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A Royal Defiance by Kabiraj Ganga Prasad

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The year was 1835. Thomas Babington Macauley, president of the General Committee of Public Institution got the Governor General of India, Lord William Bentinck’s  approval  to reform the existing secondary education system in the country. Macauley propagated spread of Western education and ordered to stop all financial aid to vernacular schools and to teachers teaching in Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic languages. One of the worst affected institution of this decree was Ayurved Charcha, an effective and functional form of medical treatment written in Sanskrit and practised by learned native doctors. There was furore everywhere and even renowned British medics including Dr Johnson and Titler opposed this decree but to no avail.

Amid all this commotion, a thin, middle-aged Brahmin set up Gangadhar Niketan Chatushpathi  for aspiring vaidyas and soon the institution became famous for  training some of the best local doctors (Kabiraj). Ganga Prasad, Bijoy Ratna, Jaminibhushan were all alma mater of this prestigious native institution. This was indeed a golden period of Bengal’s revival.

Kabiraj Ganga Prasad and his students openly challenged Macauley’s theory of introducing English on utilitarian grounds. They defied the British and under Gangadhar’s leadership, set up alternative Ayurveda treatment centres. This was seen as an act of defiance by the British.

In 1868, Gangadhar used the Sambad Gnyanratnakar machine to print and publish Jalpa-Kalpataru, a detailed note on the ancient Charaka Sa?hit? or Compendium of  Caraka, a  Sanskrit text on Ayurveda. By then, his batches of brilliant students depicted their competence as they studied Sanskrit texts and practiced ancient traditional medicines. The areas around Pathuriaghata and Kumortuli became the hub of their activity. A century ago Kabiraj Kalomanik Gupta of Gopinathpur, Hooghly, frequented the area in his boat, anchoring on the banks of Ganga at Sutanuti.

The area once again became the hub of activity as Kobiraj Gangaprasad Sen’s fame spread and patients came to him in hordes. His father Nilambar Sen was also a renowned physician whose medicines were so potent that limericks were written praising him. Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa often praised Gangaprasad as the doctor with a Midas’ touch. However, Gangaprasad too, became a supporter of the Swadeshi movement and gave rupees one lakh to bail out Yogesh Chandra Basu, editor of Bangabasi, who was arrested for writing and propagating anti-Establishment ideas.

However, Gangaprasad’s fame reached the distant shores and in 1877, Queen Victoria decorated him with the title of “Roy” for his immense contribution to traditional methods of treatment.Kabiraj Bijoyratna was no less. His expertise and fame as a physician was recognized by the British who honoured him with the title of “Mahamahopadhyay.” Kabila Jaminibhushan would be summoned to treat royal families of Gwalior, Indore and Tripura.

Even today, Gangaprasad’s house at 5 Kumartuli, stands as a testimony of the glorious past. Close by lies Bijoyratna Bhavan in a dilapidated state, with the title of “Mahamahopadhyay” peeping from the nameplate near the entrance. This nameplate is a testimony of erstwhile Bengal’s defiance against Macauley’s propaganda who believed the Indian vernacular languages were inadequate to the task of providing a modern higher education.