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October 07, 2007
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October 07, 2007

Page: 8/41

Home > 2007 Issues > October 07, 2007

London Post

A Bristol tribute to Raja Rammohan Roy

By Prasun Sonwalkar

BRISTOL: In keeping with tradition going back over 170 years, the city of Bristol paid tributes to the legacy of Indian reformer Raja Rammohan Roy who visited England in the nineteenth century and died here on 27 September 1833.

Standing in the shadow of the historic tomb in the Arnos Vale Cemetery where his remains are buried, a group of people from various parts of Britain, Canada and elsewhere gathered to remember the life and times of the Indian leader who is widely considered the ?maker of modern India?.

The gathering included officials of the Indian high commission, members of the Brahmo Samaj and the Unitarian church, Bristolians, former officials of the British Raj who served in India, and a descendant of William Princep, who designed the tomb in the nineteenth century.

Flowers and wreaths were placed at the tomb which is scheduled to soon undergo repair and restoration work following financial assistance made available by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation through a Singapore-based industrialist, Aditya Poddar.

The tomb, designed and built between 1842 and 1844, is covered by a canopy which has become a prominent symbol of the cemetery. The canopy is a faithful replica of a Bengali ?chattri? or a funeral monument.

Carla Contractor, a local historian who has passionately worked to preserve and cherish Rammohan Roy?s legacy in Bristol for the last 35 years, hoped that more funds would be available to ensure the tomb?s maintenance in future and to fund an educational project.

Marmaduke Alderson, an Alderman of the city of Bristol, represented the Lord Mayor and recalled Rammohan Roy?s expertise in several subjects. He mentioned how Bristol had cherished his legacy by installing his statue, bust and a portrait in prominent locations.

Alderson, dressed in his official attire, doffed his headgear before the tomb, and said: ?One legacy of the Raja is that after 60 years of India?s Independence, it continues to be a democracy. He opposed the caste system, ?sati? and supported the freedom of the press. I must say he spoke English better than most Englishmen?.

Rajat Bagchi, minister for coordination at the Indian high commission, London, said that the tomb and the way Rammohan Roy?s legacy was preserved and cherished over the years in Bristol constituted a major link between India and Britain.

Bagchi said: ?We Indians are proud and honoured to see Rammohan Roy?s legacy in various parts of Bristol. He is very much alive in spirit, 174 years after his death. We in the high commission have tried to ensure that the tomb does not decay and collapse?.

He added that the high commission, along with others, were working on an education project to highlight the issues that were central to Rammohan Roy?s world-view. He hoped that the project would soon be operationalised.

Over the years, Bristol city leaders and local enthusiasts such as Carla Contractor have consistently

worked to preserve and cherish Rammohan Roy?s legacy. Contractor, married to Phiroze Contractor, a Parsi from Mumbai, has collected an extensive archive of original and secondary material related to Rammohan Roy?s short time in Bristol.

In 1903, Max Muller opened the Bristol Museum and Art gallery with a portrait of Rammohan Roy by Henry Briggs, one of Queen Victoria?s official painters. At the opening, Muller mentioned Rammohan Roy as one of the greatest people to come to Bristol.

After India?s Independence in 1947, a fund was created in the Indian high commission, London, to carry out Rammohan Roy-related activities. In the 1980s, a road was named after the Indian leader as announced by the Lord Mayor during a major exhibition.

In 1995, a delegation from Bristol visited the then West Bengal chief minister, Jyoti Basu, in Kolkata, who presented a bust of Rammohan Roy. The bust was unveiled in the Council House in the city centre by the then Indian high commissioner, L.M. Singhvi.

During India?s 50th anniversary of independence in 1997, Rammohan Roy?s statue by noted sculptor Niranjan Pradhan was installed in a prominent location in College Green in the city centre. The site for the statue was reserved by local council officials for 13 years.

As desired by Dwarkanath Tagore, who erected and paid for the tomb at the Arnos Vale Cemetery, the original epitaph simply read: ?Rajah Rammohan Roy, died Stapleton 27th. Sept. 1833?. The epitaph, however, was moved to the back of the tomb in 1872 and was replaced by a longer one.

The epitaph at the front of the tomb reads: ?Beneath this stone rest the remains of Raja Rammohan Roy Bahadur, a conscientious and steadfast believer in the unity of Godhead, he consecrated his life with entire devotion to the worship of the Devine Spirit alone.

?To great natural talents, he united through mastery of many languages and distinguished himself as one of the greatest scholars of his day. His unwearied labour to promote the social, moral and physical condition of the people of India, his earnest endeavours to suppress idolatry and the rite of suttie and his constant zealous advocacy of whatever tended to advance the glory of God and the welfare of man live in the grateful remembrance of his countrymen.?

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