Zamindar Family of Teota

Zamindar Family of Teota was one of the large landholders based in Teota of manikganj district. Founded by one Panchanan Chaudhuri, born (c. 1740) into the Dasgupta family of Shaitghar-Teota in western Manikganj, the 'Sankars'; (the family middle name) were a relatively progressive, enlightened and unostentatious zamindar family. A number of its members made notable contributions to public life at all Bengal level.

The Teota zamindari comprised a number of estates spread out in the districts of Dhaka, Faridpur and Pabna, and Dinajpur along with some small properties in Rangpur and Burdwan. In 1914, the Dinajpur properties alone were valued at over Rs 11 lakhs. The estate paid over Rs. 60,000 in annual government revenue, and was managed by educated and trained officials. It would also appear that this estate was comparatively generous towards its employees – among other things, it paid a 'dearness allowance';, and took care of the medical expenses and 'living costs'; of its staff. The head office/ manager';s office was at Teota, and the estate was broadly divided into a few circles, each having a number of kachharis under it. The Teota zamindari remained undivided for almost a hundred and fifty years. By 1920, however, it had been amicably partitioned into the eight anna Teota Joy Sankar Estate, and other smaller shares. The zamindari ended with the abolition of zamindari system, and the acquisition of the estates by the government, under the provisions of the east bengal state acquisition and tenancy act of 1950.

Panchanan Chaudhuri, the founder of the family, began his 'career'; away from home, in Dinajpur. His earliest investments, it seems, had been in the tobacco trade, in which he flourished. With the profits earned from his lucrative business, he soon started to invest in land when a land market was created under the operation of the Permanent Settlement. He acquired his earliest properties in the Dinajpur region. Some time later, he returned to his ancestral village, and established himself as the first zamindar of Teota. A devout vaisnab, it was also during his time that 'Sridhar'; came to be the 'family-god';, Panchanan being the first 'sebaiyat';. He lived till ninety-three, and saw in his own lifetime the zamindari maturing into one of the largest in Eastern Bengal.

Very little is known about Panchanan Chaudhuri';s only son, Kali Sankar, who died very young, in his early thirties, but left behind two sons – Joy Sankar and Tarini Sankar (born, 1800s-1810s). Both of them were brought up to be 'traditional'; aristocrats (of the 'Nawabi Bengal'; mould), the younger Tarini Sankar having even been sent to Murshidabad for his education. However, he did not have a long life, and died in his thirties, and was survived by Shyama Sankar (later raja shyama sankar ray bahadur of Teota) and Pran Sankar.

Joy Sankar considerably augmented the inherited properties. He undertook such welfare activities as the digging of ponds and the construction of roads, besides generously maintaining the 'atithi-sala'; (guest house) at Teota set up by his grandfather. He, however, decided to renounce his family and his worldly possessions, and left for Puri – one of the best destinations for a practising vaisnab – leaving his two minor sons (Parbati Sankar and Hara Sankar) under the care of their mother and grandmother. It was there that he died shortly afterwards (c 1860). His sons later built a 'dharamsala'; in his memory at Gaya (in Bihar), and also made the necessary initial arrangements for a 'math'; to be founded at the site of his cremation in Puri.

The next generation of the family saw a marked shift towards the metropolis. Although the (first) Calcutta residence of the family had been built at 50, Darmahutta Street (now Maharshi Debendra Road) in the Pathuriaghata area in the 1820s, it was only from the sixties that male members of the family began to live in the city for extended periods. The ladies of the family left the village much later, in the 1880s or 1890s, when a new, more sprawling residence was built at 44, European Asylum Lane. That apart, the family also had a number of residential houses elsewhere. The Teota rajbari in Benaras (there were two, in fact) have been immortalised by bibhutibhushan bandyopadhyay';s novel, and subsequently by the satyajit ray film, Apar'a'jit'a;.

The eldest among the four cousins of this generation, Shyama Sankar Roy, was a noted philanthropist, an enterprising landlord who made numerous attempts at improvements and innovations in agriculture, and a Theosophist. He was conferred the personal title of 'Raja'; in the 1877s. rai parbati sankar chaudhuri was also an 'imaginative'; zamindar. Among other things, he introduced the system of co-operative grain banks (dharmagol'a) within the zamindari, and was one of the founders of the indian industrial association. Hara Sankar Ray, who was a Presidency College graduate and had a degree in law, was an honourary magistrate (of Teota). The next generation saw yet another shift, with many of the cousins being sent to British universities for their first degrees and legal training at the Inns of Court, although only one of them, Dr Kumar Sankar Ray, turned out to be a 'professional'; in later life. KS Ray, a non-practising barrister and a philanthropist, was prominently involved in Congress electoral politics and represented Bengal (along with a few others) at the Council of States in New Delhi in the 1930s and 40s. The best-known names in the generation were however: the politician, kirOn sankar roy, and kumud sankar ray (Dr KS Ray), the medical luminary and Swarajya-Congress leader.

The family seat was at Teota – an expansive complex, close to the bank of Jamuna, comprising a maze of courtyards and buildings, the earliest ones dating from the early nineteenth century, and the most recent from the early 1900s. The remarkable Navaratna adjoining the r'a'jb'a'ti, built in honour of the family god and used during the 'Dol'; festival, is among the tallest and most elegant ones of its kind. The 'High/ Entrance School'; in the village, called Teota Academy, founded by the Teota Zamindar Family in the 1880s was – apart from the town school – for a long time the only one in Manikganj sub-division, now a district. The school also had a 'boarding'; for resident scholars, and its students used to stay at the 'Bahir-bari'; of the Calcutta residence of the Sankars when appearing for the University matriculation and other examinations. Besides this, there was a 'pathsala'; and a charitable dispensary maintained by the estate. Also, Teota was one of the very few places in the district having a sitting honorary magistrate and a 'bench';.

The big structures of the zamindar family still survive though abandoned and left uncared since 1957. These are now occupied by squatters. Structurally, the magnificent Teota buildings carry the spirit and technique of the blends of Mughal and European architecture. [R Roy] [Roy, R Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata]