THE UNUSUAL PROTECTORS
During the time of East India Company, when the British rulers were running anti dacoity operations in Bengal, a widowed rich lady, Rani Sarbamangala Devi, from the district of Birbhum made preparations for making a journey to Puri to visit Lord Jagannath during the famous chariot festival called Rath Yatra. In those days it was the custom of the devotees to lie down on the route of the chariot and touch the rope with their heads. The Rani wanted to take part in that ritual.
A large contingent of servants and helpers and her own bodyguards were to accompany her. One night when the preparations were on in full swing, some local dacoits came to her house and asked for an audience. The Rani was greatly surprised, but, she agreed to meet them.
Kali Bagdi, the leader of the dacoits, first assured the Rani that they did not have any plans to rob her. On the contrary, they had come seeking her help. The police was pursuing them and if the Rani would allow them to accompany her to Puri, they would get a safe getaway and thus would be saved from almost certain deportation to the islands of Andaman if they were caught.
Sarbamangala thought over the matter and eventually agreed to take them with her on condition that they would protect her and her party from all attacks during their long journey from Birbhum to Puri. Kali Bagdi and his men promised to look after her safety even at the cost of their own lives if needs be. Sarbamangala then gave them one month's salary in advance to give to their families.
The journey started the next day. Puri used to be a popular place even in those days. Millions of pilgrims used to flock there during Ratha Yatra. The Rani and her team spent their first day on road , watching hordes of pilgrims slowly moving in the same direction. By the evening they reached the border of Medinipur and pitched their tents at a campsite by a small stream.
Kali Bagdi and his team also settled down on a nearby spot. One of their mates went to a nearby grocery shop in search of some food. Kalikamal Ghosh, the Rani’s accountant, also went to the grocer accompanied by two guards and ordered food and while the food was being prepared he picked up a conversation with the grocer.
While they were talking, four strongly built men dropped in one by one in the grocer’s shop. All of them uttered the same greeting –“praise the lord Jagannath”. The grocer suddenly became extremely alert and asked, “Are you pilgrims? Where are you from?”
“Yeah, you are right. The crowd is quite thick this time! Isn’t it? Could you give us a room and some food?”
“Yes, why not,” replied the grocer.
After some time a servant came and announced that the food for the Rani’s party was ready. The grocer also appeared to be very keen to see Kalikamal and his team off and to attend to the four travelers. So they came back with the food.
The next morning the party again started their journey. Kali Bagdi ran all the way behind the Rani's palanquin. They crossed Baleswar and reached the Baitarani River. Here they halted for the night. The other companions of the Rani who were following her on foot, reached around midnight and everybody settled down to rest.
Suddenly the four travellers of last night reached the spot, and as if by chance, settled down near the Rani’s tent. Kali Bagdi was feeling uneasy about these people whom one of his team members recognised as the men he had seen the previous day at the grocers shop. So he kept a close watch on them.
Near midnight the moon set. It was dark everywhere. Kali noticed that one of the four men was entering the Rani’s tent with a piece of cloth in hand. Immediately on entering the tent, he put off the lamp burning inside and tried to place the piece of cloth around the neck of the sleeping woman. But before he could pull the deadly noose tight, suddenly Kali Bagdi, sword in hand, stormed in and pounced on the thug like a tiger with a blood-cuddling cry of “Ha-re-re-re” and cut off his legs. The sound roused the other people and they all started gathering around the tent.
A terrible fight then ensued between Kali’s team and band of the thugs. The thugs were outskilled and outnumbered easily. Some were killed and some fled.
Faced with such a violence the Rani had swooned. When she came to, Kali showed her the dead thug and his deadly cloth-piece and explained to her how she was saved from an almost certain death.
The rest of the pilgrimage passed peacefully. On her return the Rani told everybody how Kali had risked his own life to save hers. Everybody praised Kali and his band of protectors.
Kali and his friends had left the profession of robbery for good after that. The Rani had provided generously for them. They became honest, well-to-do citizens after that. The decedents of the dacoits still live of the produce of the land and people point to their houses and tell others "There stands the abode of the famous Kali Bagdi".
This is a true story. It has been taken from the Bengali book "Banglar Dakat"(Robbers of Bengal) written by Jogendranath Gupta.