Monday, 29 January 2018

The Search [The Gautama Baidik Research Series Part 1]

It was a few years ago that we stumbled upon the document. An almost brittle, yellowish paper with the main text typed in using a typewriter and finally signed off at the end in style by the creator of the document. It emerged from a case full of papers, which had not been looked at for a few decades to say the least. However, the document was a startling revelation for it opened the doors to our past and aimed at connecting our family lineage to history and to times which we could only imagine of.

This case, belonged to my grandfather Satyen and he was the creator of the document. The yellow brittle pages held the trajectory of our lineage and the details of generations that had passed before us. We were surprised to see the amount of detail mentioned in the document titled ‘The Gautama Baidik clan’. Not only two or three generations before us, the document listed seventeen generations with the names of our forefathers! If that was not enough, there was even paragraphs with notes citing where the lineage came from in the years of old and how the same progressed over centuries to reach its present day form: both geographically and socially.

The document was signed by grandfather Satyen personally and dated in early 1975, within a few months of his return to England from his last trip to India. It was clear that during that trip, he must have spent good time in searching for these details and had the passion and wish to record the same in a single document pattern for the ease of knowledge and reference for the future generations of the family to come.

Once this document was discovered from his case in England, Atul Uncle (grandfather Satyen’s son and my uncle) and I started making enquiries and investigations into how grandfather had compiled such a precious data and how could the source be validated. While Atul Uncle investigated the enormous amount of information left behind by his father in his diaries, notes, letters and memos, in an attempt to gather more information towards this specific search, I commenced some enquiries locally in the family circles in Kolkata in the hope of gaining some clues into my grandfather’s research on the family lineage. We soon were able to deduce that during his last visit to the family home in Kolkata towards the end of 1974, he had collated all the information and had completed the missing links from his earlier bookish research.

My father provided the most important clue, in saying that on one occasion he had accompanied grandfather Satyen to a place called Harinavi, about 60 km south of Kolkata, and wherefrom the family hailed originally. (Well, so we had thought until we read grandfather Satyen’s research and learnt that Harinavi was not the original home of the family and that the lineage could be traced well beyond that, both in terms of time and location).

What we learnt was that grandfather had made enquiries and visited some people in Harinavi and taken lot of notes from books and records held with a family there. Apparently, there still exists a family-group amongst the Gautama Baidik clan in Harinavi, who maintain the records of the Gautama Baidik family tree and its branches. It however is the responsibility of each Gautama Baidik family to come back and update the main records with the details of the current generations in the family tree. This way, the entire book of records can be maintained and updated.

It was this family-group that grandfather Satyen met in Harinavi in 1974, and upon inspecting the book of the Gautama Baidik clan, was able to note and validate the details of our forefathers till seventeen generations before. Surprising as it was for us to imagine, someone like grandfather Satyen who had spent the major part of his life in faraway England, to have undertaken this research and assimilated the past threads and connections in one place for the entire family and to have recorded the lineage.

Alongside the names of our forefathers, the notes mentioned that the family had its original roots in the historic city of Kanyakubja in the region what was then called Aryavarta. The earliest available date mentioned was 753 AD, where the family lineage could be traced back to a Brahmin scholar named ‘Jahnukar’ who lived in Kanyakubja.

The other side notes state that in 1019 AD, around the time of Mahmud of Ghazni’s second attack on Kanyakubja, ransacking of the city along with destruction of the Hindu temples and institutions of learning, many Brahmin scholars fled the city carrying their books and scriptures, in an attempt to save them. Though grandfather’s research does not mention how many generations of the family lived in Kanyakubja before they fled from there along with the other Brahmin scholars of the time, we could make an assessment of that as the indicative time periods have been mentioned in the notes.
The family then escaped to the jungles of Orissa (then Kalinga) and set up temporary abode in ashramas (settlements) near the present-day Jajpur-Keonjhar area. They would have lived there for a few generations for sure (as indicated by the time period), and the temporary ashramas would have transformed into villages over time.

