By Indranil Halder
Gosai Rajbari belongs to one of the most illustrious Goswami family and is situated in Serampore, Hoogly, West Bengal, India. Amitabha Sengupta remembers his connection with Gosai Rajbari.
Amitabha Sengupta: Jack of All Trades
Amitabha is a professional news journalist.
Started his career with The Indian Express Newspapers. Shifted from print to audiovisual news. He worked as an executive news editor (BBC News, London, UK), and as Sr.Consultant Editor (various national new channels, North East India). Also, worked as an Assistant Director for a certain Documentary Film. In 2009, received The Best Documentary Award at The San Francisco Golden Gate Documentary Festival. But painting remains his true passion.
In 2013, hosted his first solo exhibition of paintings in Kolkata, India, followed by overseas countries such as United Kingdom, South Africa and Germany. He also has a boutique “Always Autumn” at my his home. His goal is to revive Bengal bygone designs with weavers from across the state.
Connection to Gosai Rajbari:
Amitabha is lucky to have paternal connection to Kharodia Rajbari, Khulna, Bangladesh and maternal connection to Gosai Rajbari, Serampore. He is very fond of his maternal connection. Serampore which still retains a certain French and Dutch heritages remains his favourite. His childhood days were full of wonderful memories playing with cousins in the gargantuan Gosai Rajbari(with sprawling lawn, blossoming trees and flowing fountains, built by Raja Kishori Lal Goswami).
Influence of Gosai Rajbari on Amitabha:
Wearing his handloom Taant Dhakkapaar Dhaniakhali Dhoti with narrow borders on both edges, Amitabha visits Gosai Rajbari during Durga pujo. Durga Puja celebration is grand, spectacular and special. Especially the Kumari Puja starting with 7 Kumaris (girls who haven’t reached puberty) on special Durga pujo days including Saptami, followed by 8 girls on Ashtami and 9 girls on Navami. The Puja was performed according to the Vaishnav (discipline of Chaitna Mahaprobhu) sect with no sacrifice of live animals or even vegetables.
Usually, the Navami Puja was special to the family with the Devi or Goddess Durga served a special Bhog ( food offered to God) which includes Fried Gourds or Kumra which was called “Porey Bhaja” rice, chatni amongst other dishes. Married ladies were supposed to cover their heads and wear a nose pin or a Nath on the Right side of their nose with red border saree. Men wore Dhoti/ Kurta for the grand celebration. During the Durga Puja days, Rajbari doors were open to all. Even today, hundreds of thousands of Serampore local residents make a point to visit the Rajbari first , before going for pandal hopping during the festival days. It is the case for other religious festivals such as Janmashtami Festival too.
Durga pujo in large joint family is always great fun. Stared with running up and down the grand wooden stairs and around the beautiful garden. With limited access to verandah overlooking the main road to keep away from the public eye, it was always fun to have colossal breakfast with extended family members ( prepared in a separate building, which is now donated for the local university student accommodation). Especially Luchi-Alur Dum (fried bread and potato curry)and Begun bhaja (fried eggplant) with a special type of Bengali sweet called Monda (originated in Muktagachha, Bangladesh, first made in 1824 by Gopal Pal) used to make the platter irresistible for all the children.
As a child, Amitabha grew up with glamorous photos of his great grandfather, Raja Kishori Lal Goswami Bahadur, his wife Maharani Bakulmoni, grandfather Maharaj Kumar Tulsi Chandra Goswami Dev Bahadur and grandmother Maharani Binapani Devi. For him, matriarch of the family was eldest Aunt Late Maharajkumari Ashima Devi. An amazing story teller who narrated the glorious heritage of the Gosai Rajbari to him for years.
To enter the Rajbari, one has to cross through the Pillared Courtyard or the “Chandni” and pray to the family deity, Shri Radha Madhav Jiu and Gopal and then walking down the marbled floors and staircase which is still vivid in his memory. And Gosai Rajbari with its arch gates leading to its hundred rooms, which were once filled with antique furniture on marble floors and books from different corners of the world.
Books that his grandfather, Tulsi Chandra (TC)Goswami had studied in Oxford, United Kingdom and also used by rest of the family for legal studies and practice (side by side managing their zamindari or landlord-ship).
Amitabha says,”Even though the family was typically conservative Bengali family but from Raja Kishori Lal (KL) Goswami the trend took a bit Anglicized turn.” Family had two of Serampore’s main roads named after Raja K L Goswami Road (Greatgrandfather) and TC Goswami Road (Grand Father). They helped the family accumulate enormous wealth. Raja KL Goswami even helped construct the Kolkata Town Hall. It was said to be a gift to the City of Palaces, Kolkata. While TC Goswami became the famous Fives of Bengal Politics.
Just like the men, the women of the family are equally illustrious. His grandmother Binapani Devi, was the Maharani Binapani Devi of Gosai Rajbari, Serampore and Maharajkumari of Mymensingh Division, Bangladesh. She was the first wife of K L Goswami. Second wife was Ramola Sinha (daughter of Lord SP Sinha). Amitabha’s own mother Chhaya Sengupta knew horse riding, driving and fluent in English, French, Urdu and Hindi. Stood first in West Bengal Education Services and did Masters in Economics. She was also extraordinary in style and aesthetics and was a sareeholic. She loved authentic weaves such as Dhakai Jamdanis, Gadwals and Kanjivarams. Her all time favourites were silk Chanderis and Maheshwaris, followed by Baluchari, the Sambalpuris and Vichitrapuris. She even adore herself in Italian Georgettes sarees with ethnic Indian intricate Navratna necklace, strands of pearls or long Gold Chains with diamonds. They made her look divine. Different to men in the family, who were inclined towards western patterns of jewellery.
Today, Amitabha, inherited the Sword of Raja KL Goswami Dev Sharma Bahadur and some of the Cartier jewellery . Amitabha himself wears the Cartier Banyan Tree diamond Broach ( 200 year old , an auspicious symbol) with his banshagala suit or Gold Polished Kangaroo Tiepin ( gifted by uncle who was The Chief Immigration Officer in Australian High Commission in New Delhi) with Prince jacket. But more than anything, he loves helping people. He feels proud, when Bengali youth sells his garments from road side stalls to generate business.
Painting also makes him really happy. He had received the Commonwealth Artist’s Award for his paintings. Admired by Smt.Ruby Pal Chowdhury (Secretary General, Crafts Council of West Bengal) and Lady Susan Hastings (great granddaughter of Lord Warren Hastings) in Kolkata. Such is the influence of Gosai Rajbari on Amitabha Sengupta and why would he have it any other way.
Even today, at end of an age old family celebration that includes idol immersion in Hoogly River at the Rajar Ghat, white pigeons (instead of Indian Blue Jay or Neelkantha bird, due to Wild Life Act) are flown off (to mark the devi’s or Goddess’s departure), a gunman strikes the 21 Gun Salute and HRH Maharajkumar Amitabha Shyama Prasad Adhiraj Dev Sharma Bahadur tightly keeps holding on to the true representation of classy Bengali man in 21st Century for the world to enjoy.