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Historical Presence of Debi Chowdhurani and the then Societal Structures of Rangpur, Bangladesh

Gautam Kumar Das

Debi Chowdhurani not an imaginary figure, but was a real one, and was the female zamindar of Manthana estate. Debi Chowdhurani was never a female dacoit as described by the Company rulers, but a savior to her peasantry. Evidences in the form of letters, statements, petition etc in support of her activities are rare. Still, the collected rare documents from the century-old rare books and records turn the concretion of ideas into a working hypothesis in the form of a book – Historical Presence of Debi Chowdhurani. This book includes the acquaintance of Debi Chowdhurani, her contemporary zamindars, namesake blunders, the then customs of society, revenue systems, nepotism, insurrection, oppression, her strolling places, rumours and the last spell of her life. All the evidences include authentic and original letters, statements and documents regarding Debi Chowdhurani are included in this article.

Debi Chowdhurani is undoubtedly a historical figure. Official records and documents gave enough evidence of her historical existence. Debi Chowdhurani took over the charge of a landlord during the worst transitional period when dynasty of muslim rules were over, Bengal famine ruined almost all the peasants and their family members and the British company people yet to manage the administration. In this span of time the activities of dacoits were accelerated due to absence of administrative body and failure of law and order situation particularly in the remote areas of Rangpur district. Rangpur, covered with dense jungle, was then infested with the band of dacoits. The then zamindars compromised with the dacoits in order to settlement of differences by natural concession of getting a share of booty and security of both sides. Regarding such understanding of the landlords with the dacoits, Lieutenant Brenan made the following observations in 1787 –“the principal zamindars in most parts of these districts have always a banditi ready to let loose on such of their unfortunate neighbours as have any property worth seizing, and even the lives of the unhappy sufferers are seldom spared. The zamindars commit these outrages with the most perfect security, as there is no reward offered for their detection, and, from the dependence of the dakaits upon them, they cannot be detected without bribery.” 

Debi Chowdhurani had not become a bone-weary against all odds from the British rulers end, but in her period, she was the standing block who put the tyrant Debi Singh’s back to the wall. Debi Singh had had the understandings with Warren Hastings, the Governor General appointed by the East India Company to earn more revenue from the peasants. He was notoriously known as leaseholder Raja Debi Singh for his application of the highest degree of torture over the farmers. He not only oppressed upon the farmers for demanding extra tax, but he physically tortured their children and molested their wives in the presence of all in his kachari bari (revenue collection office of the zamindar). The farmers finally gathered together to start the movement in the form of insurrection. To enquire into this insurrection, two commissions were sat to go through the real facts and after getting all proofs against the oppressions of Raja Debi Singh, Lord Cornwallis finally issued the orders on behalf of the Government. But Debi Singh escaped scot free by showing his loss of money against the Government’s demand of the large outstanding balances fell principally. Harram Sen was the head assistant of the leaseholder Debi Singh who was by position, a sub-farmer under his control. Harram used to treat the farmers tyrannically subject to the continual cruelty during collection of tax obeying the direction of landlord Debi Singh. Har-ram was imprisoned first for one year by the company administration for his rising oppressions and after its expiration Harram was banished from the districts of Rangpur and Dinajpur.  Debi Chowdhurani saved the peasants from the tyranny of beyond description with the cooperation and help rendered by Bhabani Pathak during this period. Ultimately Rangpur had reverted to a land of peace and harmony for residual purposes under the leadership of land-lady Debi Chowdhurani.

