Kalighat Paintings on Tarakeswar affair of 1873, a Famous Murder and Scandal Case in 19th Century Calcutta (Kolkata)

The Tarakeswar affair (also known as the Tarakeswar scandal or the Mohant-Elokeshi affair) was a  public scandal in 19th century Calcutta (Kolkata). The affair of the beautiful Elokeshi, wife of Nobin Chandra Banerjee, with the mahant (mohant), the Brahmin head priest of Tarakeswar (Tarakeshwar) Shiva temple.

The affair led to the decapitation of Elokeshi by her husband Nobin, followed by a "well-publicized" trial of the Tarakeswar murder case of 1873, in which both the husband and the mahant were found guilty in varying degrees. The scandal became a popular subject of numerous Bengali plays as well as Kalighat paintings in that era.

Here are some Kalighat paintings describing the case.

An episode of the Tarakeshwar affair. The Mahanta (high priest) of the Shiva temple is shown seated on a striped rug in front of the temple, with a second man behind him. In front stand three women: Elokeshi, the young wife of the clerk Nabin Chandra Banerjee, is shown veiling her face with a part of her sari with her right hand and holding up a plate of offerings (naibedya) for the shrine with her left. Behind Elokeshi stands her younger sister Muktakeshi with her face veiled, and to the right stands Telibou (wife of oil seller), the female servant in the family who acted as procuress, looking boldly at the waiting Mahanta.

The Mahanta has been depicted wearing string necklaces but not the sacred threads of a brahmin, also he has been shown with Vaishnavite mark on his forehead although he is a Shaivite priest. The forefinger of his righthand rests thoughtfully on the beard of his cheek.

All three women as well as the Mahanta have been shown adorned with ornaments which are stock-in-trade of the 'patuas'.

Elokeshi is offering betel leaf to the mahant

Mahant fanning Elokeshi

The mahant offers Elokeshi childbirth medicine, to drug her before raping her

 Nabin and his Wife Elokeshi

 The Fatal blow

 After the blow

 The trial of the Tarakeswar scandal. Clockwise from left top: the court clerk, British judge, lawyer, the mahant in the witness box, Nabin with havildar (policeman). Elokeshi's corpse and the murder weapon in the centre.

The Mahant arrives in jail

 Mahant working as a prison gardener

The mahant turns an oil press in prison.

Summary of the Incidents:
Elokeshi, the sixteen-year-old housewife of the Bengali government employee Nobin Chandra, lived in the village of Tarakeswar with her parents, while Nobin was away for work in a military press in Calcutta. She approached Madhavchandra Giri, the "powerful" mahant of the popular and prosperous Tarakeswar temple, seeking childbirth medication, however the mahant allegedly seduced and raped her. Despite the rape, the affair continued with the "connivance" of Elokeshi's parents. When Nobin returned to the village, he learned about the affair from village gossip. Nobin was publicly humiliated following the discovery of the affair. He confronted Elokeshi, who confessed and begged him for forgiveness. Not only did Nobin forgive her but also he decided to run away with her from Tarakeswar. However, the mahant did not allow the couple to escape; his goons blocked their way. Overcome with anger and jealousy, Nobin slit his wife's throat with a fish knife, decapitating her, on 27 May 1873. Full of remorse, Nobin surrendered to the local police station and confessed his crime.
The Tarakeswar murder case of 1873 first stood in the Hoogly Sessions Court at Serampore in south-west Benagal. The Indian jury acquitted Nobin, accepting his plea of insanity, but the European judge Field overruled the jury's decision and forwarded the matter to the Calcutta High Court. However, Judge Field accepted that there was an adulterous relationship between Elokeshi and the mahant, with whom she was seen "joking and flirting". Judge Markby, who presided over the case in the High Court, also accepted the evidence proving adultery. The High Court convicted both Nobin and the mahant. Nobin was sentenced to life imprisonment; the mahant was also punished and got 3 years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of 2000 rupees.

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