Zamindar Rabindranath - 1 by Kumud Biswas SignUp

Zamindar Rabindranath - 1
Kumud Biswas Bookmark and Share


My last blog 'Rabindranath and the World of Nature 1' is likely to give an impression that when Rabindranath went to manage the East Bengal zamindari he got unbridled freedom to write poems and sing songs and these he did to his heart’s  content. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Zamindari administration is an extremely complicated affair and it is very dry and prosaic. It is a wonder that he could be so prolific as a writer while shouldering such heavy responsibilities. Besides, his father was a hard task master and our poet could not sleep on the job. He had to report to his father periodically about his activities as the field manager. It is very difficult to give a consistent account of the system of management of the Tagore zamindari. Excepting some records maintained in the Calcutta office those kept in the field offices are entirely lost. References to his activities as a zamindar are very meagre in his biographies. His huge body of letters is also more or less silent on the matter – Tagore never flaunted his work on rural reconstruction which was neglected by the politicians who thought that it could wait till the achievement of independence.

Fortunately a former employee of the zamindari and a resident of the locality, Sachindranath Adhikary, in his book Shilaidaha O Rabindranath (Shilaidaha and Rabindranath), written somewhat in a rambling style, has given sufficient information to form an idea about this phase of the poet’s life. Another publication, Zamindar Rabindranath, written in a journalistic style by a journalist named Amitabha Choudhury, is based mainly on Adhikary’s book and adds very little to the information already given by Adhikary. So far nobody seems to have made any serious attempt to collect the field office records while they were still   available. Rathindranath, the poet’s son, has devoted in his memoirs On the Edges of Time only one small paragraph on his father’s managerial work. Thus this most formative and fertile phase of the poet’s life has remained criminally neglected by Tagore scholars. Pramatha Bishi’s small booklet Shilaidahe Rabindranath is at best a collection of lectures of a school teacher on the poet’s literary works of the period.


The Tagores were among those early birds of Bengal who could take full advantage of the new regime of the British East India Company and amass huge wealth. To add status to their wealth some of these nouveau riche acquired zamindaris under the infamous land revenue system called Permanent Settlement introduced in 1793 by Lord Cornwallis. The zamindaris acquired by the Tagores were located in many districts, the largest chunks being in Eastern Bengal and Orissa. To settle the debt left by the poet’s princely prodigal grandfather a considerable part of it was lost, but what remained was still quite extensive. The Tagores, like many other zamindars, were city-based. They did not live on the estates, they were absentee landlords. Their head office was in their home at Calcutta and there were three field offices at Shajadpur, Patisar and Shilaidaha. The famous kuthibari – a large two-storey building on expansive grounds at Shilaidaha served as the field headquarters where, in addition to the kachhari or office, there was good provision of family accommodation for the visiting zamindar. But none of the Tagore family appears to have ever stayed there with his family for some time at a stretch for on the spot supervision and management of these properties. Till the time of the poet’s grandfather Dwarakanath they had other businesses to manage in Calcutta. For example, Dwarakanath remained heavily engaged in shipping, mining, banking, tea, sugar, indigo etc and hence had to manage his estates through his employees. But after his death all those businesses were gone. For some time his three sons lived jointly and this function of looking after the estates was discharged chiefly by his second son. After the premature death of the two younger sons the estates were partitioned – the widow of the youngest being childless received only an allowance but no share. Now the responsibility of managing the zamindari, including that of the share of the second son, whose children were still minor, devolved on Prince Dwarakanath’s eldest son, the poet’s father, Debendranath. His chief concern was the Brahmo movement and he followed the same system of management. While remaining in overall charge as the head of the family he put someone from amongst his sons and his sons-in-law in charge of the zamindari from time to time. They generally stayed at Calcutta and looked after the work, occasionally paying short visits to the estates to oversee the work of the field officials like naibs and gomostas etc who ran the day to day administration.


The first person to be entrusted with this onerous task was none other than the poet’s eldest brother Dwijendranath known as Barobabu, perhaps the craziest among Debendranath’s sons. During his stay at Shilaidaha instead of the tenants coming to the zamindar with their complaints and prayers, the zamindar himself started to visit them, enquire about their complaints and causes of their poverty. Prayers for remission of rents began to be granted often before they were made and the tenants who were evicted for arrears of rent were rehabilitated even though their arrears were not cleared. The zamindari officials panicked as they were pulled up for their fishy practices to which some of them often resorted. Our Barobabu ended by sending an SOS to his father to send money from Calcutta to run the zamindari. The father in his turn seems to have also panicked and called his son back forthwith to Calcutta, not forgetting however to approve all the actions of his prodigal son. The next son Satyendranath’s services were not available because he had joined the ICS. The third son had prematurely died and the fourth son had developed insanity. The next choice was therefore Debendranath’s eldest son-in-law Saradaprasad Ganguly. After this gentleman died on the day of our poet’s marriage the fifth son Jyotirindranath was chosen for the job. When his wife committed suicide he had to be relieved of this responsibility and someone else had to be put on the job. Of Rabindranath’s two immediate elder brothers one had died and the other had become insane. Hence our poet became the inevitable choice, more so because, as his biographer surmises, at the time he was leading a ‘reckless’ and bohemian life virtually doing nothing. After a short training in the Calcutta office Rabindranath came to Shilaidaha with his family – his wife and two children, daughter Bela or Madhurilata and son Rathindranath. The poet was in the prime of his life, he was 30 years of age.

