Source: G. Paramaswaran Pillai, Representative Indians (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1897), 56

Rajendralal Mitra

Rajendralal Mitra was born at Soora in 1824. The second of six sons, the young Mitra was brought up by his widowed aunt. Upon her death, his only recourse for further education was enrolment in a school that would furnish him with a scholarship. This turned out to be the Calcutta Medical College.

He enrolled in 1839 and excelled at his studies, catching the attention of Dwarkanath Tagore who offered to take him to England to complete his education. This was declined by his father and Mitra continued his studies at the Medical College until an incident led to his decision to leave. At an enquiry, he had refused to provide information on the acts of mischief his classmates had carried out and had been suspended. This led to his subsequent decision to withdraw from medical school and focus on becoming a lawyer. However, the endeavour was similarly thwarted when the results of the examination he had sat for were voided after it surfaced that the papers had been tampered with.

Following these incidents, Mitra applied himself assiduously to the study of languages. Yet, he was also aware that this had to be complemented by employment for the satisfaction of his needs. In 1850, he was employed as an Assistant Secretary and Librarian to the Bengal Asiatic Society. There, he focussed on further self-education with the aid of his colleagues and in 1850, undertook the enterprise of starting an illustrated journal devoted to science and literature, Bibidhartha Sangraha.

In 1856, he was appointed as the Director of the Wards’ Institution where he supervised a large number of young Zemindars. Though the institution was closed in 1880, some of his pupils credited their later successes to his guidance. He also served as a Justice of the Peace and a Municipal Commissioner.

Mitra had a keen interest in antiquarian studies and made numerous significant contributions to academic periodicals, shedding light on many aspects of Indian history. The most significant of his works are “Antiquities of Orissa” and “Buddha Gaya”. In 1885, he became the President of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, the first Indian native to receive this distinction. On top of being the member of various academic societies for his work, he was further conferred the titles of “Companion of the Indian Empire”, “Rai Bahadur” and “Raja”.

He also played a key role in the 2nd Indian National Congress and served as President on the British Indian Association. On the death of Kristo Das Pal, he took on the duties of an editor to the Hindu Patriot. Hard work eventually took its toll on him however, and he succumbed to paralysis in 1891.

Source: G. Paramaswaran Pillai, Representative Indians (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1897), 57-64

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