Kolkata boasts of many historical buildings but the residential house of Raja Rammohun Roy at 85A Raja Rammohun Sarani in north Kolkata is not just one of these grand old buildings in the city. The rooms, hallways and the wooden staircases of the nearly 200-year-old mansion reverberate with the history of one man’s fight against social ills and brutalities of 18th century India and his constant efforts to modernise the country and its people.
Set on a sprawling estate, the three storied mansion with typical colonial architecture, characteristic of early 18th century, has been standing there for about 200 years with all its grandeur. After the descendants of Rammohun departed from the house, it was encroached upon and subjected to severe defacement and destruction. The valuable old structures and fittings inside the building, including original Italian marble tiles, doors and windows made of teak wood and the artistic renderings on the arches were dismantled. Several valuable artifacts were stolen and vandalised leaving the house in a decrepit condition.
On the bicentenary of the great social reformer in 1972, the then principal of Rammohun College, Sadhana Sarkar and other eminent personalities of Kolkata took initiative to restore the crumbling building and convert it into the first ever memorial museum in the country to uphold the life, works and ideals of Raja Rammohun Roy.
Efforts by members of Brahmo Samaj in the city and funds and infrastructural support by both the state and the central government saw massive renovation work to restore the majestic building as close as possible to its former appearance. However, the real work towards building the museum did not start until the year 2000. On the 229th birth anniversary of Rammohun Roy, an exhibition depicting the life and work of Raja Rammohun, the ‘harbinger of modern age in India’ was held in the house. This was the first stepping stone towards turning the majestic edifice into a national monument.
The entry gate of the museum welcomes the visitors with a stone bust of Rammohun and a marble plaque with the name of the family inscribed on it. Some of the rooms on the first floor contain paintings, sculptures, photographs and copies of relics related to Rammohun. The scriptures of “Tahafaut–ul-Muwahhidin”, first book written by him in 1814, is displayed in a glass-case along with the written declaration of Bramho Samaj in 1828. Another shelf displays the death certificate of the great statesman from Bengal who breathed his last in England.
Rammohun was born in a Bramhin family at Radhanagar village in Burdwan. Photographs of the ruins of his ancestral house in Radhanagar are displayed in the museum. Born in a prosperous family, Rammohun possessed at least four other residences including his father’s house in Jorasanko and three other at Chowringhee, Simla and Maniktala, which he had bought later himself.
The great scholar, who was well versed in many languages, translated several books from Sanskrit to Bengali and English. The next room in the museum exhibits some of his translation works and the first map on the revenue system of India done by him during 1830s, before moving to England. The memorial museum also proudly possesses various handwritten letters of Rammohun and his original treatises on Hindu mythology and Vedanta. A large collection of commemorative items that include stamps and special covers and historical documents are also on display.
The adjacent room displays the photograph of Arnos Vale cemetery in England’s Bristol city where Rammohun was buried after his death on 27th September 1833 at the age of 61. The museum also contains several books written on Rammohun’s life and work at different ages.
The huge central hall, with a stunning chequered floor and colonial arches depict various memorable events of his life through portraits and sculptures. One such important incident was Rammohun’s first confrontation and debate in 1816 with an eminent Hindu scholar at Biharilal Chaubey’s house in Burrabazar. Rammohun’s victory in this debate on freedom of women of that era, is said to be the stepping stone of his journey as a social reformer.
Rammohun, also known as the father of Indian press, started a new Bengali newspaper called Sambad Kaumudi in 1821 and a Persian paper called Mirat-ul-Akbar. He also came up with the first bilingual magazine known as the Brahmanical Magazine. The museum contains pictorial renditions of these works. Another relatively smaller room accommodates furniture used by him including a low wooden centre table, wooden chair, a huge wall hanging mirror and two traditional musical instruments- a khol and a tanpura, played by Rammohun himself.
The greatest achievement of Rammohan Roy as a social reformer lies principally in the fact that he succeeded in finding a way to stop the barbaric self immolation ritual of Hindu widows known as the ‘Suttee Daha’. With great effort, he managed to get this cruel custom abolished by law. The museum exhibits the murals and paintings of Suttee performed during that period and portraits of Rammuhan’s confidants like Tarachand Chakraborty, Prasanna Kumar Tagore, Lord William Bentinck, Dwarakanath Tagore and so on, in this massive movement against practices of orthodox Hindu society. The ground floor of the museum has a large image of Rabindranath Tagore with his inscription that talks about how he considered Rammohun to be his hero.
“Rammohun belongs to the lineage of great Indian seers, who for ages have appeared in the vast arena of history with the message of the eternal man. Rammohun was the only person of his time in the whole world of man to realise completely the significance of modern age,” Tagore said in one of his writings.
Raja Rammohun Roy Memorial Museum
Address: 85A, Raja Rammohun Sarani (Amherst Street), Kolkata -700009
Tel: +91 8559042404
Open: Tuesday – Sunday
Museum Timing: 11 am – 4 pm
Photography: Formal permission required