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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Gyanendra Mohan Tagore of Pathuriaghata

While reading up on the origin and practice of the caste system in Hinduism, I had read some material covering the distinction between the Brahminical against the Aryan practices, or rather, the distinction as made between those two systems by scholars about two centuries ago.

On a separate vein, I was also looking for information on the Pathuriaghata branch of the Tagore clan that had remained sort of hard core Hindu, as against the Jorasanko progressive group who kind of spear headed another branch of the Brahmo Samaj movement.

And then, about a month or so ago, as I returned from a long trip to the far east, I stumbled upon records of a few old court cases involving Hindu inheritance law of 1840s.  The plaintiff was a Prasanna Koomar Tagore. Tagore being a rather unusual surname at the time, the name stuck in my memory. ... and I found the story to sort of meander and continue. And I learned later, that Mr. Prasanna Kumar Tagore was from the Pathuriaghata clan.
Bagha Jatin

Later, while reading up on the British influence on India’s education system, I came across a bit of history involving the Hindu College. Apparently an Orthodox Bengali group involved with the college even kept Rammohan Roy away from it - presumably because he was considered way too much of a nonconformist reformist. But then, soon enough, the secular credentials of the college shone through, its name notwithstanding. As a result some newly educated Bengali students of the college rejected their caste based religion and embraced Christianity, which symbolized modernism. One such student, was Gyanendra Mohan Tagore, son of the same Prasanna Koomar Tagore.  This development, I knew, had a profound effect on Devendranath Tagore, who was on record donating huge sums those days as prize for brilliant students on various subjects. Devendranath was subsequently to start creating a Bengali version of science education, in order to promote modernism on India’s traditional institutions. This also influenced him, I think, to promote concepts of a monotheistic God and absence of castes into the Hindu society at large, while himself still adjusting to the continuing trouble with the Pirali Brahmin label.

Gyanendra Mohan Tagore, meanwhile, was not done yet. Convert to Christianity or not, he was to go on creating his own history down the line ...

Having earlier dabbled in studying medicine but given up, he married the daughter of his Christian mentor, one Mr. Bannerjee. These developments infuriated Gyanendra’s own father, who promptly disowned his son and passed all his considerable wealth to this nephew, who as a result got to be called a raja. Meanwhile, Gyanendra Mohan Tagore proceeded to England with his wife. I presume the expense was now being borne by his new father-in-law and mentor. In England, he managed to study law and pass the exam, and was then called to the bar. He was, thus, the first ever Asian to be practicing law in England, fully two generations ahead of M.K. Gandhi. Later, he was to also play host to the family of his distant still-sort-of-half-hindu cousins of the Jorasanko clan, Satyendranath Tagore, who on his part, became the first Indian to pass the ICS (Indian Civil Service) officer's exam.

Gyanendra Mohan reportedly regained part of his inheritance later through a court case, and ended up returning to India and joined Calcutta high court, about the time Rabindranath was a mere toddler, in 1865. In between he was also a professor at the University of London, teaching Hinduism and other things. He wrote a few books and articles, one of them as it happens, came to my hand. It dealt with - you guessed it - the origin of the caste system in Hinduism.
Small world, ehh ?


1 comment:

neil mukherjee said...

gyanendra mohan tagore was the first indian barrister. he married reverend krishnamohan bannerjee's daughter. prosonno coomar tagore disinherited him & gave his title & considerable wealth to his nephew jotindro mohun tagore.however gyanendra mohun challenged this i the privy council and the case went on to formulate the tagore law. he inherited the london properties of prosonno coomar.he died in london.