The Last of the English Theatres in Colonial Calcutta:

THEATRE ROYAL

This is where Lewis’s Theatre Royal stood at 16 Chowringhee next to today’s Grand Hotel

Backdrop

After a warm farewell at Lyceum Theatre on 31 March 1870 night George Benjamin William Lewis and his wife Rose Edouin Lewis had left for Melbourne with no plan to revisit Calcutta any sooner for renewing the fame and commercial success they achieved during the last two and half a year of their theatrical performance. It was only a chance meeting with J B Howe, a versatile actor, in a Collins Street restaurant, GBW Lewis and his wife Rose were tempted to take Howe to Calcutta, where he could play for them both comedy and tragedy; moreover, he knew the repertoire and could sing. [Colligan] Because of his precommitments, Howe accepted the position of the ‘Leading Actor’ but for a single season. This was the beginning of a new chapter of Lewise’ theatrical adventure in Calcutta that concluded after six annual sessions in 1876 leaving their Theatre Royal behind continuing their legacy for over four decades.

‘Theatre Royal’ Announced

The Burlesque and Dramatic Company led by Lewises with thirteen actors besides Mr and Mrs Howe and Mr and Mrs Edouin reached Calcutta for the second time in early September of 1871. The next day, Howe writes, they had a rehearsal of the play, ‘Not Such a Fool as He Looks’ at the ‘charming’ little opera hall on Lindsey Street. Next Monday the 16th of September, they staged the play to a house crowded in every part, by the elite of Calcutta, Earl Mayo gracing the performance with his presence, and the two grandsons of the ‘notorious Tipoo Sahib’ being among the native princes and potentates present. On this opening night, Mr George Lewis, before the show began made a delightful announcement to the packed house, in presence of the Viceroy, of his plan to build a theatre house in Calcutta. Lewis Company did a grand performance that evening. Calcutta press reviewed the first appearance of Howe and said, “Mr Howe had not been five minutes on the stage, upon which he came with rounds of hearty welcome when we were quite satisfied that he was the right man in the right place. … he would be a most valuable acquisition to our stage.” [Howe] The curtain rose on Brougham’s comedy of – Faces in the Fire. During that short span, they did several revivals, amongst which was Rip Van Winkle. The team played at this ‘charming opera’ at Lindsey Street every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday for no more than four weeks, as an Italian opera company had booked the stage thereafter in advance.

George Benjamin William Lewis 1818-1906. Courtesy: State Library Victoria.

GBW Lewis, the indefatigable proprietor and an exceptionally resourceful and capable manager, was ‘not to be baulked’ under pressure. Without wasting a day, almost miraculously he managed to buy a suitable plot on Chowringhee Road opposite the Maidan, cleared its ground dislodging a ruinous structure and install a new theatre building on it in less than a month’s time. It was the prime location and much sought after for establishing a European centre of entertainment. [Howe] We may recall how earnestly the Calcutta Opera Committee and Augusto Cagli, the Italian Opera Impresario, hunted in vain for a piece of land in Chowringhee / Esplanade area some six years ago for the Grand Opera House before it finally placed at no. 7 Lindsey Street in 1867 where Lewises just inaugurated their current season jubilantly. [Rocha]

The Location and its Surroundings

Calcutta in the south was an obvious centre for new development and by the beginning of the nineteenth century Chowringhee that skirted the open space behind Fort William was described as an ‘entire village of palaces’. The palaces were mostly built as two- or three-storey square and rectangular blocks of Italianate design with pedimented windows and balustraded roof parapets. Their frontages were linked by colonnades, arcades or substantial railings and gateway. The view across the Esplanade open space took in Government House to the right and the Hooghly river ahead to the west. The site of these mansions had been won in a lottery by Colonel Grand, who proceeded to build himself a Sussex-inspired version of the English country house. [Denby]

Five Mansions. nos. 13-17 Chowringhee Forming a nucleus of the present Grand Hotel.

The tract that Carey found in his time covered by the palaces of Chowringhee, about a century before had contained only a few miserable huts thatched with straw; a jungle, abandoned to water-fowl and alligators, covered the site of the present citadel and the course by its side, daily crowded at sunset with the gayest equipages of Calcutta. [Carey] It was indeed an enviable location that Lewises found out within the most dignified stretch opposite the green of the Maidan, a cluster of five stand-alone buildings, that long back Mr Grant had erected with the Lottery money he won, covering nos. 13 to 17 Chowringhee Road, which after two and half a decade were to merge into a classy mega-mansion of the Grand Hotel created by Stephen Arathoon.  Arathoon bought the first three premises from Mrs Annie Monk, an eccentric British lady who stringently managed several ill-maintained boarding houses, including these five at Chowringhee and the other four in the vicinity at no. 11 Middleton Row,  no.13 Theatre Road, no. 26 Camac Street, and no. 8 Harrington Street. One of her formerly lodgers wrote in London Illustrated: ‘the two hardest things in the world are the diamond and a Calcutta board-house keeper’s heart.’ A little barrister while in Calcutta, he managed to get the best side of her for five thousand rupees. [Hobb] It was this lady from whom GBW Lewis had purchased in September 1871 a dilapidated lodge on plot no 16 Chowringhee, and that must have been at a fabulous price to persuade her to sell a property for the first time. At one time, it seems, here stood the Royal Hotel established by Mr Jack Anderson, formerly proprietor of the old Spence’s. Next stood Mitchell & Co.’s shop, and next to Mitchell’s stood the corner plot, no. 17. The last two were once occupied by the ‘Calcutta Club’, an institution set up for the leisure and recreation of the merchants, brokers, public servicemen and sundry. Colonel Abbott managed its affairs until its board split and doors closed. [Massey]  As we understand from Colligan, Lewis founded the Theatre ‘behind the old Calcutta Club’ [Colligan].

Construction and The Interior

The very day after Lewis secured the ground, he engaged over eighty workmen on the spot, with all the ‘plant’ to commence operations, most of them Hindoos, with of course European foremen and architects. The old mansion was down as if by magic, and in four days the foundations were being laid. Huge iron pillars and rafters, arrived by the dozen, and in less than three weeks the roof was on. The decorations and scenery were all being painted at the Opera House so that when the roof was on, they were carted to the theatre, and everything was ready to open on the fourth week. [Howe]

The new theatre, measuring 132 feet long by 60 feet wide, accommodated 800 seats inside. The proscenium, or the space between footlights and the curtain, is occupied by two upper boxes, and by doors leading behind the scenes. It is ornamented with four Corinthian columns one at each corner. Besides these two proscenium boxes, there are … two boxes on each side o the house near the stage and the Viceroy’s box in the middle of the dress circle. The dress circle is supported by iron pillars. It is reached by a double staircase and seated for thee hundred people. The theatre is entirely lighted by one large sun, consisting of gas jets about eight and a half feet in circumference. Architecturally, Lewis’s Theatre Royal can be defined as of later proscenium style of a mid-nineteenth-century theatre and not as of Elizabethan design, as some writers, like Utpal Dutt [Dutt], suggested misleadingly, in all probability due to inaccessibility to faithful documentary sources they needed to verify.

Inauguration of the Theatre Royal

A new chapter in the history of English theatre in Calcutta opened with the inauguration of Lewis’s Theatre Royal on 21 October 1871 with the ‘slight comedy’ by Buckingham, The Silver Lining, with Howe and Rose as leads. This was the beginning of six and a half year-long journey of Lewis’s Burlesque and Dramatic Company performing in the Theatre Royal along with several other global touring operatic and theatrical enterprisers and some local ones. Apart from Mrs Esther Leach, there was however none of the English theatrical performers in Calcutta who enjoyed the ovation of the Calcutta audience so exultantly. Incidentally, due to her untimely death, Mrs Leach reigned Calcutta theatre for a shorter period than Lewises did. Some months before Lewises arrival, the famous English soprano, Anna Bishop had performed in the Town Hall. An opera company led by the Italian impresario, Augusto Cagli toured between Melbourne and Calcutta during the earlier seasons of Lewises. Among others, Mr and Mrs English were the two important English thespians performing at the Corinthian Theatre from 1875. The English born minstrel proprietor Dave Carson arrived before Lewises in the early 1860s and later had occasions to share a stage with them showing signature piece ‘Bengali Baboo’ or some other of his mimes and minstrels. Dave lived in Calcutta until his death on 26 February 1896 and in respect to the departed soul of the artist, the Star Theatre remained closed on the 29th. [Mukherjee]

English Theatre Was For The Englishmen

Unquestionably, it was those downhearted Britishers and Europeans living away from their home who hailed the touring operatic and theatrical companies more to appease their nostalgic sentiments by witnessing the rerun of the family and social life than for appreciation of art and culture. ‘The repertoire of the different companies brought with them should speak more of the crowd-pleasing – popularand fashionable dramas, burlesques, extravaganzas. Shakespearean plays were included because those were fashionable. The elite society of then Calcutta had less care for serious themes, wanted something entertaining on the stage and did not mind a little vulgar or even a racy burlesque if that boosted the audience’ spirit.

ENGLISH Theatre AUDIENCE SAME EVERYWHERE IN MID-19th CENTURY; DEPICTED BY ST GILL, Melbourne, 1853. COURTESY: STATE LIB. VICTORIA

The scenario, however, was changing fast. For the first time in the early nineteenth century, the amateurish Calcutta theatre started transforming into a professional institution with the foundation of Chowringhee Theatre, or ‘The Theatre’ as it was frequently called. The Theatre was a ‘private subscription’ theatre under the patronage of a few liberally educated celebrities like Mr Hares Heman Wilson, David Richardson, C R Princep, J H Stoqueler, Dwarkanath Tagore. Soon it became a fervent hub where Calcutta elites would gather every evening for chats or drinks. “If any public Theatre can ever boast of its connection with a galaxy of brilliant scholars, artists and men of lead and light, belonging to the west, and having an intimate connection with the Indian people, it was the Chowringee Theatre. [Dasgupta] In 1826 when Mrs Esther Leach was inducted, The Theatre superbly presented the best English dramas before the Calcutta audience. The audience of Calcutta was never the same after being reshuffled to let in a small but significant section of young Bengalis versed in English dramatic literature. We may say with confidence that one of Mrs Leach’s significant contributions to the Calcutta society must have been its new culturally ‘receptive audience’ with adequate theatrical sense to judge a stage performance critically. In fact, this ‘audience’ was being groomed systematically for a long time in a number of English schools within their classrooms and on their makeshift stages [Ajantrik] To witness the marvel of Mrs Leach’s theatrical feats at Sans Souci was for them a magic touch complementing their learning of theatrical appreciation.

Newborn Bengali Critics

After two decades, the stage Directress Rose Lewis encountered the same small but very different homegrown audience enduringly settled themselves next to the much larger group of the British and European elitists. Rose had to satisfy a wide range of varied interests of the mixed population with a spectacular repertoire she prepared every season and to reproduce those on the stage as best as she can depending on the talents of her hired artists and ultimately on her own virtuosity and charisma. “Although its predominantly London repertoire was primarily aimed at British members of the colonial public service, Lewis’s theatre attracted many educated Bengalis, noted for their critical knowledge of Shakespeare.” [Colligan] The situation can be well understood from a press review quoted in Colligan’s book:

“It is amusing to note some of the criticisms in the native papers on our theatricals.” Times of India, Bombay Edition continues to report on 11 January 1868 “The tone is by no means complimentary to our theatrical troupes, as their performances are very severely handled, and in many respects, I must confess, with a certain degree of justice. Shakespeare has been studied by our Baboos in their educational courses at the universities and colleges, and they regard everything below Shakespeare as something scarcely worth notice. They are themselves paying considerable attention to dramatic literature, several new plays have recently been published, of which the native press speaks highly. They say that if they were translated into English and placed on our London boards they would create a sensation.”

So unlike the British who were prepared to ‘make allowances’ for the provincial standards of the Lewises, this British-educated Bengali audience expected more than ‘the odd pantomime and burlesque interspersed with, for instance, an unevenly acted Hamlet. None of the critics liked the company’s first ‘leading man’, tragedian John H. Allen, an American mediocre artist. Lewises had to depend on Melbourne for finding suitable actors willing to travel to Calcutta. It deems to be the primary reason why there were not many genuinely good actors to benefit the Lewis’s Theatre as did Williamsons or a Howe, other than Rose Lewis herself.

Rose Lewis

Rose Edouin Lewis 1844–1925 Courtesy: State Library Victoria.

Rose  Lewis was veritably a star actress having ‘grace’, versatility, and a ‘good taste’ – regardless of her appearances in restoration plays crossing over into tight breeches. ‘By 1870 her versatility was almost legendary.’ As acknowledged by the English and the Bengali presses, Rose played with equal agility and success literarily in any form of performance ‘from High Tragedy down to Burlesque. As for her male role, there was always some reservations in the reported views. Her Romeo was ‘manifestly’ a buxom lady playing a man’s part. Some ‘babus’ present seemed bewildered by the changes to the text and possibly to the gender of the person playing Romeo.