The next indication of flight is mentioned around 1570 – 1585 AD, when Mughal Emperor Akbar’s army invaded Orissa, after the conquest of Bihar and Bengal. The family, over this period of time relocated and took shelter in Jessore (in present-day Bangaldesh), where the Hindu King Pratapaditya was ruling at that time. The King magnanimously gave shelter and protection to all the Brahmin scholars who had traversed all the way from Orissa, Bihar and other parts of Bengal escaping the wrath of the Mughal army.

However, the stay of the family in Jessore was brief, as when King Pratapaditya was defeated and overthrown by the Mughal-Rajput general Raja Man Singh, during the reign of Emperor Jahangir, (time period : 1608-12 AD), they had to flee from the Mughal army once again as the Jessore fort lay conquered and ransacked. The family finally came to rest in a small village called Harinavi in south Bengal, the area being mostly shrouded by forests and being sparsely populated, was apparently a peaceful and unnoticed shelter.

From the history chronicles it is assumed that though entire Bengal at that time was under Mughal rule, smaller provinces within the region had been given as ‘jagirs’ to local Hindu Kings who ruled over the villages and smaller towns within the ‘jagirs’, paying tribute to the Mughal ‘subahdar’ (governor). The location of the Harinavi village suggests that it would have been a part of the ‘jagir’ given to Lakshmikanta Gangopadhyay, who was placed on the throne of Jessore by Raja Man Singh after Pratapaditya’s fall. Lakshmikanta was also accorded the titles of ‘Ray’ and ‘Choudhury’ in accordance as the de-facto administrator of the region, and his descendants later on assumed these titles as their family surname. This family is popularly known as the ‘Sabarna Roy Choudhury’ family and is closely linked to the founding history of Kolkata and the surrounding region.

It can well be assumed that under the benevolence of the local Hindu ‘jagirdars’, the Brahmin scholars could continue professing their knowledge and education in Sanskrit, and continue establishing and running schools (known as ‘tol’ in the-then colloquial Bengali) in the region. Our family forefathers also followed the same path and were in the forefront of running such ‘tol’s in Harinavi village.

This peaceful and settled life for the family in Harinavi village went on till about 1824, when one of our great-grandfathers, Hariprasad, was invited to become a teacher in the Government Sanskrit College being set up in the city of Calcutta. The tradition of teaching in the Sanskrit College continued for yet another generation, until Hariprasad’s grandson Heramba, himself a leading Sanskrit scholar of his times, decided to finally take up residence in Calcutta in 1888.

Heramba is 4 generations above me, and I can well recall the stories about these 4 generations in between, from my grandfather and grandmother in my childhood. The family has since stayed in Calcutta, though we have shifted residences a few times. Further in another logical development of the family branch, grandfather Satyen’s own family branch is now in England and very much like another arm of the family back in India.

While, the research done and recorded by my grandfather Satyen was certainly very revealing and went a long way in establishing the lineage and past of our family, it also intrigues us with questions which still remain unanswered.

To my mind, is there a further research we could do to throw light on the following areas: 

  1. Where was Kanyakubja and how did the family begin in that ancient city? 
  2. Is Jahnukar the first of our lineage, or can we still find his forefathers and trace our lineage further behind into history and the Vedic times? (After all, the clan is titled ‘Gautama Baidik’, which means it starts from Gautama rishi (sage) of the Vedic times!) 
  3. Whilst we know the names of our forefathers onward from Jahnukar (753 AD) till present, is it possible to logically place them alongside the historical time-lines and events in Indian history?

That then would be my research, something that can further enrich the work done by grandfather Satyen in 1974-75, and provide a detailed historical chronicle of the family and our lineage.

Whilst I shall write more about my findings on the above questions in my next blog on this series, here’s a sneak-peek into the beginning:

Kanyakubja, from the ancient times, was a very prominent city in Northern India. Right through the ages of the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, and even in Indian mythology we find worthy mentions of this city as capital of kingdoms, and a great seat of scholarly learning. Even the advent of the Kanyakubja Brahmins is a fine tale if we are to believe the mythological stories. History places Kanyakubja as the last Hindu capital of unified India, under King Harshavardhan (606 – 647 AD). Kanyakubja is present-day ‘Kannauj’, a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh in Northern India on the western banks of the Ganges River.

Part 2 … coming soon!

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