Rani Rashmoni (Bengali: রানি রাসমণি, 1793—1861) was the founder of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Kolkata, and remained closely associated with Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa after she appointed him as the priest of the temple. Amongst her other including construction of street from Subarnarekha River to Pari for pilgrims, Babughat also known as Rani Rashmoni Ghat, Ahirtola Ghat and Nimtola Ghat for the everyday bathers at the Gangesand offered considerable charity to the Imperial Library (now the National Library of India) and Hindu College (now Presidency College).
She was born on 28 September 1793 into a Mahishya family. Her father was Harekrishna Das, a Zamindar in Kona village, in present-day North 24 Parganas. Exceptionally beautiful, she was married to Babu Rajachandra Das of Janbazar, Kolkata, a member of a wealthy zamindar family, when she was eleven years old. After her husband’s death she took charge of the zamindari and business. She soon proved herself a natural leader. While the prestige of the zamindari grew, Rani Rashmoni, being very pious from childhood, continued to lead an extremely religious and austere life, befitting a widow in Indian Bengali Hindu society. Rani Rashmoni died on 19 February 1861.
The Rani and her clashes with the British in India became household tales in her time. By blocking the shipping trade on a part of Ganges she compelled the British to abolish the tax imposed on fishing in the river, which threatened the livelihood of poor fishermen. When Puja processions were stopped by the British on the charge that they disturbed the peace, she defied the orders. The British had to withdraw the penalty imposed on her in the face of public opposition and rioting in her support.
Rani Rashmoni also had to her credit numerous charitable works and other contributions to society. She oversaw the construction of a road from Subarnarekha river to Puri for pilgrims. She funded the construction of ghats such as Babughat (in memory of her husband), Ahiritola Ghat and Nimtala Ghat for the daily bathers in the Ganges. She donated generously to the then Imperial Library (now the National Library of India) and Hindu College (now Presidency College). Prince Dwarkanath Tagore had mortgaged a part of his Zamindari in now South 24 Parganas (part of present-day Santoshpur and adjoining areas) to Rani Rashmoni for his passage to England. This part of land which was then a part of the Sunderbans was marshy and almost uninhabitable except for some families of thugs who found the area convenient to stay and venture out for plunders in far away places mounted on stilts. Rani Rashmoni persuaded these families and helped them to build up fisheries in the surrounding water bodies that later turned into large rich bheris. They gradually gave up their ‘profession’ of plundering and transformed into a community of fishermen. This was a great social reform that the Rani had initiated.
A divine revelation led her to found the famous temple Dakshineswar Kali Temple complex on the banks of the Ganges at Dakshineswar in the North 24 Parganas. Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa (then known as Gadadhar) was appointed its head priest under her patronage.
Rani Rashmoni’s House at Janbazar was venue of traditional Durga Puja celebration each autumn. This included traditional pomp, including all-night jatras (folk theatre), rather than by entertainment for the Englishmen with whom she carried on a running feud. After her death in 1861, her sons-in-law took to celebrating Durga Puja in their respective premises
In popular culture
Rani Rashmoni has also been subject of a biographical film in Bengali language, titled Rani Rashmoni (1955), directed by Kaliprasad Ghosh, and wherein lead played by famous theatre personality. Molina Devi.
- A avenue in Esplanade, Kolkata is named after her as Rani Rashmoni Avenue, where her statue is also located.
- Further, a road is named after her as Rani Rashmoni Road near her ancestral house at Janbazar, Kolkata.
- Also a road is named after her as Rani Rashmoni Road at Dakshineshwar.
- The Department of Post of Government of India issued a postage stamp to memorialise the bicentennial of Rani Rashmoni in 1993
History of Dakshineswar Kali Temple
|Social Backdrop of Bengal|
When India was still groping under the British rule trying hard to come to terms laid down by the English, the first wave of patriotism gripped the brave soldiers of Barrackpur, that shared the same river line where the Dakshineswar Temple would be built, led to the Sepoy Mutiny Revolt in 1857. Kolkata was the capital of the country and was then the second largest city of the British Empire only next to London. This new ardour of patriotic fervor soon spread amidst the important people of the city. Among them was the brave and deeply religious Rani Rashmoni who is one of the pioneers to silently revolt against the foreign rule.
|Dakshineswar in the Early 1800s and Before|
In the early 1800s, Dakshineswar was a small village along the eastern banks of the River Ganga. The picturesque details by J С Marshman in the January 1845 issue of Calcutta Review mentions “A little higher up we have the village of Dukhinsore, remarkable chiefly for the country seat, mapped down in the map of Hastie’s Garden, but which has repeatedly changed hands during the last thirty years. To the north of it
lies the Powder Magazine. During the last four years which have elapsed since Joseph’s map was published, four elegant houses have sprung up to the south of the garden.”