Rose faced similar adverse comments for her title role in  Azad The Prodigal. There the male role she played should be better-suited for a hideous, bony, muscular woman, rather than for someone like Rose Lewis “essentially feminine and graceful in appearance, voice and manner”. Playing the ‘other’ was, of course, one of the common tasks for an actor playing the part of a villain or a hero. She often played the ethnic ‘other’  in many of the plays available to her from the London or New York stage that demanded expertise. She was almost a ‘slave to her profession’; a most cheerful and willing one certainly; yet there were few players who have worked so hard, otherwise she could never reproduce atypical characters like a ‘Zoe’ or a ‘Monee’ impersonating their subtle expressions and mannerism.

Overall Appraisal

Lewises theatres were unpretentiously mercantile and prosaic in scope as its name defines. GBW Lewis the whiz kid of the company, after all, a hardcore businessman who, in terms of profitability alone, could differentiate a circus, which brought him to Calcutta the first time, from a theatre, his later obsession. He understood the box-office but little stagecraft, and not much of the people on the stage with whom he had some rough times too. Nevertheless, money could hardly ever make him all smile. We find him grudging about his loss in his farewell speech for 1873-74 – the weakest of all the sessions when he had bagged GBP 80,000 to take home.

The burlesque and similar forms of cheap entertainment always have a popular appeal irrespective of age or sex. The box-offices at Calcutta as well as at London and Melbourne favoured plays like Jack and the beanstalk, Cinderella, Robinson Crusoe and Aladdin, the political satire, the amazonian leggy chorus girls, the pantomimes such as Lalla Rookh; or The Princess, The Peri, and the Troubadour, and Jack the Giant Killer; or The Harlequin King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. All these pantomimes were part of general nineteenth-century interest by Europeans ‘in the spectacular and exotic otherness of the East’. In the late nineteenth century, the ‘Principal boys’ and ‘chorus girls’ of pantomime and English burlesque evolve in America into an entertainment of ‘less good’ taste featuring ‘bump and grind’ and strip-tease. There were, however, many of those racial items in Lewis’s production. One of the most significant ‘other’ characters Rose enacted was that of ‘Monee’, a Bengali ayah, or a lady’s maid, in Tom Taylor’s comedy-drama, Up at the Hills. The often racist Calcutta anglophone press dismissed the plot that depicted a British Major’s engagement to Monee, as highly improbable. Similarly, they reviewed apathetically Rose’s performance as ‘Zoe’ where a white gentleman contemplating such an alliance with an octoroon was repeated. Interestingly, In the USA the critics commented on the failure of The Octoroon there because of the race question.

There was above all the uncomplimentary histrionics of British dominance, where Indians found themselves barbarously portrayed to humour the white elitists. In pantomime tradition localization of a playscript was not uncommon for making stories colourful and realistic. Colligan mentioned a crude sketch of a babu, which Mrs Edouin Bryer enacted in male attire, delivering a welcoming address to the representative of the Duke of Edinburgh on a tour in India accentuating babu’s servile obedience and his horrible English. In another event, one of the most respectable Bengali, Dr SG Chuckerbutty – the first Medical professional educated in London – was ‘sent-up’ to be heckled in a pantomime show only to please the larger sections of the arrogant fun-loving audience, and perhaps a smaller section who were critical of the over-anglicization of Dr Soorja Coomar Goodeve Chuckerbutty, née Surjo Kumar Chakraborty (c.1826 –1874) better known as Dr Goodeve Chuckerbutty as he himself preferred to be called. Colligan took it for a case of cruel joke that the respectable London-trained Doctor was wrongfully caricatured by twisting his name in a funny manner. We may recall that the contemporary Bengali bards never spared an overzealous anglicizing act of fellow countrymen. Plenty of examples of such mocking and mimicking one may find in loud-mouthed Kolkatar Song as well asin the polite Hansir Gan of DL Roy. Practising this kind of self-criticism publicly was one of the reasons why the ‘Young Bengal’ put off their pro-English lifestyle. Rose Lewis understood this Bengali sentiment well and took the liberty to stage Dr Goodeve’s show with no remorse. She was intelligent and had adequate resources for learning the equations between the British Raj and progressive Bengali minds.

She might have developed a stand of her own as reflected from the episode of staging the controversial play, The Happy Land, a burlesque by WS Gilbert. The play was a notable example of political banning that satirized Gladstone in London, Graham Berry in Melbourne, and in India when it was staged in 1874 in Theatre Royal the Viceroy Lord Northbrook walked out insulted by the localised ’satire’. To save the situation, Rose Lewis wrote the next day admitting her approval of the words spoken in the rehearsal, all about Bengal famine and relief fund, which she quoted for the public to read. The text which appeared to her not so brilliant but nothing was there that may suggest insulting to His Excellency but rather ‘a rub against the selfishness of the natives’ whose duty it is to succour such distress while on the part of the European community it is charity. For Rose, who witnessed political assassins during her stay, the staging of this controversial play was a bold decision, and that she must have taken voluntarily.

Lewis’S FAREWELL TO Calcutta

The Lewis’s company returned to a different Calcutta theatre scene from that which they had left in 1874. Then main rivals for audiences were Cagli’s opera. and touring circuses on the Maidan. After the Lewises seeming retirement, a  ‘Theatrical committee’ was formed in a meeting at the Town Hall to raise funds for theatre season. Others, led by a former ‘utility player’ of Lewis’s company, George Anderson, built a new theatre, Corinthian, on Dhurrumtollah Street. There was also a London based company led by Mr and Mrs English that arrived in Calcutta for the 1874-75 season. Lewises this time promised in their advance advertising to Calcutta public two American actors, James Cassius Williamson and Maggie Moore, who proved themselves the most successful stars in their Australian tours. GBW spared no expense in producing the newest and most successful pieces of the as well as some established favourites of the Calcutta modern stage. The Indian Daily News, Bengal Hurkaru advertised the day before covering the front page the varied programmes of three theatres at English’s Theatre, directed by  Mrs E. English; Lewis Theatre Royal, directed by Mrs Rose Lewis; and Corinthian, directed by GB Allen. The reviews of all the three performances reported full houses, but the Williamsons and their play Struck Oil received the most glowing report. Struck Oil Apart, in their five-week season the Williamsons presented Kerry, Little Nell, and Rip van, Winkle.

The Lewis Burlesque and Dramatic Company gave their last performance on 29 January 1876. The programme consisted of WS Gilbert’s charming mythological comedy Pygmalion and Galatea a quite satire upon social life and human nature generally. The naive simplicity and innocence of Rose playing in her part of Galatea made the character so amusing and real, and her artful skill was creditably acknowledged by the Indian Daily News and Hurkaru on 31 January 1876 that also reported GBW Lewis’s farewell speech. The speech was largely rambling and self-justifying. He declared that he had not made a profit from the season. Indeed, he had lost a little, some Rupees 2000 per week, until the arrival of the Williamsons. He also focused emphatically that ‘He had tried to do his best for his patrons and friends, and had always made it a duty to bring a respectable company and to keep it so, as he studied respectability as well as talent. It was however an undeniable fact that Lewises made sufficient financial gain from Lyceum and Theatre Royal phases. he had evidently had made sufficient profits to finance the building of investment properties on Melbourne land he had bought in 1865. The Lewis Dramatic and Buffesque company gave their last performance on 29 January 1876. The day after, on 31 January 1876, GBW Lewis sold his interest in the Theatre Royal , the Parsee Operatic and Dramatic Troupe open at Lewis’s Theatre in the ‘Ever fresh, Ever New Opera of Indur Sabha. [Colligan]

END OF THE THEATRE ROYAL

At the fag end of the eighteenth century, Aaracoon Stephan, a Bagdadi Armenian boy arrived at Calcutta in 1894 to paddle jewellery but soon took more interest in Calcutta’s fast developing real estate. He bought three mansions at nos. 13, 14, and 15 Chowringhee from Mrs Monk and added no.16 from its present owner. The mansion at no. 16 accommodated a Royal Hotel forming a part of the Theatre Royal.  Stephen developed these properties integrated into a dream Hotel the Grand Dame of Calcutta that remains an icon of the city of palaces. During the first part of the twentieth century, when the Theatre Royal under new management was in function there were a billiard saloon, a bar and a lounge on the Grand Hotel’s ground floor for the convenience of the people attending the Theatre Royal. A little away at its northern side, where the dining hall of the Grand Hotel stands, an open-air skating rink ran as a private club. [Massey]}

The Theatre Royal was burnt down shortly after midnight on January 2, 1919, finally ending the history of the English Theatre of Colonial Calcutta. The Humphrey-Bishop Company, showing there at the time lost everything including music and manuscripts. As the premises including tumbled-down edifice with a worm-eaten stage were fully insured Stephen suffered no loss. The last establishment that entertained Calcutta standing on the plot was the cosy cinema hall, Tiger, screening little offbeat English movies till the early 1990s. The memory of the Tiger Cinema with its small bar and smoking lounge, I believe, may not be completely wiped out from the minds of the Calcutta movie fans. [BalaBenoy]

END OF ENGLISH THEATRE

The tradition of English theatre in Calcutta had its best time between the late 1860s and mid-1870s when after a long interval the London repertoires were being regularly presented on the Calcutta stage to the heart’s content of the culturally deprived homesick British population. Other than the nostalgic reasons, the white people had also immense pleasures seeing the native Indians ridiculed in burlesque and pantomime shows. Viewed from the twenty-first century, the content of Lewis’s repertoire seems often ‘racist, imperialist, orientalist and melodramatic’ but undeniably the company went for the items in response to the popular taste and largely noncommittal attitudes of London and Melbourne. This kind of ‘popular theatre’ can be seen as a transition phase between the formal stage play of the mid-century and the realist drama of the late nineteenth century. The end of the English theatre in Calcutta was not abrupt but a consequence of a long process of cultural transfer under its colonial socio-political environment.

The English theatre never vanished in the blue of Calcutta sky but was emptied for the Bengali theatre to capture with the ‘new audience’ and with the most recent socially and politically relevant vernacular dramas penned by leading essayists, novelists and poets for the first time.  The contributions of these ‘new dramatists’ that won over the English stage were enough powerful and influential to scare the government. The Vernacular Press Act of 1878 did suppress the theatrical and literary movement for a while but took a new turn to flare up. “After Mrs Lewis left, there was no permanent English theatrical party, although there were Opera House, Theatre Royal and Corinthian Theatre they were meant for casual performances or musical entertainments only. Except [for] a few solitary instances, dramatic pieces too were either light comedies or farces which could not approach the high standard of comic representations where Ardhendu Sekhar or Bel Babu, Khetromoni or Binodini were the rival artists”. [Dasgupta. v.4]. Before long those remaining English theatres and operas were transformed into movie houses or closed their shutters forever.

The new audience, which is to my mind a direct product of Mrs Esther Leach’s theatrical presentations to the young Bengali theatre-goers, is indirectly responsible for the emergence of the ‘new dramatists’. In addition to what we already discussed on this issue, I would like to emphasize here the fact that ‘critiquing the theatre’ is a necessary forte not only for theatre appreciation but for theatre production and theatrical enactment as well. Theatre, being a performing art, needs close personal and group interactions and a platform, which was available with Rose Lewis for the theatre enthusiasts like those Bagbazar boys. Rose Lewis as the Directress of the stage, felt sufficiently attracted toward the argumentative young theatre-loving Bengalis, which was revealed in the course of interactions between Rose Lewis and the Bagbazarian youths who set the modern Bengali theatre on a national platform. It was never possible without the research work of Mimi Colligan which I have extensively used, to feel the momentums of journeying through the theatrical movement in colonial Calcutta ultimately blooming into the National Theatre. The relationship between the Bengali enthusiasts and Rose Lewis and her troupe members grew into a professional camaraderie with a far-reaching impact on the history of Bengali drama on the English stage. which we would like to take up separately.

REFERENCE

Ajantrik. 2021. Lewis’s Royal Lyceum: In the Making of Homegrown Professional Theatres and Theatricals of Calcutta. puronokolkata.com. https://puronokolkata.com/2021/07/10/lewiss-royal-lyceum/

Carey, William. 1964. Good Old Days of Honorable John Company from 1800 to 1858; vol.1. Calcutta: Quins. https://archive.org/details/goodolddaysofhon00careuoft/page/n4/mode/1up?view=theater

Chowdury, Darshan. 1995. বাংলা থিয়েটারের ইতিহাস. Calcutta: Pustak Bipani. https://granthagara.com/boi/331880-bangla-theatrer-itihas-by-darshan-chowdhury/.

Colligan, Mimi. 2013. Circus and Stage: The Theatrical Adventures of Rose Edouin and GBW Lewis. Mellbourne: State Library Victoria.https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/177161657

Dasgupta, Hemendranath. 1944. The Indian Stage; v.4. Calcutta: Das Gupta. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.21261.

