About 50 Bengalis from Kolkata went to Darjeeling recently to resuscitate the Brahmos of Darjeeling and to hold a prayer service at the local Brahmo Samaj in the Upasana-Griha or Brahmo Mandir in the Hills, after requested by Mr Ranen Dutta, the trustee.
The purpose of the visit was to make people aware of the importance of Brahmo Samaj.
History has it that the land for the Brahmo Samaj Mandir was donated by the Maharaja of Cooch Behar, and Suniti Devi, the daughter of the eminent Brahmo preacher Keshab Chandra Sen. She was married into the royal family and with others like the Maharaja of Burdwan and Lady Abala Bose patronised the Samaj and took personal interest in the construction of the temple.
As on all other heritage buildings, time has taken its toll on this temple whose structure is similar to the ones in various other parts of Bengal. Since 1932, the number of Brahmos in Darjeeling dwindled and the small presence of the Brahmos made it difficult to hold prayers, assemblies or perform religious songs.
Mr Ranan Dutta traced the history of the Samaj to the evening&’s congregation. He said that the original building was somewhere below the Kutchery but it had to be shifted as the civic body wanted the land.
However, the municipality autghorities were generous enough to suggest a plot equivalent to the old one and also compensated to the extent of Rs 1500 towards construction of a new building for the Samaj.
The plot, being on a hillside, was leveled by the municipality to make it fit for the new structure.
The plot primarily belonged to Dr B B Sarkar, resident of ‘North View’ in Darjeeling. His widow, Hemlata Sarkar, who was then the Principal of Maharani Girls School, donated it to the Darjeeling Brahmo Samaj for a Brahmo temple as per the agreement with the municipality. For construction and for future supervision of the Samaj, a trust, comprising 10 well-known Brahmos of the time, was formed. There is a copy of this deed but unfortunately, the copy is not completely legible.
Those who officiated as Acharyas at Darjeeling Samaj, were people like Pandit Shibnath Shastri, Deshbandhu C R Das, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, ICS Karuna Ketan Sen to name a few.
After a long time, and coming decades after Independence, Mr Debashish RoyChowdhury, a third generation Brahmo, a renowned Rabindarsangeet singer and a Professor of English conducted the evening service. The central theme was “Anandam”. The hymns he chose were from Tagore&’s songs, which both he and his daughter Rohini rendered with perfection.
Her solo rendition of Anandodhara Bohichhey bhuboney, enchanted the congregation. The service was short and Debashish was ably supported by veteran actor Barun Chanda, a well-read Brahmo, who read excerpts from sermons of past acharyas. The topic straddled the past and the present, to give a sense of continuity. The service was well attended.