The 19th and 20th Centuries saw the rise of two remarkable families in Bengal – the Rays and the Tagores. And the Bengalis owe their cultural consciousness to these two legendary families. The Tagore family where Rabindranath Tagore was born remained the powerhouse of social, cultural, literary and reformist activities for three generations. And Satyajit Ray’s family too had held for three generations an eminent position in fashioning the cultural and literary traditions of Bengali society.
The history of the Rays goes back to the mid 16th Century when Ramsundar Deb decided to settle in Yasodal (in Bangladesh) as the son-in-law of a local ruler. His subsequent generations acquired the honorific title of Majumdar, which later changed to Ray which too was bestowed on them as a mark of honour.
The family branched into two separate branches in the second half of the 18th Century. Ramkanta Majumdar was born into the more educated of the two families. Adept in several languages and known for his musical talents, he was a man of courage and great physical strength.
Kalinath Ray, Ramkanto’s grandson, was a scholar in Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian. Kamadaranjan, second of Kalinath’s five sons, was born in 1863. He was adopted as a five year old by Harikishore, a relative who was a zamindar in Mymensingh (now in Bangladesh). He renamed his adopted son Upendrakishore, and added the honorific ‘Raychaudhuri’ as a surname.
Upendrakishore was not only talented but also resourceful. Apart from being a talented singer, he established himself as the ‘first high quality process engraver’ in Kolkata. He became the proud founder of the first printing press, U. Ray & Sons, in 1895. He also became famous as a children’s author and illustrator. He launched the acclaimed magazine, Sandesh, in 1931, the first successful magazine for the children of Bengal.
Upendrakishore’s son (and Satyajit Ray’s father) Sukumar Ray carried the legacy forward and became the Indian counterpart of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. As the father of the nonsense verse. his poems with his signature humour have regaled generations and will continue to do so. Inheriting his artistic skills from his father, Sukumar Ray illustrated many of his own poems and stories.
Sandip Ray, Satyajit’s son, is a forerunner in the creative space as a filmmaker and graphic artist, and keeps the family name intact even in the fourth generation. He married Lolita Chatterjee in 1989 who gave birth to Saurodeep on November 22, 1990.
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