Dutt, Utpal. 1992. Girish Chandra Ghosh. Calcutta: Sahitya Akademi. https://www.google.com.Au/books/edition/Girish_Chandra_Ghosh/oCARY9BKjT4C?hl=en&gbpv=1dq=Theatre+Royal.+Dharmadas+Sur,+Girish%E2%8%99s+designer,+often+went+with+him+and+between+scenes+of+the+play+they+would+make+mental+calculations+of+the+proportions+of+the+auditorium,+which+was+a+replica+of+the+Elizabethan+design+of+Richard+Burbage.&pg=PA13&printsec=frontcover

Denby, Elaine. Grand Hotels, Reality & Illusion: An architectural and social history. London: Reaktion Books, 1998. https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/G/bo3536413.html

Hobbs, Harry. 1944. John Barleycorn Bahadur: Old-time taverns in India. Calcutta: Thacker. 15.53429.John-Barleycorn-Bahadur_text.pdf

Howe, J Burdett. 1888. Cosmopolitan Actor. London: Bedford. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101066164185&view=1up&seq=7.

Massey, Montague. 1918. Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century. Calcutta: Thacker. a&usg=AOvVaw3uvydXqyjqB3xbkOOZe4jp

Mukherjee, Sushil. 1980. Story of Calcutta Theatres: 1753-1980. Calcutta: KP Bagchi. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.100095.

Rocha, Esmeralda. 2012. Imperial Opera : The Nexus between Opera and Imperialism in Victorian, 1833–1901. https://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/en/publications/imperial-opera-the-nexus-between-opera-and-imperialism-in-victori

This hand-coloured etching by Edward Gurk depicts the inside view of a proscenium theatre, Théatre I.R. de la cour, prés le palais, and not of Lewis’s Theatre Royal, Calcutta. Image Courtesy British Museum.

LEWIS’S ROYAL LYCEUM

In the Making of Homegrown Professional Theatres and Theatricals of Calcutta

View of Calcutta Maidan By Charles D’Oyly. Courtesy: BL. Lewis’ Royal Lyceum Theatre was situated near Ochterlony Monument.

Backdrop

When the English came to Calcutta they brought with them the plays of William Shakespeare. When Lewises arrived in 1864, English theatre made a century dating from Calcutta’s second playhouse: the Calcutta Theatre. The first one, named ‘Play House‘, already destroyed in the Battle of Lalldighi, had left its little but precious history untraceable. It was, however, the collective experience contributed by a number of small private playhouses that shaped the minds of the Calcutta audience of the 1840s to appreciate Augusto Cagli’s Italian operas and the English theatres of Mrs Esther Leach. The immense goodness she brought about in developing Calcutta’s theatrical culture through her two unlucky establishments, the Chowringhee Theatre and the Sans Souci together with her liberal-minded friend circle paving the inroad toward making modern vernacular theatre, which had to wait for a decade more to begin. Lewises entered the scene in that opportune moment and did their best to inspire and facilitate instituting the Bengali theatre on the English model.

For a long time, Calcutta had no permanent home to stage an opera or a theatre after the Sans Souci collapsed in the 1840s. That is why in 1866 it was a challenge for the haut society of the City of the Palace to accommodate in the Town Hall the debut performance of Augustus Cagli – though it was one of his orchestra-less chorus-less semi-staged concerts played by a small band of 12 artists. In spite of the serious limitations of the utilitarian structure of the public Town Hall, the event proved to be a grand success. [Rocha] It was a time when both the media and the townfolk argued that what was missing from Calcutta was an opera house, for the city already boasted a fine opera company and an enthusiastic audience. They genuinely believed, ‘were a suitable building erected, an opera could be maintained here’ [Rocha]. Happily, not even a year went by, as many as three new theatres founded in Calcutta: Cagli’s ‘Opera House’ later rechristened The Corinthian, the Lindsay Street Opera House reserved for Cagli, and the Lyceum on the Maidan set up by Lewis couple. [Rocha]

Rose Edouin Lewis (1844-1925) Courtesy: Mimi Colligan
George Bejamin William Lewis (1818-1906). Courtesy: Mimi Colligan. State Library of Victoria Collection

Lewises in Calcutta

Six years before establishing the Lyceum theatre, George Benjamin William Lewis had toured Calcutta in early October 1860 with his Australian Hippodrome and Mammoth Amphitheatre. He opened here a circus on the 16th of October in a huge tent in the Maidan with the special permission of the British authority. After many gainful years of running the circus business in China and India Lewis had sensed an upcoming market for a British theatre in two colonial cities – Calcutta and Shanghai. Lewis moved from circus to stage in 1864 while in China with lady Rose – a 23-year-old English actress of rare talent and beauty whom he married on their boat sailing to Shanghai. Lewis’s Dramatic and Burlesque and Ballet Company arrived in Calcutta in early September 1867. Acquiring access to a rent-free land on the Maidan, he had erected a prefabricated corrugated iron theatre close to the Ochterlony monument. Lewises inaugurated their first theatre in Calcutta under the banner, ‘Lewis’s Royal Lyceum’ in mid-September 1867. Sadly, in less than two months a disastrous cyclone lashed about Calcutta on the first day of November, tearing down some old buildings and parks including the newborn Lyceum flattened to the ground. It took, however, only eight days for Lewis to erect the structure anew, which he did without taking any help offered by the Calcutta sympathizers.

Programme for the School of Scandal at Lyceum, Calcutta Feb. 1869. Courtesy: Mimi Colligan. State Library of Victoria Collection

Lyceum Royal Theatre

The theatre was impressive and well-equipped, approached by a broad flight of steps. The hall measured about 40 by 100 feet claimed to hold 800 people. With an interior decorated with guilt plaster walls and red velvet seats, ‘ample and imposing stage’, a proscenium, pit, boxes, and a gallery it had a look of an English provincial theatre. While the overall management of the theatre was the responsibility of Mr George Lewis, his wife Edouin Rose Lewis as the ‘Directress and Star’ dominated the acting and the choice of plays, stage managing, and rehearsing. As an actress, her versatility was legendary. She had the ability to play ‘from High Tragedy to Burlesque with equal skill and success ‘. She also appeared in a male role but, as Englishman reviewed on 19 Jan. 1874, with limited success being ‘essentially feminine and graceful in appearance, voice and manner’ [Colligan]. The first dramatic company Lewises had engaged in Calcutta consisted of 21 artists. Except for Austin Shanghai – the young acrobat from China, all others were from Melbourne. Lewises had produced at the Lyceum mainly Elizabethan and Victorian tragedies and comedies besides burlesque and pantomime. Their repertoire reflected the ‘popular taste and largely unquestioned attitudes of London and Melbourne’ an admixture of British and orientalist, melodramatic and burlesque, even sometimes with imperialist and racist appeals. During the two and half years, a transition from the formal stage play of the mid-century to the more natural acting style and realist drama of the late nineteenth century took place representing the theatre of Sydney Grundy, H.A. Jones, Pinero, Ibsen, Wilde, and Shaw. Lewises developed Lyceum to be an audience-oriented professional theatrical enterprise. Both George and Rose Lewises were English by birth, and it was an English theatre of predominantly London repertoire they staged for the Calcutta audience comprising the British and European members of the civil and military services and their families, not discounting, however, the British educated natives of Bengal. Lewises welcomed all theatre lovers irrespective of racial differences, yet their pricing policy restricted admission of the disadvantaged ones. The price-tags of the admission tickets were on the high side: two to five rupees at the beginning, afterwards revised to one to five – which were, in fact, more expensive than at London where the highest being of about seven shillings. Later, they discarded the one-rupee ticket because of the ‘bad behaviour of audience’ at the lower gallery [Colligan]. From the very beginning, Lewises took all care to keep their theatre high in professional standard and in respectability. Lewises took pride in keeping up that will to the last, as revealed from the farewell address of Rose Lewis delivered in 1876 before leaving Calcutta finally [Dasgupta].

Winding-up of Lyceum

In early 1870, after more than two and half years in India and their third season in Calcutta, Lewis decided to end his connection with the sub-continent and return to Australia. He advertised on March 10 1870 his Lyceum Theatre for sale. Lewises wished continuity of the English theatre in Calcutta, and perhaps they were also reluctant to cut off Calcutta link in haste that was what prompted them to encourage Willie Gill, a ‘low’ comedian in their team, to take a venture to start a theatre anew on the site of Lyceum. After a farewell performance at Lewis’s Lyceum on 31 March 1870 night Lewises left Calcutta without any plan to coming back soon. Willie Gill was true to his promise to provide a theatre on the old Lewis site. Together with a Calcutta businessman, named Sultana, Gill opened a theatre on the Maidan in October 1870. He opened their theatre under the banner, ‘Olympic Theatre’, in early October. But although some critics liked the ‘capital actors’ the venture failed. p.95 [Colligan]The Lewis company was only one of many entertainment troupes that visited Calcutta in the mid to late nineteenth century, but they were the first to stay for a length of time of seven years. They influenced Calcutta theatre in the form of their public purpose-built proscenium theatre itself and by their repertoire and production values [Colligan]. The story of Lewis’ Royal Lyceum ends here but not before it lights up the first Modern Bengali Stage.

II A STEP TOWARD BENGALI PUBLIC THEATRE

Apart from the direct influence of the performing English theatres in nineteenth-century Calcutta, there had been a conscious learning process introduced by some extraordinary schoolmasters for their students to acquire tastes and skills of theatrical arts and stage crafts. In the nineteenth century, Shakespeare was taught in several venerable Calcutta schools before it was a subject of higher study in Hindu College. English literature was studied there under great teachers like David Lester Richardson, C.H. Tawney, H.M. Percival, and Henry Louis Vivian Derozio. Prof. Richardson used to advise his students to go to see Shakespeare on the stage. [Dahiya] The boys knew the names of the good actors and actresses of Calcutta, and also familiar with the names of David Garrick, Sarah Siddons, and some other famous performers of London theatres. [Mukherjee]

Theatre In Schools

The reading of English dramas and recitation and enacting of scenes were practised and encouraged in such early nineteenth-century educational institutions of Calcutta as Drummond’s School at Dharamtolla, Sherborne’s School at Chitpore, David Hare’s School, Gour Mohan Auddy’s Oriental Seminary, and Alexander Duff’s General Assembly’s Institution. [Bandyopadhyay]

The boys of David Hare Academy staged ‘The Merchant of Venice’ on 16 and 24 February 1853 under the direction of Mr David Clinger, a teacher of English in Calcutta Madrassa. Mr Clinger was also associated with the Sans Souci Theatre. Sambad Pravakar reported on 10 February 1853 that it was the first such performance by students in an educational institution [Mukherjee]. The credit, however, as we understand, should go instead to the Dharmatalla Academy of David Drummond (1785-1843) for staging Home’s tragedy ‘Doglus’ in 1824 – a decade before the establishment of Hindu Theatre, being the earliest attempt in making young minds ready to appreciate modern theatre.[Dasgupta]

Bengali Private Theatres Before Lyceum

Before Lewises’ Dramatic company landed with its collapsible theatre, Calcutta had experimented with the realities of establishing a few short-lived indigenous private theatres:

HINDU THEATRE (1831) In response to the public demands voiced in Samachar Chandrika since 1826 for establishing a theatre on the model of the English theatre, Prasanna Kumar Tagore, himself a product of Hindu College, founded the Hindu Theatre on 28 December 1831, with his college friends imbibed with westernised values and ideas in mind. This was the first theatre founded by a Bengali, housed in his garden-house in Narkeldanga, a Bengali quarter, for a Bengali audience, but had no place for Bengali drama, and therefore it was never considered as the first English modelled native theatre. The Hindu Theatre was an aristocrat theatre and its audience comprised Indians and Europeans admitted by private invitation only. Hindu Theatre, in spite of its excellent performances, was short-lived. It might have failed to appeal Bengali audience at large because of the sophisticated and exotic content and form of the plays it staged.

SHYAMBAZAR THEATRE (1835) After Hindu Theatre closed, the Shyambazar Theatre came next, again as a private theatre, to stage Bengali plays. The theatre was housed at the residence of Babu Nabin Chandra Basu in North Calcutta. On 6 October 1835, the theatre was inaugurated playing ‘Vidya Sundar’ – a long play that continued from 12 midnight to 6.30 in the morning having its different scenes enacted at separate locations with appropriate makeover within the sprawling mansion. The female roles in Vidya Sundar were played by female artists: Radhamoni, Jaidurga and Rajkumari. The theatre died a premature death like its immediate predecessor. After Nabin Chandra Basu’s Shambazar Theatre there was a lull in the world of Bengali theatre for about two decades. Nothing happened except the handful performances of English dramas at Calcutta schools between-whiles as mentioned before.

ORIENTAL THEATRE (1853-1857)  Bengal Harkaru of 7 April 1853 reported that the students and ex-students of the Oriental Seminary raised a sum of Rs. 800/- to set up the theatre at Garanhata, Chitpore for staging Shakespeare’s plays. The pioneers included Priyanath Dutt, Dinanath Ghosh, Sitaram Ghose, Keshab Chandra Ganguly and others. It took some five months to get ready under the drilling of Mr David Clinger, an English teacher at Madrassa and an associate of Sans Souci, and Mr Roberts and a lady named Miss Ellis. There were also some European actresses who took part in Shakespearean plays, as we find Mrs Greig appeared as Portia in their play Merchant of Venice on 2 March 1854 and then on 17 March. Oriental Theatre was open to the public against admission tickets of Rs. 2 each, which to be had of Messrs F W Brown & Co. and Baboo Woomesh Chunder Banerjee, Cashier, Spences Hotel.

