Romesh Chunder Dutt, (Bengali: রমেশচন্দ্র দত্ত) was an Indian civil servant, economic historian, writer, and translator of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Formative Years

Dutt was born into a distinguished Bengali Kayastha family well known for its members' literary and academic achievements. His parents were Thakamani and Isam Chunder Dutt. His father, Isam Dutt, was a Deputy Collector of Bengal, whom Romesh often accompanied on official duties. Romesh was educated in various Bengali District schools, then at Hare School, Calcutta, founded by the philanthropist, David Hare. After his father's untimely death in a boat accident in eastern Bengal, Romesh's uncle, Shoshee Chunder Dutt, an accomplished writer, became his guardian in 1861. Romesh wrote about his uncle, "He used to sit at night with us and our favorite study used to be pieces from the works of the English poets." He was a relative of Toru Dutt, one of nineteenth century Bengal's most prominent poets.

He entered the University of Calcutta, Presidency College in 1864, then passed the First Arts examination in 1866, second in order of merit, and won a scholarship. While still a student in the B.A. class, without his family's permission, he and two friends, Beharilal Gupta and Surendranath Banerjee, left for England in 1868. Only one other Indian, Satyendra Nath Tagore, had ever before qualified for the Indian Civil Service. Romesh aimed to emulate Satyendranath Tagore's feat. For a long time, before and after 1853, the year the ICS examination was introduced in England, only British officers were appointed to covenanted posts. The 1860s saw the first attempts, largely successful, on the part of the Indians, and especially members of the Bengali intelligentsia, to occupy the superior official posts in India, until then completely dominated by the British.

At University College London, Dutt continued to study British writers. He studied law at Middle Temple, London, was called to the bar, and qualified for the Indian Civil Service in the open examination in 1869, taking third place.

Civil Service

Dutt entered the Indian Civil Service, or ICS, as an Assistant Magistrate of Alipur in 1871. His official career was a test and a proof of the liberal promise of equality to all her Majesty's subjects "irrespective of color and creed" in Queen Victoria's Proclamation of November 1, 1858, which often contrasted with an implicit distrust of Indians, especially from those in positions of authority within the elite colonial administrative system.

A famine in Meherpur, District of Nadia in 1874 and another in Dakhin Shahbazpur (Bhola District) in 1876, followed by a disastrous cyclone, required emergency relief and economic recovery operations, which Dutt managed successfully. By December, 1882, Dutt achieved his appointment to the executive branch of the Service, the first Indian to achieve executive rank. He served as administrator for Backerganj, Mymensingh, Burdwan, Donapur, and Midnapore. He became Burdwan's District Officer in 1893, Commissioner (offtg.) of Burdwan Division in 1894, and Divisional Commissioner for Orissa in 1895.

As Dutt's biographer commented, "In the absence of even the rudiments of representative institutions entry into the higher Civil Services presented the only opportunity to an Indian to influence the government of his own country." He sat for a time in the Bengal Legislative Council. Although he won high praise for his administrative work, and the Companionship of the Indian Empire was awarded him in 1892, Dutt did not always agree with official views on the causes of poverty in India or on the problems of administration.

As his official recommendations and reports reflected, Dutt was especially troubled by the lack of assured tenants' rights or rights of transfer for those who tilled the land. He considered the land taxes to be ruinous, a block to savings, and the source of famines. He also felt the effectiveness of administrators was limited by the absence of representative channels for the concerns of the population being governed. He retired from the ICS as the Commissioner of Orissa in 1897 while only 49 years of age. Retirement freed him to enter public life and pursue writing.

After retirement in 1898 he returned to England as a Lecturer in Indian History at University College, London where he completed his famous thesis on economic nationalism. He spent the next six years in London before returning once again to India as Dewan of Baroda state, a post he had been offered before he left for Britain. He was extremely popular in Baroda where the Maharaja, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III and his family members and all other staff used to call him the Babu Dewan, as a mark of personal respect. He also became a member of the Royal Commission on Indian Decentralisation in 1907.


Bengali culture

Dutt served as the first president of Bangiya Sahitya Parishad (Bengali: বঙ্গীয় সাহিত্য পরিষদ) in 1894, while Rabindranath Tagore and Navinchandra Sen were the vice-presidents of the society. This was the society founded by L. Leotard and Kshetrapal Chakraborty in 1893 to cultivate Bengali literature. Enriched by contributions from Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Romesh Chunder Dutt, Satyendranath Dutt, Binoy Krishna Deb, Ritendranath Tagore, Premsundar Bose and Jatindranath Pal, its collections include over 150,000 books and important Bengali and Sanskrit manuscripts and cultural artifacts, including the only manuscript of Shrikrsnakirtana.

Dutt's The Literature of Bengal presented "a connected story of literary and intellectual progress in Bengal" over eight centuries, commencing with the early Sanskrit poetry of Jayadeva. It traced Chaitanya's religious reforms of the sixteenth century, Raghunatha Siromani's school of formal logic, and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's brilliance, coming down to the intellectual progress of the nineteenth century.This was presented by Thacker, Spink & Co. in Calcutta and Archibald Constable in London in 1895, but it had formed in Dutt's mind while he managed famine relief and economic recovery operations in Dakhin Shahbazpur and originally appeared under the disguise of an assumed name in 1877. It was dedicated to his esteemed uncle, Rai Shashi Chandra Dutt Bahadur.

