Serampore Rajbari

Exactly how rich were the Goswamis of Serampore? Sample this. When the Danes, finding their factory in Serampore to be a losing concern, were looking for someone to sell their title of Serampore to, Raghuram Goswami offered to purchase it for the sum of Rs. 11,00,000! However the Danes found this sum to be inadequate and ultimately sold their possessions to the East India Company in 1845, for 12,00,000. The Goswamis of Serampore, are the descendants of one of the five Brahmin families whom Adisur, King of Gaur had invited to settle in Bengal, with gifts of land and monies, for the propagation of knowledge. One of his descendants was Lakshman Chakravarty. Lakshman was married to the daughter of Achyut Goswami, son of Advaitacharya Goswami, an ardent disciple of Sri Chaitanya. Lakshman settled in Shantipur, with Achyut’s family, and out of their marriage was born a son, Ramgobinda, who took on his mother’s maiden name, Goswami. It was Ramgobinda’s son, Radhakanta, who settled in Serampore. His grandson was Raghuram Goswami.

Finding far too much fragmentation of his original property in Goswamipara, Raghuram left, to build a house for himself and his children and it was thus that the giant mansion known today to locals as “Serampore Rajbari” came up, sometime between 1815 and 1820, during or shortly after the construction of Serampore College. Although it is called Rajbari, author Kanailal Goswami, himself of the family in question, says that it would be more accurate to call it the “Thakurbari”, since a portion of it was made debottar property. Once the house had been completed, the family deities, Radhamadhav Jiu (antiquated form of “Ji”, the suffix of respect) and Gopalji were transferred there. To this was added an “ashtadhatu” (eight metal) idol of Radharani by Raghuram’s son, Gopikrishna. These three idols adorn the family altar to this day.

The house remains standing, though it has clearly seen better days. While it appears on the outside to be two separate blocks, these blocks were infact connected by an intricate network of passages before walls were erected to separate the sections for brothers. On the South is the portion that was probably originally allotted to Hemchandra Goswami. This two storied structure is now used both as a residence, as well as being hired out for marriage receptions, as well as other social functions. The more magnificent section is the one on the North, with its driveway, ionic columns and cast iron gates. This is the portion of the house that was turned into debottar property. It is still used as a residential property today. A board announces that a portion of the house is used by the Government as a “Child Guidance Centre”.

Inside, the most striking feature is the “Chandni”, or “Naatmandir”, a covered courtyard, measuring 120 feet by 30 feet. This spot was originally a tank from which water was drawn for domestic consumption. Unfortunately, Raghuram’s oldest son, Atmaram, drowned while swimming in that tank, at the age of 5. This accident caused Raghuram to have the tank filled up, and the Chandni was constructed. 24 Corinthian columns, 32 feet in height and 5 feet in diameter were raised to support the roof. The floor was covered in Chunar stone. For the rafters and beams on the roof, Sal wood was brought from Nepal. The Chandni was used for festive occasions, such as Holi, for marriages, receptions and social gatherings and even for staging plays. On the occasion of Durga Puja, the Chandni was the venue for feeding 500 people at a time, seated in long rows. Unfortunately, the Chandni is now decaying due to lack of maintenance. The gutters on the roof must have been clogged with mud for quite a while, leading to rainwater collecting on the roof, seeping through and slowly weakening it. When I visited, I found a section of the roof had collapsed, and the interior of the Chandni had been fenced off. One of the pillars was completely covered in moss.

Raghuram’s son, Gopikrishna had five sons. The eldest among them, Krishnalal had a falling out with his father, and was disinherited as a result. The remaining four brothers, Nandalal, Kishorilal, Rajendralal and Radhikalal continued to live in this house as a joint family, until the death of Nandalal in 1908, caused family unity to disintegrate. Kishorilal had probably anticipated this, and had begun construction of a palatial residence on the river bank at the cost of Rs. 1,50,000. The property was protected by a formidable wall right from the river bed that afforded it an attractive river frontage, and made it possible to lay out a large garden. To this house, he moved his branch of the family in 1910. This building too is still standing, and in use, and is in far better shape than Raghuram’s original Rajbari.