During sannyasi revolution, Debi Chowdhurani was closely associated with the well-known dacoit leader, Bhabani Pathak to keep the peace and harmony in the peasantry community in and around her estate. Richard Gudlad, collector of Rangpur and Lieutenant Brenan, army commander of British East India Company got feared in this insurgency and forfeited the Manthana estate from Debi Chowdhurani. During this period Debi Chowdhurani perhaps got involved with the brigandage under Bhabani Pathak levanting herself for few days in order to collect the money and man-power to rescue her zamindari, though all that Lieutenant Brenan stated in his report might not be true. After some days she managed to revive the old zamindari and ruled the estate till 1801. W. W. Hunter in his Statistical Accounts of Bengal – Rangpur (1876) supports such dual role of Debi Chowdhurani and describes her close association with Bhabani Pathak – “In 1787, Lieutenant Brenan was employed in this quarter against a notorious leader of dakaits (gang robbers), named Bhawani Pathak. He despatched a native officer, with twenty-four sepoys, in search of the robbers, who surprised Pathak, with sixty of his followers, in their boats. A fight took place, in which Pathak himself and three of his lieutenants were killed, and eight wounded, besides forty-two taken prisoners. …We catch a glimpse from the Lieutenant’s report of a female dakait, by name Debi Chaudhrani, also in league with Pathak. She lived in boats, had a large force of barkandazs in her pay, and committed dakaitis on her own account, besides receiving a share of the booty obtained by Pathak. Her title of Chaudhrani would imply that she was a zamindar, probably a petty one, else she need not have lived in boats for fear of capture.”

Debi Chowdhurani used to meander far and wide of the Teesta river basin of Rangpur district and almost entire Karla river basin of the present Jalpaiguri district using mainly the water courses of both the rivers. Debi Chowdhurani rendered her donation and distribution services to the poor peasants inside the Baikunthapur jungle of the present Jalpaiguri district. So, therefore, at Jalpaiguri district, Debi Chowdhurani is remembered in the several places in the form of temple name like Debi Chowdhurani Sashaan Kali Mandir near Goshala more adjacent to the present Jalpaiguri town; Bhabani Pathak and Debi Chowdhurani temple at Shikarpur tea garden, near Sannyasikata market; Manthani temple on the Belakoba-Rangdhamali road. Wooden images of Debi Chowdhurani are worshipped in these later two temples.

Debi Chowdhurani, the well-known novel by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, is a mythical literature, although the principal character of the novel, Debi Chowdhurani herself undoubtedly is a socio-historical character. Her noble munificence enabled the villagers of the Manthana kingdom estate to survive through the crisis just after a few years of great famine of Bengal with a severe consequence of mortality. She became a zamindar at Manthana estate of Rangpur district and governed the estate for about three decades as zamindar. The word ‘zamindar’ feels or looks small to Debi Chowdhurani, it is better to express her stature of dignity as saviour to her peasantry. She had to collect tax from the peasantry in order to pay tax to her (zamindar’s) higher authority i.e. leaseholder on behalf of the British Company Government. With the collected taxes she never made a large palace for enjoying luxurious life styles for herself or for other family members, but she excavated ponds, constructed roads and served financial help and donated other belongings to her poor starved peasants. For all these reasons, land-lady Joy Durga Roy Chowdhury is known to all as Debi Chowdhurani in Bengal. Debi Chowdhurani, alias Joy Durga Debi Chowdhurani of Rangpur was the most influential and famous ruler of the Manthana kingdom estate. All on a sudden a family-event forced Joy Durga Debi Chowdhurani, the young wife of Narendra Narayan Roy Chowdhury to become a land-lady. Narendra Narayan Roy Chowdhury, son of Raghabendra Narayan Roy Chowdhury of Manthana kingdom estate (presently at Pirgacha up-zilla under Rangpur district, Bangladesh) was died in 1765 without any legacy. Then Joy Durga Debi Chowdhurani had to govern the Manthana estate for about three decades. Debi Chowdhurani is so popular to her peasants and subjects since then, the people named the village, nearby railway station, school, market, bus stop and road after her name. Her wooden images are worshipped in different temples of the Teesta basin of Rangpur and Karla basin of Jalpaiguri district till date.

