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Did you know Dwarkanath Tagore owned around 50 brothels in Calcutta?

2 February, 2023 17:15:59
Did you know Dwarkanath Tagore owned around 50 brothels in Calcutta?

Dwarkanath Tagore is a very famous name, not just as part of the illustrious Tagore family and one of its first well-known names, but also as a remarkable man with entrepreneurial excellence, extremely wealthy, and a descendant of Rarheya Brahmins. He founded the Jorasanko Branch of the Tagore family. He had a considerable amount of land as he had inherited zamindari estates from his uncle and his father Ramlochan, who had adopted him. Dwarkanath was often described as the ‘Prince’ because of his enormous wealth. He lived a lavish life in Calcutta. He was revered and much sought after by the European traders and contributed largely to the socio-political activities of India.

Dwarkanath’s father died when he was just sixteen years old. His huge property and all responsibilities of the family suddenly shifted onto the shoulders of a minor. Due to such pressure, he left school at the same age and took an apprenticeship under a renowned barrister, Robert Cutlar Fergusson. Under the British advocate, Dwarkanath Tagore learned the laws of Permanent Settlement and also learned about all the rules, regulations, and procedures of the Supreme Court, which was then situated in Bengal. He not only learned about the procedures of the Supreme Court but those of the Sadr and Zila courts of Calcutta. By 1815 he became well-versed in legal matters and started his legal career. He was successful in that field, yet he also worked for the British East India Company, which encouraged voluntary endeavours in the fields of shipping, banking, and insurance. In the meantime, he bought many new estates in four districts, namely, Berhampur, Pandua, Kaligram, and Shahazadpur, leading to the expansion of the lands owned by him. He was involved in the trade of salt and opium and many other areas such as coal mines, real estate, etc. He served as a Dewan for twelve years. The British-Indian company, “Carr Tagore and company” made him more affluent than he already was and earned the name ‘Indian Croesus.’ Dwarkanath had one daughter and five sons with his wife Digambaridevi.


The revolutionary Rammohan Roy and one of the most successful entrepreneurs, Dwarkanath Tagore, were good friends and have contributed much to society. With the help of Dwarkanath, Rammohan Roy founded the Brahmo Sabha, which later became the Brahmo Samaj. Dwarkanath was also the principal of the Brahmo Sabha. He had many friends who belonged to the high society and Dwarkanath was aware that they made foreign tours very often, including his friend Rammohan Roy. Inspired by his friends, Dwarkanath also decided to visit England, where he was received by the British Prime Minister, the Prince, the Queen, the President of the Board of Control, and the Duchess. He also went to Paris.

How was it possible for Dwarkanath to compete with the British, who were so wealthy? He was at par with them. Belonging to a period, when the British considered Indians to be inferior and uncivilised, Dwarkanath had British friends who even helped him with his trade and other requirements and he went on to build a Rajbari (big house) in Belgachia. It had a lawn and a garden where he was a very good host to his British friends who used to come over to the Rajbari very often. These details often made the headlines of contemporary newspapers. Iswar Gupta often wrote poems mocking such practices.

However, a newly discovered fact that we get to know is from the British survey report of 1853, which states that there were 4,449 brothels where almost 12,400 sex workers used to stay. Among these places, Shonagachi stood out the most. From the autobiography of Debendranath Tagore, which was edited by Satishchandra Chakraborty, we get the information that Dwarkanath owned up to 43 brothels. It can be said that the famous brothels of Shonagachi developed with the help of none other than Dwarkanath.

Most British who came to Bengal, came as employees of the East India Company, with the intention to make as much profit as possible. They were young; hence most were unmarried. To entertain the British workers, Dwarkanath ended up owning up to 43 brothels. In most of these brothels, one or more native sex workers used to entertain such British elites and employees. Not only the British but the rich Bengali “babus”, who were a part of the elite society also visited these brothels very often.

Dwarkanath’s glory did not last till the very end. He fell victim to the recession of 1837 which lasted till the 1840s. He accumulated many debts and these debts were so huge that they had to be paid off by his son Debendranath Tagore. Debedranath spent almost his whole life freeing the family from his father’s debts.

Dwarkanath Tagore was the grandfather of Rabindranath Tagore, yet it can be noticed that he did not mention his grandfather in his writings. Dwarkanath’s descendants were not so open about the ways in which he had earned his wealth. Some books also mention that Rabindranath Tagore had burnt most of the documents of his grandfather. Dwarkanath had different interests such as trade, law, travel, and so on. He can be called a dreamer and the unique thing about him is that he turned his dreams into reality. Many may be sceptical about his ways of dealing with the British, but he can also be called Calcutta’s first capitalist, as he focused on making profits and was a true-blue businessman who did not much give importance to principles.

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