How did he run the zamindari? Did he do it like his predecessors or in the manner in which he wrote his poems? It will be the subject matter of our next blog.

Share This:
More by :  Kumud Biswas
Views: 8631      Comments: 12

Comments on this Blog

Comment Over a decade after the poet won Nobel Prize, he went to East Bengal in 1926. This was his last visit to East Bengal. There in Comilla, he attended a conference of the Namasudra community, who were untouchables. This, to my knowledge, has not come into academic focus of the scholar and researchers of Tagore yet. Sometime back, Mainstream Weekly, published from Delhi, founded and edited by Nikhil Chakravartty carried this piece. Anybody interested may like to glance through it at link below:

Sahana Deshbhakta
12/07/2017 07:20 AM

Comment Dear Shaheen, I forgot to tell you that the Ministry of Culture, govt. of India, has recently released a DVD containing films on Tagore stories and novels and the short film on the life of the poet made in 1961 by Satyajit Ray.

09/27/2011 03:11 AM

Comment Dear Shaheen, Thank you for your appreciation of my articles on Tagore. I have also posted the transcreation of a large number of Tagore poems, songs and essays here. You are welcome to read them. I hope you will like them.

09/27/2011 03:04 AM

Comment I just finished reading all 8 parts! What a treat you have given your readership, Mr. Kumud Biswas, kept me engaged through-out the entire volume of your collective articles.  Why don't you make a small documentary with the material you have?

Best regards,
Shaheen Sultan Dhanji
Contributing writer (or, so I think?!) at boloji

Shaheen Sultan Dhanji
09/26/2011 22:05 PM

Comment Dear Dipankar, Thank you for bringing up these pertinent issues which I will certainly deal with gradually. Yes, I should have given Rabindranath's grandfather's name in the first instance. It is given now.

07/08/2010 03:19 AM

Comment Dear Kumud-babu, Sorry that I couldn't find time till today to read this post. To tell you frankly, I always enjoy reading details of biographies and the way you have built up this part of the Tagore story raises one's expectations. It is most informative as well as interesting. I was not aware that one of Debendranath's sons suffered from insanity. I wonder what happened to this gentleman. I have read that Jyoti Thakur maintained a distance from Rabindranath after the much researched incident, viz. Kadambari Devi's death, but I do not know exactly what happened to him either. A death in the family on the day Tagore was married was also news to me. At some point of time, I am reasonably sure that you will bring up Shomi, the son Rabindranath dearly missed. Some say that "aaj jyotsna raatey" was dedicated to him. You will know better about this. Also, I think Rabindranath's wife remains more or less a "kabye upekkhita". Are there details available on her? When you revise this post, there is one point you might want to consider. When you speak of Tagore's grandfather for the first time, you don't mention his name. Later on his name comes up of course, but readers who are not familiar with the Tagore genealogy may not be able to connect the grandfather to Dwarakanath. Dipankar

Dipankar Dasgupta
07/08/2010 01:19 AM


ilovemovies, you were a child when your father was the Collector of a district and you  have no idea about the enormous workload of that official. Earlier a major part of the Collector's function - collection of land revenues - was done by the zamindars. The zamindaris of the Tagores were spread over more than one district in East Bengal many areas of which were accessible only by boat. Then there was a mahal in Orissa. The main law that regulated the tenant-landlord relation - The Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885 - was so complicated! This act has the notoreity of giving birth to the largest number of law suits. Now just imagine the plight of our poor poet! His employees were not only half-literate but also many of them were corrupt - corruption of zamindari officials is legendary.

06/27/2010 18:37 PM

Comment Very interesting and informative! Had never given a thought to this aspect of his life before! Looking forward to the next installment!

06/27/2010 12:46 PM

Comment Pradip, Yes we need to know what this gentleman did as a zamindar. I appreciate your curiosity and I shall try to satisfy it.

06/26/2010 11:56 AM

Comment Most interesting. Eagerly awaiting more instalments--"ye dil maange more!!!" 

Pradip Bhattacharya
06/26/2010 07:09 AM

Comment Dear Mr. Mutsuddi, People usually think that Tagore was only a poet who wrote great poetry, but he was much more than that. He was also great as a man. He did many revolutionary things as a zamindar which few people know.

06/22/2010 09:49 AM

Comment Interesting. It throws valuable light on the worldly affair of the poet's life.

06/22/2010 08:17 AM

Name *
Email ID
 (will not be published)
Verification Code*
Can't read? Reload
Please fill the above code for verification.

1999-2019 All Rights Reserved
No part of this Internet site may be reproduced without prior written permission of the copyright holder