JORASANKO NATYASALA (1854) This was again a short-lived English theatre, contemporaneous with its neighbouring Oriental Theatre at Baranasi Ghose Street. Jorasanko Natyasla was a privately-owned theatre of Babu Parry Mohan Bose but not a ‘private theatre’ since it practised admission by tickets sold publicly. On 3 May 1854, it staged Julius Caesar in English. At the end of the year, Jorasanko Natyasala staged some plays in Bengali in response to the appeal of The Hindu Patriot (11 May 1854).

OTHER PRIVATE  DESHI THEATRES Besides these four theatres, there were some more short-lived private theatres of great historical importance that had performed vernacular dramas with local talents, like the Belgachia Theatre (1858-1861), Pathuriaghata Theatre (1859-1872), Sobhabazar Theatre (1865-1867), Jorasanko Theatre (of Tagores) (1865-1867). All the theatre houses were local initiatives that ceased to exist little before the coming of Lewises in mid-September 1867 to establish Lyceum Royal Theatre at Maidan. Two other such vernacular private theatres, Bowbazar Theatre (1868-1874) and Baghbazar Amateur Theatre (1868-72) were contemporaneous to Lyceum. It was the latter, which had its history intertwined with the Lewis’ Lyceum affairs.

BENGALI AUDIENCE & ESTHER LEACH

Lewises’ theatres had gained a mighty advantage of having a ready Bengali audience receptive and appreciative of theatrical entertainments and artistry, backed by their elementary learnings of the English dramas and theatrical arts at schools, besides their exposures to the stage performances of the English and vernacular plays. An earnest Bengali spectator was born to be tuned to the English theatre of the latter half of the nineteenth century Calcutta and for that largely responsible were Mrs Leach’s theatres, particularly the Sans Souci, which is overstated sometimes by historians as “the last important English theatre in Calcutta” [Dasgupta?] belittling the seven years Lewises contributed to Calcutta’s English theatre. On the other hand, some of them, like Colligan, preferred to overlook the deep imprints of the ‘actress-manager Mrs Esther Leach’ who had achieved, to their mind, only ‘a moderate success’ [Colligan].

LYCEUM: A BOON TO YOUNG BENGALI THEATRE

Advantaged with the new research findings on Lewis’ theatres in Calcutta, which remained unavailable to the veteran theatre historians, one can identify today more confidently the eventualities bearing on the emergence of the professional Bengali theatre – modernistic, realistic and democratic – that outlasted the English theatres of the English in Calcutta. For the sake of convenience, I may be allowed to tag the period of Olympic Theatre (popularly called ‘Sultan’s Theatre’) [Binodini], which followed next, to the history of Lewises’ Lyceum Royal Theatre, on the plea of Olympic Theatre being merely an extension of the former without adding anything new for its identity other than the name. The special significance of the Olympic Theatre was that, in absence of the Lyceum, it facilitated the Baghbazar amateurs to inspect the specimens of Lyceum’s building, auditorium, stage, scenes and screens.

Since this paper is restricted to the phase of Lewis’ Royal Lyceum Theatre most of the contributive issues involved with the Lewis’ Theatre Royal will remain untold. I will concentrate here on only two relevant issues:

  • A historic friendship between the two great thespians: Mrs Lewis and Girish
  • Adaptation of English model by Dharmadas in building early Bengali theatres

CAMARADERIE BETWEEN GIRISH AND MRS LEWIS

The most critical event in the history of professional theatre in Bengal deems to be the chance friendship between Girish Chandra Ghosh, the father of the Bengali theatre, and Mrs Rose Edouin Lewis, the queen of the English theatre of then Calcutta. The two versatile thespians were exactly of the same age, born in 1844, Girish on 28 February, Rose 29 January. Their bonhomie served as the foundation for the generous cooperation and support the young Bengali theatricals received in transforming their traditional resources and styles into the professional theatre of the modern time that should happen in course of the next five years.

Girishchandra Ghosh (1844-1812) Source: Girish-rachanabali. V.4

Amritalal Basu, a doyen of Indian theatre, revealed in his memoir how Girish came in touch with the famous English actress Rose Edouin Lewis. Girish, it looks like, often visited Lyceum theatres even before he met Mrs Lewis in his office. He was then in the employment of the John Atkison & Co. at no. 6 New China Town Street. Mrs Lewis had occasions to visit Atkinson’s as the company was looking after her business account. Incidentally, it was Girish who was keeping her books. Mrs Lewis, already a celebrity – a star actress, unapproachable ordinarily by commoners like young Girish. It is interesting to note here that once Amritalal before he ever met Girish, had refused to believe that mere an office clerk, what Girish was, could ever recite or play a Shakespeare. For Girish, however, theatre came naturally, and his job title did hardly matter. On the contrary, Girish had a sore point with ‘acting as a profession ’ that was looked down on in respectable Bengali society. This was why Girish had been much reluctant to print his name on theatre bills unless a qualifier ’amateur’ was annexed to guard his honour. This again might be the primary reason for his disapproval of ticket selling, which was considered lowly in the middle-class mindset. [Basu]

As mentioned earlier, Girish had frequented Lyceum theatre before he met Rose Edouin Lewis at Atkinson’s. [Gangopadhyay] He had times to talk about the plays he witnessed and frankly exchange views on points of strength and weakness insightfully. Mrs Lewis was supposedly very pleasantly surprised seeing in her bookkeeper a critical mind of a matured artist. She used to take him for an evening ride on her phaeton for prolonging discussions on various aspects of western dramas and their enactments.

Their friendship, Amritalal and other theatre historians think, had helped Girish in flourishing his theatrical genius. The kind of discussions he had with Mrs Lewis and the exposures he had to English plays at Lyceum, helped Girish enacting a ‘Nimchand’ in the play ‘Sadhabar Ekadashi’ so bewitchingly. Amritalal Basu, in his reminiscences, spoke of Girish playing the role of Nimchand in verse:”মদে মত্ত পদ টলে নিমে দত্ত রঙ্গস্থলে । প্রথম দেখিল বঙ্গ নব নট গুরু তার ।।” [Girishchandra] Mrs Lewis must have been present in one of the repeat shows of Sadhabar Ekadashi to witness Girish in acting, which as we understand from Utpal Dutt, she considered a masterpiece. [Dutt]

BAGHBAZAR AMATURE THEATRE

When the Bagbazar Amature Theatre (1868- 11 May 1872) created by a few local theatre enthusiasts who wanted to do their theatre in a modern way as did the English theatres at Lyceum, Opera House, and Corinthian in then Calcutta. They also wanted to make their theatre open to all, that is, not restricted to the few rich elites, but to the commoners as well. In spirit and actions, the Bagbazar Amateur Theatre was the precursor of the Great National Theatre initiated by the same aspirant theatricals: Nagendra Nath Banerjee, Dr Radha Madhab Kar, and Ardhendu Shekhar Mustafi. Girish was then working at Atkinson‘s. The group rehearsed under Ardhendu, and on the day of ‘Experimental Play’ (dress rehearsal), Girish joined the initiative as their undeclared leader. He, however, refused their plan for selling tickets, instead, he advised collecting donations to meet expenses that Madhusudan Dutta had recommended earlier.

The play ‘Sadhabar Ekadasi’ was first staged in October 1868 by Bagbazar Amateur, after a year their theatre founded and repeated four times within a fortnight under the directorship of Girish on different dates in different places. Two more plays of Dinabandhu: ‘Biye-pagla buroh’ and ‘Leelabati’ were staged with overwhelming success. ‘Without Dinabandhu’s simple and socially relevant plays the young thespians would have been nowhere.’ [Mukherjee] They felt now more desperately than ever for a permanent theatre to stage their enactment in a natural style as done in the contemporary world of English theatres.

National Theatre was not born yet. The members of the new Bagbazar Amateur Theatre were then drifting aimlessly without a home. The attention of a few energetic young was drawn to a collapsible theatre building in the maidan belonging to the Lewis’ Lyceum Theatre. Unfortunately, before they reached, the Lyceum sold out. On 10 Mar 1870, George Lewis advertised for the sale of Lyceum building and accessories including the extended stage scenes, dresses, and machinery. Before leaving Calcutta Lewises had encouraged Wille Gill, a funnyman in their team, to take a venture to keep up the presence of the British theatre in Calcutta. Gill took the challenge and reinstalled the theatre on the same site with a new name, ‘Olympic Theatre’ in early October 1870. Gill did it in collaboration with some A.G. Sultana, the proprietor of Liberty Hotel – a small bar at 85 Bentinck Street [Bengal Directory, 1876]. Sultana worked for Gill as the contractor for erecting the theatre building, and perhaps it was he who did the same job two and half years ago for Lewises. Those days, as we may find in Binodini’s ‘আমার কথা’, the theatregoers often referred to the new ‘Olympic’ as ‘Sultana’s Theatre’ after the name of Sultana – a flamboyant who sported earrings [Binodini].

Hunt For A Model Theatre

Apparently, when the three Baghbazarian youth, Amritalal, Dharmadas Sur, and Nagendra Banerjee, at last, reached the English theatre at Maidan, Lewises had left and in place of their Lyceum Theatre, the Olympic Theatre, nicknamed Sultana’s theatre, was in operation. The zealous theatricals bought three ‘pit’ tickets and watched intently the performance of English theatre, and at the same time, sitting on their chairs, they gathered the details of the auditorium and stage-related objects, including an estimated size of the stage screen upon calculating the number of the folds. It was the idea of acquiring building materials cheap and affordable that brought them to the door of Sultana who lived in a lane off Bentick Street. In an adjacent plot, he had dumped the old pieces of dislodged materials of the Lyceum Theatre. They did not succeed in getting those as Sultana demanded an absurdly large amount for the lot. Moreover, some experienced well-wishers advised the youngmen against buying spoiled materials with holes. They spent more justifiably around Rs 3,000 on some good teak logs purchased from the Guillinders company, which were eventually reused in constructing the Star Theatre and remained there in sound condition even in 1927 [Basu].

First Bengali Theatre after the model of Lyceum Theatre

The visit to Sultana, however, was not altogether futile since that had allowed Dharmadas Sur a singular opportunity to steal a look with his penetrating eyes at a wooden miniature of the Lyceum Theatre that served as the model for building the first homegrown theatre. [Amritalal] Lewis theatre had its walls and the roof made of corrugated sheets. Dharmadas made the walls of wooden planks, which were cheaper than corrugated sheets because those were not saleable at the old railway market. Dharmadas finished the building flawlessly proving his extraordinary talent in stagecraft, equipped with his discerning eyes and nimble fingers. He had no engineering background but was fortunate to have someone like Jogendranath Mitra, a civil engineer by his side to provide expert advice whenever needed.

Dharmadas Sur was also generally recognized as the first scene painter of the public theatre. He got his ideas from the scenes used in contemporary local English theatres, the Lewes Theatre at Chowtinghee and Opera House at Lindsay Street. These theatres used portable ‘rolling’ canvas scenes. The style of the English scenes was at first imitated, then modified with a few local touches, to recreate the Bengali play being performed. Scenes of Nildarpan, the first public theatre play, were painted in this manner. [Mukherjee] Dharmadas apart, we understand from the narration of Radha Madhab Kar that he was no less involved in making the first modern stage. It was Girish who told his young colleagues that the use of drop-scene was no good to give effect all kinds of stage events, and we must try to install the sliding scenes as could be found in operation in the Olympia Theatre (Sultana’s) at Maidan. Radha Madhav,
then a student of Engineering College, was surveying the Maidan area living in a camp. He with a few others (names not mentioned) bought tickets to witness ‘Macbeth’ played by one American among mostly Australian artists. The show won their heart. Radha Madhab felt an urge to learn how to reproduce similar theatre scenes. He wrote a personal letter requesting permission to go and study the interior of the Olympic Theatre, which was readily granted. He took full advantage of their friendly cooperation in learning several stage-art techniques like how on the stage the boats float, the man vanishes while flying in the sky, or how to recreate raining and thundering effects on the stage. All these techniques were translated into realities while erecting their own stage in the house of Rajendra Pal. Although Radha Madhab Kar’s episode was not corroborated by the contemporaries, his contributions may not be ignored altogether unless proved otherwise. [Gupta] It is, however, a well-established fact that the Great National requisitioned the service of David Garrick, originally principal of an art school and then an independent painter and photographer, to paint few representative flat scenes: a garden, a forest with mountains, and the interior of a room. He also painted a drop-scene depicting a view of Varanasi on the Ganges. They paid the painter a remuneration to the tune of Rs. 600/-. The next development was the introduction of carpenter or shutter scenes which were painted on flat boards and fixed on two wooden frames in two halves which were to be pushed from two sides to join up in the middle of the stage to form one whole scene. Dharmadas Sur also painted a panoramic scene. As early as 1875, that is. within three years of the beginning of the public theatre, the ‘audience saw a railway train on stage. Dharmadas was regarded as the man who taught the Bengali in making stage, while Girish Ghosh and Ardhendu Mustafi taught them stage-acting. [Mukherjee] All credit of having the permanent stage of the first theatre must go to Babu Bhuban Mohan Neogy who borne the entire expense amounting to Rs. 13,000.00 and kept it under his protection. [Dasgupta v.2]  Such theatres as George Lewis installed at Maidan and served as a model for the National Theatre were said to be available from English iron foundries like Bellhouse and co. of Manchester at a substantially high cost.

