Dwarkanath Tagore: Wikis

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Grave of Dwarkanath Tagore in London. Photo:Tony Mitra

Dwarkanath Tagore; দ্বারকানাথ ঠাকুর (Bangla, Darokanath Ţhakur) (1794-1846), was one of the earliest entrepreneurs from India, and founder of the Jorasanko branch of the Tagore family, and is notable for making substantial contributions to the Bengal Renaissance.

Contents

Childhood

Dwarkanath Tagore was the second son of Rammoni Thakur (employed in the Calcutta Police) from his first wife Menaka. Menaka was the younger sister of Alakasundari, wife to Rammoni's elder brother Ramlochan, who was childless. Soon after his birth in 1794 Dwarkanath was informally adopted by Ramlochan and Alakasundari and formally adopted in 1799.

His early education and upbringing was within the family house (Thakur Bari), but at age 10 in 1804 he was admitted to Sherbourne's school on the Chitpur Road and become one of Mr.Sherbourne's favourite pupils.

On 12 December 1807, Ramlochan died leaving all his property to his adopted son Dwarkanath who was then a minor. This property consisted of zamindari estates governed by the complicated Regulations of Permanent Settlement introduced by Lord Cornwallis in 1792. The zamindari being a system with harsh penalty for default and frequent auctions of defaulters, Dwarkanath left school in 1810 at the age of 16 and apprenticed himself under a renowned barrister at Calcutta Robert Cutlar Fergusson and shuttled between Calcutta and his estates at Behrampore and Cuttack.[1]

On 7 February 1811 Dwarkanath was married to Digambaridevi (then 9 years old and extremely goodlooking and devout). A popular myth was that she was the incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi for Dwarkanath's family fortune took a decided turn for the better once she entered his house, also bearing him one daughter and 5 sons before her death in January 1839.

Dwarkanath and Zamindari

"As a zamindar Dwarkanath was mercilessly efficient and businesslike, but not generous"[2]. Dwarkanath looked upon his investment in land as investment in any other business or enterprise and claimed what he deemed a fair return. In later years Dwarkanath would appoint European managers for his estates at Sahajadpur and Behrampore. He knew that the ryots were more amenable to the disciplinary control of British managers than their Bengali counterparts. In time Dwarkanath would convert his estates to integrated commercial-industrial complexes with indigo, silk and sugar factories. In the cut throat world of zamindari politics Dwarkanath took no nonsense and gave no quarter to either European or native. His knowledge of the tenancy laws stood him in good stead. Unlike his good friend Rammohun Roy who pleaded for the rights of the poor ryots, Dwarkanath's sympathies were more one sided and tilted towards his own class.

Service with the Company

In 1822 Dwarkanath, while carrying on his private ventures, took additional service in the British East India Company as Shestidar to Trevor Plowden Collector for the 24-Parganas. Although the pay was meagre at under Rs.500 per year, the prestige and avenues for additional income was considerable and gave Dwarkanath an intimate insight into the functioning of the government. Trevor Plowden formed a lifelong friendship with Dwarkanath. In 1827 there arose a great scandal in the Salt Revenue department centred on a dishonest Dewan, and assured of Dwarkanath's own personal integrity and character, he was requested to take over as Dewan of the Board. He did not take long to rend asunder the network of corruption which resulted in a counter petition against him to the Board accusing him of defalcation. To clear his name an enquiry was ordered which at each stage of enquiry, by the Board, by the Governor General and finally by the India Office at London cleared him unreservedly. By then Dwarkanath had had enough of Government service and resigned in June 1834 to launch into his spectacular career as a full time entrepreneur.

Dabbling in Politics

Dwarkanath Tagore was of the firm conviction that at those times "the happiness of India is best secured by her connection with England". Dwarkanath was no doubt a loyalist, and a sincere one at that, but he was by no means a toady. Servility was as far from his character as was lack of generosity from his nature. He was also firm in defending the interest and sentiments of his people against European prejudices. With this in view he established on 21 March 1838 an Association for Landholders (later known as the Landholder's Society). The association was overtly a self serving political association, founded on a large and liberal basis, to admit landholders of all descriptions, Englishmen,Hindus Mussalman and Christian. What is interesting is that cut across racial and religious divides being founded along with his old rival Raja Radhakant Deb with whom he had earlier founded the Gaudiya Sabha. It was the first political association in India to ventilate in a constitutional manner the grievances of the people or a section of them that were outspoken. From this grew the British India Association, the precursor to the Indian National Congress.