Acquaintance

Rangpur is the place where Debi Chowdhurani once lived and goverened her zamindari namely Manthana estate for the period from 1765 to 1801. She started ruling Manthana estate since 1765 – with that very year East India Company was granted Dewani of the Bengal Suba (province), although Rangpur district had not been received any administrator promptly on behalf of the East India Company Government. The first appointment was assigned to John Grose in the post of a Supervisor of Rangpur in 1769, after 4 years of the achievement of Dewani of the East India Company. The office of the Supervisor, from then started keeping all the records like letters received and issued, statements, appointments, accounts etc. No records are found before then particularly during the sovereign of the Mughols. There were several records including the letters and petitions of Joydurga Chowdhurani during the span of her zamindari, but unfortunately most of those papers were either lost, or have no trace at all.

We catch a glimpse of Joydurga Chowdhurani for the first time in the Rangpur records in 1779 in a letter to the Collector of Rangpur written by G. G. Ducarel, Superintendent of Khalsa Records. But we cannot identify the actual Joydurga Chowdhurani of Manthana estate as there were another three contemporary female zamindars having the same name and title living during her era.
Joydurga Chowdhurani is the sovereign with her supremacy in the zamindari namely Manthana estate ruling over 183 taluks or villages in her estate. The name of the villages is enlisted in the records of the Board of Revenue (Miscellaneous), 1795. Curshah, the village name of her birth place, belongs to her own zamindary that she achieved in 1765 after the death of her husband Narendranarayan Roy Chowdhury.

Namesake Blunders

Bankim Chandra composed blundering on some virtue aware by carefully using only the title of Debi Chowdhurani in his well-known famous novel Debi Chowdhurani. Existence of Debi Chowdhurani in different names in Rangpur district makes a serious blunder in the peasant insurgence history of Bengal. Several names of Debi Chowdhurani as zamindars in the district of Rangpur simply creates a complexity and confusion in such a manner that even historians get puzzled with the proper identification of real Debi Chowdhurani who was the central character of the novel. Debi Chowdhurani is not a name, but the title of the zamindar’s wives only. Almost all the zamindars took the title of Roy Chowdhury, whatever their surnames were previously transmitted from their ancestors. The then wives of all those zamindars are entitled to the title of Debi Chowdhurani. All the names of the then zamindars in the name of Debi Chowdhurani in the Rangpur district (presently in Bangladesh) were found to be twelve in number.

All the researchers were astonished to see that so many splendour land ladies (Lady Zamindars) ruled for years in the same name ‘Debi Chowdhurani’ in Rangpur district even in the eighteenth century province of Bengal. Out of twelve such ‘Debi Chowdhurani’, the three nearest contestants with the same name are Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani of Manthana kingdom estate, Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani of Ghoraghat and Jagadeswari Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani of Bamandanga zamindari for entitling as the leader of peasantry movement of Rangpur in 1783. Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani took charge of Manthana estate (Pirgacha) in 1765 and Jagadeswari Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani started ruling of Bamandanga zamindari since 1779. Another Joydurga managed the Ghoraghat (Bardhankot) zamindari in favour of her mentally sick husband Gokulnath Roy and later for her minor son, Goloknath after the death of her husband. Their same name ‘Joydurga’ and more or less same ruling period puzzle the historians and create complexity on sorting out of the names of the correct one.

With this problematical confusion, the content of the song of Ratiram Das, a member of the Rajbangshi community, who lived in the village of Itakumari of Rangpur district, a centre of the revolt, solved this namesake problem. He composed in his song – “With all the zamindars arriving at Sivachandra’s palace, Itakumari was filled with elephants, horses and soldiers. Also arrived the ruler of Pirgacha (Manthana estate), Joydurga Devi. …The raiyats (tenants) kept standing, hands folded and tears rolling down chests.”  This was the preparatory stage in 1783 when the peasants in Rangpur rose in rebellion under the leadership of Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani, zamindar of Manthana estate (Pirgacha) and Sivachandra Roy, zamindar of Itakumari. Further, Ratiram Das wrote in his jaager gaan –Sivachandra Roy lost his temper and spoke again: “since the Rajput robber (Devi Singh) is a scoundrel, you should all drive him out.” At this stage mother Joy Durga, ruler of Pirgacha, flared up: “Are you not men – aren’t you strong? Though I am born a woman, I can seize him and cut him to pieces with a sword. Nobody would be required to do anything; everything will be done by the subjects.” All these words proved Joy Durga Debi Chowdhurani of the Manthana estate (Pirgacha) is the real Debi Chowdhurani who openly led the peasants’ movement and is the central character of Bankim’s novel – Debi Chowdhurani.

