By Prasun Sonwalkar
Bristol : For the first time since 1843, major restoration and repair will be undertaken on the tomb of renowned Indian social reformer Raja Rammohun Roy here, thanks to the intervention by Kolkata's civic body and a donation by an Indian businessman.
The tomb, located in the Arnos Vale Cemetery on the outskirts of Bristol, is in need of considerable restoration and repair. It was built by Dwarkanath Tagore in 1843, 10 years after Rammohun Roy's death due to meningitis in Bristol on Sep 27, 1833.
The required funds for the work – over 50,000 pounds – have now been committed by Aditya K. Poddar, a Singapore-based businessman with roots in Kolkata. The Kolkata Municipal Corp (KMC) approached Poddar after Mayor Bikash Bhattacharyya visited the tomb in December 2006 and saw for himself the state it was in.
Poddar presented the cheque for the restoration work this week to Carla Contractor, a local historian who has passionately worked over the years to preserve and cherish Rammohun Roy's association with Bristol. Her efforts have also led to installing the legendary leader's statue in College Green and his bust in the local council house.
Contractor told IANS: "This is very important to me – it has taken 20 years to get to this stage. I am delighted that at last this major monument in Bristol is being repaired and conserved. The tomb stands on council land but I am sure the necessary permissions will come through and work will begin soon.
"The Raja was a remarkable man in his day. He fought for women's rights and for the reform of legal and fiscal services in India. He was a humanitarian and founder of the Brahmo Samaj movement.
"All Indians can take pride in what the city of Bristol has done in memory of the Raja and be proud too of their own roots in the Indian subcontinent. His tomb today marks the modern multicultural Britain and highlights the importance of the links between Britain and India now."
According to archives in the University of Calcutta, minor restoration was done on the tomb in 1883. Contractor added that it would be the first time that major restoration and repair would be undertaken since it was built in 1843.
The tomb's state has deteriorated over the last 20 years.
The work to be undertaken with the expertise of a conservation architect includes recarving the pillars, repairing the leaked roof, consolidating its foundation (it is based on a slope) and repairing cracks in its foundation stone.
Contractor said she had also received a generous donation from the Sammilani Brahmo Samaj in Kolkata after her lecture there in January. She was in Kolkata for a week as the guest of KMC.
The tomb was designed by architect William Prinsep, who was a friend of Dwarkanath Tagore. Contractor said descendants of Prinsep had also contributed funds for the repair work.
Contractor has interacted closely with officials of the Indian High Commission over the years to preserve Rammohun Roy's legacy in Bristol. In 1997 – the 50th year of India's independence – a statue of Rammohun Roy was installed by the then high commissioner L.M. Singhvi at College Green, a prominent location in the Bristol city centre.
The epitaph on the late 19th century stone at the tomb reads: "Beneath this stone rest the remains of Raja Rammohun Roy Bahadur, a conscientious and steadfast believer in the unity of Godhead, he consecrated his life with entire devotion to the worship of the Devine Spirit alone.
"To great natural talents, he united through mastery of many languages and distinguished himself as one of the greatest scholars of his day. His unwearied labour to promote the social, moral and physical condition of the people of India, his earnest endeavours to suppress idolatry and the rite of suttie and his constant zealous advocacy of whatever tended to advance the glory of God and the welfare of man live in the grateful remembrance of his countrymen."