NABARATNA TEMPLE OF GOBINDRAM MITTER

Hindu Pagoda and House 1778 Coloured etching with aquatint of a Hindu Pagoda and House by Thomas Daniell (1749-1840)

নবরত্ন কালী মন্দির। চিৎপুর। কলিকাতা। ১৭৩০/১৭৩১

 

A View of the Black Pagoda 1826 This is plate 23 of James Baillie Fraser’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’.. Aquatint, coloured Date: 1826

Black Pagoda in Calcutta c1829 by Thomas Prinsep (1800-1830) dated c.1829. Inscribed on the album page: ‘Calcutta, Noubruttun-Chitpoor Bazaar’.

Hindoo Mut in the Chitpore Bazaar. 1882 This coloured lithograph is taken from plate 22 of Sir Charles D’Oyly’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’. This view shows the decaying ‘Black Pagoda’.

This is the famous nine-turreted Navaratna Temple, popularly called Ghentoo ( i.e Hindu) or Black Pagoda by the Europeans. The temple, dedicated to goddess Kali, was built in 1730-1731 , on the Chitpore Road by the notorious black zamindar Govindaram Mitter of Holwell’s time. The main cupola of the temple was for many years the most conspicuous object in the city, over which it towered as the dome of St Paul’s does over the city of London. The 165-feet cupola, taller than the Ochterlony Monument of the British Raj, served as a navigator for the ships in the Hooghly River. The temple building was never completed, but progressively damaged through neglect until its main structure collapsed sometime before 1813. [Cotton] The central part of the building was overthrown in the terrible cyclone and earthquake of 1737. The remaining part with smallest copula can still be seen in the Coomartuli area. Regular pooja is performed even today. Recently the temple has received a facelift.” Aitro Mukherjee 26/7.2019

It is interesting to note that the temple was described differently at different points of time. Some suggested the temple had five pinnacles, and to some others it had as many as nine. The anomaly might be due to the fact that the temple had to undergo many structural changes since the day of 1737 Cyclone when its first copula destroyed. We are lucky to have opportunity to visualize the changes depicted in four images captured by famous painters of pre-camera era. You may find the replicas here to appreciate the aesthetic appeal of the works of art and their historic significance as well.

The temple apart, there are more things, good and bad, stored in the accounts of early Colonial administration in Bengal, to remember the rare personality of Gobindram .

Gobindram Mitter (17??—1766)
Gobindram Mitter was one of the earliest Indian officials under the British rule and earned a mixed reputation for his wealth and extravagance. He was a man of exceptionally daring character. He was the only soul, besides Oomichand, who preferred to stay back to Sutanuti during the invasion of Siraj in 1756 while the entire population moved away to the other side of Hooghly. He dared to practice corruption like any other corrupted English officers of his time, and became so powerful that his master John Zephaniah Holwell failed to remove him from his position of Deputy Collector. When in 1752 Holwell accused Gobindram  Mitter of dishonesty, the celebrated “black collector ” defended himself by pointing out that every deputy of this description was allowed similar privileges, and that he could not from his wages keep up the equipage and attendance necessary for an officer of his station.1 But the Collector was not merely the gatherer of the Calcutta revenues, he was also the magistrate in charge of the native inhabitants. As magistrate he also had under him a small police force to maintain.

  1. R. Wilson accuses the Company administration of having a ‘vicious policy’ that encouraged rampant corruption in its system. The dishonest “ black collector ” is a recurring feature in the internal administration of Calcutta, and it is a feature which need not excite surprise. In all probability the pay of the ‘black collector’ was absurdly small. It was the vicious policy of the. Company to under-pay its servants, and it was notorious that these servants, both high and low, derived the greater part of their income from their perquisites and from private trade. If the English Collector was not content with his pay but had recourse to indirect mean8 to augment it, why should not his Bengali personal assistant follow so good an example ? When in 1752 Holwell accused Govindarama Mitra of dishonesty, the celebrated “black collector ” defended himself by pointing out that every deputy of this description was allowed similar privileges, and that he could not from his wages keep up the equipage and attendance necessary for an officer of his station. [Wilson]