End Notes

When the audience of the modern theatre of Calcutta was a product of the 1840s, particularly under the spell of Esther Leach’s English theatres, it is undoubtedly the Lewis’ theatres: the Royal Lyceum and Theatre Royal, that directly contributed to the making of modern Bengali theatre and theatricals. The special significance of Lewis’ first phase, centred around Lyceum Theatre and the contemporary Bengali theatrical movement, remained so far unheeded in the history of theatres because the episodes of the Lewis’ enterprises were never accessible until some credible researchers, like Colligan, published their findings, which have been extensively used in this essay. The second inning of the Lewises coincided with the birth of the first homegrown professional public theatre in Calcutta – a topic for the next post.

REFERENCE

Bandyopadhyay, Brajendranath. 1939. বঙ্গীয় নাট্যশালার ইতিহাসঃ ১৭৯৫-১৮৭৬. Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishad. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.477805/page/n5/mode/2up.

Basu, Amritalal. 1982. স্মৃতি ও আত্মস্মৃতি. Edited by Arunkumar Mitra. Calcutta: Sahityalok. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.298801.

Binodini Dasi. 1959. আমার কথা ও অন্যান্য রচনা. Edited by Nirmalya Sanyal. Calcutta: Subarnarekha. http://boibaree.blogspot.com/2018/09/blog-post_19.html.

Chowdury, Darshan. 1995. বাংলা থিয়েটারের ইতিহাস. Calcutta: Pustak Bipani. https://granthagara.com/boi/331880-bangla-theatrer-itihas-by-darshan-chowdhury/.

Colligan, Mimi. 2013. Circus and Stage: The Theatrical Adventures of Rose Edouin and GBW Lewis. Melbourne: State Library Victoria.

Dahiya, Hema. 2011. “Shakespeare Studies in Colonial Bengal: The Early Phase.” Sheffield Hallam University. https://www.mendeley.com/catalogue/00799a00-c799-3b67-838c-fe0a08050943/?utm_source=desktop&utm_medium=1.19.8&utm_campaign=open_catalog&userDocumentId=%7B2bde07bb-1bbe-42c0-be71-f1cf8300a110%7D.

Dasgupta, Hemendranath. 1938. The Indian Stage; v.2. Calcutta: M K Das Gupta. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.228124/mode/2up.

Gangopadhyay, Abinashchandra. 1927. গিরিশচন্দ্র. Calcutta: Nath Brothers. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.302236/page/n1/mode/2up.

Gupta, Bipinbihari. 1952. পুরাতন প্রসঙ্গ. 2nd ed. Calcutta: Bidyabharati. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.299309/page/n5/mode/1up?q=রাধা+.

Mukherjee, Sushil. 1980. Story of Calcutta Theatres: 1753-1980. Calcutta: KP Bagchi. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.100095.

Rocha, Esmeralda. 2012. “Imperial Opera : The Nexus between Opera and Imperialism in Victorian,” 1833–1901. https://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/en/publications/imperial-opera-the-nexus-between-opera-and-imperialism-in-victori.

Calcutta’s Grand Opera House

Operatic culture in colonial Calcutta vanishing into the new wave of professional Bengali theatre

Emperor Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Empress Eugénie, Prince Albert seated in Opera Box at Italian Opera. 1855
Lithograph on chinecollé. Print made by: Marie Alexandre Alophe. Courtesy: Commons

PRELUDE

Italian Opera was most ardently welcome in colonial Calcutta as an icon of British art and culture.    ’Ironically, the cultural supremacy of London and Paris was achieved not through the assertion of a nationalistic culture, but instead through the construction of cosmopolitan identity.’ [Rocha] The bondage between the two, Italian opera and British culture, deems to be a marriage of convenience than of love. The British needed to project an image larger than life in order to institute their cultural supremacy at home and, as enlightened colonialist, to zealously civilize the natives in Italian opera – the queen of all arts. Though in the early 1830s The Englishman lamented the natives being so supine and indifferent in the matter of Italian opera, in the late 1860s, Calcutta turned into a pivot of Italian opera before it faded out finally from the Indian scenario.

To some scholars, one of the root causes of the fade-out was elitism that corrupted Calcutta’s socio-economic and political structures to paralyze the democratization of services and facilities including entertainments. Italian opera was looked upon as the highest form of entertainment and a haut art that necessarily demands a cultivated mind for appreciation, and therefore the opera art aficionados are always fewer in any society, native Indians or the European. The craze for operatic art that ballooned up during the initial phase fizzled out within a decade leaving empty halls with not even fifty enthusiasts in Calcutta to buy opera tickets. One by one all the opera houses in Calcutta turned into picture houses by the end of the nineteenth century.

How one of those institutions of operatic culture, the Grand Opera House, came into existence, performed and lost is the matter of this story narrated based on a limited number of studies and reports including the research of Esmeralda Rocha most extensively used here.


The Town Hall

A view of the Town Hall. Artist: James Baillie Fraser. 1826. Courtesy: British Library

The present Town Hall, which is, in fact, the Second Town Hall of Calcutta still standing as one of the most elegant elevations in the city of palaces, the first one being the Old Court House of Calcutta that had served the township society generously in accommodating formal meetings and public events of every description until 1791 when its construction weakened beyond repair. To find an alternative venue, on May 31, 1792, a meeting was held at Le Gallai Tavern that unanimously recommended erecting a “public building for the general accommodation of the settlement” by crowdfunding through subscriptions. [Carey]

In March 1814, on completion of the Calcutta Town Hall to function as the central hub of cultural activities,   became the new icon of the city. The Hall was declared open to visitors under restrictive conditions — it shall be reserved for authorized general meetings of the inhabitants of Calcutta or for meetings of merchants, or other classes of society, for the transaction of mercantile affairs or other business, and for public entertainments on great occasions, in which the community at large is concerned. The elegance of the Town Hall rests in the simplicity of its doric architecture that consists of only a few parts but quite large to strike a clear view from a distance. Structurally, it exceeds the height of the Government House, the iconic British architecture in India, by several feet. It was planned uniquely for its stated purpose. [Rocha] The edifice still perpetuates the memory of its architect, Major-General John Garstin.

Within a year, however, the Town Hall began to show signs of certain structural snags. When its portico partly collapsed, Captain Richard Blechynden, who was called to investigate, submitted to the Chief Engineer Colonel Alexander Kyd that it was not the poor soil to be blamed, as Garstin suggested. Subsequently he was assigned for the restoration work. [Blechynden] At the close of 1815 plans were put in for several alterations involving a further 40,000 Rs. on top of the initial costs of 7,00000 Rs. [Carey] The working committee wished “to see the interior more durably arranged“, and ”make it as lasting as its appearance will be grand and beautiful“. [Sandeman] Some minor corrections and regular maintenance apart, the Hall had been running its multifunctional hospitality as a central place for committee meetings, public addresses, portrait galleries, a public library and often stage performances as well, although the Chowringhee Theatre already came into existence to stage English theatres for the Calcutta beau monde.

AUGUSTO CAGLI’S OPERATIC DEBUT AT THE TOWN HALL

In April 1866, after a spell of long 16 years since Sans Souci, the last of the theatre houses, charred and closed down, the Calcutta elite received the rumour that an Italian opera company, now touring in Bombay, would be visiting them soon. The news was met with ‘mixed feelings of excitement and embarrassment’ [Rocha]. It was totally unacceptable for the Calcuttans that on the plea of not having a playhouse they should bid adieu to the opera company coming to their city on finishing a grand session in Bombay.  A rivalry between the presidencies let the white-towners strive under psychic stress to provide a hospitable and profitable environment for the troupe. Ultimately they were relieved to rediscover the best of the Town Hall, which should be appropriately refurbished to meet all the requirements of staging an Italian opera.

Augusto Cagli. Courtesy: Victoria State Library

The Company arrived in late April and greeted with enormous public excitement. The Town Hall, freshly painted and polished, looked bright and beautiful, though the paints not fully dried. That was an occasion of great enthusiasm for the European patrons who came to attend the shows in newly prepared dresses. “Wives and daughters were equipped with new gowns, mantles and gloves, often on credit, whilst many of the men outfitted themselves with new dress coats. Despite the audience coming away from the Town Hall with their seat numbers branded across their new clothes, like a convict or a sheep, the concert was deemed a complete success by the press and public alike. [Rocha] The carriages of the opera patrons clogged the streets of Calcutta in such a chaotic manner that the Calcutta Police had to devise a set of road regulations for the first time to deal with the unprecedented volume of traffic. [Englishman, May 5, 1866, cited in Rocha] Like the recital, the full operatic performances attracted crowded houses and effusive applause. Such success encouraged both the Calcutta public and Augusto Cagli. By mid-May 1866 Cagli and the Opera Committee had decided to present a full session of opera in Calcutta on a contractual arrangement. Cagli ‘s Company will perform twice a week for Rs. 60,000 before 300 audiences against membership subscriptions. It was a great challenge for Cagli and the Committee to endorse the agreement being fully aware of the inherent limitations of the Town Hall.

“The Town Hall acoustics, which the media was complaining for a generation, still remained abysmal, and the stage and poor airing made it unbearably hot for the audience and performers alike. Furthermore, the Town Hall was beginning to prove socially inadequate…” Many believed it improper to house opera, the queen of all arts, in such a utilitarian building. In achieving a longstanding opera culture in Calcutta, the most lamentable drawback was that the city had no appropriate opera house in and around. Cagli and the Opera Committee made every effort to construct new opera houses. As many as three playhouses readied within a very short time to entertain the White Town patrons with plentiful plays. Between 1866 and 1872, Augusto Cagli and his troupe presented seven seasons of opera and established a vibrant operatic culture worthy of the prestige and self-conscious privilege of the ‘City of Palaces’. It was more about fulfilling a social, political and ideological need in Calcutta than a sudden inspiration brought along by Cagil’s enchanting performance that demanded its own Opera House.[Rocha] It may be noted that the first purposive opera house, at Tivoli, was built in the city not by any white-town sponsors but by Augusto Cagli of the touring Italian opera company to serve primarily his personal business interests.

The Grand Opera House 1867-1917

Grand Opera House. 7 Lindsay Street, Calcutta ( Later Globe Theatre). Photographer: DBH Ker. Courtesy: Flickr

Besides the will of the Opera Committee, an association of esteemed men, mostly British, there was a widespread interest in the idea of having a new opera house. While Cagli was away in Italy to hire a grander company, the Committee worked hard for setting up a new opera house. There was a growing concenscious that the opera house should be located somewhere within the white-town of Chowringhee, rather than in the vast open space of the Maidan.  As soon as the Committee found a suitable plot on Lindsay Street they acted upon quickly constructing their first opera House. The New Opera House at Lindsay Street was kept reserved for Augusto Cagil’s shows. Cagil’s Tivoli Garden Opera House was henceforth being used by other impresarios, and after a while shifted to 5 Dhurumtollah Street under the banner Corinthian Theatre. There was also a third theatre, the Lyceum, that existed on Maidan.

The Grand Opera House at Lindsay Street was founded in 1867 by the Opera Committee initially composed of all British dignitaries. After a decade Sir Alex Apcar the then Chairman had leased to Mr William B English, an American impresario for the 1875-76 season. There might have been others who owned the house temporarily before or after William B English. The Grand Opera House continued for half a century in its original form until taken over by a Bijou Company Limited of  Mr E M D Cohen in 1917. From a High Court correspondence, we gather that it was E H Ducasse, the then owner of the Opera House, who transferred the premises No. 4 Mudge Street, a corner plot at the crossing of Lindsay Street, on the 1st of April 1917 on a five-year lease to Cohen under some partly unclear terms. [High Court] It deems for operational convenience, the new house address no.7 Lindsay Street was registered in lieu of no. 4 Mudge Street. It is not yet clear if Ducasse had purchased ownership right from the Opera Committee or from someone else having the title of the property. Cohen extensively refurbished the house and reopened it as the New Opera House, which was Calcutta’s premier vaudeville venue. Among its new attractions were the roof garden fitted with marble tables around the fountain, and the beautifully appointed bar, There are also luxurious lounge rooms and smoking rooms and comfortable retiring rooms. The body of the house is equipped with comfortable opera chairs and electric fans. The modern ventilating system makes the theatre cool on the hottest nights. One unique feature of the house is that each division, the pit, the dress-circle and the gallery, is separate from the others, with separate box offices and entrances so that the various classes of patrons need not “rub shoulders” with one anothera typical elitist designing disapproved by the Calcutta society at large. Audiences were rigidly divided and separated on socio-economic lines. As a ticket increases in price, the seat becomes more conspicuous and yet more isolated. The house had 1,500 comfortable seats. Prices of admission range were from 8 cents in the gallery to $1 for a seat in the boxes. [Howells] Although the media credited all-new features to Ducasse, in fact, those were the contributions of Cohen instead who took the charge from him a year back. [Rocha]

Life in Calcutta since then was not the same anymore. The political unrest, the famine, and the war crippled the social and personal lives of Calcutta irrespective of their class. During wartime, all the halls of entertainment were closed, barring Roxy cinema (previously The Empire), which screened day and night only one movie, the ‘Kismet’, without break throughout the barren period. In the mid-1940s, the Grand Opera House was converted into the Globe Theatre – the largest cinema hall in India that entertained the new generation of Calcutta people liberally until closed down permanently in recent time.

