Rashmoni Das- A Bengali Shudra widow who outwitted the East India Company

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Rashmoni Das

India’s freedom had been a hard-earned event and not one but thousands of revolutionaries together paved the way for the emergence. When the British first arrived in India, their intentions were limited to commerce and trade, however, witnessing the riches of India they grew greedy and began their years-long exploitation. While the people of India were very friendly and welcoming of guests, they were easy to be exploited. Though, few weren’t easy to bow down.

Rani Rashmoni Das was one such woman who never lay down her standards for the cunning East India Company. She etched out her name in Indian history as one of the most benevolent figures of 19th century Bengal. She was a philanthropist, businesswoman, and revolutionary, and her clashes with East India Company are legendary.

Rani Rashmoni Das was the 19th Century Ahilyabai Holkar Of Bengal

Rani Rashmoni Das was born on 28 September 1793. Her mother died when she was just seven years old. Due to Rashmoni’s exceptional beauty, she was married at the early age of 11 to Babu Rajachandra Das. Rashmoni was his third and last wife of Rajachandra Das who was a rich aristocratic zamindari landlord family of Janbazar, Calcutta.

He was an educated and a liberal man, therefore at a time when women were not allowed to indulge in a Man’s profession, Rani was encouraged to do so. Rashmoni participated in everyday administrative affairs of the vast zamindari estate of Rajachandra Das and within a few months, she became well educated on how to manage his estates. With him, Rashmoni had four daughters named Padmamani, Kumari, Karunamoyee, and Jagadamba.

Rashmoni Das

Babu Rajachandra Das died in 1836 and after that Rashmoni became mentally emotional. Her husband left her behind his enormous estate which Rani had to handle herself. But within a few years, her daughter Karunamoyee died after 2 years of marriage thus her widower was married to Rani’s other daughter Jagadamba. Because Rashmoni had no son and her daughters were all married, her son in law named Mathuramohan Biswas started helping her in management. Mathuramohan considered Rani as a mother figure and a pious woman.

Despite her motherly approach, Rashmoni had her clashes with the British in India. Her very first encounter with them was when the  East India Company imposed a tax on poor fishermen for fishing in the River Ganga. The poor fishermen went to the high-class Brahmans in a hope that they would help them mitigate the British, however, none came forward. Thus they rushed to Rajachandra Das home, where his widow Rani Rashmoni Das was their last hope.

Rani went on and took lease against payment of huge sums the portion of the Ganga from Ghusuri to Metiabruz and laid strong iron chains across the river. These long chains interrupted big ships from passing by and caused a huge nuisance to commercial activities. Thus when British officials came to inspect the situation, Rani told them that she had taken this portion on lease thus she is allowed to do anything to secure her income. The East India Company was left with no choice but to bow down and withdraw the imposed tax on fishing.

But this wasn’t her only clash with the British. Her second encounter with them was when she was holding the yearly Durga pooja at the temple. A British official came to stop the recession stating that the drum beats and shouting of cheers were causing a disturbance in the area. This was unacceptable for Rani and she instead continued the procession. The angry British officer imposed a fine on her but when the locals came to know about this, they protested and as a result, the officials had to withdraw the penalty on her.

Rani Rashmoni Das was also engaged in charitable works and is also the founder of Dakshineswar Kali Temple in Kolkata.

Rashmoni Das

She established the Dakshineswar Kali Temple in Kolkata in 1840. According to the temple’s trust, Rani constructed this temple following a dream she had before her pilgrimage to Banaras. It was her husband’s wish to construct the temple and so Rani decided to fulfill his desire. With the help of her son-in-law, she constructed the enormous temple of Dakshineswar Kali Temple.

The spiritual Guru Ramkumar Chatterjee was appointed as a chief priest of the temple and his younger brother Gadadhar was the right hand to worship goddess, Kali. Gadadhar later became known as Ramkrishna Paramahansa and stayed in the temple for the next 12 years. He became closely associated with Rani after he was appointed as a priest in the Dakshineswar temple.

She has also been credited with several charitable works including the construction of a pilgrimage road from Subarnarekha River to Puri. She also constructed Babughat, Ahiritola Ghat, and Nimtala Ghat in memory of her late husband. She also donated to the construction of the National Library of India and Hindu College. She also patronized Vidyasagar’s Widow Remarriage movement and provided financial aid to it.

In 1861, Rani Rashmoni Das died yet her legacy still survives. She left enough estate for her generations and her descendants still live at the Jan Bazar Palace in Kolkata.

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