The concept of a nation-state is so new that no single word equivalent for it exists in any Indian language. When one mentions ‘desh’ or ‘mulk’, one could just as well be referring to one’s country as one could to one’s native village. In Bengal, every Bengali who lives in the big city can point out his or her ‘desh-er baari’, the ancestral village from where the family migrated.
In Kolkata, one cannot escape the shadow of Bengal’s bravest son, Subhas Chandra Bose – ‘Netaji’ to his fellow Bengalis. Subhash Chandra Bose was born on 23rd January 1897 in Cuttack in Odisha to Janakinath Bose and Prabhavati Dutt Bose. In 1909, Janakinath Bose would built a house at Elgin Road in Calcutta, where Netaji lived in his formative years. It was this house that was the center of his political activities and it is from here that Netaji escaped from house arrest in 1940. As a result, it is this house that is most associated with Subhash Chandra Bose and is now a museum called ‘Netaji Bhawan’.
While the Elgin road house is thronged by Netaji’s admirers, not many from Kolkata have taken the hour-long drive to Netaji’s ‘desh-er baari’, in the village earlier known as Kodalia. Located around 25 kms south of Kolkata, it has now been renamed ‘Subhashgram’ In honour of its most illustrious resident.
In his unfinished autobiography An Indian Pilgrim (1997), Netaji traces the family’s lineage across 27 generations, to one Dasarath Bose, who founded the clan. Eleventh in descent from Dasarath was Mahipati Bose, who found favour with the Sultan of Bengal and was granted the title ‘Subuddhi Khan’ and a jagir (estate or land grant) in a place near the Bose ancestral home. The village came to be known as Mahinagar and the ruins of Mahipati’s palatial house were identified by Netaji’s father.
Mahipati’s grandson Gopinath Bose served as Finance Minister and naval commander to Sultan Hussain Shah in the Bengal Sultanate. Gopinath was given the title of ‘Purandar Khan’ and granted a jagir in a place that is still known as Purandarpur.
Back in the day, the river flowed close to Purandarpur but, as often happens in Bengal, the course of the river changed, leading to problems with communication and public health as large bodies of stagnant water left behind by the river spread disease. This prompted Purandar’s descendants to move to a neighbouring village called Kodalia.
The Boses who migrated to Kodalia probably lived there for at least ten generations, according to family records. Twelfth in descent from Purandar was Netaji’s grandfather, Haranath Bose. Haranath had the family home built in 1760 on 10 cottahs of land, and it was named ‘Haranath Lodge’. Of Haranath’s four sons, Netaji’s father Janakinath migrated to Cuttack in search of a career in the 1880s. Netaji was born there on 23rd January 1897.
When migrating to Europe, people often sever connections with one's place of origin but Netaji continued to visit his ancestral home throughout his life and references to it are everywhere in his personal correspondence. The Bose family was both rich and influential, and was responsible for a number of charitable and public works in the village. Among these was a charitable dispensary that started during Netaji’s time. In a letter written in 1925, his elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose urges Netaji to stand for election from Kodalia, for which he is eligible since the family was still paying road cess for the area. About 3 km from the family home is a group of temples that still belong to the Bose family.
For many Bengali Hindu families, the one annual occasion that brings the entire clan together at the ancestral village is Durga Puja. The Bose family too celebrated Durga Puja with great pomp in their native village.
Haranath had stopped the practice of animal sacrifice on ‘Navami’, but the puja continued.
That Durga Puja meant a lot to Netaji, like it does to all Bengalis even today, is evident from a letter he wrote to his brother Sarat Chandra Bose from Mandalay Central Jail. “I understand that you will be going to Kodalia during the Pujah week. We are making arrangements to celebrate the Durga Puja here,” he wrote.
More than 250 years after it began, the Durga Puja at Haranath Lodge continues. It still unites members of the Bose family from all over the world. Alongside Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja and Saraswati Puja are also celebrated at Haranath Lodge.
In 1924, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das had announced a programme of village reorganisation. It was a plan for local self-government, similar to our present Panchayati Raj system. Correspondence between Netaji and his brother reveals that they were enthusiastic supporters of the idea, and Kodalia was one of the places they had selected to try it out.
Spread over a large area, Haranath Lodge appears to have been built as a number of separate blocks. The Durga Dalan with its grand entrance is to the south-west of the residential quarters. It is a single-storey structure, with broad columns and a corrugated roof that is probably a recent addition. To the south of the house is a large pond that once must have been used by the family.
The house itself is a simple, two-storey affair, with arches and wooden rafters holding up the roof. Cast-iron railings, typical for the time, are seen on the balcony of the upper storey. In the courtyard, a quaint little granary continues to stand, a testament to the days when agriculture formed part of the family’s income. No one lives in the homestead now but other branches of the Bose family continue to reside in the village.
In Subhasgram today, Netaji is everywhere. There are schools and libraries named after him and busts have been installed all across the village. Local residents are justifiably proud of ‘Subhaser Bari’ being in their village. To this day, on 23rd January, the house attracts visitors from all over India and even the world. But, until recently, Haranath Lodge was in precarious condition.
In 2010-11, Tathagata Neogi and Sarbajit Mitra of Jadavpur University’s Department of History had conducted a survey of heritage sites around West Bengal. As part of their survey, Neogi and Mitra had visited Subhasgram. “We found the house locked. When it was opened up for us, we found signs of water seepage all over the ceiling. The walls had cracks in them.” It was only in 2018 that the state government put into action a plan to both restore the house and develop the area for tourism.
A Rs 77-lakh project was announced to restore the home and the State Archaeology and Public Works departments have taken up the challenge. What makes the plan unique is the state government’s decision to develop the area as a circuit, together with two neighbouring villages of Tilpi and Dhosa, where Buddhist ruins were excavated in 2006. If this plan comes to fruition, it will be the only tourist circuit in West Bengal with a history spanning 1,500 years!
In a quote to The Times of India, Dilip Datta of the State Archaeology Department had said at the time that “we often tend to ignore our recent past when we talk about ancient Indian civilisations and vice-versa. This will, hopefully, give visitors a much more comprehensive sense of our history.” Not just the Bose house but even the pond adjacent to the house is to be cleaned and restored. Along with the restoration, the government has also announced a plan to set up a small museum dedicated to Netaji within Haranath Lodge.
Netaji spent a part of his childhood in Kodalia and the little village in the South 24 Parganas district made a deep impression on him. While in Mandalay Central Jail in December 1926, Netaji wrote a letter to Anath Bandhu Dutta of the Indian Association, saying:
“An eternal truth is inherent in the waters and soil of Bengal. Had I not been away for this one year, I would not appreciate the truth of this saying. The wavy green rice fields of Bengal, the blooming and sweet-smelling mango groves, the spectacle of evening prayer at the temples with the burning of incense, the picturesque courtyards of our village homes, to see all this even with the mind’s eye is a rare delight.”
For those who want to visit Haranath Lodge, here’s a tip – the property has been incorrectly flagged on Google Maps. The following coordinates will be helpful: 22°24'35.6"N 88°25'24.0"E. While Subhasgram can be an interesting day trip for those based in Kolkata, the two other points in the state government’s circuit, Tilpi and Dhosa, are yet to be developed.
If hotels could be developed in the area and the State Archaeology Department can, say, host a sound and light show at Haranath Lodge, the entire circuit would make sense as a weekend getaway for tourists. Until then, Haranath Lodge waits patiently, nestled in the vibrant green of Bengal’s lush countryside.
Deepanjan Ghosh is a broadcast professional from Kolkata, India. A history buff, a landscape and architecture photographer and blogger, he has has been writing about heritage since 2013.