Gobindram as a Magistrate seemed to be a terror in public mind. His method of punishment, as Holwell observed, was ‘very remarkable’. Gopee Sing a convict laid to the charge of Gobindram. For after severely suffering the lath, chains, imprisonment, and confiscation he was fixed in a public high-way, and an order issued for every passenger to kick him on the head, under which situation he expired. [Holwell] Gobindram Mitter held his office from 1752 to 1756. A power in perpetuity devolved on the standing deputy. Gobindram turned into a legendary despot better known for his ruthless stick, as it appears in old Bengali rhyming proverb:

Gobindram Metre (Mitter), held his office from 1752 to 1756. A power in perpetuity devolved on the standing deputy. Gobindram turned into a legendary despot better known for his ruthless stick, as it appears in old Bengali rhyming proverb:

বনমালি সরকারের বাড়ি
গোবিন্দরাম মিত্রের ছোড়ি
উমিচাঁদের দাড়ি
হুজুরিমলের কড়ি
কে না জানে?
[Banamali Sarakrer bari
Gobindram Mitrar chhari
Umichander dari
Huzoorimaler kori
Ke na jane? ]

With accumulated fabulous wealth Gobindram said to have built, besides the magnificent Navaratna Temple, a luxurious Garden in Ooltadanga amidst the native quarters of the town where his friend Oomichand also erected his garden on the adjacent plot.
The locality, Jorabagan, was named after this pair of gardens of Omichand and Govindram. A road was made to reach the place and called Jora- bagan Road as found in Upjohn’s map of 1793-94. It was inserted by Upjohn in a corner of his larger map of 1793, and is apparently the plan, upon a larger scale, referred to by Archdeacon Hyde in his Parochial Annals of Bengal. Except for a detour on the north-east at Halsibagan, to enclose the garden-houses of Gobindram Mitter, the “black zemindar,’’ and of Omichand, it follows the modern Circular Road from Perrin’s Point, at the north-western extremity of Sutanati, where the Chitpore creek meets the river, down to a spot near the present Entally corner. It was intended in the first instance to extend it to the southern part of Govindpore, but in the plan a considerable space, over a couple of miles, is left blank to the southward and is inscribed “ this part not executed”. [Firminger]

Gobindram Mitter is credited by some as being the first Bengali to drive a coach. His celebration of the Hindu festivals was marked with lavishness and extravagance. The entire image of goddess Durga was wrapped in gold and silver leaf. Thirty to fifty maunds (one maund is about 37 kg) of rice was offered to the deity, a thousand Brahmins were fed and given gifts. It was he who fired the urge for conspicuous consumption in the society of his time. Mitter had a sprawling house at Kumortuli spread on 50 bighas (around 16 acres) of land where he came to reside after leaving his ancestral home at village Chanak near present-day Barrackpore since he joined the Collectorate. It may be noted that Gobindram’s famous villa, Nandan Bagan was in fact the name of his garden house in Jorabagan, which along with Hasibagan,Hortukibagan Rajabagan, was lying outside the township , and not a new establishment in  rural Bengal as many writers suggested.

Gobindram died circa 1766 leaving an heir, Rughoonauth Mitter, who left five sons, – Radhachurn, lived in their hereditary house in Chitpore; Crishnachurun lived at Nandan Bagan; Golokemohun,and Rusomoy, both died childless, and Rajendernarain resided at Choukhamba in Benares. Thus the Mitter family founded by Gobindram was divided in two branches, the Kumartuli Mitters and Benares Choukhamba Mitters

 

A NOTE TO READERS
This is an update of my earlier post Black Pagoda : Nabaratna Kali Temple published on December 30, 2013 that contained barely anything more than the masterpiece painting of the Black Pagoda by Danielle. There have been quite a few old posts, like this, apologetically lying with some visuals of great historical significance without bare minimum informative contents. This happened as I fail to manage my time to clear backlog. I could never make this page had I not received from Aritro Mukherjee his comments giving essential data relating to the Temple, and more than that, an inspired feeling of togetherness in revealing the truth and beauty of puronokolkata. I heartily thank Aritro for showing the way.

 

REFERENCE

Bangiya Sahitya Parishat. 19AD. “Bharatkosh; Vol.3.” Calcutta: Sahitya Parishat. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.454306.

Biswas, Oneil. 1992. Calcutta and Calcuttans From Dihi to Megalopolis. Calcutta: Firma KL. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.149376.

Bose, Ananda Krishna. 1928. ”A Short Account of the Second Class Residents of Calcutta in the Year 1822”. In: Calcutta Keepsake; ed. by  Alok Ray. 1978. Calcutta: Riddhi. https://archive.org/details/dli.bengal.10689.13264/page/n5.

