Memoir / Essays: Finding Bibhabati Devi: Queen of Bhawals

Gopa Bhattacharjee
Gopa Bhattacharjee

"Are you sure my friend belongs to our anti - family? The Bibhabati Devi family?"

When my uncle confirmed, I had goosebumps. He is my friend, and been beside me during the most difficult phase of my life. How can history repeat itself?

In the present Gazipur district in Bangladesh, the Bhawal Rajbari stands as a testimony of time and history. This Rajbari (palace) has been a silent storyteller of several incidents. The Rajbari is built over acres of land surrounded by huge walls even today. The Rajbari belonged to my ancestors the Bhawals of East Bengal.

While in Uttarpara, Hooghly, a part of West Bengal currently, the huge zamindar pattern house that I often passed in my dad's car during my childhood days to go to my mama bari (mother’s maternal house) in Seerampore is the house with whom our ancestors fought a case for 14 years. It seemed unbelievable, it still does. My friend, a relative belonging to the clan of Bibhabati Devi, lives here.

Well, we belong to families that fought a famous case for 14 long years against Bibhabati Devi. The famous Bhawal Case which is still referred to in the context of modern day court cases. We were on the side of Raja Ramendra Narayan Roy who was allegedly killed by the conspiracy of his wife Bibhabati Devi and a doctor named Asutosh Dasgupta. Later, a stark, bitter truth was revealed. That night the dead body bearers couldn't burn the Raja’s body due to heavy rains. The Raja was alive. He lost his memory and roamed as a Naga Sanyasi for almost 9 years. Later when his memory relapsed, he came back to the Bhawal estate for justice. He fought the case for 14 long years and ultimately won. Later, after six months before partition, he died and his descendants had to leave Bangladesh due to the partition. We belonged to his sister's side who supported the brother, the Raja of Bhawals.

I kept repeating one question after every story telling session I heard from my elders about our ancestors. What happened to Bibhabati Devi? Where is she? It was unknown to me for years. Whenever I asked my elders, they would shrug their shoulders and I would often find resentment in them. I grew up with a strange, unexplained hatred towards that family as stories were unfolding to us.

History remains under the soil; it's true and is excavated at the right time, when it wants. I met my friend through a common friend of mine and we never discussed about our past history of families. Suddenly, in a casual discussion with my uncle, I came to know that the zamindar house which belonged to my friend's ancestors is where the relatives of Bibhabati Devi live till now. I was absolutely awestruck. When we both came to know our family history and the legacy of our forefathers, we couldn't believe the intricacies, the enmity between two families that was brewing for generations. Here we both were facing the history of our ancestors, but after so many years as friends and not as enemies. We weren’t during that era and naturally, we both didn't know what would have happened. Would we still remain friends or enemies? It would have been like a script written like the famous Aamir Khan, Juhi Chawla starrer movie ' 'Qayamat se Qayamat taak.'

I was always curious about the lady whom history couldn't forget. She betrayed her own husband. But here I was in front of my friend who is still one person I would call in times of distress, in my desperate need for advice. One good friend, rare nowadays. He belonged to this Bibhabati Devi's family and they have their own history to reveal. She spent many years in this house near the Ganges in Uttarpara. I think it has changed my whole perspective towards seeing reality. But there were still questions that kept haunting me.

Should I probe further? Or keep history as it is? It still lingers my mind. Keeping in mind all that history has endured. I dedicate the following poem to my readers and ancestors.

Bhawals of Bengal

The old Banyan tree whispers to me,
"Come near,
A story is there for you to hear.
See this spot a hundred year,
An enlightened sanyasi with long hair
Came and sat your progenitor.
Villagers thronged with wonder in mix
Names from yesteryears surfaced his lips.
Followed his inquisitive relatives,
His sister recognized his eyes clearly
Despite the Naga adornments and ash's smear."
In Jaidebpur Palace was long-suffering
The Bhawal king amidst betrayal and poisoning.
His own Queen outlined the deal
Knelled news of death in Darjeeling.
"Time and fate bestowed on him a new incarnation,
The King was back for retribution.
He sought justice under the British Crown.
Twelve years of strong fight,
And verdict emerged on his side."
But now lovelorn, this magnanimous half-broken palace ,
Lay in ruins with sand from pebbles.
The banyan tree standing in his might
Questions my thoughts—
What is left of the Bhawals in Bengal?
What did they gain?
Acres of estate wasted, left unclaimed.
A storm arose, my eyes misted.
I saw my ancestors standing scattered.
“Its history that you hold as sand,”
they said,
“But our honour lives in you to abet
You are the progeny of a fearless creed.
Remember deceit falls quick as dominoes, even in dark.
Only truth withstands like a Bhawal Monarch.” 


Bio: Gopa Bhattacharjee, born and brought up in Kolkata is an entrepreneur by profession and poet by passion. She completed her Masters in English and has been a part time teacher trainer in CMTC for many years and also a lecturer in IGNOU. She has been the guest poet in many poetry meets in and around Kolkata. She is one of the leading actors and co-producer of ‘Kolkata Cocktail’, the short poetry film presented by ICCR. Her poetry has been published in various national and international magazines and journals and also in an anthology named ‘Muffled Moans Unleashed’. She has been the featured poet at the American Consulate, Kolkata Lit Meet 2020, Nagar Kirrtibas and many other cultural meets in and out of Kolkata. Her poetry book UNTURNED VERSES was published in Kolkata International Book Fair 2020 


We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।