Bandyopadhyay, Rakhaldas

Bandyopadhyay, Rakhaldas (1885-1930) archaeologist, historian, epigraphist and palaeographer and a litterateur, was born on 12 April 1885 in Berhampore of Murshidabad district. Son of Matilal and Kalimati, Rakhaldas graduated from presidency college with Honours in History in 1907 and passed MA in History from the Calcutta University in 1910.

Rakhaldas joined the indian museum, Calcutta, as an Assistant to the Archaeological Section in 1910 and joined the Archaeological Survey of India as Assistant Superintendent in 1911. Promoted to the rank  of Superintending Archaeologist in 1917 Rakhaldas took voluntary retirement in 1926. He then joined the Banaras Hindu University in 1928 as Manindra Chandra Nandy Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture and held the post till his death on 30 May 1930.  

Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay


During this short span of life, Rakhaldas wrote fourteen monographs and books, nine novels and more than three hundred articles in Bangla and English. Rakhaldas was a nationalist historian with a broad view of Indian civilisation. His works can be divided into several categories, such as: (1) descriptive catalogues (2) epigraphy and palaeography, (3) numismatics, (4) architecture and sculpture, (5) excavation and field archaeology, (6) text books on Indian history and regional history and (7) novels in Bangla.

Descriptive catalogues of Rakhaldas include (i) Catalogue of Antiquities in the Lucknow Museum (1908, unpublished), (ii) Catalogue of Inscriptions on Copper Plates in the Collection of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1910), (iii) Descriptive List of Sculptures and Coins in the Museum of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishat (1911) and (iv) Antiquities of the Oudh State (1929).

Contributions of Rakhaldas in the fields of paleography and epigraphy are indeed great. He dedicated his work The Origin of the Bengali Script to haraprasad shastri and Theodor Bloch and it earned for him the prestigious Jubilee Research Prize of the Calcutta University in 1913. First published in 1919 (Reprinted in 1973), it was a pioneer attempt at tracing the development of Bangla script on the basis of inscriptions and manuscripts. Rakhaldas for the first time drew attention of scholars to the proto-Bangla script, which ultimately developed into Bangla script. The Palaeography of the Hathigumpha and Nanaghat Inscriptions, published as a Memoir of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1929) is regarded as another important contribution to the study of Indian paleography. He edited and re-edited more than eighty inscriptions, published in different volumes of the Epigraphia Indica, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Indian Antiquary, Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society, etc. In most cases, readings of texts of the inscriptions given by Rakhaldas still remain unchallenged. He had a keen interest in the Kharosti script, which has been illustrated in an article, published in 1920.

The greatest achievement of Rakhaldas in the field of Indian coins is, undoubtedly, the Prachin(a) Mudra (in Bangla), part I, which gives a scientific account and critical analysis of coins of ancient and early medieval India. Published in 1914 (1321 BS) it was the first book on numismatics ever written in an Indian language. The only work, which Rakhaldas had before him was Indian Coins by Rapson (1898). Rakhaldas studied coins purely from the historical point of view bringing out their importance in reconstructing the history of ancient India. His articles on medieval and late medieval coinage of India were published in the Journal and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Numismatic Supplement of the Journal of the Asiatic Society, etc. He wrote a foreword to the catalogue of sculptures and coins preserved in the museum of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishat.

Rakhaldas made outstanding contributions to the study of art, architecture and iconography in relation to the history of ancient and medieval India. His three volumes on the Temple of Shiva at Bhumara, Bas Reliefs of Badami and The Haihayas of Tripuri and their Monuments, published in the Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1924, 1928 and 1931 (posthumously) respectively are eloquent illustrations of his profound knowledge of Indian art in its various dimensions. These works are still valued as source books by all students and historians of Indian art. For a better understanding of Rakhaldas' exposition of Indian art in a greater perspective one has to go through the chapters on sculpture and architecture incorporated in The Age of the Imperial Guptas (1933) and History of Orissa from the Earliest Times to the British Period (2 volumes published in 1930 and 1931). In the chapter on architecture of the Gupta period Rakhaldas presented a comprehensive account of the remains known to and discovered by him which could geographically be located within the realms of the Imperial Guptas. In the chapter on architecture of Orissa, he distinguished the Orissan temple style from the Nagara style of northern India and characterised the Orissan temples as specimens of Kalinga style on the basis of a reference found in the Amrteshvara temple inscription from the Bellary district of Karnataka.

