The Princely Pretender of Bhawal : Stories behind India’s longest running trial .

The Reality :

The Bhawal Case is still regarded as one of India’s weirdest identity cases. It mainly revolved around a possible impostor who claimed to be the prince of the Bhawal Estate, one which comprised over 2000 villages and was one of undivided Bengal’s largest zamindari estates.

In 1909, Ramendra Narayan, the second Kumar of Bhawal, a famous principality near Dhaka (presently Gazipur in Bangladesh), was thought to have died suddenly while recuperating from syphilis in Darjeeling. His family were all at home in Joydebpur, and none of them was present at his death. A cremation also took place before they could reach Darjeeling. There were several eyewitnesses, including both Indian and English doctors, who signed off on the death certificate. The death of the Kumar was particularly hard on the Bhawal zamindar (estate), because it left the estate without male heirs, and in danger of being given over to British control.

Doubts about his death circulated for years, but they reached a breaking point in 1920 when a dreadlocked, Hindi-speaking Sanyasi(ascetic) showed up in Dhaka who bore a striking resemblance to the supposedly deceased Kumar. Members of the Narayan family went to see the Sanyasi, and eventually, they invited him to their house. He broke into tears upon seeing a photo of the deceased prince, and after two weeks suddenly made the announcement that he was himself Ramendra Narayan, Kumar of Bhawal. He claimed he had fallen unconscious after receiving a dose of medication, and woken up sometime later in the jungle, in the company of a Sadhu (monks) who then took care of him. He had spent the next 12 years wandering northern India. The British were extremely sceptical, and some members of the family (including the Kumar‘s wife, Bibabhati) flatly denied this to be the case after meeting him. But most of the family, including his sisters and mother, enthusiastically supported his claim.

There was a long legal process involving two trials where both sides attempted to prove their claims. In the meantime, the new Ramendra also moved to Calcutta and where he was welcomed in the elite circles. He used to regularly collect 1/3rd of the estate revenue, which was his share. He used that money to support his lifestyle while also paying the legal fees of the case. In the end, in 1946, the court finally ruled in his favour, but soon after that he passed away due to a stroke he had suffered a couple of days earlier.

Kumar Ramendra was known for his inclination towards hunting
Kumar Ramendra was known for his inclination towards hunting

The Myth :

Ramendranarayan as a king was quite a fad but had a strong addiction towards hunting and alcohol. He said to have maintained a “harem” which consists of top “notch girls” of  Bengal. MejoKumar( the Second Prince) as he was known popularly, reportedly  to have killed a huge  Royal Bengal Tiger with just a single bullet. However, due to extreme alcoholism and unprotected coitus, the king was affected by syphilis. His wife Rani Bibhabati , quite obviously kept a frosty distance from her husband and eventually developed an illicit relation with the Family Doctor, Asutosh Dasgupta.

On 18 April 1909, Kumar was sent to an infirmary in Darjeeling as per the advice of Dr.Dasgupta accompanied by his brother-in-law Satyendranath Banerjee and a large retinue.

The Zamindari of Bhawal
The spread of Bhawal Dynasty

It was Banerjee (Bibhabati Devi’s Brother) who masterminded the assassination of Kumar with a meticulous dosage of oral toxin procured from the doctor.  On May 8 Kumar died at Darjeeling, probably due to excessive poisoning, however, the reported cause of death was biliary colic (gallstones). Kumar’s funeral was arranged with utmost alacrity and was asked to implement immediately. On that fateful night, while the preparation was going on, a sudden hailstorm had interrupted the cremation just before the pyre was lighted up properly, and the body was bafflingly disappeared when the mourners had sought shelter. There was a second opinion about a possible miraculous recovery of Kumar , where the rainwater had helped him wash away the lethal juice he was administered orally.

Meanwhile, a group of Naga Sadhus (Monks) happened to visit that place where they saw Kumar lying on the ground and panting.The Saints took the man along with them in their dorm. The king gradually regained his health but completely lost memories of his past life.

Back in Bhawal, Bibhabati Devi moved to Dhaka, clandestinely married Dr.Dasgupta and had assumed charges of her estate.

Rani Bibhabati Devi
Rani Bibhabati Devi

In 1920, a monk appeared in Buckland Bund near Dhaka covered in ashes. He sat on the street for four months and attracted attention because of his unusually good physical build. There were rumours that the MejoKumar had returned, even when the man said that he had renounced his family. He was reportedly interrogated by his sister ,Jyotirmoyi Devi, and was convinced subsequently, as the man knew some of the discreet records of her past which nobody else could possibly know.  Some of the locals arranged for the man’s visit to Joydebpur (his native place) where he arrived on 12 April 1921 on an elephant. Under public pressure, the monk finally disclosed that he was Ramendranarayan Roy, the King of Bhawal.

The Aftermath:

There was a considerable rural acceptance that the man was the Second Kumar of Bhawal. Many of his former tenants and relatives began to support him. On 15 May a large crowd gathered before the Joydebpur Palace in Dhaka and announced in public that they believed that he was the returned Kumar. But the Kumar‘s wife Bibhabati refused to meet the claimant and regarded him as a fraud.

Both opponents and supporters of the claimant published their own articles and pamphlets propagating their cause. Some of them included alleged eyewitness reports of how a group of Sadhus had rescued the still-alive Kumar from the funeral pyre, taken him away and healed him. Others compared the case with that of a historical charlatan Pratapchand and even the Tichborne case.

Bhwal Raja
On left Raja Ramendra Roy and on his right the infamous Claimant of Bhawal

The claimant moved to take up residence at the estate but the Board of Revenue did not release any funds to him. On 5 October 1936, the government filed an appeal against the judgement in the Calcutta High Court. Three judges, Sir Leonard Costello, Charu Chandra Biswas and Ronald Francis Lodge, formed a special bench for the case. Both sides retained their former lawyers. The hearing began on 14 November 1938. Appellants’ side concentrated on what had really happened in Darjeeling, arguing that there should be proof that Kumar was not dead and proof of who, if anybody, had been cremated. Respondents’ side defended the judgment, stating the Kumar‘s identity had been proved. Hearings concluded on 14 August 1939 and the plausible Second Kumar was acquitted of all possible charges.

The same evening, when the claimant went to offer prayers, suffered a stroke and died two days later. Funeral rites were performed on 13 August 1946. Bibhabati Debi later regarded this as a divinely ordained punishment for an impostor. She later refused the inheritance (Rs. 800000) coming from the estate.

Forensic Report
The points on the Forensic Report made after the death of the claimant proved he was the Mejokumar indeed.

 

Acknowledgements :

  • A Princely Impostor? The Kumar of Bhawal and the Secret History of Indian Nationalism, Partha Chatterjee, Permanent Black, 2002,
  • Bibhabati Devi W/O Kumar … vs Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy And … on 30 June, 1942 ,Equivalent citations: AIR 1942 Cal 498.Indiankanoon.org.
  • wikipedia.org
  • Image Source –Google.com

 

 

 

Kolkata, the City of Joy has been enchanting me, since childhood, of her glorified past and also the time at present.This blog is made with the intention to give you a brief and photographic detail of the famous spots of Kolkata with a pinch of little-known history behind it.