Italian Operas on Stage

The Grand Opera House established by the Opera Committee for staging Italian Operas by acclaimed artistes hand-picked by the famous impresario Augusto Cagli to entertain Calcutta’s opera aficionados. Besides full-fledged Italian operas, Cagil also presented some Italian ballets as a pleasant surprise. The performances furnished the white-town residents ‘with the sense of pride, accomplishment and cultivation for which they had been so desperate’. Viceroyalty seemed eager to promote opera in Calcutta. Lord Mayo and the Lady Mayo were, particularly, great admirers of the high arts. Quite often they visited the Grand Opera accompanying some foreign dignitaries. When they did, declared a ‘Grand State Opera Night’ as a gesture of patronization.

The Audience

The hall admitted the audience on seasonal tickets with a price tag of Rs.100, i.e. Rs.6.25 per concert, which was pricey in 1867 but not too high for a white-towner. We may find that determining the admission fee had always been one of the most tricky issues for the survival of the Italian opera in Calcutta because the presentation of the haut art has always been an expensive affair, which could be met either by selling high-priced tickets to the maximum number of heads belonging to the relatively small upper-class community or by selling tickets with discounted price to a much larger working-class community. The first season began with the maximum number of the Calcutta elites occupying the expensive seats letting its hall half-empty – much worrying for Calcutta’s opera aficionados, who soon warned by the press that ‘should the [Italian opera] company slip through Calcutta’s hands the City of Palaces would be guilty of its current reputation for being narrow-minded and mercenary’. Next year, Cagil’s new company represented the single greatest improvement to Calcutta’a operatic culture. The popularity of his new recruit Zenoni and her talent helped Cagli to shape the repertoire and concentrating on modern tragic operas. Cagli knew by experience how fond the Calcutta audiences were sopranos and took care to choose singers more mature than their predecessors from Italy’s best regional opera houses.Repertoires

The Repertoire

During his tenure, Cagli feasted Calcutta aficionado with compositions of Bellini, Donizetti, Flotow Gounod, Mercadante, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi. Among the operas presented his time we notice that the following plays were staged often: La Sonnambula, L’Elisir d’Amore, Linda di Chamounix, Lucrezia Borgia, Il Giuramento Don GiovanniMarta, Faust, Barbiere di Siviglia, Barbiere di Siviglia, Un Ballo in Maschera Ernani, Luisa Miller, Macbeth, La Traviata, Il Trovatore.

Italian Opera had its best time when Cagli ruled Calcutta stages and after him, it waned. There was a long spell of uncertainty when the Opera Committee failed to select a new impresario after rejecting the candidature of Giovanni Pompei. Calcutta, after a long while, had to pass the winter of 1871–72 bereft of Italian opera. The city found instead a variety of lesser performative arts on its stages entertaining people in jam-packed playhouses. One such popular performer was Deb Carlson, a stage name of David Nunis Cardozo. He was an American vaudeville player renown for his Blackface roles that demeaned African Americans. [Chattopadhyay] Dalhousie Institute also launched a series of soirées musicales. The black-face minstrel Dave Carson added quite a few new musical numbers like ‘Coolie’, and ‘Bangali Babu’ specially composed for his India tour, rather than ‘Mammy’ and ‘Negro Dandy’. Carlson stayed in Calcutta for three months only, during 1872-1874, performing in Bengali and English stages.

Hindu National Theatre at Grand Opera House

Interestingly, this was the beginning of the most significant phase of the professional Bengali theatrical movement inspired by the birth of the Calcutta National Theatrical Society. The Society was established in November 1872 by a few native gentlemen of Bagh Bazar with the objective to improve the stage, as also to encourage native youths in the compositions of new Bengali dramas from the proceeds of the sales of tickets. [Englishman Nov. 1872] Immediately after, the Society was split into two groups, one being called ‘Hindu National Teatre’ led by Ardhendushekhar Mustafi and Nagendranath Bandyopadhyay, the other called ‘National Theatre’ led by Sishir Bhaduri. None of these two had any permanent stage of their own, and both were eager to negotiate with the professional as well as amateurish stages inside and outside of Calcutta.

At this juncture, Alessandro Massa took over the office of impresario and realised soon enough his inadequacy in meeting the demands of the local aficionado for the quality Italian opera artistes and attractive repertoires. Massa was honest in his efforts. He did his best to present good Italian operas and made few contributions to Calcutta’s orchestra by introducing some enchanting instruments, like the clarinet and the horn. Massa had a small working committee of his own solely for making liaise with the public and to facilitate administration. We are not sure whether it was Massa himself or his committee was responsible for inviting Hindu National Theatre to stage their Bengali dramatic performances at Grand Opera House during April 1873 for three nights.

An advertisement appeared in the Englishman, 5 April 1873 :

OPERA HOUSE

Lindsay Street
Hindu National Theatre, Calcutta
Grand Opening Night This Evening Saturday 5th April, 1873
The plays advertised were pantomimes including Mustafi
Sahbka Pucka Tamasha and the drama Sarmistha, by Michael
Madhusudan Dutt. Tickets, it was said, would be available at
at the Opera House and at the House of the Late Kaliprasanna
Singha, Baranassee Ghose’s St. The signatory at the bottom was
Nagendra Nath Banerjee. Hony. Secretary.
[The Englishman, April 5, 1873]

Hindu National Theatre performed the following items at Grand Opera House:

5 April 1873
  • Model School
  • Belati Babu
  • Title of Honour Distribution
  • Aukhil’s Wonderful Feats
  • Mustafa Saheb ka Pucca Tamassa
  • Sharmistha of Madhusudan Dutta

[With Nagendra Babu (Yayati), Ardhenu Mustafi (Vakasur),                                 Shibchandra (Shukracharya), Bel Babu (Devajani),  Kshetra Mohan (Sarmistha)]

12 April 1873  
  • Tragedy of Vidhova-Vibaha
19 April 1873  
  • Kinchit Jaloyog
  • Ekei-ki Bale Sobhyota
  • Charitable Dispensary
  • Bharat Sangit

Admission Tickets

Private Boxes  to admit 5  Rs.20  Lower Stage to admit 4  Rs 16

Dress Circle …      Rs 4  Stalls Front  …      Rs 3

Stall Back     …      Rs 2  Pit       …      Re 1

[Dasgupta vol.2]

Mustafa Saheb Ka Pucca Tamassa

The experience of performing Bengali drama with full house attendance on an exclusive modern stage in the white town was amply rewarding to the young institution that was founded to provide public performances of newly-composed Bengali theatre works and to invigorate Bengalis’ cultural pride, and fan the flame of nationalist sentiment. Among the items performed on April 5, there was one extraordinary piece, Mustafa Saheb Ka Pucca Tamassa (Item No.4) that deserves special attention. It was a highly appreciated satire composed and played by Ardhendushekhar Mustafi in response to Mr Dev Carson’s item, the Bengali Babu, a hot favourite caricature he staged a number of times here at Grand Opera House beside Dalhousie Institute, and Jorasako Public Theatre. He used to draw large crowds, earned a good deal of money and was much applauded when he sang :

“I am a very good Bengalee Babu
“I keep my shop at Radhabazar ;
“I live in Calcutta, eat my dalbhat
“And smoke my Hookka.”
   

[Indian Mirror, 22nd, Jan. 1873.]

Deb Carson stayed only a couple of months in Calcutta and was spoken of with much interest by The Englishman as it appears from the following:

“The inimitable Deb gave his last regular performance on the Bengali stage, however, there was only one man, who was a match for this Saheb and that was Babu Ardhendu Sekhar Mustafi. To give a retort to Debcarson’s above caricature, Ardhendu, dressed as a Saheb with an old hat, torn coat and dirty trousers with Violin (Behala) in hand, used to show Mutafi Sahebka Pucca Tamassa to caricature the so-called Sahebs in the following song, which he used to sing with gestures :

Ham vada sahev hai duniyame
“None can be compared hamara sath ;
“Mister Mustafi” name hamara
“Catgaon me mera Vilat.
“Coat pini, pentaloon pini
“Pini mera trousers;
“Every two years new suit pini
“Direct from Chadney bazar.


[The Englishman Friday, Dec, 20, 1872,200 Pucca Tamasa]

Mustafi who was henceforth regarded in the stage as Mustafi Saheb or Saheb by all was a match for Deb Carson and both drew equally crowded houses by their pucca tamassa, though in the opinion of Girish Chandra, Deb Carson’s humour was of a much lower order than that of his Bengali rival. [Dasgupta v.2] The Englishman writes on Dec. 20, 1872, about this show held previously: At the Opera House, on Wednesday night and the attendance was full. Though not such as might have been expected, Deb’s part of the performance was capital and we are glad to hear that he will take a benefit at the Town Hall before leaving Calcutta with his Company. He deserves, and ought to have a bumper house.” The theatre historian Sushil Mukherjee thinks “Ardhendu’s was a fitting retort to Dave Carson’s low comic at the expense of the Bengalis.” He thinks Ardhendu “paid the Englishman back in his own coin through songs and mimicry.” [Mukherjee]  We may, however, consider Ardhendu’s mode of paying back a bit differently as will be discussed soon after.

After Massa, Percy Wyndham, an Englishman, volunteered his service in saving Italian opera culture but could do little in improving the quality of the opera performances. Nevertheless, he gave constant efforts to popularise Italian opera in the wider cross-sections of the Calcutta society. For his own survival, Wyndham wanted to reach audiences beyond the white-town. This he attempted to achieve, against the wish of the elite society, by introducing tickets at the discounted price to working-class and free tickets on Wednesdays to soldiers and their accompanying wives. Wyndham was increasingly disliked by the Opera Committee and the British patrons, except a few. Knowing the uncertainty of his position he took care to build an image of himself as ‘Calcutta’s Impresario’. Toward the end of the Italian opera season, he decided to lease the Lindsay Street Opera House to the Great National Opera – a Bengali initiative. Although Wyndham’s idea reflected a strong business potential to back up operatic culture in Calcutta, while the majority of Calcutta’s elite feared an irreversible loss of social and economic prestige that opera patronage represented. They took pride in believing that ‘the opera as a cultural symbol, never to be sullied by association with native culture’. On February 1875, a spokesman of such discriminatory dogmas, under the penname ‘F’ pronounced, Bengali opera would invade and desecrate the ‘pretty, little theatre’, marking and sullying the house with their ‘disagreeable substances’ (ghee and mustard oil). The Editor of the Englishman hand in hand with the high society Britishers, some Europeans and the opera-house proprietors, promptly supported ‘F’. In a hurry, The Englishman’s Editor momentarily forgot his unreserved admiration of the Bengali opera সতী কি কলঙ্কিনী Sati ki Kalangkini performed by the Great National Opera last January at Corinthian Theatre. That time the Editor found that performance ‘a promising development in Indian culture’ and appreciated the Bengali orchestra composed by Madan Mohan Barman as ‘a very good band’. This support, however, evaporated once the Great National Opera, a product of the Bengali intelligentsia, began to compete, and perhaps usurp, Italian Opera, the symbol par excellence of Western cultural superiority. [Rocha] A good thing, there were some liberal Britishers too to challenge the stands of ‘F’ and The Englishman’s editor. One British man, pen-named ‘G’, retorted ‘F’ that ‘far from undermining Italian Opera, Wyndham’s invitation to the GNO would help to make the Italian Opera financially viable, and that the ‘ungenerous avowal’ admitting racial discrimination was simply an expression of private illiberal opinion of ‘F’ and The Englishman.

While racism and nationalism are two different concepts they are inherently related, which can be observed in many agitated nationalist slogans, posters and advertisements released in support of the swadeshi movements. It required renaissance men to go above the dogma of hatred in reacting to racial/ national issues with humanitarian values and understanding. Mr Mustafi’s ‘Pucca Tamassa’ – a retort to Carlson’s ‘Bengali Babu’ – was an example of an empathetic satire addressed to a fellow ‘native saheb’ pranking him for aping the British snobbery, instead of attacking the Britishers directly with a racial vengeance.