In the chapter on Plastic Art in the Age of the Imperial Guptas, Rakhaldas carefully distinguished the stylistic features of Gupta art manifested in different regions and referred to Mathura, Varanasi (Saranath) and Pataliputra as the three principal schools of Gupta sculpture, and to Mandasor (ancient Dasapura) and Eran (Airakina), etc as the centres of the growth of sub-schools.

The most remarkable contribution of Rakhaldas to the study of Indian art was Eastern Indian Medieval School of Sculpture, published posthumously in 1933. Filled with nearly four hundred illustrations, the book deals with methodology, origin and evolution of Eastern Indian art, iconography of Buddhist and Brahmanical gods and goddesses, technique of metal sculpture, Jaina images, medieval architecture of eastern India. Rakhaldas arranged the Pala-Sena sculptures chronologically on the basis of inscribed images bearing dates and palaeographical peculiarities of the undated image inscriptions. He also contributed six valuable articles in Bangla on East Indian art to which he gave the nomenclature Gaudiya Shilpa. Published in the prabasi between 1927 and 1930 these articles depict the development of Gaudiya style.

Rakhaldas had a keen interest in iconography, which has been depicted in his paper, 'Three Sculptures in the Lucknow Museum' published in the Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, 1909-10. He justifiably identified one of them as that of Panchamukha Shivalinga. In his Eastern Indian Medieval School of Sculpture he identified a number of enigmatic images and explained the myths and dhyanas of Pala-Sena images with apt illustrations.

Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay is now a household name as one of the discoverers of Mahenjodaro civilisation. As Superintending Archaeologist of the Western Circle he had gone to the Sind region in search of Greek pillars of victory and while unearthing the Buddist Vihara surmounting the mound he came upon certain objects which reminded him of similar specimens found by Sahani from Harappa. He started digging in 1922 when the prehistoric remains were revealed. His interpretations and analysis about this civilisation were published in a number of articles and books: An Indian City Five Thousand Years Ago (Calcutta Municipal Gazette, November, 1928); Muhen-jodaro (in Bangla, Basumati, 1331 BS); Prehistoric, Ancient and Hindu India (posthumously published, 1934) and Mahenjodaro - A Forgotten Report (1984).

Rakhaldas, transferred to the Eastern Circle of the Survey in 1924-25, carried on excavations at paharpur and the report was published under the title 'Temple of Paharpur' in the Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, 1925-26. During the last two years of his service in the Archaeological Survey Rakhaldas conducted extensive tours in Bengal and Assam and explored the sites of mahasthangarh and Ghoraghat, and surveyed the monuments of Murshidabad and Dhaka. He for the first time brought to the attention of scholars the ancient and early medieval sculptures and structural remains of Assam, and discovered carvings of door-jambs of a ruined temple at Dah Parvatia near Tejpur.

Rakhaldas wrote two textbooks according to the Matriculation syllabus of the Calcutta University, viz., History of India (1924) and A Junior History of India (1928). His Age of the Imperial Guptas (1933) is a collection of lectures delivered by him in 1924. Rakhaldas treated the history of Bengal in an Indian perspective beginning with the dawn of civilisation in the Middle East and racial movements into India in early days. Of outstanding importance are the two volumes on the history of Bengal in Bangla, entitled Bangalar Itihasa (Vol I published in 1914 and Vol II in 1917) and the two volumes on the History of Orissa. Bangalar Itihasa, can rightly be regarded as the first attempt at writing a scientific history of Bengal along with ramaprasad chanda's Gaudarajamala. While the Bangalar Itihasa covers the history of eastern India for the ancient and medieval periods, the two volumes of the history of Orissa cover all the periods - ancient, medieval and modern.

His Bangla novels like Shashanka, Dharmapala, Karuna, Mayukh, Asim, Lutf-Ulla, Dhruba, Pasaner Katha, Anukrama, Hemakana depict Rakhaldas as an insightful litterateur. [Amitabha Bhattacharyya]