Obituary – Rajmata Prafulla Manjari Devi

She was a queen and died like a queen on the morning of January 8, with a grand procession marching with her to the cremation grounds – Mangardaha Ghat on banks of the River Koel at Daltonganj. My grandma was 103 years old.

And with her ended a very long and amazing chapter in the history of Chainpur Estate, one of the prominent royal families of Chota Nagpur Region in Jharkhand, India.

Princess Prafulla Manjari Devi, the third daughter of the Ruling Chief of Kharsawan (Raja Ram Chandra Singh Deo) loved and celebrated life just like Krishna, her ishtdeva. In her anecdotes, she would talk about those blissful girlhood days she had spent at Kharsawan that included travels, visits to Calcutta theatres, swimming lessons, education, elaborate religious ceremonies and a life of luxury.

After marrying my grandfather, Raja Brijdeo Narain Singh in 1941, her life took a new turn. She often told us that my grandfather looked so handsome as a bridegroom that people came in huge numbers at Kharsawan just to have a look at him. There was a train booked for the baraat and the marriage was recorded on a movie camera at that time. Otherwise all the elaborate ceremonies were a blur for her as she had to sit covered from head to toe with ornaments and bridal wear.

Accompanied by the usual retinue of cooks, servants and maids, she came to live at Chainpur fort and experienced a huge cultural change. My grandfather’s side observed purdah and ladies did not show their faces. She often smiled talking about how she was expected to walk, talk and live a veiled life in the royal household.

Communication was another issue. My grandma spoke Oriya and broken Hindi while no one in her new home knew the language. But her mother-in-law (my great grandmother) was kind enough to let her have the upper floor of the Garh where she was free to live comfortably and interact with her personal Oriya speaking staff.

Gradually, times changed, and the family moved to Chainpur Bungalow at Daltonganj town, a short distance from Chainpur. By this time, India had become free from British rule and was declared a democracy.

All the princely states got integrated into the country. My grandma adjusted to the changed and moved on to focus on education and subsequent marriages of her eight children.

After the death of my grandfather in 1977, she faced some great challenges, but the iron lady did not crumble under pressure. Instead she laughed at it all. She spent most part of her life at Daltonganj amongst grand kids and great grand kids.

She was a champion for girls education and donated land for school, hospitals and public welfare.

Towards the end of her life, she moved back to Chainpur, where she had once lived as a blushing new bride and breathed her last there. She felt no pain as she passed away in her sleep, surrounded by family.

Thus, ended the life of my grandma whose ringing laughter made people smile. She was regal, strong and spiritually exalted – the gift she passed on to subsequent generations. She is survived by three sons, four daughters and grandchildren. She will be sorely missed and mourned by all the family members of Chainpur.

Dadi Ma, we will not forget all the lessons you taught us and how you touched our lives in your own way. Hari Bol!

(Images contributed by Family)

(To read one of the anecdotes, click here.)

(To read Hindi newspapers article on her, click here)

Chainpur Bungalow

In a far away place in the state of Jharkhand, India, stands the grand old, Chainpur Bungalow, by River Koel. It’s not just a house but a sacred entity – proud, resilient, dignified and unbent, reverberating with forgotten old songs, chants, conversations and emotions of long gone residents. Vibrating with some ancient energy, which only exists in holy places, it might appear mystical place to many. For me, it is home!

According to my father Patait Baldeo Narain Singh (the owner), this house was constructed under Raja Bhagwat Dayal Singh, my great-great-grandfather. It is many, many years older than my grandma (Rajmata Prafulla Manjari Devi), who is more than 100 years of age. Our family belongs to an illustrious Royal family, Raj Chainpur Estate, and the house is certainly a part of history and architecture of the region.

Despite all later additions, original architectural elements of an English Bungalow, are intact in the house. The Bungalow style homes originated in the Indian subcontinent, having design elements of long verandahs on each side, low roofs, chimneys, fireplaces, eaves, shuttered windows and rooms flowing into each other for easy accessibility and comfort. The rooms opening into adjacent rooms as well as innumerable doors and windows still confuses many, who often get lost while finding their ways to bathrooms or verandahs. Earlier there were no boundaries around the house and the gurgling river could be seen from the backside but security issues led to making of boundaries. There was a tennis court, many outhouses, servant quarters and a thick forest surrounded it. Much has changed, some things still remain! The house is history in itself and I feel so proud to be a part of that history.