Joydurga was born at Curshah Bamanpara of Shib-Konthiram village under Kaunia police station of Rangpur district. Her father’s name was Brajo Kishor Chowdhury. Her father came of a zamindar family as reflected from his title Chowdhury and perhaps that zamindari declined day by day during his father’s regime. Kaunia is only 10 to 12 miles away from Manthana estate where Joydurga was married to the zamindar of that estate, Narendra Narayan Roy Chowdhury, son of Raghabendra Narayan Roy Chowdhury. Manthana estate was named after gaining this zamindari with payment of only du-aana paisa by one of his ancestors Anantaram Roy Chowdhury. Joydurga’s ancestral home at Curshah in the locality of Kaunia is stood on the bank of river Teesta. In her childhood, Joydurga meandered along the river flood plain of intricate meanders of Teesta that helped her at her youth when she voyaged across the Teesta which was restless by nature.

Debi Chowdhurani is a historical character. Few evidences support this fact like – Debi Chowdhurani’s Manthana estate (zamindari) was forfeited by dual treachery of both Rangpur collector and the Board of Revenue and this was reflected in the list of cancelled zamindari where the name of Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani was enlisted. Further, recently found two pattas namely Pirpal and Muskali Chukani were issued in 1769 and 1791 respectively by the then ruling zamindar of Manthana estate, Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani. All these proved that Debi Chowdhurani is an historical character and reigned at her Manthana estate during the period from 1765 to 1801. Further, Lieutenant Brenan reported that she was associated with Bhabani Pathak and Sivachandra Roy, zamindar of Itakumari to make the peasants’ movement a great success. Summing it up, it may be concluded that Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani of Manthana estate (Pirgacha of Rangpur district) (1765 – 1801) is the unanimously accepted leader of Rangpur peasants’ insurgence and is the central character of the novel, Debi Chowdhurani written by the great novelist, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.
Society

Manthana estate was one of the 75 zamindaries enlisted in the office of the Collector of Rangpur. The entire area of the Manthana estate containing 183 villages was populated by 12, 146 people, out of which the number of men were 4,643, women 4,287 and children 3,216 with admixture of the Hindu and Mohammedans.

Decennial and permanent settlement caused the most disastrous resulting depopulation of the village in the zamindari of Rangpur as per remarks made by E. G. Glazier - “…The generally disastrous period for years preceding the permanent settlement had depopulated the country. The Zemindars of Munthona, Chakla Futtehpore, on whose estate the town of Rungpore stands, represented in 1790 that large tracts had become depopulated and overrun with jungle, in which there were tigers, buffaloes, deer, and wild beasts of all sorts.”
A Report on the District of Rungpore (1873) by E. G. Glazier (p. 41)

The society was exposed to the abuses of lawlessness during the transitional period in between the end of Mohammedan rule and the British Company rules. The entire area was infested with the herd of dacoits, among whom Narayan and Beerbal dacoits were the most notorious as noted in a letter of the Collector of Rangpur.

Lieutenant Brenan, in his public letter, stated his inability for providing the Collector enough force as required from his end because of the security personals needed as guards for several prisoners in confinement. A concealed letter was perhaps sent along with this public letter addressed to the Rangpur Collector which was famously known as Lieutenant Brenan’s report which is very important for searching the history of Rangpur as because it contains the news of death of Bhabani Pathak as well as the name of Debi Chowdhurani as a female dacoit mentioned by E. G. Glazier.

