The Autobiography of an Indian Princess
Transcriber’s Note: Names in this text are sometimes spelt inconsistentlye.g. Profullo/Profulla (presumably due to different transliterations).
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ANINDIAN PRINCESS
By SUNITY DEVEE, MAHARANI OF
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
All rights reserved
|III.||Festivals and Festival Days||33|
|VI.||Early Married Days||68|
|VII.||Life at Cooch Behar||89|
|VIII.||My First Visit to England||103|
|X.||Happy Days in India||141|
|XI.||Education of the Boys||158|
|XIV.||Viceroys I have Known||215|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
|Sunity Devee, Maharani of Cooch Behar||Frontispiece|
|My Husband||Facing page 54|
|Maharani Sunity Devee, 1887||110|
|Family Group at Woodlands||140|
|My Three Younger Sons||156|
|“Rajey” as Maharajah||198|
|Maharani Sunity Devee||214|
|The Maharani and her Granddaughter||239|
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN INDIAN PRINCESS
I was born in 1864 at the old house known as“Sen’s House” which my great-grandfather builtat Coolootola, a part of Calcutta where many of ourfamily lived. My birth was always rememberedin connection with a storm which occurred whenI was six days old, a most important time to a Hindubaby, for then the Creator is supposed to visit thehome, and write upon its forehead the little one’sfate. Perhaps people will think the stormy weatherin the beginning signified a stormy future for me.
No girl could have been more fortunate in herparents than I. My father, the great KeshubChunder Sen, is considered one of the most remarkablemen India has ever produced, and my dear motherbelonged to the best type of Hindu woman. Gentle,loving, and self-denying, her whole life was beautifulin its goodness and its simplicity.
The story of a great religious movement is notone which can be told at length in a book of memories.The religion for which my father suffered and whichwill be for ever connected with his name is the Brahmoor Religion of the New Dispensation, a religion oftolerance and charity. To quote my father’s words,“The New Dispensation in India neither shutsout God’s light from the rest of the world, nor doesit run counter to any of those marvellous dispensationsof His mercy which were made manifest in ancienttimes. It simply shows a new interpretation ofHis eternal goodness, an Indian version and applicationof His universal love.”
My readers do not perhaps quite know the meaningof Brahmo. A Brahmo is a person who believes inBrahmoe (One God). There is a Hindu god calledBrahmuna, with four heads—Brahmoe is not thatgod. Some Western people may think Brahminsare the same as Brahmos. Once I remember anEnglish lady saying to me: “I met some Brahmoladies.…” I asked, “How did you know they wereBrahmos?” “Because they wore lace on theirheads.” Others have an idea that all advancedIndian ladies must be Brahmos.
If my readers by some good fortune have readancient Indian history they will know what thereal Indian religion was. There was one God and nobelief in caste, in fact there was no such thing ascaste. Caste meant a different thing in those days.It referred to character and life. A Brahmin liveda pure and holy life, and preached religion. Nextto the Brahmins were the Katnyas; they were rulers,fighting people; they guarded their families, states,and countries. Then came the Sudhras, who servedthe others. But now there are hundreds of differentcastes, which makes people rather narrow-minded,for if one believes in caste one can never believe inuniversal brotherhood.