ENDNOTES

The period between the late 1860s and early 1870s was indeed the golden age of the Italian operatic culture in Calcutta. The musical seasons all these years became increasingly meritorious and socially important. The period was also marked glorious for the rise of the Bengali theatre which drew much of its enthusiasm and sparks from the Italian operas and English theatres performed in the white town playhouses and at the Town Hall. More importantly, Bengali stagecraft including architectural designing was initially borrowed from the English stages. The house of the first Bengali theatre, the Bengal Theatre, was built after the wooden architecture of Lewis Lyceum theatre once existed on the maidan. The Bengali professional theatre nevertheless had started with vernacular repertoires freshly created by the contemporary literary giants highly relevant socially and politically to the realities of everyday life in colonial India, Bengal in particular. In comparison, the contents of the Italian and English stage performances in most cases had little relevance to contemporary lifestyle and social issues, and often too sophisticated to be appreciated by an uninitiated audience. This may be the foremost reason why the Bengali stages were being multiplied while the Italian opera houses and the English theatre halls vanished into the ‘picture houses’.

REFERENCE

Bandyopadhyay, Brajendranath. 2002. “বাংলা পেশাদারী রঙ্গালয়i.Pdf.” In বাংলা পেশাদারী থিয়েটারঃ একটি ইতিহাস. Calcutta: Natyachinta Foundation.https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiErKSe8vzvAhUE4jgGHR2wDbAQFjAAegQIAxAF&url=https%3A%2F%2Fia801603.us.archive.org%2F25%2Fitems%2Fin.ernet.dli.2015.265707%2F2015.265707.Bangla-Peshadari.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2_FBQzhFO9b8w3XEMVrEQf

Bandyopadhyay, Brajendranath. n.d. বঙ্গীয় নাট্ট্যোশালার ইতিহাস. 1st ed. Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishad.https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjWyYPY8_zvAhVMxTgGHZovD3YQFjADegQIBBAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fgranthagara.com%2Fboi%2F322562-bangiyo-natyashalar-itihas-ed-1%2F&usg=AOvVaw2dUzi3Nyvbw5N4YEvinhE9

Bandyopadhyay, Brajendranath. n.d. সংবাদপত্রে সেকালের কথা; ২য় খণ্ড. Calcutta: Sahitya Parishat. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.354540/page/n39/mode/2up.

Blechynden, Richard. 2011. Richard Blechynden’s Calcutta Diaries, 1791-1822. Sentiment and Self. Edited by Peter Robb. Kindle. New Delhi: OUP. https://www.amazon.com.au/Sentiment-Self-Blechyndens-Calcutta-1791-1822-ebook/dp/B0746LK6H6.

Chattopadhyay, Devasis. 2020. “British India’s Racist Theatre.” The Quint, no. Aug12,2020. https://flipboard.com/article/british-india-s-racist-theatre-how-blackface-took-centre-stage/a-VQ9gSCafRTCwSnXsr4c_5A%3Aa%3A433591375-01f3630c84%2Fthequint.com.

Carey, William Henry. 1907. The Good Old Days of Honorable John Company from 1800 to 1858; Compiled from Newspapers and Other Publications; Vol.2. Calcutta: Cambray. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.39169/page/n421.

Dasgupta, Hemendranath. 1938. Indian Stage; v.2. Calcutta: M K Das Gupta. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.228124/mode/2up.

Dasgupta, Hemendranath. 1934. Indian Stage. Calcutta: Metropolitan. https://archive.org/details/indianstage029370mbp/page/n21/mode/2up.

High Court, Calcutta. 1920. EH Ducasse Versus EMD Cohen: The Judgement of the Calcutta High Court. https://www.casemine.com/judgement/in/56e13a0b607dba3896625d5a#

Howells, David P. 1918. “Bijou Grand Opera House, Calcutta: Among the Picture Theaters.” The Moving Picture World 35 (Feb. 23). https://archive.org/details/movingpicturewor35newy/page/1100/mode/2up.

Massey, Montague. 1918. Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjRr_WylsPXAhUDV7wKHTWJAXcQFggxMAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Farchive.org%2Fdetails%2Frecollectionsofc00massiala&usg=AOvVaw3uvydXqyjqB3xbkOOZe4jp.

Mukherjee, Sushil. n.d. Story of Calcutta Theatres: 1753-1980. Calcutta: KP Bagchi. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.100095.

Rocha, Esmeralda. 2012. “Imperial Opera : The Nexus between Opera and Imperialism in Victorian,” 1833–1901. https://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/en/publications/imperial-opera-the-nexus-between-opera-and-imperialism-in-victori.

Sandeman, Hugh David. 1868. Selections From Calcutta Gazettes: 1806-1815. Vol. XXX. Calcutta: GOI. https://doi.org/10.1016/0003-6870(73)90259-7

ANTOINE DE L’ETANG : THE OTHER CHIVALROUS ADVENTURIST

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BACKDROP

Antoine De L’Etang (1757-1840) is the other chivalrous adventurist, who was like Julius Soubise  (1745-1798) [Puronokolkata], deported to India in the late eighteenth century for outrageous romancing. His last-name appears in many styles in literature, such as ‘de l’Etang’, ‘De L’Etang’ and ‘Deletang’ that he used in his books. About his early life we know nothing much for sure excepting that he was born on the 20th July of 1757 in Versailles to a former cavalry captain Antoine and Jeane Barbier [France], a year after the first Treaty of Versailles was signed. The Treaty, which was a diplomatic agreement between France and Austria, needed a redo by arranging a holy marriage between the two royal houses. The 15-year-old Princess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, by proxy, got married on 19 April 1770 to Louis-Auguste, the eldest grandson and the heir of the French monarch Louis XV. Next month, Marie met her husband for the first time in the official wedding ceremony held at the Palace of Versailles on 16 May 1770. Her conjugal life though was never so happy as they admittedly had no common interests to bring them together. The couple would not consummate their marriage until seven years later, which became a popular matter of discussion and ridicule both at court and among the public. [Covington ]

Marie charmed many of her contemporaries in her court life of extravagance. Around 1778, a rumour spread out that Marie was having an affair with her close companion Hans Axel von Fersen (1755-1810), a Swedish count, and questions arose regarding the paternity of Marie’s children. To avoid causing a scandal von Fersen left for the war in America in the early part of 1780. [Jehaes]

DE L’ETANG IN VERSAILLES

In the Palace of Versailles, where his father was said to be in service, Antoine De L’Etang, had his first employment in 1770 as a Page of Honour to Marie, the would-be-queen, on her arrival to the Palace. De L’Etang, then a boy of 13, and Marie, 2 years older, fell in love with each other. This story of young love, though not improbable needs to be verified before we accept it seriously like the case of von Fersen whose affairs were recorded in historical context. [Chateau] After four years, De L’Etang got promoted in 1774 to a Bodyguard of the King’s Guard du Corps in the company of Jean de Noailles (1739-1824), and Superintendent of the Royal Stud Farm. ‘He was a magnificent horseman, tall and handsome, with a courtier’s polished manners. [Dalrymple]

Marie Antoinette in muslin. Artist:Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Source: Commons

We have no evidence, however, either against or for, in support of the repeatedly told episode that it was because L’Etang was openly devoted to his Royal mistress, and his conduct was such that gossip reached the ears of King Louis XVI, and prompted him to issue a sudden order to have the young Chevalier sent out to India in 1784 for good. [Cotton ]

DE L’ETANG IN PONDICHERRY

Antoine de l’Etang was sent to the Governor of Madras in 1784 with a sealed letter recommending for his placement in Indian territory and prohibiting him to go out of India ever. L’Etang joined the French infantry to serve against the British East India Company. According to Cotton, it was L’Etang who on his own had left Versailles to escape a lettre de cachet [Britannica] going to be signed by the King and countersigned by a secretary of state to authorize his imprisonment [Cotton]. In such a case, it would have been a very high-risk for l’Etang to keep his identity undisclosed once enrolled in the out-stationed French regiment in Pondicherry. His first assignment was in the post of a Sergeant of sepahis and an adjutant to his senior officer, and that was a catastrophic fall from the alleged post of Superintendent of the Royal Stud at Versailles. The acceptance of such a humble position for the Chevalier might support the view that it was him who had escaped to India incognito without any official letter in hand. It was the time when his troops one day “suddenly came upon a Colonel Maxwell (b.17–; d.1803) of the English East India Company reconnoitring with a single sepoy (sepahi) in attendance. The Chevalier could easily have captured him, but fearing what the fanatical and so-called ‘democratic’ mob in Pondicherry might do to an English prisoner, he chivalrously distracted the attention of his men and allowed Colonel Maxwell to escape..” [Dalrymple] Spooner who neatly compiled conflicting biographical data of the Chevalier from family sources followed blindly Sir Weldon Dalrymple having had ‘no reason not to believe Sir Weldon’s story, he was highly respected in his field’ [Spooner]. Most likely, Colonel Maxwell (17– -1803) had been in Pondicherry before shifting his HQ to Cauverpatam in 1790 to join the third Mysore War commanding the Centre Army against Tipoo Sultan.[Vibart]

Chevalier Ambrose-Pierre Antoine De L’Etang (1757-1840). Source: Geni
Therese Josephe (Blin De Grincourt)De L’Etang (1768-1866). Source: MyHeritage

The head of the family, M. Vinditien Guillain Marie Blin de Grincourt was born in Arras, France around 1740s, and probably the first generation to make a home in Pondicherry outside the homeland. Blin de Grincourt married a local beauty Marie Madeleine Cornet on 28 July 1766. Marie Madeleine, born 15 March 1747 in Pondicherry, arguably had an oriental streak being a great-granddaughter of a Hindu convert, Marie Monique, from Bengal who had married Brunet Claude- a French on 7 February 1703. It was relatively a recent idea that ‘if proselytization of Christianity in India were to be successful, it had to target caste, class and gender.’ [Dutta] Therefore for a Bengali high cast Hindu lady to be converted before 1703, long before the establishment of Serampore Mission, is unimaginable. In the late 17th century the place Nagori (Dacca-Bhawal region) where a massive conversion took place under Dom Antonio, the zamindar of Bhushana, might be, however, the home of the Maria Monique as it appears outwardly.

Therese Josephe Blin de Grincourt was born in 1768 to Marie Madeleine and Blin de Grincourt. Chevalier de l’Etang begged Monsieur Blin de Grincourt for his daughter’s hand. Theresa was married to him on 1 March 1788 in Pondicherry. She and the Chevalier raised a family of two sons: Ambroise and Eugene, both died unmarried, and three daughters: Julia Adeline Antoinette, Adeline Marie, and Virginie. While Pondicherry was the hometown of the family, they might sometimes stay in other places like Bombay and Madras as well.

Pondicherry was under siege in August-October 1793. The victorious British had captured all the French guards. Colonel Maxwell spotted I’Etang among them. In remembrance of his generous help, the Colonel sent him with a letter of recommendation to the Governor of Madras. “Released on his parole in Madras, De L’Etang with many other French officers was hospitably received among the English residents there. It was an opportune time for him to publish his first book in India entitled “The Practice of Farriery: Calculated for the East Indies, collected from the best authors, and founded upon experiments made during a residence of ten years in this country.” De L’Etang himself printed the book and dedicated it to Major General Floyd, Lieutenant Colonel of the Majesty’s Nineteenth Regiment of Dragoons, dated Pondicherry, 16 April 1795. We learnt that before leaving the place finally, De L’Etang ‘was able to dispose of the whole edition among his English friends’ [Blechynden]. L’Etang, now freed, set to leave for Calcutta with his wife and children: Julia, Ambroise, and the new-born Maria, leaving behind Pondicherry and his long association with the Royal Service of France.

DE L’ETANG IN CALCUTTA

Antoine De L’Etang must have been already disturbed seeing France at its historic turning point amid rebellious upsurge: abolition of the monarchy, the assassination of Louise XVI and thenceforth of Queen Antoinette. The Siege of Pondicherry made him desperate to find for himself a new way of life outside the French sphere of influence. Private entrepreneurship or employment under the British East India Company were the two possible choices remained for him. Calcutta provided both the opportunities in course of time.

De L’Etang met Chevalier Julius Soubise. Soubise was, since a decade in Calcutta, struggling to overcome a series of setbacks in his ventures for which his follies and some bad lucks were mostly responsible. Soubise and his family have now moved in Dhurrumtollah from Cossitollah neighbourhood living close to his new establishment, the Calcutta Repository, built in early 1795.

Calcutta Repository. Founded in Feb. 1795 by Julius Soubise. Etching. Artist unknown. Printer: Pichon. Courtesy: BL

THE CALCUTTA REPOSITORY

On 19 February 1795, the Calcutta Gazette published an elaborate announcement of launching the Calcutta Repository with its complete business profile, including its services, facilities, and t&c. Very likely, the news report was penned and sponsored by Soubise himself.

“As every convenience that could be devised has been adopted to render them complete, he flatters himself they are, without exception, the best stables of any in India; and as Mr Soubise’s professional knowledge and long residence in the country enable him to pay every attention to that noble animal, the horse, he hopes to obtain a share of that liberal patronage which has so often distinguished this Settlement. The Repository, which is now open for the reception of horses, is situated to the north of, and nearly behind Sherburne’s Bazaar [where Chandni Market now located], leading from the Cossitollah down Emambarry Lane, and from the Dhurumtollah by the lane to the west of Sherburne’s Bazaar.