The title Debi Chowdhurani was only once recorded in the report of Lieutnant Brenan in 1787 where the fight with Bhabani Pathak with the sepoys of Company force and his death thereon were communicated to the Collector of Rangpur. Debi Chowdhurani was described as a female dacoit and she had the association with Bhabani Pathak as stated in the report of Lieutenant Brenan. Lieutenant Brenan stated Debi Chowdhurani as a petty zamindar without mentioning her full name. 

In 1787, Lieutenant Brenan was employed against a noted dacoit leader named Bhowani Pattuck; in this quarter. He dispatched a Havildar with twenty four Sepoys in search of the robbers, and they surprised Pattuck with sixty of his followers in their boats. Pattuck’s chief man, a Pathan, Pattuck himself, and two other headmen, were killed, and eight were wounded, besides forty-two taken prisoners. …We just catch a glimpse from the Lieutenant’s report of a female decoit, by name Devi Chaudhranee, also in league with Pattuck, who lived in boats, had a large force of burkundazes in her pay, and committed dacoities on her own account, besides getting a share of the booty obtained by Pattuck. Her title of Chaudhranee would imply that she was a zemindar, probably a petty one, else she need not have lived in boats for fear of capture.”
A Report on the District of Rungpore (1873) by E. G. Glazier (p. 41)

Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote a novel ‘Debi Chowdhurani’ and acquainted Debi Chowdhurani famously to the Bengali readers all over the world. Readers come to know about Debi Chowdhurani and the then Rangpur society. Julius J Lipner translated that novel from Bengali. He made out that the novel might not always be identical with historic truth and expressed a statement about the content of the novel as mythical, not historical happenings -  “The name of Debi Chaudhurani, Bhabani Pathak, Mr. Goodlad, and Lieutenant Brenan are historical, as indeed are the few facts that Debi lived in a boat, and she had ‘fighter’ and armies etc. But that is all. If the reader would be so kind as not to consider ‘Debi Chaudhurani’ a ‘historical novel’ (aitihasik uponyas), I’d be most obliged.”

Insurrection

Tax rebellion at Rangpur is the first organized peasantry insurgence in the soil of Bengal. The villain of this insurgence is the then Collector of Rangpur, Mr. Richard Goodlad along with the direct assistance of leaseholder Debi Singh and his assistant Harram Sen. The Rangpur Collector Richard Goodlad, by nature, a treacherous character, directed Debi Singh and his assistant to collect tax from the zamindars and farmers by any means, just or unjust.

Insurrection was caused due to the constant overall distress faced by the ryots (peasants) economically for over-taxation followed by cruel corporal punishment as a consequence of non-payment of the tax. Still the peasants prayed for justice to Richard Goodlad by requesting the abolishment of different tax laying burden over them.

Richard Goodlad wanted to restrain the insurrection through terrible and dreadful means of firing over the rebels and in order to fulfil his objective, he wrote Commandant to send more and more force to enrich his army force.

In response to the several letters written by Mr. Goodlad to the Board of Revenue updating the situation of insurrection, the member of the Board managed to send the force to tackle the inconceivable situation at the earliest. The members of the Hon’ble Board of Revenue wrote to the Collector about dispatch of more than 200 sepoys from Calcutta to Rangpur. They directed too Mr. Goodlad to cooperate Mr. Paterson all the way whom the Board of Revenue sent with fullest authority to give orders etc for laying hold of insurrection.

The Rangpur peasants’ insurgence comes to an end after a huge defeat and death at the war of Patgram between sepoy party led by Lt. Macdonald and the peasants who wars against the English Company-Government resisting its burden for levying tax. It’s a discriminate war as the rebels bear only the indigenous arms like bows and arrows, lances, spears etc, on contrary to the arms like guns on behalf of the government part. The fight takes place without any din and bustle as the sepoy troop are in disguise covering white cloths around themselves obeying the advice of Lt. Macdonald and fired about 3 rounds from their guns coming nearer to the rebels.

