Varendra Research Society

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Varendra Research Society (1910-1963) established in Rajshahi in 1910 for the promotion of studies and research into the history of Bengal in general, and of the Barind area in particular, by saratkumar ray, a scion of the Dighapatia Raj family, akshay kumar maitreya, a leading lawyer and historian of Rajshahi, and ramaprasad chanda, a scholar of history, art and archaeology. They had a common interest in studies and research into the art and archaeology of Bengal. Hence their lifelong effort was to reveal the glories of the past by laying bare the monuments that have survived the ravages of man and nature.

With this end in view, an exploratory tour was undertaken in Deopara, Palpara, Malancha, Jugpur, Itahar, Chabbishnagar, Mandoil, Kumarpur, Khetur, Vijaynagar and adjacent areas of Rajshahi by Kumar Sarat Kumar Ray, accompanied by AK Maitreya, rakhaldas bandyopadhyay and few others in early April 1910. The party was able to collect 32 pieces of sculptures including the life-size image of Chandi from Mandoil. On their return to Rajshahi, Kumar and his colleagues were given a public reception by the leading residents of the town in recognition of their great success. It was at this reception that Mr Bhuban Mohan Maitra and Shashadhar Ray, Honorary Secretary of the local branch of the vangiya sahitya prishad requested Sarat Kumar to preserve the collection in Rajshahi. Responding to the request, Sarat Kumar resolved to establish a centre of archaeological research in Rajshahi. This resulted in the establishment of the varendra research museum. Afterwards, they decided to form the Varendra Research Society which was formally inaugurated on 27 September, 1910. Sarat Kumar undertook to contribute Rs 200/- per month to meet expenses incurred by the collection.

The existence of the museum was seriously threatened in the year 1910 when the Indian Museum at Calcutta demanded that all rare and unique specimens collected by the Varendra Research Museum be handed over to them. The catastrophe was, however, averted because of the sympathetic attitude of FJ Monahan, Commissioner of Rajshahi Division. lord carmichael, the Governor of Bengal who had visited Rajshahi in 1912 was highly impressed by the Society';s collection of relics. Soon afterwards, the Government of Bengal through its circular No 11, dated 14 February 1913, granted freedom to the promoters of local museums in matters of collection, preservation, and display of ancient sculptures and other antiquities. Sarat Kumar continued, as before, to bear the cost of exploratory tours which were undertaken in December 1910, April 1911, October 1912 and from time to time in subsequent years.

Registered as an Association in 1914, the Society undertook exploration of ancient sites, research into the cultural and political history of Bengal, the collection and preservation of antiquities and old manuscripts, and publication of research works of archaeological or historical interest as well as rare manuscripts. Kumar built and furnished a building at his own cost for the society to house its museum and library on a piece of land generously gifted by his elder brother Raja Pramada Nath Ray of Dighapatia. The foundation stone of the building was laid by Lord Carmichael on 13 November 1916. A deed of Trust was executed on 27 November 1919. On the same day, the museum was opened to the public by Lord Ronaldshay, the then governor of Bengal.

In order to collect sculptures, epigraphs, manuscripts, coins and other objects of antiquarian value, Kumar and his associates organised a number of exploratory tours to numerous sites in the districts of Rajshahi, Bogra, Rangpur, Dhaka, Maldah, 24 Parganas etc. These tours proved extremely rewarding and a substantial number of relics were discovered, identified and collected.

Encouraged by the success of their explorations, the Society decided to undertake further excavations of historical sites. Accordingly, they excavated the Pradyumneshvar Tank at Deopara in Rajshahi district and recovered from its bed as many as 64 pieces of sculpture and three terracotta Manasa-ghatas. In 1911 a few members of the Society excavated a high mound at Cossipur, 5 miles from Balurghat in West Dinajpur. In the process, they uncovered brick built walls, a brick built road approaching the mound and a number of sculptures. Subsequently, some associate members of the Society excavated the sites at Mahisantosh in November, 1916 and Kumarpur in Rajshahi district and collected a number of antiquities. Excavations at paharpur were undertaken by the Society in 1923 in collaboration with the university of calcutta under the direction of Prof DR Bhandarkar.

Sarat Kumar promised to the university authorities an annual contribution of Rs 2000/- for five years to carry on excavations in Paharpur but the university abandoned the project at the close of the first season. The work was conducted thereafter by the Department of Archaeology and Curator of the Varendra Research Museum was actively associated with it. Kumar contributed Rs 2000/- to the Department of Archaeology every year for the three successive seasons of 1925-26, 1930-31 and 1934-35. The museum received as its share from the Archaeological Survey of India 265 items unearthed at Paharpur.

After the museum became a Charitable Endowment by a Government Notification dated 6 November 1937 the Varendra Research Society surrendered to the committee of management set up in terms of the Government order not only their rights over the present building but also their entire collection of antiquities, manuscripts, printed books and the furniture it had acquired since its inception.

Under the able and inspiring guidance of AK Maitreya, the Director of the Society, its research findings were published in learned journals of Calcutta and other places. The society published twelve Annual Reports and 9 Monographs containing 31 articles, two works on inscriptions, one on ethnology, one on dynastic history, a catalogue of the archaeological relics in the museum, a list of inscriptions, and several carefully edited Sanskrit texts.

Though the society was exempted from the responsibility of the museum, it failed to survive as a research institution. With the death of AK Maitreya and SC Chakravarti in 1930, and of Kumar in 1945, and with the migration of RG Basak, UN Ghosal, RP Chanda and NG Majumdar, the society lost its chief patrons and workers. The first 18 years since the partition in August 1947 was indeed a lean period for the society. Ultimately it became defunct in 1963. [Saifuddin Chowdhury]