1795, the age of Matsyanyaya in Colonial India, a state of lawlessness similar to the sea where the Big fish eats the small. The East India Company like a hungry great white shark devours the wealth of the nation. The smaller Native Kings and Landlords despotize the farmers and common folk for the mounting taxes imposed by the Raj. The common folk suffer relentlessly under this vicious cycle, but perhaps the ones who suffered most were the women of the country, abused by a corrupt and stringent patriarchal rule which encouraged malpractices like Polygamy, Child Marriage the loss of all social status of the widows and the heinous ritual of Sati, where a woman has to burn in the pyre of her dead husband.
Prafulya was born in such a savage time and like all women she was destined to such a pitiful fate. Married at the early age of seven to the grandson of the Zamindar of Bhootnath Estate, Rajballav Chaudhury she was supposed to live the comfortable life of a lady. Prafulya’s father was a priest and could not pay any dowry according to the custom and Rajballav never demanded anything as well. Prafulya’s incredible beauty impressed him so much that he fixed the marriage to his grandson Brajeshwar. Incidentally Rajballav passed away just after the wedding and his son Harballav came into power. Harballav is greed incarnate, and he couldn’t accept the fact that his son Brajeshwar got married to the daughter of a poor priest who couldn’t pay any dowry. He kept silent during the wedding as he couldn’t go against his father but after his death his true colors came out.
Harballav abandoned Prafulya and sent her back to her parents. Such a misfortune took a heavy toll on Prafulya’s father and he succumbed to death. Prafulya grew up in the village of Durgapur with her mother who tried hard to make both ends meet.
Her misfortune didn’t have much impact on Prafulya since she was a child and could not understand the ways of the world. At the age of seventeen Prafulya bloomed like an exquisite flower, her beauty and free spirited tomboyish nature made her the darling of the village elders and popular among the kids. Despite her misfortunes and poverty, Prafulya always kept her head high; she is perpetually cheerful and optimistic.
Fate however played cruel tricks on Prafulya once again. Her mother became stricken by Malaria and passed away; making her promise that she will go back to her in-laws and ask for shelter and acceptance.
One of the Village elders, Karim Chacha, who loved Prafulya like his granddaughter took the responsibility of taking her to Bhootnath.
Prafulya hesitant and scared reached the gates of the palatial haveli of Zamindar Harballav Chaudhuri. She gave her identity to the guards and though they believed her to be the daughter-in-law of the house was scared of the Zamindar and asked her to wait till he came back from his tax collection. Prafulya as usual won the hearts of the guards and one of them started teaching her the martial art of Gatka (Indian stick fighting) to relieve her from boredom. Among all her innate talents Prafulya was also blessed with a photographic memory and reflex. She quickly started acquiring the fighting skills.
One of the housemaids saw Prafulya fighting with the guard and thought of her as a female bandit and figured that the house was under the raid of dacoits. She reported this to the mistress of the house, Prafulya’s mother in law. The Zamindarni went out to see what the commotion was all about and when she saw Prafulya she was surprised and her heart soared with joy. The Zamindarni loved Prafulya from the first sight when she was the child bride of the house and welcomed her with open arms.
Prafulya is washed, pampered; she is bathed in milk and flower petals and is decorated with the most exquisite and expensive adornments. Prafulya had never seen such luxury and is flabbergasted by the wealth and pomp of her in-laws.
Much to Prafulya’s astonishment she is introduced to a 10 year old girl child called Sagar, who is Braja’s second wife. At that time according to Hindu law, which was also supported by the British rule people of high birth were allowed polygamy and child marriage. The little girl however becomes very fond of Prafulya due to her sweet nature and immediately they bond like sisters.
Prafulya finally finds peace and happiness as she believes she has been accepted by her in-laws, but more misfortune awaited her.
Harballav returns the next day with his son Braja, now a handsome strapping young lad of 22. Braja doesn’t approve of his father’s cruel ways of extracting taxes from the poor villagers but his father makes him understand to keep their position as the lords of this estate this is a necessary evil. A major portion of the tax he collects will be offered to the British Empire and if he fails to deliver they can seize his entire estate, throw him away and put someone else in his place. Braja however believes his father can live a bit less lavishly and lessen the burden on the villagers.
As they enter the Haveli, Harballav is immediately informed that Prafulya, his eldest daughter-in-law has returned. Harballav is enraged at this news and immediately demands her to be ousted. Harballav’s wife who is now very affectionate towards Prafulya begs him to let her stay otherwise how will she make her ends meet? Harballav cruelly retorts saying that she can beg, steal or rob for her living but he is not concerned; a statement which will act as an irony in future.
Prafulya overhears this conversation and in a fit of shock, sorrow and deep insult runs away from the house. Prafulya ends up in the jungles, alone, grief stricken and hopeless. She is in danger of several predators, both human and animals, but Prafulya doesn’t care. She believes she has got nothing else to live for, but destiny as usual had other plans for her once again, and thus begins Prafulya’s journey.
From being a poor destitute girl, Prafulya rises to become the Goddess Queen who will rule the rivers and seas of Bengal and bring salvation for the oppressed. The Legend of Devi Chaudhurani is born.
‘Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Devi Chaudhurani: The Graphic Novel Adaptation’ is a production of Yali Dream Creations (Sunnyvale, California) . Produced by Asvin Srivatsangam, Witten by Shamik Dasgupta, Art by Bikash Satpathy and Shamik Dasgupta, Colors by Vishwanath and Crimzon Studios (Mumbai).