The story begins with Ramsundar Deo, the earliest-known ancestor of Ray family, a Hindu by religion, a youth by age, moved from a village in West Bengal to East Bengal (now Bangladesh), wondering there, he reached a village called ‘Serpur’ where at the local zamindar’s house he met the ruler of a nearby place called ‘Yasodal’. He likes Ramsundar for his quick intelligence and invited him to Yasodal. There Ramsundar was given a piece of land, a house and a daughter in marriage. Ramsundar spent his life administrating the property of his in law’s.
Subsequently, the generations of his family live there in Yasodal, and later moved further deep into the east, a place called ‘Masua’. It was located on the other side of the Brahmaputra river. The family across time gathered wealth and education and also acquired the title of ‘Majundar’, a common Bengali surname which means ‘revenue accountant’. The actual surname which the family uses today was another honorific title ‘Ray’. The word was derived from another Bengali word ‘Raja’ (means king). Then in the latter half of the eighteen century the family was further divided into two branches. The reason was a flood that destroyed the Masua. As a result the family, one of which became noted for its learning, the other for its wealth and piety got separated in course of time and situation.
Among the two families, one was lead by Ramkanta Majundar. A man of talent, he was very fluent in several languages, an expert singer and musician. Not only that, he was a man of great physical strength and courage. It is said that he would eat a full basket of parched rice and a whole jackfruit for breakfast. In another incident it is said that once Ramkanta was sitting in his verandah, when a wild boar attacked him. He grabbed its snout and held it in his vice-like grip before shouting for help.
It was this particular generation that developed the verse in the family, as Ramkanta’s eldest son has this habit of replying to a question in verse. Ramkanta had three sons. Among them the youngest one became a famous scholar in Persian. But the second son, Loknath, was so fluent in Sanskrit, Arabic & Persian that he was able to read aloud in one language from a book written in another so fluently that his listeners would not know that he was actually translating. But unfortunately, Loknath started taking interest in Tantric yoga in his twenties, which on the other hand was a matter of concern for his father, who thought that his son may go into sannyasi. As a result Ramkanta secretly gathered his books and other sacred objects one day and dropped them in to the river. Loknath was so shattered that he took to a fast and died within three days. As he lay on his death bed he told his weeping wife, who held their only child, ‘Now you have only, but from him will come a hundred!’ – A famous family story often repeated in Satyajit Ray’s childhood a century later.
Loknath’s son was Kalinath, father of Upendrakisore, great grandfather of Satyajit Ray, was probably born in 1830s. He too was a scholar in Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian, but not a sannyasi. Kalinath Ray was better known as ‘Munshi (Professor) Syamsundar’ in his time, which was quite an unusual distinction for a Hindu in a period when Islam was in retreat all over the India.
India at that time was under the British rule, and Brahmos were the most energetic group of Bengalis who evolved and reacted strongly both to Christianity, western literature and ideas such as sati in that particular period of time (around 1820s). Founded & lead by Raja Rammohan Roy, the greatest Indian intellectual of nineteenth century. Later after his death, Devendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore led the Brahmos. The Ray family became associated with the Brahmos in 1880s.
Read Part II, click here