Durga Mohan Das

Durga Mohan Das

Durgamohan Das (দূর্গামোহন দাস Durgamohon Dash) (1841-1897) was a Brahmo Samaj leader and a social reformer with notable contribution in the field of widow remarriage and women’s emancipation.

Early life

Son of Kashiswar Das, he was born at Telirbagh, Bikrampur, Dhaka in Bengal, now part of Munshiganj District of Bangladesh. He lost his mother early in life. After studying for sometime in the village pathsala, he joined an English school at Barisal, where his father used to practice law. Subsequently, he won a junior scholarship and joined Hindu College in Kolkata. He used to stay in the house of his uncle Bireswar Das at Kalighat. After studying for a year at Kolkata, he went to Dhaka and returned to Presidency College with a senior scholarship.

As a student of Presidency College he was greatly influenced by Edward Cowley, professor of history and an erudite Sanskrit scholar. Many of the students used to go to the residence of Cowley, who was deeply attached to Christianity. They used to discuss about religious matters. Some of students were influenced by Cowley’s deep faith. One of Durga Mohan Das’s friends, Bhagaban Chandra Chatterjee became a Christian. Durga Mohan Das was also swayed for a period. He brought his child-wife, Brahmamoyee to the house of a Christian priest, in order that she could also understand the Christian faith before he finally decided to convert. That led to his being turned out from the house of Bireswar Das.

At that time he had passed the licentiate examination in law and had started practising at Kolkata but that was not enough to keep him going in the city and so he shifted to Barisal.

Barisal Brahmo Samaj

His elder brother Kali Mohan Das, who later became a famous lawyer of Kolkata High Court, then used to practice in Barisal. He provided him shelter and gave him some books of Theodore Parker. His elder brother asked him to read the books before deciding about his religion. On reading the books he changed his opinion and instead of converting to Christianity, joined the Brahmo Samaj.

He got together his friends and established a Brahmo Samaj at Barisal. In order to enlighten devotees, he invited Brahmo preachers from Kolkata to visit Barisal and deliver lectures. Education of women was top priority. He organised many functions and festivals. Soon, Barisal became a great centre of Brahmo activity.

In the course of time, the great controversy about remarriage of widows engulfed entire society and Durga Mohan Das plunged forward into that movement. He and his friends publicly promised to organise remarriage of widows. He offered financial support to such couples because they had to undergo severe social boycott. He even went to the extent of getting his young widowed step mother married to a friend of his. That brought in opposition from entire society. His earnings dwindled because people boycotted him but he remained steadfast in his mission. There were few people, other than Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar who have contributed so much to the cause of remarriage of widows. Mention may be made of another person in East Bengal who had also contributed substantially to this cause - Braja Sundar Mitra.

It was during this period that the sons of Raj Chandra Roy, zemindar of nearby Lakhutia, joined the Brahmo Samaj and strengthened the movement. One day they took their wives with them to the residence of the English commissioner. That created such a sensation that it reverberated beyond Barisal, across Bengal and became a talking point in Kolkata society, because that was an age when women of respectable families never came out in public from the inner precincts of their houses. Later, the noted Brahmo reformer Nibaran Chandra Mukherjee married into this family. That happened to be a great social event in those days.

The reformist at Kolkata

Around 1870, Durga Mohan Das shifted to Kolkata High Court. Dwarakanath Ganguly, the great champion of women’s emancipation, had already shifted from Dhaka to Kolkata with his newspaper Abalabandhab. There were other young men such as Rajaninath Roy, who were clamouring for reforms within the Brahmo Samaj. Till then women used to sit in the Brahmo Samaj behind a screen. The reformists started bringing their wives into the open. That immediately caused some confusion but ultimately they won the day. Brahmo Samaj allowed women to sit in the open.

When Miss Annette Akroyd opened a boarding school for girls in Kolkata, Durga Mohan Das assisted her financially and admitted his daughters in the school. The school was later merged with Bethune’s school and his daughters were amongst the earlier batches to pass out of that school.

It was during that period that his wife died.

Being an outright reformist he sided with such people as Sivanath Sastri, Ananda Mohan Bose, Sib Chandra Deb, and Umesh Chandra Dutta for the establishment of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj in 1878. He extended substantial financial support for the new organisation and served as its president.

He went to England in 1888 and returned back with illness. All his three sons had qualified as barristers and his daughters were married. He led a rather lonely life. He married a widowed daughter of Kali Narayan Gupta of Dhaka. However, old age had caught on and he died on 19th December 1897.

Chittaranjan Das was son of his brother Bhuban Mohan Das. Amongst his children the more renowned were Satish Ranjan Das, Sarala Roy and Abala Bose. Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee was his great gandson on his daughter's side.

References

  • Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Banga Samaj in Bengali by Sivanath Sastri.
  • Sansad Bangali Charitabhidhan (Biographical dictionary) in Bengali edited by Subodh Chandra Sengupta and Anjali Bose

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