Saga of Fight For Independence!
Chapter 20: Devi Chaudhurani
It was the time of Sanyasi Rebellion taking place during 1763-1800’s
Devi Chaudhurani, was the queen of Manthana Estate of Rangpur district (presently in Bangladesh). After being abandoned by her husband, she was given shelter by Bhavani Pathak, who also led a band of dacoits. Devi later became a part of their gang. Together they led the Sanyasi revolution in Rangpur.
They are very much alive in the legends and the folklore even though they have reduced to two fictional characters from Bankim Chandra ji’s novel. According to a folklore the bajra (a large boat) of Devi Choudhurani used to sail on the waters of this river, moving between Rangpur (now a district in Bangladesh) and Baikunthapur. Several idols of Devi and Pathak are still found in this area stand proof to the point that they were not mere fictious characters! This is the story of Prafulla who became Devi Choudarani who assisted Bhavani Pathak in leading the Sanyasi Rebellion!
Prafulla was married but was shunned by her wealthy father-in-law, Haraballabh, because of a spat between him and her mother on the day of her wedding. By custom prevalent at that time, a girl, once married, could not be divorced or remarried. Heartbroken at the fate of her only child, her mother died after a few years.
Prafulla takes the drastic step to flee in the middle of the night to find the house of her in-laws whom she has never known, without any money, with knowledge of only the name of the village and name of her father-in-law. Benevolent people, surprised to see her traveling alone, help her on the way. This is consistent with the custom in Bengal that all unknown women were to be treated as one’s own mother. Her father in law rejects her and tells her to steal for a living. She goes back and through a lot of experiences meets the Dacoit head Bhavani Thakur. BHavani Thakur adopts her, educates her with math, philosophy, science, literature and even wrestling. Eventually she becomes the queen of the dacoits and her intelligence and prowess are known throughout Bengal. Devi Chaudhurani would take money from the rich and helps out the poor. Throughout she leads a very ascetic lifestyle and stays humble to her roots.
After coming in contact with Bhavani Pathak, who was the leader of a gang of dacoits, who had taken the charge of of the Sanyasi Movement in Rangpur. Devi Chaudhurani called herself as the queen of Baikunthapur. She used to travel in her bazra (large and luxurious boat) through the rivers of the Teesta and Karala, wandering from Rangpur to Baikunthapur (presently in Jalpaiguri district).
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay scripted his legendary novel ‘Devi Chaudhurani,’ which was published in 1884, by immortalizing the characters of Devi Chaudhurani and Bhavani Pathak in the soul of Bengali literature enthusiasts.
If we concentrate on historical shreds of evidence, we find that during the period from 1765 to 1801, a landlady named Joydurga Devi Chaudhurani reined the Manthana estate (presently in Rangpur District, Bangladesh) after the demise of her husband Narendra Narayan Roy Chaudhury without any legacy. Warren Hastings, the Governor General of East India Company, had paid diligent effort to earn additional revenue from the peasants of Baikunthapur with the aid of tyrant leaseholder Debi Singh. At this juncture, Joydurga Devi Chaudhurani emerged as the saviour of the peasants. Long ago, numerous places of Jalpaiguri district were part of Rangpur district in the British era prior to the formation of Jalpaiguri as a separate district in 1869. From the report of Lieutenant Brenan, and WW Hunter’s ‘Statistical Accounts of Bengal-Rangpur’ (1876), it can be discerned that Joydurga Devi Chaudhurani was closely associated with Bhavani Pathak and Shivchandra Roy, the landlord of Itakumari to consummate the peasants’ movement a remarkable success.
EG Glazier’s ‘A Report on the District Rangpur’ (1876) also fortifies the piece of information. Devi Chaudhurani used to meander through the Teesta basin of Rangpur district and almost the entire basin of Karala river in present Jalpaiguri district and rendered donations and distributions to the poor peasants inside the Baikunthapur forest. On her way to the Karala river, either to meet Bhavani Pathak or to make donations to the peasants, she first used to visit a temple to pray before the Goddess Kali. The temple is presently known as ‘Devi Chaudhurani Kali Mandir’ situated near Goshala More on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town.
Idols of Pathak and Devi are worshipped in a small Kali temple amid the Sikarpur Tea Garden, believed to have been the worship place of Pathak, a devotee of Ma Kali. The temple, according to local residents, has been there for ages and so has the river whose gurgling waters still flow behind the temple. The river is known as the Trisrota — the conjunction of Teesta, Karala and Dharala.
To be continued in next chapter – the role played by Devi and Bhavani in Sanyasi Rebellion
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Dr. Sindhu Prashanth