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Devi Chaudhurani--Bengal’s very own Bandit Queen

9 April, 2020 00:31:05
Devi Chaudhurani--Bengal’s very own Bandit Queen

The famed temple of Devi Chaudhurani, the famous ‘bandit queen’ immortalized by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay lies in a small non-descript outskirt of Jalpaiguri. It is believed that this is where Devi and her mentor, Bhavani Pathak, who led a gang of dacoits, offered prayers to Goddess Kali. 

Presently, along with Goddess Kali, the idols of Devi Chaudhurani and Bhabani Pathak are also worshipped. This comes as a surprise because the British had branded Bhabani Pathak and his gang as ‘bandits’ and yet they are looked upon with such reverence. There are people who would like to believe that Devi Chaudhurani and Bhabani Pathak are nothing more than fictitious characters from the novel but they were historical characters and their names figure in the British records where they were branded as leaders participating and instigating the Sanyasi Revolt. Since 1763, the Sanyasi uprising had engulfed the entire Bengal Province (comprising of undivided Bengal, Bihar and Odisha) and Uttar Pradesh.

Bhabani Pathak was a wise and widely respected, knowledgeable but shrewd Brahmin. Prafulla was an exquisitely beautiful, teenaged daughter of a poor Brahmin widower. By a twist of fate, she was married to Braja, son of a rich, greedy zamindar, Haraballabh. However, following a spat between her father and her wealthy father-in-law on the day of her wedding, she was dumped unceremoniously by her husband’s family. Heartbroken at the fate of his only child, her father died after a few years, leaving the family to fend for them. Out of desperation, Prafulla took the drastic step to flee from her abode in the middle of the night. It was during her escape that she encountered her future mentor, Bhabani Pathak, who took her under his wings and trained her to be a fearless leader and a savior of the poor. 

They were branded as raiders. But the duo always targeted British East India Company officials and local unscrupulous landowners, who, they felt, tortured poor peasants for taxes and crops. They were feared by the British and tyrant zamindars alike, but loved and respected by the poor and oppressed. 

Bhabani Pathak and Devi Chaudhurani were not only associated with the Sanyasi movement but also provided shelter to many ascetics who came to them seeking refuge. Along with her mentor, Devi Chaudhurani was one of the early nationalists who played an inspirational role in the Sanyasi Movement in 19th century Bengal. Though historians continue to debate and differ on the significance and impact of this violent uprising, Devi Chaudhurani and Bhavani Pathak are remembered as heroes by people, mainly living in the eastern and north-eastern part of the country. According to locals, there are few other temples in this region as well where Devi Chaudhurani used to visit like the Ban-Durga temple located in the dense Baikunthapur forest.

Kali Temple near Gosala Mor in Jalpaiguri

According to myth, Devi Chaudhurani herself had established the Kali Temple near Gosala Mor in Jalpaiguri. The annual Kali Puja is still held here under the aegis of a committee comprising of local inhabitants. This puja is a major attraction for all in the region and hundreds flock here to worship the goddess at the temple. 

Story Tag:
  • Devi Chaudhurani, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay

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