Cotton, Evan. 1907. Calcutta Old and New: A Historical and Descriptive Handbook of the City. Calcutta: Newman. https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog.

Firminger, W.K. 1906. Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta. Calcutta: Thacker Spink. https://archive.org/details/thackersguidetoc00firm/page/n8.

Holwell, John Zephaniah. 1774. Indian Tracts. London: Becket. https://doi.org/10.15713/ins.mmj.3.

Mukhopadhyay, Harisadhan. 1915. “Kalikata: Sekaler O Ekaler (কলিকাতা একালের ও সেকালের).” Calcutta: P M Bagchi. https://archive.org/stream/Kalikata-Sekaler-O-Ekaler-Harisadhan-Mukhopadhyay/Kalikata Sekaler O Ekaler – Harisadhan Mukhopadhyay#page/n0/mode/2up.

Sengupta, Subodhchandra, and Anjali Basu. n.d. “Samsad Bangali Charitabhidhan.” Calcutta: Saitya Sangsad. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.454299/page/n1.

Wilson, Charles R. 1895. The Early Annals of the English in Bengal , Being the Bengal Public for the First Half of the Eighteenth Century; Vol.1. London, Calcutta: Thacker. https://archive.org/details/earlyannalsofeng01wilsuoft.

 

 

 

Old Customs House, Tank Square, Calcutta, c1758


হলওয়েল সাহেবের বাড়ি, কলকাতা কাস্টমসের আদি কার্যালয়। ট্যাঙ্ক স্কোয়ার, কলকাতা,  c১৭৫৮
Sir Richard Bacher, after being appointed on 3rd March, 1758, as the Sea and Land Customs Master, felt the need for an office in some convenient place. It was the site where Mr.John Zephaniah Holwell’s house adjacent to the old ditch stood that Sir Bacher identified for his purpose. Mr. Holwell sold his property to the Company for Rs.9,500/-, for using as Custom House. Thus, the Custom House initially functioned from Holwell’s house in Calcutta. The godowns and warehouses adjacent were also being used for storage of goods brought through riverine route. Holwell’s house being an old construction was found as not suitable for the functioning of the Custom House. Owing to incessant rains in the monsoon, the old construction gave way to seepage and leakage at many points. The building was, therefore, sold off for Rs.8,051/- only in 1760. The Custom House thereafter temporarily functioned from a dwelling house till it was decided on the 8th September, 1766, that the apartments occupied by the Fort Major in the old Fort would stand appropriated for use of the Custom House Master.Custom House Wharf
Evacuation of all militaries from the Fort area was completed in the beginning of 1767 with a view to converting the Fort premises into a Custom House. A number of warehouses and other buildings were erected inside the old Fort. From 1770, the old Fort steadily dipped into the Hooghly river. The Custom House at the extreme southern side of the old Fort disappeared in due course into the river. The southern side of the old Fort with a long narrow furrow on the ground was connected with a canal by which the boats could enter into the Custom House and the ships could be repaired without having the need for going all the way to Bombay.
The painting describing Custom House Wharf by Artist/Maker, D’Oyly. Courtesy: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. See

 

Old Court House, Tank Square, c1760-1774

writersBuildings_Danniel_1786পুরনো আদালত ভবন, ট্যাঙ্ক স্কোয়ার, কলকাতা, c১৭৬০-১৭৭৪
The first Mayor’s Court was established in the Presidency Town of Calcutta in 1728 that started functioning at the Ambassador House belonging to the East India Company. The Court House stood at the corner of Lalbazar and Mission Row. That site was occupied later by Martin Burn and Company’s Building. In 1732, the Mayor’s Court moved to the premises of Charity School, which was subsequently known as the Free School. As seen in the picture the Old Court House – the two storied building with its Ionic columns and an urn-topped balustrade – stands on the right. It occupied the site of St. Andrew’s Church by the side of the Writers’ Buildings. This building also served as the Town Hall of Calcutta at one time. See The Court House which Mr. Bourchier built was in 1762 greatly enlarged by the addition of verandahs, an additional saloon with a rooms as well as a dancing-saloon “in order that it might be used as an Exchange, Post Office, Quarter-Sessions Office, public entertainments, and Assembly rooms. For over thirty years the Old Court House was the scene of most of the public entertainments, and assembly balls. Towards the close of the century society had begun to break up into classes, subscription assemblies went out of fashion, and the old house became unsafe. The building was pull down in 1792.

