The spacious rooms, the huge hallways and the broad wooden staircases of the nearly 200-year-old mansion at 85A Raja Rammohun Sarani, known as Raja Rammohun Roy Memorial Museum, reverberates with the history of one man’s fight against the social injustice and brutalities prevailing in India and his constant efforts to modernize the country and its people.
According to the available papers, the three-storey building, located at 85A Amherst Street, now 85A Raja Rammohun Sarani, was purchased by the 19th-century social reformer Raja Rammohan Roy, from one Francis Mendes for Rs. 13,000/- probably in the year 1815.Supposedly designed by one W Wood, the building was constructed completely in the colonial Georgian style of the 19th century and was known as the Simla House, probably, as the area was commonly known as Simla. It is not known, whether the Raja ever lived in the house and if so, when. However, it is a fact that, in this building, he hosted for a while, the weekly meetings of the Atmiya Sabha, the precursor to the Brahmo Samaj.
Before his departure for England in 1830, Rammohun Roy disposed of all his properties in Calcutta, except the Simla House. After his death in Bristol, it continued to be in the possession of his descendants until the 1960s, when the deserted and dilapidated building became a safe den of the encroachers and antisocial and they continued to take the opportunity of the situation, as nobody took any interest to acquire the property. In the process, the valuable old structures and fittings inside the building, including original Italian marble tiles, doors and windows made of teak wood and several invaluable artifacts were stolen, leaving the house in a decrepit condition.
The vandalized and dilapidated mansion remained unattended for more than a decade until 1972, when on the occasion of the bi-centenary birth anniversary celebration of Rammohun Roy, the then principal of Rammohun College, Sadhana Sarkar and other eminent personalities of Calcutta initiated a move to acquire and restore the crumbling building and convert it into the first ever memorial museum in the country to uphold the life, works and ideals of Raja Rammohun Roy. Finally, with the active assistance of the State and Central Government, they acquired it in 1986.
After completing the massive task of repairing and restoring the majestic building as close as possible to its former appearance, with the grants received from the Central Government, Victoria Memorial Hall and donations received from the members of the Brahmo Samaj and others, it was converted into a museum, dedicated to the great social reformer Raja Rammohun Roy, displaying his personal library, notes, photographs, furniture and more.
However, the real job of converting the building into a museum did not start until the year 2000, when on the 229th birth anniversary of Rammohun Roy, an exhibition depicting the life and work of Raja Rammohun was arranged in the house. That was the first step towards turning the majestic edifice into a national monument. Today, the entry gate of the museum welcomes the visitors with a stone bust of Rammohun and a marble plaque with the name of the family inscribed on it. There is a large image of Rabindranath Tagore in the ground floor of the museum, with his inscription praising the greatness of Raja Rammohun and considering him as a hero.
The exhibits in the museum, which can be divided into six segments, include the commemorative items, books, paintings and sketches, period furniture, panels and dioramas and the death mask of Rammohun. The replica of the death mask has been created by the reputed sculptor Niranjan Pradhan, the original of which was brought from Bristol by Shivanath Shastri. The huge collection of the rare and invaluable books in the museum is open for the public and meant to be used as a learning centre. The huge central hall, with a stunning chequered floor and colonial arches depict various memorable events of his life through portraits and sculptures. It exhibits several paintings and sketches, photographs, panels and dioramas and excerpts from the writings of Raja Rammohan Roy, various letters written by him and his original treatises on Hindu mythology and Vedanta. The photographs include a snap of the Arnos Vale cemetery in Bristol, where Rammohun was buried after his death on 27th September 1833 at the age of 61. The museum also has a large collection of commemorative items like the Stamps & Special Covers and historical documents relating to Rammohun and has carefully recreated the replicas of the period furniture and the attire of Rammohun to reflect the style that was prevalent during that era.
Statue of Raja Ram Mohan Roy in front of the Bristol Cathedral.
A visit to the offbeat museum provides an opportunity to the visitors to know about the days of Bengal Renaissance and takes them into a period in history when India was at the crossroads and Rammohun heralded the coming of the modern age.