haradan (1995) Dutt Family of Wellington Square (Calcutta: Haradan Dutt).

Ghose, Nagendra Nath (1901) Memoirs of Maharaja Nubkissen Bahadur ( Calcutta: K.B. Basu).

Kling, Blair B. (1976) Partner in Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Kripalani, Krishna (1980) Dwarkanath Tagore (New Delhi: National Book Trust).

Lahiri, Pradip Kumar (1991) Bengali Muslim Thought 1818-1947 ( Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi).

Mitra, Dilip Kumar (1978) In: Rajendralala Mitra (Calcutta: Asiatic Society).

Mukherjee, Nilmani (1975) A Bengal Zamindar: Jaykrisna Mukherjee of Uttarpara 1808-1888. (Calcutta: Firma KL Mukhopadhyay)

Mukherjee, S.N. (1977) Calcutta: Myths and History (Calcutta: Subarnarekha).

Burman, Debajyoti (1995) The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy (Calcutta: Sadharan Brahmo Samaj).

Pritchett, Frances W. (1986) “The chess-players: From Premchand to Satyajit Ray”, Journal of South Asian Literature, Vol. 22, No. 2.  pp. 65-78.

Ray, Nisith Ranjan (1986) Calcutta: The Profile of a City ( Calcutta : K.P. Bagchi)

Sastri, Sivanath (1907) Ramtanu Lahiri : Brahman and Reformer ( London: Swan Sonnenschein).

Tagore, Sourindro Mohun (1884) The Caste System of the Hindus (Calcutta: Catholic Orphan Press) ( Reprint, Varanasi: Indological Book House, 1963)

Taifoor,  Syed A. S. M.  (1935) “Sheikh Itesamuddin of Nadia”. Bengal Past and Present 40:117-129.

Ward, William (1822) A View of the History, Literature and Mythology of the Hindoos, Vol. 3 ( London : Kingsbury, Parbury, and Allen)


[1]Pritchett 1986.

[2] Although the new settlement had originally come up at Sutanati, it was named after the neighbouring village of Kalikata. The idea probably was to cash on the similarity with Calicut already well-known in Europe from Portuguese trade .   The Armenian traders, it seems, first labeled Calcutta exports as Calicut products ; Ray 1986,  p. 15.

[3] Tagore 1884,16.

[4] Mukherjee 1975, p. 143.

[5] Kripalani 1980:13.

[6] It  may be relevant that Pirali figures as one of the four groups among the  Ajlaf, that is lowly,  Muslims; Lahiri 1991, p. 18, n. 15. Significance of this is not clear.

[7] Kling 1976: NN.

[8] Bradley-Birt 1910, p. 231. The Tagores now shifted to Pathuriaghat which became the headquarters of one of the two branches; the other branch settled at Jorosanko.

[9]Presidency College Calcutta Centenary Volume 1856, p.7.

[10] Tagore 1884, p.16.

[11] Kripalani 198, pp. 63-64, n. 13. Incidentally, Kripalani’s wife  was a maternal grand-daughter of Rabindra Nath Tagore.

[12] Bhattacharya 1896, p. 124.

[13]Kling 1976, p. 11.

[14] Dutt 1995, pp.3-7.

[15] Calcutta Review 1873, p.93.

[16] Calcutta Review 1873,p.93.

[17] Calcutta Review 1873, p. 95; Nandy 1978,p.23.

[18] Ward 1822, p. 95.

[19] Sastri 1907, p. 30.

[20] Calcutta Review 1880, Vol. 71, p. xxi.

[21] It would be instructive to notice the contrast in Nubkissen’s career and that of a fellow Muslim munshi, Sheikh Itesamuddin (c. 1730-c. 1800), who came from a learned Muslim family of Nadia district. Like Nubkissen, he was also present at the signing of the Diwani in 1765.  He was sent by Emperor Shah Alam to Britain as his envoy. Itesamuddin was on sea and in Europe during 1765-1769, and wrote an interesting memoir, titled Shigrufnamah-e-Vilayat, in about 1784. An English translation  was published in 1827 from London (Alexander 1827), whereas a short essay on him appeared in 1935, based on a different copy of  the Shigruf manuscript (Taifoor 1935). While the British officers were busy making money in collaboration  with their Hindu moonshees, they would engage their Muslim moonshees in discussion on theology and social customs ( Alexander 1827, p..  In about 1784, Itesamuddin  compalined bitterly: ‘I spent the prime of my life in the service of Englishmen; and now, in my old age, I am subjected to every kind of trouble, which is my misfortune’( Alexander 1827, p.[21].

[22]Ghose 1901, p. 75;  Mukherjee 1977, pp. 98-99, n.5.

[23] Ghose 1901, pp 190-191.

[24] Ghose 1901, pp. 180-181, 195-196.

[25] Working from 1822 to 1858, Radhakanta Deb brought out a comprehensive nine-volume Sanskrit dictionary , Kalpasabdadruma, ‘compiled in imitation of Encyclopaedia Britannica’. As a reward, he was given a medal by Queen Victoria, in 1859. In 1857, on the recommendation of Dr Roer, Radhakanta sent a cash gift of Rs 400 to a school teacher in Germany, Dr L. Schutz, so that he need not sell his Sanskrit collection to get over financial difficulties [25]. Earlier, in 1837, a letter to the Government which he suggested be place, he drew attention to his own exertions ‘ to raise the natives of India to a higher state of civilization and welfare’.[25] Note  the use of the term native by upper-crust Indians to refer to their fellow countrymen in imitation of the European officials. Half a century later, in 1883, when the Lieutenant Governor  addressed the  Indians calling on him as natives, Dr Mahendralal Sircar recorded his disapproval in his private diary, maintaining that they should have been called native gentlemen; Biswas 2000:88.

[26]Mukherjee 1975, p. 2

[27] Mukherjee 1975, p. 3

[28] Buckland 1901,  Vol. II, p.  1050

[29] Mitra 1978, p.ii,

[30]  In 1829, the titular Mughal Emperor Akbar II invested Rammohun  with the title of Rajah as a prelude to sending him to Britain as his envoy. Aware of the bogus-ness of the title, Rammohun sought Governor General’s sanction to use it. On his failure to get a positive response, Rammohun decided to proceed to Britain  as a private individual’(Nag and Burman 1995,  Pt IV, pp. 115-117).  He however still used the title for its exotic value.

[31] This was an unprecedented move. While his father and brother faced sustained hostility from the powerful Burdwan Raj, Rammohun remained immune. Rammohun’s mother Tarini Devi’s  pronounced hostility to him  may well be due not to his radical views as claimed by Rammohun  but to his not standing by the family in its hour of crisis (Singh 1983, p. 170).

[32] We have an interesting May 1823 eye-witness account of his lifestyle from a European lady, Fanny Parkes, who attended a party   hosted by him. The extensive grounds were well illuminated, and excellent fireworks displayed. ‘In various rooms of the house na[ut]ch girls were dancing and singing’. ‘Indian jugglers were introduced after supper, who played various tricks, swallowed swords, and breathed out fire and smoke’. Mrs Parkes went on to remark: ‘ The house was very handsomely furnished, everything in European style, with the exception of the owner’ Dalrymple 2003, p. 20.

[33] Kochhar

[34] Nag and Burman 1995 Pt IV,pp. 115-117

[35]Sastri 1907

[36]Mitra 1902, p .6

[37]Mukherjee 1975 , p 524, n. 82.