Dutt considered Ram Mohan Roy, the religious reformer of Bengal, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and Akshay Kumar Datta to be the founders of Bengali prose literature


He was active in moderate nationalist politics and was an active Congressman in that party's initial phase.He was president of the Indian National Congress in 1899.


Poverty and low wages were among the indirect products of colonial rule. Romesh Dutt traced a decline in standards of living to the nineteenth-century deindustrialization of the subcontinent and the narrowing of sources of wealth which followed:

"India in the eighteenth century was a great manufacturing as well as great agricultural country, and the products of the Indian loom supplied the markets of Asia and of Europe. It is, unfortunately, true that the East Indian Company and the British Parliament ... discouraged Indian manufactures in the early years of British rule in order to encourage the rising manufactures of England . . . millions of Indian artisans lost their earnings; the population of India lost one great source of their wealth."

Radhakamal Mukerjee and Romesh Dutt directed attention to the deepening internal differentiation of Indian society appearing in the abrupt articulation of local economies with the world market, accelerated urban-rural polarization, the division between intellectual and manual labor, and the toll of recurrent devastating famines.


While still in office, he died in Baroda at the relatively young age of 61 in early 1909.

Romesh Chunder Dutt's Works:

1. Romesh Chunder Dutt (1896). Three Years in Europe, 1868 to 1871. S. K. Lahiri.
2. Romesh Chunder Dutt (1874). The Peasantry of Bengal. Thacker, Spink & Co..; ed. Narahari Kaviraj, Calcutta, Manisha (1980)
3. Romesh Chunder Dutt (1895). The Literature of Bengal. T. Spink & co..; 3rd ed., Cultural Heritage of Bengal Calcutta, Punthi Pustak (1962).
4. Mādhabī kaṅkaṇa in Bengali (1879)
5. Rajput jivan sandhya (1879); Pratap Singh: The Last of the Rajputs, A Tale of Rajput Courage and Chivalry, tr. Ajoy Chandra Dutt. Calcutta: Elm Press (1943); Allahabad, Kitabistan, (1963)
6. Rig Veda translation into Bengali (1885): R̥gveda saṃhitā / Rameśacandra Dattera anubāda abalambane ; bhūmikā, Hiraṇmaẏa Bandyopādhyāẏa, Kalakātā , Harapha (1976).
7. Hinduśāstra : naẏa khaṇḍa ekatre eka khaṇḍe / Rameśacandra Datta sampādita, Kalikātā, Satyayantre Mudrita, 1300; Niu Lāiṭa, 1401 [1994].
8. A History of Civilization in Ancient India, Based on Sanscrit Literature. 3 vols. Thacker, Spink and Co.; Trübner and Co., Calcutta-London (1890) Reprinted, Elibron Classics (2001).
9. A Brief History of Bengal, S.K. Lahiri (1893).
10. Lays of Ancient India: Selections from Indian Poetry Rendered into English Verse. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner (1894); Rupa (2002).
11. Reminiscences of a Workman's Life: verses Calcutta, Elen Press, for private circulation only (1896); Calcutta: n.p. (1956).
12. England and India: a record of progress during a hundred years, 1785-1885 (1897); New Delhi, India : Mudgal Publications, 1985.
13. Mahabharata: the epic of India rendered into English verse, London: J. M. Dent and Co., 1898. Maha-bharata, The Epic of Ancient India Condensed into English Verse Project Gutenberg, on line.
14. The Ramayana: the epic of Rama rendered into English verse, London: J.M. Dent and Co., 1899.
15. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata: the great epics of ancient India condensed into English verse, London: J.M. Dent and Co., 1900. Everyman's Library reprint (London: J.M. Dent and Sons; New York: E.P. Dutton, 1910). xii, 335p. Internet Sacred Texts Archive.
16. Shivaji; or the morning of Maratha life, tr. by Krishnalal Mohanlal Jhaveri. Ahmedabad, M. N. Banavatty (1899). Also: tr. by Ajoy C. Dutt. Allahabad, Kitabistan (1944).
17. Open Letters to Lord Curzon on Famines and Land Assessments in India, London, Trübner (1900); 2005 ed. Adamant Media Corporation, Elibron Classics Series.
18. Indian Famines, Their Causes and Prevention Westminster, P. S. King (1901)
19. The lake of palms. A story of Indian domestic life, translated by the author. London, T.F. Unwin (1902); abridged by P.V. Kulkarni, Bombay, n.p. (1931).
20. The Economic History of India Under Early British Rule. From the Rise of the British Power in 1757 to the Accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. Vol. I. London, Kegan Paul, Trench Trübner (1902) 2001 edition by Routledge.
21. The Economic History of India in the Victorian Age. From the Accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 to the Commencement of the Twentieth Century, Vol. II. London, Kegan Paul, Trench Trübner (1904) On line.
22. Indian poetry. Selected and Rendered into English by R.C. Dutt London: J. M. Dent (1905).
23. The Slave Girl of Agra: An Indian Historical Romance, Based on Madhavikankan. London: T.F. Unwin (1909); Calcutta, Dasgupta (1922).
24. Vanga Vijeta; in translation, Todar Mull: The Conqueror of Bengal, trans. by Ajoy Dutt. Allahabad: Kitabitan, 1947.
25. Sachitra Guljarnagar, tr. by Satyabrata Dutta, Calcutta, Firma KLM (1990)

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