Dwarkanath Tagore

Dwarkanath Tagore

personal details

Born: 1794, Bengal Presidency, Presidencies of British India
Dwarkanath Tagore
Dwarkanath Tagore

Died: August 1, 1846, London, United Kingdom
Parents: Rammoni Thakur
Children: Debendranath Tagore
Grandson - Rabindranath Tagore


Dwarkanath Tagore biography

Dwarkanath belonged to one of the most illustrious families of Bengal. He was the father of Maharishi Debendranath and grandfather of Rabindranath Tagore.
Dwarkanath was born in 1794 in Calcutta. His parents were Ram Mani and Meneka. As his mother died soon after his birth, he was brought up by his uncle Ramlochan, a rich Zamindar and his wife Alaka, who legally adopted Dwarkanath, thus becoming his foster parents. He started his studies under a private tutor and at the age of ten joined the Sherbourne’s school in Calcutta, where he studied for six years. He learnt Persian, the court language of the time. He soon realized that under the East India Company rule one had to know the English language. So he brushed up on his English under Rev. William Adams and some other Britishers who were friends of his father. He rounded it off by studying law. Dwarkanath thus equipped himself for a life working in cooperation with the East India Company and its European officials.
Ramlochan, his foster father, died in 1807, bequeathing all his property, including some houses in Calcutta and a large estate in Nadia and Pabna districts to Dwarkanath. However, this financial security did not dampen his aspirations to achieving something great on his own. Even his marriage at the age of seventeen (1811) did not detract him from the aim which he had envisioned. On coming of age, Dwarkanath started managing his estates independently. He also trained himself in the rudiments of land tenure and revenue systems and educated himself` on British law and court practices under the supervision of Robert Fergusson, a leading barrister of the time.
Dwarkanath began his career as an entrepreneur, in buying and selling land (in the process extending his estate) and lending money to low-paid employees of the East India Company. In partnership with a leading European firm, Mackintosh 8c Co., he engaged in export and import. Through export of silk and indigo he made good profit. Further, he started earning thousands of rupees per month by way of fees and charges in lieu of legal advice which he rendered to rich zamindars and landlords and also by drafting legal petitions in Persian and English for them. His knowledge of legal procedures and his all round ability came to the notice of the East India Company and they appointed him as a serishtedar to the collector and salt-agent of 24 Parganas and later in 1829 as Dewan to the Board of Customs, Salt and Opium. He resigned in 1834 to concentrate on his industrial, commercial and financial ventures.
His experience in Mackintosh & Co. taught him that no progress could be made by his countrymen unless they took to business and industry and learnt to depend less and less on agriculture. Commerce and industry became his passion. He had the ability, and had the means to give concrete shape to his vision. He helped in the establishment of the Union Bank, a joint-stock venture to mop-up money and offering it for commercial and industrial use. In 1834, he opened a business firm Carr, Tagore & Co. with European friends as partners. Sometime earlier, another Indian gentleman, a Parsi settled at Calcutta, Rustomjee Cowasjee (1792-1852), had started a joint-stock company Rustomjee, Turner Co. which may have inspired Dwarkanath to start a similar company. His firm prospered under efficient administration and earned huge profit. It had branches all over the country. Thus encouraged, Dwarkanath launched a number of industries and commercial ventures. He started a sugar factory at Ramnagar, and a silk factory at Kumarkhali. Then came the Bengal Coal Company which started the extraction of coal at Raniganj, the first venture of its kind in India. Using steam power, he introduced river navigation with the help of tugs and founded the Steam Tug Association in 1837. He also set up a dock at Kidderpore for the repair of ships. He thus became a pioneer in some new types of industrial and commercial undertakings. For decades afterwards, Indian leaders went on preaching swadeshi; Dwarkanath put it into practice and proved that Indians could compete with the West. He was a dreamer and path maker. He was a true karmayogi.