The degree of torture even upon the zamindars is beyond descriptions, the incidents of which is reflected in the Jaager gaan composed by Ratiram Das – the translated form (translated by Amiya Bose) of which is available in the book ‘Bangladesh Readers: History, Culture, Politics’ by Meghna Guhathakurta (Editor), Williem van Schendel (Editor).

Oppression

The British East India Company rulers oppressed Joydurga Chowdhurani severely and unjustly as she not only supported the peasants of the Rangpur revolt, but led properly to their insurgence in 1783. Joydurga even had to go in hiding and living incognito and had passed hardship time during her tenure of zamindari. British company rulers started exerting pressure by increasing rate of taxation and the zamindar could not pay the tax. We have found the name of Manthana estate, the zamindari of Joydurga Chowdhurani, in such a letter where Acting Collector of Rangpur reported against Joydurga Chowdhurani against the non-payment of tax to the Governor General, Warren Hastings.

Joydurga Chowdhurani was out of heart for going in hiding and living incognito away from her subjects since 1778 as she being a zamindar, was unable to pay the tax as forcefully claimed from the end of the British Company rulers. Due to non-payment of tax on behalf of the zamindar, the Acting Collector forced sending a sezawal (Company-rulers appointed tax collector) to collect tax in the Manthana estate subject to the approval of appointment from the end of the Governor General in Council. The Acting Collector in his letter further reported that Joydurga was absent from her zamindari and secluded to Batoriah. The zamindar herself went in hiding, the Gomastah died, so the management on the zamindari was not properly going on including collection of tax.

Strolling Places

Rangpur, famous for Debi Chowdhurani is an ancient province that is an inhabitated place of number of kings and zamindars from time immemorial. Rangpur district was divided and Jalpaiguri district was born thereon the 1st January, 1869. At present both the district Rangpur and Jalpaiguri belong to the two separate countries namely India and Bangladesh. In this way, the path and place of circumambulation of Debi Chowdhurani has been transformed into a blockage to a researcher or a tourist due to the creation of international border line in between the two countries. Despite the barriers of barbed wire-fencing, the name of Debi Chowdhurani has been recapitulating and recalling by the people for generations. People of Pirgachha and Kursha of Rangpur district of Bangladesh and Shikarpur, Manthani, Goshala more at the outskirt of the Jalpaiguri town consider Debi Chowdhurani as the goddess Chandi for her bravery, sacrifice and peasants’ welfare.

The relics of the palace of the Manthana zamindari are still intact standing nearby the railway station of Pirgachha. The temple inside the campus of the zamindari was erected by Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani. The bricks of the temple wall, presently salt-encrusted, continue eroding. Weeds are grown all over the walls even on the roof-top of the temple. There is none to ring the bell as no images of either god or goddess are present inside the temple. But anybody could feel the invisible presence of Debi Chowdhurani in and around the Manthana zamindari complex either inside the palace or outside in the campus where the leaves shed from the branches of trees when wind breezes.

Many locations around the Jalpaiguri district, once a part of the Rangpur district long before during the British era have been enlisted as the Debi Chowdhurani memorial places. Debi Chowdhurani had performed her all activities in the period of about hundred years back before the birth of Jalpaiguri district. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay visited the place after his appointment as Deputy Magistrate of Jalpaiguri in 1882. The novel ‘Debi Chowdhurani’ was brought to the light in the year 1884 reproducing the information collecting during his visit to Rangpur along with his wife when he had made a thorough survey about history, mementoes and memorials of Debi Chowdhurani of about hundred years after her death.

