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The City of Joy, Kolkata has a unique identity. The city seems to bears a different colour, a different character at every turn of the season. Each so unique and picturesque that you will feel to preserve it only to embrace all the time. Calcutta, until 2001 when the city got the name Kolkata has its deep roots in history that can be dated back to the time when it happened to be the capital of the British rule in India in the year 1772. Kolkata gave birth to prominent personalities and among all one name that I always look up to is Rani Rashmoni, the founder of Dakshineswar Kali temple. A lady who stood firm like a pillar in the male-dominated society during the times when women were discriminated. Throughout her life, she worked for the people and stood against the British and their oppressive policies.
The history of Kolkata still remains alive through its streets, the tram, the government offices some of which are renovated some demolished, the centuries old buildings which now bears the signboard outside “Bipodjonok Bari” (A house which is in critical condition). If you see closely you can see some of the houses were hundreds of years old, which has seen through ages how the city grew from a hotbed of nationalism to one of India’s most Global and cosmopolitan cities. I have these strange interest to peek into these century-old houses and this curiosity led my way to reach Rani Rashmani’s Bhawan at janbazar Kolkata.
Visit to Rani Rashmoni Bhawan, Janbazar, Kolkata
Over my many visits in the city of joy Kolkata, I am trying to know more about this city. The more I knew the more my curiosity rose. As I said the city has a unique identity of its own one not-so-fine day I moved out with my friend to visit one of the most popular neighborhoods of Kolkata, Janbazar. It was the day just after Dashami (tenth day of Durga Pujo). I and my friend had plans to visit the Rajbari of Rani Rashmoni which was located in Janbazar area. It was quite cloudy at the time I started from my house and by the time we reached Esplanade via Metro it was raining cats and dogs. We took refuge inside a shop but it seemed the rain won’t stop that day. It was flooded all over, the pavement was full of water but somehow we managed to reach the location of the house. It was just by the side of the road, we used GPS to locate the exact street.
Why is this house that belonged to Rani Rashmoni of so much importance?
Well, if you have visited the Dakshineswar Kali Mandir you already know who Rani Rashmoni was. Extremely beautiful she was born in a Shudra family in Halisahar, 24 Paraganas. She got married to a rich Zamindar Babu much older in age Rajachandra Das of Janbazar. At a very young age, she lost her husband and took over the charges of Zamindari and all finances, at a time when women were not given equal status in the society like men.
Not only that she was brave enough to stand against the British and abolished tax imposed on fishing in the river Hoogly. She also raised her voice against child marriage and Sati along with Raja Ram Mohan Roy who was one of her husband’s associates. Her various charity work for the poor and donations made to some of the popular libraries like the Imperial Library and Hindu College in Kolkata are really worth mentioning.
But her name spread far and wide when she undertook the task of constructing the Dakshineswar Kali Mandir after a divine revelation. Even after purchasing a land of 20 acres she was prohibited from constructing the temple as she was a no Brahmin. But eventually, she bequeathed the temple to Ramkumar Chattopadhyay who was a Brahmin with a huge sum for its annual maintenance. After Ram Kumar’s death, the temple came under the priesthood of Ramakrishna Paramhansa.
She was one powerful woman who has been a great example until today. She took a lead and came forward in a male donimated society and established herself as a distinguished lady of her time. Her social work, philanthropic nature and her great soul led people calling her Rani Rashmoni which means Queen. The Janbazar area in Kolkata where her house is located is named after her and is called Rani Rashmoni Avenue. Even today descendants of her family conduct Durga Pujo in the centuries-old houses of Rani Rashmoni.
You can read about Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Here-
A desire to capture the beautiful Rajbaris of Rani Rashmoni led us to Janbazar even on a rainy day, I didn’t have much time in my hand as I had to catch the flight back to Guwahati the next day. The moment we reached there rather than excited we were shocked to see the current condition of the huge mansion. There were two houses across the streets which we visited but now these are turned into godowns. We saw labours and workers sleeping on the verandas.
The “Thakurdalans” (The place alocated for establishing Devi Durga ) were some how clean as just one day back it was Dashami and Durga Puja just ended in the mansions. The houses are now inhabited by numerous tenants and looked pathetic lacking maintenance and proper care. It was raining so the entrance door was flooded almost knee-deep water. We somehow clicked a few pictures as the place didnot look safe at all with full of strangers who were ogling at us that made me and my friend quite uncomfortable.
A man somehow took interest and came forward to guide us about the mansion and shared a few facts from the history of that place. He showed us some secret passages that the ladies who lived in that mansion used to reach the river ghat. There are a lot of secret chambers though most of them are closed. He also showed us the room where once Rani Rashmoni lived. But pity had he not told us we couldn’t have imagined that this is the same room where Rani Rashmoni once lived.
It was raining incessantly but we were determined, we took quite a lot of photos. Kolkata has a special charm during rains. There is quite a few numbers of mansions loacted in the same area across the streets. One you can see right from the main road and the other one is located just across the street. The locals or the nearby shopkeepers are quite hepful if you ask them about the exact loaction of the mansions. Even GPS works great and we reached both the mansions which were easily accessible from the main road. We stayed in both the mansions for about an hour and it was sad how once full of life and richness now this building is all in squalor.
After the death of Rani Rashmoni in 1861 the annual autumn festival Durga pujo in her traditional houses were taken over by her family members. Now the family has spread out and also the Pujo though the main pujo is conducted in the main mansion where Rani Rashmoni lived.
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