From the days of his youth my father was earnestand devout. He must have gone through muchtrouble of mind before he decided to fly in the faceof family tradition and take a step which meantpartial separation from his nearest and dearest.My mother was a member of a strict Hindu family,and their marriage had been solemnised with Hindurites; but she did not fail him in the hour of trial.I have often heard my mother talk of the difficultiesof those days, before she left Coolootola with myfather. When he announced his approaching conversion,the “Sen House” was plunged into a stateof agitation, and my mother was by turns entreatedand threatened by angry and dismayed relatives.“Do not go against our customs,” urged the purdahladies. “You are one of us. Your place is here.You must not renounce your caste. Imagine theresults of such a dreadful sin.” When thus reproached,the young girl dreaded the horrors of theunknown. It may be that she wavered; but ifso, it was not for long; and it was arranged thatshe should go with my father to be converted by theMaharshi D. Tagore. On the day fixed for theirdeparture a note came. My father had writtensimply, “I am waiting.” Then my mother knew shemust decide her future for good and all. All therelations were screaming, crying, and threatening mymother, saying that she would bring disgrace on thefamily by leaving the house, and thus losing hercaste. But it did not hinder her, because of thosethree simple words—“I am waiting”—the call ofLove. When she realised their meaning, she threwoff the fetters of the past and went forth to meet herdestiny. There was a round staircase used by thepurdah ladies where she knew my father awaitedher. The trembling girl hurriedly traversed corridorsand verandahs until she reached it. Fearfully shedescended the dark steps, her heart beating withfright, until at last she saw my father. He saidquietly: “I want you to realise your position fully.If you come with me, you give up caste, rank, money,and jewels. The relations who love you will becomeestranged from you. The bread of bitterness willbe your portion. You will lose all except me. Am Iworth the sacrifice?”
My mother had had a most beautiful and wonderfulvision, which is too sacred for me to relate. Thisgave her strength and courage, she did not hesitatebut descended the steps and joined my father. Itwas a moment too wonderful for words. Theylooked into each other’s eyes. He read perfectfaith and courage in hers. She saw in his a lovewhich gave her confidence to face the future. Theypassed down the corridor and found themselves inthe first courtyard opposite the great entrance, wherethe durwans (gatekeepers) were standing on guard.
Twice my father ordered the durwans to open thedoor, but they did not move. It was very still inthe courtyard. My mother was frightened. Thiswas a strange adventure, and hitherto she had hardlyseen a man except her husband. A trembling, slimgirl, she stood near my father with her head-dresspulled quite low. Across the door there was a hugeiron bar, which was too heavy for one man to lift.My father, seeing that the durwans would not openthe door, went to lift the bar and did so quite easily.Then a voice was heard speaking from the upperfloor. It was my father’s eldest brother. He hadwatched all that had happened, and, seeing that myparents were determined, he decided to let them go.“Let them pass, and open the gate,” he called outto the durwans. The wondering durwans threwopen the door, and my parents passed from theshadows into the sunlight.
My father took my mother to the beautiful houseof Maharshi Debendra Nath Tagore. The householdwere all waiting to welcome them, though theyhad great doubts whether my father would be ableto bring my mother away from such a strict Hindufamily. The Maharshi introduced my mother tohis daughters as if she had been his own child.Although a rich man’s daughter-in-law and a richyouth’s wife, my mother was wearing a simple sariwith hardly any jewels. She always spoke of thegreat kindness and affection she received from thisfamily, and she deeply revered the old Maharshi.We have always felt that there is a great bond betweenour two families.
My parents remained away for some time duringwhich my father’s formal conversion took place.After some months my grandmother and unclebegged him to return, and gave him a small housenear the big house. There my parents lived untilmy father fell seriously ill, and his eldest brotherdeclared that, in spite of all difficulties, he must comeback to the old home. He came back, and after longsuffering and much careful nursing grew well again.My dear old grandmother and all my aunts anduncles were very glad to have my father and motherback among them. A few months later my eldestbrother was born, and the Maharshi Debendra NathTagore gave him the name Karuna.
The new arrangement was not without its trials.Our branch of the family had lost caste, and weunderwent all kinds of vexations in consequence.One great trouble was with the servants. No Hinduwould wait upon us, and a procession of cooks whoobjected to “Christians” (any one who was not aHindu in those days was called a Christian) cameand went. My father’s happy nature enabled him,however, to rise above such discomforts, and, as hewas cheerfully seconded by my mother, caste soonhad no terrors for us.
Our days were full of interest, and some of myearliest recollections are connected with the femaleeducation movement which my father started. Therewas an establishment called the Asram where hisfollowers from all different classes lived in happydisregard of caste and class. This house was quiteclose to Coolootola,