Sir Frank Wills1774 to 1833
August 24, 2016
Mary Ann Ridsdel1774 to 1833
August 24, 2016

Rajah Rammohun Roy1774 to 1833

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Early life

Rajah Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833) was an individual of truly global stature, and is buried at Arnos Vale on the Ceremonial Way. His tomb is clearly visible from the front gates off the Bath Road.

He worked first as a munshi (translator/advisor/ assistant) for successive Englishmen, Woodford and Digby, learning fluent and academic English. He later became a social and educational reformer. As a religious reformer in Kolkata ( then Calcutta under the East India Co. or EIC) he examined the original basis of Hinduism and inaugurated the reformed Brahmo Samaj. From  1821 he called himself a Hindu-Unitarian, and set up modern schools and controversial newspapers in his city.

A man of conviction

The Raja was an extremely influential religious and political thinker, he coined the word “Hinduism” as a term for the diversity of Indian religions and wrote extensively on religious and social matters.  He stressed the importance of education for Indians, campaigned for women’s rights and worked to end the traditional practice of sati: the burning of widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. He spoke several languages including Urdu, Bengali and Persian and was involved in publish newspapers and also wrote a number of books.  He also read Greek, Latin and Sanskript.

The Raja in Bristol

He advocated many social, educational and marriage rights for women and persuaded Gov. Bentinck to outlaw sati , or widow burning. In 1831 he arrived in London, where he defeated an orthodox Hindu appeal to reinstate sati, offered written evidence to Parliament towards better governance in India, and recovered some of the money due to his Moghul Emperor from the EIC. He networked widely across London society to achieve these and other successes. He also considered becoming a British MP.

In 1833 he came to Bristol with his adopted son Rajaram (see his portrait in The British Library) to visit the Unitarians and old friends – Rev. Lant Carpenter and his daughter Mary. He developed meningitis and died at Beech House, Stapleton on 27th September. He was initially buried inside the garden in a completely silent service as he wished , but 8 years later was reinterred at Arnos Vale. This chattri or monument was erected 2 years later with monies directed from Dwarkanath Tagore. It quickly became a place of pilgrimage for Indians, especially West Bengalis. To this day the death of “The Founder of Modern India” is commemorated by the Cemetery each September.

Although the cemetery was not in existence at the time of the Raja’s death in 1833, he was moved to his final resting place  on the 29th May 1843.  His body  was placed in its wooden and lead coffin in a deep brick-built vault, over seven feet underground. He is in a large plot on the Ceremonial Way had been bought by William Carr and William Prinsep as they realised that the original burial place of the Raja was not appropriate. . Two years after this, Dwarkanath Tagore helped organise the money to pay for the chattri that is raised above this vault. The chattri was designed by the artist William Prinsep.

The memorial stone

The memorial stone reads:

BENEATH THIS STONE REST THE REMAINS OF/ RAJA RAMMOHUN ROY BAHADOOR,/ A CONSCIENTIOUS AND STEADFAST BELIEVER IN THE UNITY OF THE GODHEAD,/ HE CONSECRATED HIS LIFE WITH ENTIRE DEVOTION TO THE WORSHIP OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT ALONE,/ TO GREAT NATURAL TALENTS, HE UNITED THROUGH MASTERY OF MANY LANGUAGES/ AND EARLY DISTINGUISHED HIMSELF AS ONE OF THE GREATEST SCHOLARS OF HIS DAY./ HIS UNWEARIED LABOURS TO PROMOTE THE SOCIAL, MORAL AND PHYSICAL CONDITION OF THE/ PEOPLE OF INDIA, HIS EARNEST ENDEAVOURS TO SUPPRESS IDOLATRY, AND THE RITE OF SUTTEE/ AND HIS CONSTANT ZEALOUS ADVOCACY OF WHATEVER TENDED TO ADVANCE THE GLORY OF/ GOD AND THE WELFARE OF MAN LIVE IN THE GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF HIS COUNTRYMEN./ THIS TABLET/ RECORDS THE SORROW AND PRIDE WITH WHICH HIS MEMORY IS CHERISHED BY HIS DESCENDANTS./ HE WAS BORN AT RADHANAGARE IN BENGAL IN 1774,/ AND DIED AT BRISTOL SEPTEMBER 27TH 1833 

It is worth noting that this is not the original stone (which can be seen on the back of the memorial) and it has the incorrect birth date of 1774 not 1772.

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The design of the memorial

The Rajah’s rare and beautiful tomb is now a listed monument.It is made from limestone. It has a roof which is a slender dome with carved stone leaves and pinnacle which is a stylised water lily. The roof is supported by twelve ornately carved columns which are fluted at the top and continue above the roof as pinnacles to surround the dome. Finely carved capitals top the columns with ovolo carvings across three layers. The columns each feature a square stone block at their centre, with quatrefoil carvings. Further rectangular blocks are at the bottom of the columns, each above a moulded foot. The structure is supported by a tall plinth.

A place of pilgrimage

This unique and beautiful moment has long been a place of pilgrimage for many people  including Bengalis, Indians, Unitarians and many others.  It was repaired and conserved for £50,000 in 2008, through a donation from businessman Aditya K Poddar

it is now the site of a commemorative ceremony held on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the Rajah’s death, on 27th September 1833.

The Rajah`s statue by Niranjan Pradhan stands on Bristol`s College Green, his bust sits inside Bristol`s City Hall, his portrait by H.P.Briggs hangs in the City Museum and his original grave site remains marked at Beech House.  

Memorials to the Raja

The Rajah`s statue by Niranjan Pradhan stands on Bristol`s College Green, his bust sits inside Bristol`s City Hall, his portrait by H.P.Briggs hangs in the City Museum and his original grave site remains marked at Beech House.  

 

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