Baikunthapur forest is rather famous for Debi Chowdhurani as she hid into concealment in this forest in order to get relief from the tyranny of leaseholder Debi Singh. She used to change the river way from Tista to its distributary, Karla and thus entered into the forest of Baikunthapur. Karla River, covered with jungle on its both sides, traverses the Baikunthapur forest with its upright length in a zigzag course. On her way to the extreme upstream of the Karla River infested with dense jungle either to meet Bhabani Pathak or for managing donations towards the peasants, Debi Chowdhurani got down first at a place, presently known as Goshala more of the outskirt of Jalpaiguri town where Karla River takes a shape like horse-hoof manner. The foe i.e. her opponents did not follow her or her bazra for such a shape of the River Karla at Jalpaiguri. She took rest there and prayed before the goddess Kali. That temple is presently named as ‘Debi Chowdhurani Smashan Kali mandir’. Shikarpur tea garden is another place with a memento of Debi Chowdhurani where a pagoda-shaped temple has been erected. The outside fencing is presently displayed with a festoon with the caption of ‘Bhabani Pathak o Debi Chowdhurani mandir’. The Shikarpur tea garden belonged to the dense forest of Baikunthapur during the tenure of her zamindari. Local people call the temple as ‘Sannyasi babar mandir’. Two wood carved images are considered as the principal god and goddess. Local people say the god’s name is Bhabani Pathak and goddess is Debi Chowdhurani. Other than these images, wood-carved two sannyasi (monk), a sitting tiger, two maidens and a barkandaz (Debi’s army) are seen holding an indigenously made gun in his hand. The inner wall is painted with the scenery of the jungles at one side and a floating bazra on the wavy rippled waters of river Tista on the other side of the wall. A park is still under construction encompassing of more than 10 hectare of land just opposite to the Debi Chowdhurani temple. Three old trees are seen standing and make a large canopy within the park. They are Tamal, Bot and Asasthha. The Tamal tree is seen with a hollow of a tree of about a height of about 7 feet where at least three persons could stand all together inside the hollow of the Tamal tree. Manthani is another place of Debi memorial of Jalpaiguri where the same type of a wood carved image is seen existing in the temple namely Manthani which is situated on the roadside of Belakoba-Rangdhamali road under the Rajganj police station. The name of the goddess is Manthani in the Manthani village. The village name Manthani perhaps is derived from the Manthana estate paying gratitude towards Debi Chowdhurani.

A local Judges Court lawyer of Rangpur namely Santosh Kumar tells a tale of Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani vividly that he heard that rumour at his early days. He told that Debi Chowdhurani, a revolutionary, courageous and virtuous lady was born in village Kursha at Kaunia under Rangpur district. She was the wife of Zamindar Narenda Narayan Roy Chowdhury of Manthana pargana at Pirgachha. She was against the rising revenue collection policy by the British in India and created an example by sacrificing her life in a battle against the British army led by Lieutenant Brenan in a field near Pirgachha subsequently named as Napai Chandir Math on the fateful day of 18th April, 1783 when the British soldiers suddenly attacked her and the other rebels. In said fierce fighting her younger brother Kesto Kishore Roy Chowdhury and the Itakumari zamindar, Raja Shiv Chandra Roy Chowdhury also died along with her. The local people named her as Chandi, the Hindu goddess of Sakti and Napai indicates defeated and accordingly the battlefield was named as Napai Chandir Math. The date of death of Debi Chowdhurani falls on the first Thursday of the month of Baishakh and the local people pay respect in her memory by holding a village fair thereon in every year on that day.

The British rulers for the purpose of suppressing the real history branded her as Dacoit (bandit queen) as Debi Chowdhurani during this period always kept her in hiding and maintained connection with Bhabani Pathak, another revolutionary leader against the British tyranny rule. She used to live in a Bazra (a kind of large and luxury boat) and appointed a lot of security guards. She had two maid servants namely Pabitra and Aloka who betrayed her latter by leaking information to British administration and subsequently they got Zamindari in some places in the district as their prize.