The real beauty and magic of the house lies in the fact that it has always been all inclusive. It has belonged to everyone, including visitors, guests, tenants, staff, house helps, who proudly got associated with it. Whoever stayed in the house, felt at home. Everyone has a story to tell in the backdrop of the house! Some scary ones too, mind you! For me, it has always been magical to see the house swelling and accommodating huge family gatherings in one big embrace.

I am sure my ancestors and descendants have their own interpretations and memories of the house. My father in his short story ‘Kadamb ki Atmakatha’ has alluded to the house, in his own way. But for me it always appears to be a living person – a deeply caring wise man – who makes you feel deeply at peace…at home.

And whenever I visualize the house, these images flash, overlap and make me nostalgic –

  • a meditative old lady in white saree
  • a lady knitting colorful sweaters

  • a man intently listening to the radio

  • an old lady feeding a bunch of kids

  • a girl teaching kids

  • a girl reading a book in a secret spot

  • a girl dancing on popular Bollywood number

  • a mischievous boy running around

  • elders cracking jokes and discussing in the verandah

  • boys playing cricket

  • kids running after the school bus

  • girls munching guavas and planning theatrical shows

  • everyone joining for evening prayers

  • ladies chatting and catching up

  • group visitations to ancestral village and car races

  • cold wars and disagreements

  • Cooks announcing meals

  • kids laughing and running around the house

  • emotional outbursts, disappointment and anger

  • illnesses and tears

  • crazy-sweet pets

  • chats on guava trees

  • winter evenings filled with made up stories

  • affectionate staff members

  • modeling around in new dresses

  • getting ready for marriage functions

  • teasing about teen crushes…

  • religious discourses and discussions in family gatherings

  • joyous evenings while playing games

  • midsummer nap in the comfortable hall room during family gatherings

  • puja ceremonies

…many, many more…images, feelings and emotions….

All long gone, never to return! Today, Chainpur Bungalow stands alone, yearning for the familiar sights and conversations of all those who once resided here. But it is also happy about the future, eagerly looking forward to a happy occasion – a celebration owing to new addition in the family. New generation… new beginning, new start for the family and the dearest house! I am sure my parents and brother (Kumar Vikram Bhawani Singh) have great plans in store.

As for me, I yearn to once again embrace those ancient pillars and find peace. I hope that someday, I take my kids to meet the wise old man so that they know those stories – of endurance, royalty, integrity, dignity, love, inclusiveness and spirituality – which were once whispered to us.

Anecdote – Lesson by my grandma!

My grandma is a grand old lady nearing a century. If you look at her, she may appear formidable in the beginning and then a ringing laughter would ensue, dismantling the image you had conjured up in your mind. The fact is, she is both formidable as well as light hearted. A unique, delightful combination!

Born and brought up in a royal family ( Kharsawan, Jharkhand), she has always had that regal bearing. She believes in maintaining distance from her kids, grand kids, great grand kids as well as recently added a great great grand kid. And we are all supposed to behave in her presence. We rise when she enters the room and remain respectful in her presence.

During my childhood years, we lived with her, so, we had the opportunity to observe her from the closest quarters. I discovered her lighter side later in life. Initially, I was apprehensive of her. She commanded and the household ran according to her. But as I grew up, I discovered the lighter, fun side of her personality. There have been many instances when she would have us in splits.

Here is one such incident. One of our cousins was going to meet a prospective bridegroom. In arranged marriages in India, girls and guys are introduced by their families, they meet up, chat and then a decision is taken unanimously. 

So, this cousin was both excited as well as scared before her first meeting. Our granny called her and said, “If you like this man, try to do little something to make him fall for you.”

We were seeing another aspect of our grandma. We all asked, “what?”. She immediately showed us how to woo a husband – “Look sideways at him and then look down… blush… look up again at him… look down and blush again. And then smile juuust a little.” We doubled up with laughter!

I don’t know whether my cousin looked sideways at the prospective groom or not but they ended up getting married!

(Sharing a picture of my grandparents)

I look up to my grand old lady because she always had the audacity to laugh at all challenges that came in her life. In her almost 100 years of life, she has seen many ups and downs. All her peers are long gone now, times have changed but she has remained strong.

I adore her because she is quite broad minded, child like and her booming laughter lightens the most serious of situations. A great devotee of Krishna, she follows what the playful God  says – to celebrate life as it is!

Long live my grandma!