Sadharan Brahmo Samaj was founded on 15th May, 1878, and from its very inception it worked towards freeing the human society of its shackles of dead custom. ‘The Brahmo Publica Opinion”, a publication of the Samaj, in its article published in the first issue of its first year bore testimony to it in the statement “Brahmoism elevates people not only spiritually”. At the same time it brought about the freedom from dead habits that were practiced ‘socially, culturally and politically’ , thought they inherited from earlier Brahmo movement and the thoughts of Raja Rammohun Roy. Sadharan Brahmo Samaj played a decisive role in reviving the high ideals of Rammohun and Rabindranath Tagore, an admirer of the Raja wrote ‘Brahmo Samaj is a modern expression of ancient Indian ideals”.
Sadharan Brahmo Samaj opened its gates to people from all caste, creed, religion, class and gender. The constitution of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj was started to be drafted from 1878 itself and the responsibility was vested on Ananda Mohan Basu, who was ably assisted by Gobindo Chandra Ghosh. When the Constitution was accepted formally, it provided voting rights to all adult members, irrespective of gender. The ‘General Committee’ was elected by the members and the ‘Exective Committee” was elected by the members of the General Committee. It must be borne in mind that this Constitution had a democratic character, even though it was formulated more than seventy years before the Indian Constitution was gifted to the people of India. Women’s right to vote was not accepted even in the British Isles then. Within a year the “Banga Mahila Samaj’ was founded which was the first organisation to be run and headed by women; the ‘Brahmo Mission Press’ was established at the same time and the magazines ‘Tatwa-Koumudi’ in Bengali and ‘The Indian Messenger’ and ‘The Brahmo Public Opinion’ were published regularly. The City School was founded, which was soon elevated to the City College. The Sunday School, the publication division of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj and the Sadharan Brahmo samaj library were all started.
Let us go back to our original topic. In its initial phase, the library was situated at 45 Beniatola Lane for a short while before being shifted to a corner of the prayer hall at Cornwallis Street, then at a separate house at the back of the Samaj hall and finally on the first floor of the building on the left of the prayer hall, above the Brahmo Mission Press and the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj office. The members who managed the library in its first phase have already been mentioned. The list of those who had taken interest in developing the library is enviable. Let us now look back at these names: Sitanath Tatwabhushan, Krishnakumar Mitra, Jagadish Chandra Basu, Prafulla Chandra Roy, Prasanna Kumar Roy, Upendrakishore Ray Choudhury, Bipin Chandra Pal. Sundari Mohan Das, Adinath Chattopadhyay, Sashi Bhusan Basu, Nilratan sarkar, Kamini Ray, Kadambini Gandopadhyay, Aghorenath Mukhopadhyay, Ramananda Chattopadhyay, Brojendranath Seal, Prankrishna Acharya, Satish Chandra Chakraborty, Hemchandra Sarkar, Atul Prasad Sen, Kunjalal Ghosh, Lalitmohan Das, Annada Charan Sen, Heramba Chandra Maitra, Sukumar Ray, Kumudini Mitra, Debi Prasanna Ray Chowdhury, Hiralal Halder, Subodh Chandra Mahalnobish, Ram Brahma Sanyal and Satyendranath Dutta.
Following in their foot prints came Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobish, Jogananda Das, Ashok Chattopadhyay, Amal Home, Hitendranath Nandy, Jnanajan Pal, Debaproasad Mitra, Nirmalkumari Mahalanabish, Probhat Chandra Gangopadhyay, Hiran Kumar Sanyal, and others came forward. They were advised by two very remarkable librarians, Tagore biographer Probhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay of Shantiniketan and Professor Nihar Ranjan Roy of Calcutta. I came to know about this history from my previous librarian Professor Dilip Kumar Biswas. Tagore researcher Shri Pulin Behari Sen also extended help.
The Library was enriched by the personal collections of many individuals. Let me give two such examples. One contribution was made by from one residing in India and the other came from abroad. Miss Sophia Dobson Collect died in 1894. She was not only the biographer of Raja Rammohun Roy, she was an avid collector of all publications related to the social reform movement in India and the Brahmo movement. All her collections were preserved in the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj library after her untimely demise. Mahesh Chandra Ghosh of Hazari bag was an erudite scholar of Philosophy. His personal collections were famous across the country. After his death, his collections were also donated to the library.
Sadharan Brahmo Samaj Library has an invaluable collection of books and journals which presently needs to be protected and preserved in right earnest. There was a time when many readers residing in the northern part of the metropolis used to come to the library to either read the books or journals or go through the current news papers. The footfalls of these readers are also declining. This library has a gallery of rare photographs of many of the past members who have distinguished themselves. The library does not have a printed catalogue of the books and journals. However, those intending to read the books can sign in the accession register before getting the relevant book. The books and journals have been catalogued both according to the title as well as by author index. I am not certain whether such a list has been completed by including all.
The list of the books and journals is so exhaustive that it is impossible to include even the most remarkable ones in this article. The Bengali publications include such authors as Rammohun Roy, Devendranath Tagore, Keshab Chandra Sen, Sivanath Shastri, Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Nagendranath Chattopadhyay, Aghornath Gupta, Gour Gobinda Roy, Akshay Kumar Dutta, Akshay Chandra Sarkar, Dwijendranath Tagore, Chandicharan Sen, Kamini Ray, Atul Prasad Sen, Sitanath Tatwabhusan, Upendra Kishor Raychoudhuri, Satyendranath Tagore, Jyotirindranath Tagore, Trailokyanath Deb, Srinath Chanda, Ramananda Chattopadhyay, Aurobinda Ghosh, Rajanikanta Sen, Gagan Chandra Home, Bipin Chandra Pal, Girimandi Sen, Abanindranath Tagore, Ashwinikumar Ghosh, Upendranath Bandyopadhyay, Amritalal Gupta, Amritalal Sengupta, Abinash Chandra Lahiri, Abinash Chandra Ghosh, Ananda Chandra Mitra, Krishna Chandra Majumder, Ullashkar Dutta, Ananda Chandra Bedantabagish, Naliniranjan Pandit, Haraprasad Shastri, Krishna Kumar Mitra, Chittaranjan Das, Kali Prasanna Ghosh, Satish Chandra Chakraborty, Saroshibala Basu, Sita Devi, Shanta Devi, Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay, Satyendranath Dutta, Rajnarayan Basu, Ramesh Chandra Dutta, Dwarkanath Gangopadhyay, Swarnakumari Devi, Pramathalal Sen, Binayendranath Sen, Ishanchandra Basu and others.
The lifetime editions of the books of many authors are found in this library, which have not been printed since then. These books are invaluable. There are many first editions too. In additions there are many complete series like the Encyclopaedia Britannica or the different editions of the ‘Rabindra Rachanabali’ etc. We will discuss about the Bengali and English compendium of Rammohun Roy that are preserved in the library.
Translation: Sudakshina Kundu Mookerjee