The noted emperor of literature and novelist Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay came to Rangpur along with his wife to collect all these information and materials about the historic events. The background of another novel Anandamath was at Rangpur. We feel proud of Debi Chowdhurani but it is sad that the people of Rangpur did nothing for keeping her name memorable. Even no road or way was named after her. Only there was a Railway station ‘Chowdhurani’ by name in between Pirgachha and Naldanga and a village named Bazra where the ruin of the boat of Debi Chowdhurani was found. It is only Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay who made her name memorable by writing the famous novel "Debi Chowdhurani", although it is not a historical novel.

Departure

Joy Durga Debi Chowdhurani never bid valedictory or farewell address to her obedient subjects of her Manthanah estate zamindari. She is in great trouble during the period of her exit. She has to tender petition to the Board of Revenue praying for permission to pay revenue of her estate direct into the treasury without the interference of Rajendra Narayan Chowdhury, her adopted son, who, she asserts, has no hand in the management of her zamindari. She knew nothing about the submission of petition to the Collector in her own name and issuance of order by the Collector allowing Rajendranarayan to pay revenue for Manthana zamindari. It will be comprehensible after reading out the following petition of Joy Durga Chowdhurani, Zamindar of Pergunnah Manthanah.

Substance of a petition from Mussamaat Joy Durga, Zamindar of Pergunnah Manthanah, Zillah Rungpore :
“For upwards of 30 years I have been in possession and had the management of the above Zemindary, and I came under engagement to Government for the revenues assessed thereon at the time of decennial settlement, and this year I obtained a perwannah from the Collector to hold the Poonea; but this gentleman has since appointed Rajendra Narain who was brought up by me, but with whom I am now at variance, to the management of my estate.
I therefore hope the Board will order the Collector as heretofore to receive the revenues from me, leaving Rajender narain to see in the adawlut should he conceive he has claim to my Zemindary.”

Conclusion

Debi Chowdhurani, famous for her love and noble services towards peasantry, led the public rebellion and freed the people of Rangpur from leaseholder Debi Singh’s torture. Except Bhabani Pathak, Debi Chowdhurani took help and cooperation from another zamindar namely Shib Chandra Roy, elder son of landlord Raja Ray for leading the public rebellion. Shib Chandra Roy, elder son of landlord Raja Ray, was the founder of Itakumari landlord house. Itakumari landlord house is popularly known as the Shiv Chandra’s Jamindar Bari. The trio – Joydurga Debi Chowdhurani, Shib Chandra Roy and Bhabani Pathak freed the peasantry of greater Rangpur (including present Jalpaiguri) from the tyranny and torture of leaseholder Debi Singha. At the tale-end a million dollar question might arise – is there be any mutual behaviour or attitude brought into a state between Debi Chowdhurani and Shib Chandra Roy, landlord of Itakumari, where the ring-leader Bhabani Pathak is acting as a medium or not anything is happened at all. It is true that two heads are better than one. Two is company, three is none.

References

Francis Buchanon Hamilton: Manuscript of Statistical Survey of Rangpur District, conducted 1809-13
E. G. Glazier: Report on the District of Rangpur (1873)
W. W. Hunter: Statistical Account of the District of Rangpur (1876)
J. A. Vas: District Gazetteers of Rangpur (1911)
Bengal District Records Rangpur: 1770 – 1787
Records from the West Bengal State Archieves; Board of Revenue Index; Minutes of the Board of Revenue; Minutes of the Governor General in Counci: 1770 - 1810
Meghna Guhathakurta and Williem van Schendel (Editors): Bangladesh Readers: History, Culture, Politics (2013)
Nitish K Sengupta: Land of two rivers: A history of Bengal from the Mahabharata to Mujib (2011)
Muhommad Maniruzzaman: Rangpurer Itihaas (2012)

Jan 04, 2018


Gautam Kumar Das [email protected]

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