জগন্নাথ ঘাট, বড়বাজার, কলকাতা, c১৭৬০
Jagannath Ghat, built in European classical style with a drum-shaped crown atop, stood imposingly on the east bank of the river Hooghly immediately to the north of the present-day bridge. Those days, a long stretch of Hooghly up to Jagannath Ghat remained visible from the faraway rooftops of Shimulia houses in North Calcutta as there were no tall buildings in between. There were neither any large steamships in view, but plenty of wooden sailing vessels whose tall masts looked like a forest of dead woods from distance. See: Mahendranath Dutta
Sobharam Basak was the founder of Jagannath Ghat. It is said that Sobharam settled in Barabazaar when the new Fort William was being constructed. Therefore, Sobharam must have founded Jagannath Ghat sometime between 1758, when the rebuilding of the Fort started, and 1773 – the year Sobharam died. In all probability, Jagannath Ghat’s foundation should be around 1760s. Sobharam built the Ghat by the side of the Jagannath Temple he had built at 1, Nabab Lane. The Ghat was initially known as Sobharam Basak’s Bathing Ghat, known from the List of Old Ghats published in 1789. See: Harisadhan Mukhopadhyay. Shortly after, the name changed into ‘Jagannath Ghat’ as revealed in old accounts and maps of Hooghly River.
The name Jagannath Ghat continued to be in vogue for two and half a century until 2012, when it was miraculously replaced overnight by an unfamiliar name of Chotulal’s Ghat. All this happened subsequent to the recent discovery of a treasure-trove in shoe-box containing 178 photographic imagery of Colonial India. The shoe-box included two photo prints of the particular bathing ghat. Both the prints bear a short unsigned note: “Chotulal’s Ghat, Kolkata. Photograph probably taken from the old Howrah Bridge, 1912-1914”.
The photographs were taken by Johnston & Hoffman in 1885. It is unimaginable how the learned people and institutions could accept unquestioningly a new name tipped off by an unidentified writer, rejecting a well-established name unceremoniously. Today, even the old photographs of the edifice of Jagannath Ghat are being referred to as ‘Chotulal’s Ghat’ – a name that never turns out in historical accounts or maps.
But who this Chotulal was? So far we gather, there was no Chotulal, or Chote Lal in Calcutta who might have owned the bathing ghat. Bathing ghats are generally named after a deity or a celebrity who made it for public benefit. Chotulal of Calcutta might have been not a celebrity, but a commoner like Chand Pal, the owner of small shop at the river ghat later named Chandpal Ghat after him. It was not improbable that Chotu Lal happened to be a member of a particular Chiranji Lal – Sham Lal’s family and had a leading role in running their family business of Steamer Cargo Service from Jagannath Ghat steamer station. Jagannath Ghat, from where Chotulal might have conducted his business, possibly in due course earned a nickname Chotulal’s Ghat. This conjecture about Chotulal, right or wrong, has partial documentary support, which shows that there was actually an active marine dispatch service station at Jagannath Ghat, managed by some Lals.
A busy bathing ghat apart, Jagannath Ghat was one of the busiest steam navigation stations on Hooghly serving many of the public and private Liner Services appeared in the published listings, rearranged in late 1841. Between Calcutta and Allahabad, intermediate ports were then Rajmahal, Bhagalpore, Munghyr, Dinapore, Ghajipore, Benares, and Mirzapore, carrying both freight and passengers. By 1852 there was also a Dacca and Assam Line. Similarly, there were liner services with Chittagong, Arracan and Moulmein in Burma. Burma commercial operators, such as the Calcutta and Burmah Steam Navigation Company became the British India Steam Navigation Company. 1875 onward, India Steam Navigation Company introduced some of their long distance Liner Services between London-Cal (1875), Calcutta-Australia (1880), and Calcutta- New Zealand (1896). Alfred Hugh, a travelling artist, told us about the memorial tablet he noticed on the stone-wall of Jagannath Ghat. The Tablet revealed that from Jagannath Ghat steamers took pilgrims to far-off places.
The ghat was standing in the mid-1940s but that has since been lost. The last photograph, I guess, was perhaps the one taken in 1844 by Glenn S. Hensley. The edifice was then in good shape. Now it is turned into an unsightly place overshadowed by desolate warehouses of River Steam Navigation Company and Indian General River Navigation Cooperation of the then Inchcape Group.
The featured photograph at the top presents a bird’s eye view of Jagarnath Ghat on The River Hooghly. The view was captured in c1885 by Johnston & Hoffman