Dwarkanath put some of his money to social work and nation building and the rest for living lavishly and in style. First the social reforms. Dwarkanath stood by Rammohan Roy in his crusade for social and religious reforms and considered him his ‘guru’. He jointed Ram Mohan's ‘Atmiya Sabha’ and helped him and his friend ‘William Adams to form the Unitary Mission of Calcutta by his donation. He also helped Ram Mohan’s Brahmo Samaj (1828) and continued to support it with monetary help even after Ram Mohan left for England in 1831: He had also cooperated with Ram Mohan in getting the Act passed against sati in 1829. Like other leaders of the time, he encouraged the spread of English education and worked, along With David Hare, Ram Mohan and Others, in the founding of the Hindu College in 1817, and was an active member of its managing committee. He was also one of the founders of the Gaudiya Samaj (1823) to promote Bengali language and culture. Dwarkanath gave tremendous impetus to the study of western system of medical science and paid for the expenses of two students to study medicine in England. He persuaded the government to establish a medical college in Calcutta. In 1835, along with other distinguished Indians and Europeans, he raised subscription for establishing the Fever Hospital. Dwarkanath helped in founding of the Calcutta Public Library through money and books and was its first proprietor. The library was later converted into India’s National Library which at present is situated in the former governor general’s residence, with several additions. A memorial in the form of his marble bust greets the visitors at the entrance of the Library. In 1835, Dwarkanath was made a justice of Peace. In April 1838, he established the Landholder’s Society for the preservation of landholders’ rights and ventilation of' their grievances. Out of it grew the British Indian Association, the precursor of the Indian National Congress.
As if these achievements were not enough, he contributed in the field of journalism also. Dwarkanath helped Rammohan Roy to launch Sambad Kaumudi (1821), a Bengali weekly and continued to support it even after Ram Mohan’s death. He had substantial proprietorial rights in three papers, Bangadoot (Bengali), Bengal Herald (English) and Bengal Harkara, which was one of the leading journals of Calcutta in those days. He took active part, along with Rammohan Roy and others, against the Adams Press Laws of 1923. He spent thousands of rupees to get the ‘Black Act’ repealed. Eventually, the Adams Press regulations were amended in 1835 to the jubilation of Indians and Europeans who fought for the freedom of the press.
His lavish style of living was reflected in the grand parties which he hosted in his Belgachia Villa in Calcutta, which were attended by the elite of Calcutta, both Indian and European, including, at times, Lord Auckland, the governor general and his sister Emily. He was one of the most popular figures in Calcutta society and was famous for his generosity and philanthropy. He maintained his lavish lifestyle on his two visits to England and Europe, staying in expensive hotels. In England, he was honoured by Queen Victoria who invited him to a dinner. The English aristocracy vied with each other to get introduced to him. In Paris also, he was well received. He developed intimate friendship with the famous Indologist Max Muller. Max Muller’s observations about Dwarkanath are interesting and revealing and justify a rather longish quotation:
Indians do not travel so freely fifty years ago as they do now. The crossing of the black water and all its consequences had not lost its terrors. When, therefore, in the year 1844, a real Hindu made his appearance in Paris, his visit created a great sensation, and filled me with a strong desire to make his acquaintance. He was a handsome man, and, as he took the best suite of apartments in one of the best hotels in Paris, he naturally roused considerable curiosity – Dwarkanath Tagore was not a Sanskrit scholar but he was not unacquainted with Sanskrit literature. He was not an antiquarian, nor a student of his own religion or of the language of his own sacred books. – My Indian friend Dwarkanath Tagore, though not learned, was very intelligent, and a man of the world. He rather looked down on the Brahmans and when Iasked him whether he would have to perform penance or Prayaskitta after his return to India, he laughed and said, ‘No. I am all this time feeding a large number of Brahmans at home, and that is quite penance enough’. But if he took a low View of his Brahmans, he did not show much more respect for what he called black-coated English Brahmans. Much as he admired everything English, he had a mischievous delight in finding out the weak points of English society, and particularly of the English clergy”.
Max Muller continues: “Dwarkanath Tagore lived in a truly magnificent Oriental style while at Paris. The King, Lois Philippe, received him, nay; he honoured him, by his presence and that of his Court at a grand evening party. The room was hung with Indian shawls, then the height of ambition of every French lady. And what was their delight when the Indian Prince placed a shawl on the shoulders of each lady as she left the room”.
While in England he fulfilled a sacred duty towards his ‘guru’ Rammohan Roy by getting his remains transferred to the beautiful cemetry of Arno’s Vale near Bristol and got a memorial built there in the shape of a Hindu temple, which stands there even today along with an inscription. Little did he know that he too would soon die in a foreign land? He died in Surrey on first August 1846. He was only fifty-one yearsold.

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