Dense forest surrounded the area where the famous Dakshineswar temple stands today. It was 300 years back when Durgaprasad Roy Choudhury and Bhavaniprasad Roy Choudhury, members of the renowned Savarna Roy Choudhury family settled here. Yogindranath one of the successors of this family was an ardent devotee of Sri Ramakrishna who later was known as Swami Yogananda.
|Rani Rashmoni, founder of the temple|
The famous Dakshineswar temple which houses the Goddess Kali was founded by Rani Rashmoni following a dream she saw when she was about to start on her pilgrimage to Benaras. A long term plan of the Rani materialized which she had longed to perform when her husband died with unfulfilled wish of constructing a Kali temple.
A dynamic woman, Rani Rashmoni took over the administration of the enormous estate her husband left her. The benevolent administrator, Rani Rashmoni was always in conflict with the stringent British laws and policies. People honored her and loved her for her daring and benevolent spirit. Dakshineswar temple, bathing ghats, a way from Subarnarekha River to Puri, Imperial Library (present National Library) and Hindu College (present Presidency College) are the testimonials to her benevolent nature.
|Expenditure on plot|
The dream had moved the Rani intensely and she instructed her trusted people specially her youngest son-in law to look for plots to construct the Kali Temple. After a massive hunt for suitable plots, a 20-acred plot in the village of Dakshineswar was selected. The land resembled a hump of a tortoise. One part of this land belonged to a European Christian while the other part was a Muslim burial ground. The Rani began to construct this Hindu temple in 1847 on this very ground thus integrating different faiths. The Deed of endowment states “In order to fulfill his wish, on 6th September 1847 I purchased 54.4 bighas of land at the cost of Rs. 42 thousand and 500 from James Hasty. I made to build a puca Navaratna temple, twelve Shiva temples (twelve jyotirlingam), a Vishnu temple and a Natmandir on the land. On 31st May 1855 I placed luxminarayan Shila in the Navaratna temple as per the wish of my late husband and also for the welfare of his soul.” The deed was executed on 31st May 1855.
Swami Saradananda mentioned in the Lilaprasanga, ‘It is recorded in the Endowment document that the land of the Kali temple complex is 60 bighas.’ In the paper itself, we come across the fact that the plot calculated to 54 1/2 bighas, with the surroundings of the Ganges in west, the land of Kashinath Roy Choudhury in east and the constructions of John Hastie in south. Later a part of the plot was used for a railway line and for the Vivekananda Bridge. So the current sum of the land mass is around 58 bighas.
|Installation of Ma Kali|
The idols of the Gods and the Goddess was decided to be installed on the ‘snana-yatra day’, an auspicious days of the Hindus. 31st May 1855, more than 1 lakh Brahmins were invited from different parts of the country to grace the auspicious occasion amidst the controversy of the Rani being in no position to own a temple and to offer Brahmins to feed since she was of low birth.
|Head priest selected|
Rani Rashmoni being aware of the problem discussed in length with the pundits, but none could solve her problem. Only Ramkumar Chattopadhayay,Sri Ramakrishna’s elder brother
suggested that dedicating the temple to a Brahmin could overcome the existing problem.
The temple was dedicated in the name of Rani’s Guru, and Ramkumar, was the head priest, who installed the idol of Kali in the new temple with a grand splendor on Thursday, 31st May, 1855. Many Intellectuals of shastras (scriptures), Brahmin pundits, and celebrated scholars arrived from distant places like Kashi, Orissa, and Navadvip.
Within a year he passed away leaving the entire responsibility to his younger brother, Ramakrishna, who during the subsequent thirty years became the seeker of the Goddess Kali and an ardent devotee who imbedded the seed of change in the socio-religious condition of Bengal and earned immense reputation for the Dakshineswar temple.
The exceptionally open-minded Rani wished that pilgrims of all casts and religions could offer prayers at the temple. Her dreams were fulfilled since irrespective of religion and castes Dakshineswar is thronged by millions of devotees and admired for its peaceful ambiance.
|Handover the legacy to the temple trust|
The Rani lived only for five years and nine months after the inauguration of the temple. She seriously fell ill in 1861. Realizing that death was approaching she decided to handover the property she purchased in Dinajput (now in Bangladesh) as a legacy for the maintenance of the temple to the temple trust. She accomplished her task on 18th February, 1861 and passed away on the subsequent day.
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