Calcutta the capital of the British Raj, was known to be the stronghold of nautch. Wealthy Bengalies vied with one another in inviting famous nautch girls, even from faraway Lucknow and Delhi, for the entertainment of their European Gusts. A news report was published in the Calcutta Gazette of 20 October 1814(?) under the caption, “Raja Nob Kishen’s Nautch Party at Calcutta”. In this watercolor painted in c1825, Charles D’Oyly depicted a scenario of the fashionable party of Europeans the Raja had hosted a decade before.
Radhakanta Deb (1784-1867), a scholar and a leader of the Calcutta conservative Hindu society, was the son of Gopimohan Deb, the adopted son and heir of Maharaja Nabakrishna Deb. Nabakrishna served under Robert Clive and Warren Hastings and for his loyal services was honoured with the title of Maharaja. Nabakrishna’s adopted son Gopimohan Deb was able, through wealth and fortune, to establish himself as the foremost leader of Calcutta Hindu society.
An accomplished scholar, Radhakanta was proficient in Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic – and wasps. He also acquired a fairly good knowledge in English. He published Shabda Kalpadruma, a dictionary of Sanskrit language, in eight volumes, the first of which appeared in 1822 and the last in 1856. This was the publication which earned him international recognition as a scholar. He received honours from the Royal Asiatic Society, London, and other learned societies in Europe.
Radhakanta Deb always showed marked interest in promoting education, particularly English education among the Hindus. He played a leading part in the establishment of the Calcutta Hindu College in 1817 and was an active director of the college for over thirty years. He also took keen interest in promoting the cause of elementary education in Bengal. Radhakanta Deb was actively involved in the establishment and activities of the Calcutta School-Book Society (1817) and the Calcutta School Society (1818). Radhakanta also advocated female education. Radhakanta was an active member of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India since its establishment in 1818. On the establishment of the British Indian Association in 1851 Radhakanta Deb was elected its president, a position he held till his death.
Despite his contribution to the cause of educational improvement, Radhakanta Deb was a strong upholder of social conservatism. He became the leader of a party of orthodox Hindus who were bitterly opposed to the liberal-minded Hindus like Rammohun Roy (1774-1833) who advocated social and religious reforms. Although a loyal supporter of the British Government, Radhakanta was opposed to any interference by the Government in the social and religious life of the people. Thus although sati was not practised in his own family, he came forward to defend the custom when the Government contemplated its abolition. When Lord William Bentinck’s government had finally abolished sati by a regulation in December, 1829. Radhakanta Deb, along with his conservative Hindu friends, was the leader a society called Dharma Sabha (founded by his father Gopi Mohun Deb), protested against this measure by presenting a petition to the Governor General on behalf of the orthodox section of the Hindu community. See more