Coloured etching with aquatint of the Old Court House and Writers Buildings in Calcutta by Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) no. 2 of his ‘Views of Calcutta’ published in 1786. This view is taken from the north side of Tank Square and looks towards the old Fort.

Supreme Court, Esplanade Row, Calcutta, 1851

SupremeCourt_EsplanadeRow2সুপ্রিম কোর্ট, এসপ্ল্যানেড রো, কলকাতা, ১৮৫১
This is a view of the Supreme Court on Esplanade Row, Calcutta. Present High Court’s building occupied the side of the Old Supreme Court house, which stood upon the West portion only. See
The promulgation of Regulating Act of 1773 by the King of England paved the way for establishment of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Calcutta. The Letter of Patent was issued on 26 March 1774 to establish the Supreme Court of Judicature at Calcutta, as a Court of Record, with full power & authority to hear and determine all complaints for any crimes and also to entertain, hear and determine any suits or actions against any of His Majesty’s subjects in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. This Supreme Court consisted one Chief Justice and three other regular judges or Puisne Judges. Sir Elijah Imphey was the first Chief Justice of this Supreme Court. British judges were sent to India to administer the British legal system that was used there. Sir William Jones was judge here from 1783 until his death in 1794. It, however, became an institution which was disliked and dreaded by the officers of the government and especially Indians. Supreme Courts at Calcutta, was abolished in 1861by enactment of the India High Courts Act.
Painted photograph by Frederich Fiebig, 1851

Council House [Old], Calcutta, 1764

CouncilHouseCalcuttaকাউনসিল হাউস [পূর্বতন] , কলকাতা, ১৭৬৪
Adjoining Government House to the west stood the Council House. After the recovery of Calcutta there was no Council Room for a twelve month to carry out business of the settlement. The dwelling house of the late Richard Court was purchased for the Honble. Company in 1758 and appropriated to the above use. .. It was probably a house near the hospital, and remained in use till 1764, when the Council House on the Esplanade was built, and gave its name to the street. Contiguous to it a house for the Governor was built. These two buildings continued in use till 1799, when Marquis Wellesley built the present Government House, on the site they had occupied.
Aquatint, coloured painting by Thomas Daniell, Plate three from the second set of’ Oriental Scenery

Old Court House, Fort William, Calcutta, c1760-1774

পুরনো আদালত ভবন, ফোর্ট উইলিয়াম, কলকাতা, c১৭৬০-১৭৭৪.
This is a view of the Old Court House inside the Old Fort William, the first fortress built in 1696 by the British after their establishment in Bengal. As seen in the picture the Old Court House – the two storied building with its Ionic columns and an urn-topped balustrade – stands in front. It occupied the site of St. Andrew’s Church by the side of the Writers’ Buildings. This building also served as the Town Hall of Calcutta at one time. The Court House, which Mr. Bourchier built, was in 1762 greatly enlarged by the addition of verandahs, an additional saloon with a rooms as well as a dancing-saloon “in order that it might be used as an Exchange, Post Office, Quarter-Sessions Office, public entertainments, and Assembly rooms. For over thirty years the Old Court House was the scene of most of the public entertainments, and assembly balls. Towards the close of the century society had begun to break up into classes, subscription assemblies went out of fashion, and the old house became unsafe. The building was pull down in 1792. See more. .

Coloured aquaint by Francis Swain Ward (1736-94) painted in c1760s, and published ln: Views in Indostan by William Orme, Plate 17 in 1804

East India House, Leadenhall Street, London, c1817

East_India_House_THS_1817_editedইস্ট ইন্ডিয়া হাউস, লন্ডন, c১৮১৭
The Company’s headquarters in London, from which much of India was governed, was East India House in Leadenhall Street. After occupying premises in Philpot Lane, Fenchurch Street, from 1600 to 1621; in Crosby House, Bishopsgate, from 1621 to 1638; and in Leadenhall Street from 1638 to 1648, the Company moved into Craven House, an Elizabethan mansion in Leadenhall Street. The building had become known as East India House by 1661. It was completely rebuilt and enlarged in 1726–9; and further significantly remodelled and expanded in 1796–1800. It was finally vacated in 1860 and demolished in 1861–62. The site is now occupied by the Lloyd’s building.
As drawn by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, c.1817.