Death

Dwarkanath Tagore died on the evening of Saturday 1 August 1846 at the St. George's Hotel in London during a tremendous thunderstorm the likes of which had not been seen for many years past. He was buried at Kensal Green on 5 August 1846 in a private ceremony without any religious observances. His heart which had been previously extracted was sent to Calcutta to conduct the Brahmo rites amidst great controversy. In his obituary The London Mail of 7 August wrote "Descended from the highest Brahmin caste of India his family can prove a long and undoubted pedigree. But it is not on account of this nobility that we review his life but on far better grounds. .. However gifted, his claims rest on a higher pedestal - he was the benefactor of the country. .. They testified to his merits in the encouragement of every public and private undertaking likely to benefit India."

Business Life/ Other Trivia

Dwarkanath was a western-educated Bengali brahmin and an acknowledged civic leader of Kolkata who played a pioneering role in setting up a string of commercial ventures -- banking, insurance and shipping companies -- in partnership with British traders. He is the architect of the first bi-racial agency house from India, Carr, Tagore and Company (even earlier, Rustomjee Cowasjee, a Parsi in Calcutta, had formed an inter-racial firm but in the early 19th century, Parsis were classified as a Near Eastern community as opposed to South Asian). Tagore's company managed huge zamindary estates spread across today's West Bengal and Orissa states in India, and in Bangladesh, besides holding large stakes in new enterprises that were tapping the rich coal seams of Bengal, running tug services between Calcutta and the mouth of the river Hooghly and transplanting Chinese tea crop to the plains of Upper Assam. This company was one of those Indian private companies engaged in the Opium Trade with China. Production of opium was in India and it was sold in China. When the Chinese protested, the East India company shifted the business to the proxy of certain selected Indian companies of which this was one. Very large schooners were engaged in shipments. This made Dwarkanath extremely rich. And there are legends about the extent of it.

A restless soul, with a firm conviction that his racial identity was not a barrier between him and other Britons as long as he remained loyal to the British Sovereign, Tagore was well-received by Queen Victoria and many other British and European notables during his two trips to the West in the 1840s; he died in London after a brief illness. Historiographers have often been flummoxed by his inability, despite a great desire, to be honoured by the Queen with a baronetcy (his grandson, Rabindranath, received the honour but returned it following British atrocities at the Jallianwala Bagh in the Punjab, 1919).

Some scholars have been puzzled by the paucity of documents concerning Dwarkanath in the Tagore family collections spread over many generations. There are scanty references to him in the records of Debendranath Tagore, his eldest son who founded the Brahmo religion. There is absolutely no mention of Dwarkanath (except in a personal letter) in the monumental body of writings by his grandson Rabindranath. The established academic view is that Dwarkanath's concept of equating the coloniser with the colonised was found galling by his countrymen in the context of the nationalist awakening in Bengal and India, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, of which the Brahmo movement initiated was an integral part. The first Indian entrepreneur who thought globally thus remains an oddity in the country's socio-cultural history.

References

  1. ^ "History of the Adi Brahmo Samaj (1906)"
  2. ^ Blair King

External references and Reading

  • Article on BANGLAPEDIA: Tagore, (Prince) Dwarkanath
  • Blair B Kling, Partner in Empire: Dwarkanath Tagore and the Age of Enterprise in Eastern India, Calcutta, 1981;
  • NK Sinha, The Economic History of Bengal 1793 – 1848, III, Calcutta, 1984.
  • Sengupta, Subodh Chandra and Bose, Anjali (editors), 1976/1998, Sansad Bangali Charitabhidhan (Biographical dictionary) Vol I, (Bengali), p223, ISBN 8185626650
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