With a view to the further convenience of the Settlement, Mr Soubise has erected one [range?] of stables, nine feet wide, for the accommodation of breeding mares, or horse who have colts at their side. There are likewise carriage houses, with gates, locks and keys to each, which render them very complete. The terms of the Repository are made as reasonable as possible and are twenty-three Sicca Rupees per month, in which is included every expense (medicines excepted) for standing, syce, grass-cutter, feeding, and shoeing, and for standing at Livery only at five Rupees per stall. Further particulars may be known on application to Mr Soubise at his dwelling house, near the Repository, or at the menage.”

It may be noted here that the location of the Calcutta Repository as described meticulously in the above advertisement completely opposed the locational details given by Miss Blechynden who maintained that “This building stood at the Chowringhee end of Park Street, on the site which was later occupied by the Asiatic Society’s house” [Blechynden] Roberdeau on the other hand, found the correct location, nos. 182 and 183 Dhurrumtollah Street later occupied by Cook’s livery stables, but mistakenly thought that ‘It was originally an enterprise of Chevalier Antoine de L’Etang (1757-1840) who came to Calcutta in 1796’ disregarding the fact the building was inaugurated in February 1795 much before l’Etang’s appearance on the scene.

When in 1795 Soubise introduced De L’Etang to Blechynden, he was not too pleased to notice his inclination to grab opportunities flouting moral justifications.  “Soubise’s new partner did not hesitate to have him imprisoned for his debts, Blechyndon was disgusted by the inhumanity of ‘Detang (as he called him).” When De L’Etang resisted sending Soubise his half of the stable’s profits in prison, Blechyndon exclaimed ‘How is the poor Devil to live! a jail is misery enough without adding Starvation to it!’ [Blechynden, R] De L’Etang’s conduct had distressed Blechynden as reflected in his diary notes: “I am sick of this trouble and more so at the roughness of his treatment of that unfortunate man. That Soubise is an extravagant fellow is very certain but Deletang should remember that he had persuaded him already – and need not overwhelm him with rough usage whilst in duranee.”

In contrast to the gruesome way De L’Etang treated Soubise, he was found too kind and gracious in his instantaneous dealings with Colonel Maxwell – irrespective of the fact that Maxwell belonged to his enemy camp, and Soubise his business partner. It may suggest that l’Etang with his French aristocracy had some innate prejudice against the blacks.

Soubise had never a chance to overcome the racist resistance he faced firstly from being within the British society, and then when he was exiled to colonial India governed by racial discrimination. In an environment of mistrust, Soubise had little opportunity to secure business credit on fair terms. His appeals for seed money turned down without showing any good reasons. Soubise requested Blechynden to be one of his securities to the Asiatic Society for Rs 5000. Blechynden lied and declined politely.[Cohen] Such a situation sometimes made Soubise desperate to take deceptive means and end up in jail. As for the proposed project, De L’Etang could have succeeded in obtaining a permit on depositing the security money to run a menagé on his own on the vacant site of the Asiatic Society. There was, however, no supportive advertisements or news reports surfaced so far but we find a mention of ‘the Riding School kept by De L’Etang’ in Henry Roberdeau’s Accounts of life in Calcutta in 1805 – the year in which the Society’s building completed, leaving no room thereafter for the menagé to exist and for Roberdeau to witness it. Most of the other pieces of information Roberdeau provided about Antoine De L’Etang were seemingly borrowed from unverified sources.

The Calcutta Repository suffered an irrecoverable loss on Awadh horses within a couple of years. In the same month, Soubise was imprisoned ‘for shortchanging a customer on the sale of a horse in another complicated credit transaction. Pawson, the owner, had to sale the stables by lottery. The lotto winner at first made an offer to Blechynden. As he was not ready with the money, the offer went ultimately to De L’Etang. The transaction completed by December 1797.

AUCTION HOUSE

The failure could not deter Soubise to take another stake in another sphere of business. The cherished dream of the penniless was now – setting an Auction House at the ‘old Harmonic’ – the grand tavern equipped with capacious accommodation once used for holding large parties, and ball. The plan made Blechynden much worried: ‘how then could Soubise prosper without money — without interest—without friends — and without a particle of public confidence’? He sounded genuinely disturbed and more so seeing that his friend Pawson was already under the spell of Soubise’s reverie. Determination of Soubise made way for developing the Auction House in the Harmonica of old fame. While the names of Pawson, Blechynden, and de l’Etang were frequently mentioned but it is not clear, however, who funded the project.

What we know for certain is that those days, Soubise was greatly inspired by his recent rapport with Nilmoni Halder, a resourceful Bengali businessman of Bowbazar. Halder came forward from outside Soubise’s circle, to support his new enterprise, the Riding School, with money and encouragement. The Calcutta Gazette advertised Riding House on 5 July 1798, inviting public attention to its sessions. The Riding House proved in less than two months to be the most ominous event in the life of Julius Soubise and his family. On 14 August Blechynden accompanied by De L’Etang found him in the gallery with fatal injury by accidental fall from a devilish Arab stallion. Next day, 25 August 1798 the Calcutta Gazette reported the death of Julius Soubise and the Asiatic Annual Register made the news recorded in its vol.1: 1798-99.

The Calcutta Gazette on 30 August 1798 advertised the ‘Sale of Horses by Public Auction’ to be held every Wednesday at 10 o’clock in the forenoon. It was the beautiful Arabian saddle ‘Noisy’ – a property of Joseph Thomas Brown – to be on auction sale. The report specified that: the sale was for the benefit of Mrs Soubise, and the auctioneer was the nobleman, Mr A. L’Etang. As we know, Blechynden despite his best efforts could not help Soubise’s family to get out of their financial crisis. Pawson died in 1802. We hardly know what happened to Catherine Soubise thereafter. De L’Etang became now the owner of the Calcutta Repository, The Auction House and the Riding House, and continued to run all the establishments ably by himself.

II

ENTERPRISES & EMPLOYMENTS

From the beginning of the 19th century, De L’Etang ran a riding school, combined with a veterinary business, and auction rooms for the sale and purchase of pet animals and fancy goods. Calcutta Gazette reported every week the events of De L’Etang’s establishments carrying the legacy of Julius Soubise. Unlike Julius Soubise, De L’Etang preferred to live away from the tumult of the city life in places like Regent Garden, and Falta, but his hub of activities had been the neighbourhood of Lallbazaar-Cossitollah-Dhurrumtollah until he shifted to Ghaziabad in around 1816 for the rest of his life.  

We understand from the contemporary newspaper sources that in 1802 De L’Etang was appointed as a veterinary surgeon to the Bodyguard of the Governor-General of Bengal – a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army. [Calcutta Gazzette] The post, created for the first time in Military Consultations of the 25 February 1802, was abolished within 4 years on account of some inter-personal issues.[Hodson] De L’Etang was out of the job for a while since the beginning of the year 1806.

In 1807 an epidemical Catarrh [a flu-type disease] had attacked the horses of the Body Guard. To expel the epidemic in the Corps, the Commanding Officer Herbart Call fixed upon Mr ‘Deletang’ (sic) whom he thought “the most proper person to apply to on the occasion from his having formerly been attached to the Corps and better acquainted with the construction of the horses than any other person of his description in Calcutta.” [Hodson]

Toward the end of the year, as we find in a news report dated Sunday, 5 November 1807, that De L’Etang had met a road accident near Bridge Tollah [probably the original name of Birjee village] and Chowringhee crossing. A drove of bullocks pushed his phaeton carrying him and his brother-in-law, Mr Blin, up to a flooded ditch where they all were instantly submerged. De L’Etang received the most prompt and effectual assistance, and being carried to Mr Uvedale’s, he was restored to life, and completely recovered in the course of a few hours. [Asiatic]

OUDH

Colonel Mordaunt’s cockfight in Lucknow, 1784–1786, by Johann Zoffany. Source: Commons

After about four years De L’Etang, for reasons unknown, leaving his veterinary job went to Lucknow. “Monsieur De L’Etang was allowed to enter the service of the Nawab of Oudh as the Superintendent of the Nawab’s Stud, and a Veterinary Surgeon.” [India Office 1811] Apparently, De L’Etang did not get on well with the native officials of the Court. Before long he was found at fault as a veterinary surgeon, being responsible for the sudden death of several horses. Complaints made by the new Nawab Wazir of Oudh, Ghazi ud-din Haidar, to Lord Moira, the Governor-General, against the Resident of Lucknow, Lieut Colonel John Baillie. Accordingly, De L’Etang was ordered along with three other Europeans, namely, Dr John Law, James Henry Clarke, and Captain Duncan Macleod. [India Office. 1814]. After the dismissal, De L’Etang was unable to claim his unpaid salary. [Rootweb] This unfavourable incident, however, mattered little to De L’Etang in advancing his career. Following the dismissal, De L’Etang managed stud farms for the EIC. [Baillie] The Marquess of Hastings in his Diary, under date, Lucknow, Nov. 1814, was pleased to write of him with candid appreciation: — 

 “Mr De l’Etaing been here six weeks is a man of exemplary character and most polished manners; and is moreover highly qualified for superintending a stud (the function he was to discharge here), having held such an office under Louis XVI. in France. Luckily I can reinstate the poor man in the appointment he held in our stud.” 

REENSTATED IN CALCUTTA

After a lapse of over 12 months from the His Excellency’s diary date, “Mr De L’Etang was given the appointment on the 19th January 1816 as a Sub-Assistant to the Superintendent of the Hon’ble Company’s Stud, with a salary of Sonat Rupees 400 each per mensem.”. He was promoted to the post of the Second Assistant on July 29th, 1824, and the First Assistant in November next year.  It is known from the Bengal Directory and Annual Register of 1838 that Chevalier Antoine De L’Etang was continuing in the same position of the First Assistant under Superintendent Major Mackenzie in the Stud Department, Buxer, Central Provinces. He held this position till he died on 1 December 1840 at the age of 84.

Wellesy Reviewing Bullygunge Bodyguard in 1803. Courtesy India Office. Source: Hodson see Reference
Body Gurd, Bullygunge. 1828. Source: Hodson see Reference

During the year 1 801, land at Ballygunge was first appropriated by Government as a Cantonment for the Body Guard. The Governor-General directed Lieutenant Daniell to clear the ground at Ballygunge to be occupied as a Cantonment for the Body Guard and to erect temporary Buildings thereon for the accommodation of the Serjeants, Men and Stores of the Corps, together with a Guard Room, Hospital and Stabling. De L’Etang’s first appointment in Calcutta was in 1803 as a Veterinary Surgeon to the Bodyguard of the Governor-General of Bengal – ranked lowest in the department. [Hodson] After the Oudh episode, the Governor-General graciously restored De L’Etang in EIC’s service in January 1816, as a Sub-Assistant to the Superintendent of the Hon’ble Company’s Stud, with a salary of Sonat Rupees 400 each per mensem.  On 29 July 1824, Du L’Etang was promoted to the Second Assistant, and in November next year, he became the First Assistant in the Stud Department. Bengal Directory. The Annual Register of 1838 shows De L’Etang was still continuing in the post of the First Assistant under the Superintendent Major J. Mackenzie, Stud Department, Buxar. Over his long tenure of service, he could reach up to the rank of the First Assistant to the Superintendent without having ever a decision-making authority.

Map of Bullyginge Cantonment. 1835. Source: Hodson see Reference
An Officer of the Body Gurd. 1803 [most likely De L’Etang, joined in 1803] Water-col.. Artist: FC Scallan. Courtesy: Messrs Ranken & Co. Source: Hodson see Reference

PUBLICATIONS

After long thirty-six years, De L’Etang took time to publish two more books on the health management of horses updating his previous book. It so appears that De L’Etang was in touch with Blechynden and it was he who translated the two manuscripts for De L’Etang to publish in 1831. We know from Blechynden’s diary that it was an embarrassment for him when De L’Etang told that the money he had received earlier was not his fees for the translation work, as expected, but a loan. The book, Genealogical Stud Book containing the Pedigrees of all Stallions from the year 1795 to 1 January 1832, in the Government and private Studs (printed in India Gazette Press, 1831) was dedicated to Lord Bentinck; the other one, ‘Stud Book’ followed next year. There was no much impact of the two professional publications on his service career. In fact, his service life in India was never found good enough if we consider what he had achieved earlier in France. It may suggest that the reasons are rooted in nationalist bias – separatism of a different order. 

ATTAINMENTS

Lord Hasting’s above-quoted Diary entry reveals certain inconsistencies between what he thought of De L’Etang and how he acted upon in reinstating ‘the poor man’. His Lordship was demonstratively sympathetic toward De L’Etang’s loss of a job at Oudh Stud, and was much impressed finding him ‘highly qualified for superintending a stud’ since he ‘held such an office under Louis XVI in France.’ Nonetheless, He made De L’Etang, no better than a humble Sub-Assistant to the Superintendent of Stud, EIC. 

Lord Hastings apart, there were two premier historians, Evans Cotton, and Kathleen Blechynden, and chroniclers like Henry Roberdeau, Weldon Dalrymple-Champneys, including famous Virginia Woolf [Bell], his grand-granddaughter, and others within the ancestry who had recorded biographic accounts of their forefather in their fashion taking little care to separate facts from fictions. It is mostly from them we knew about Cavalier Antoine De L’Etang, the handsome young man of noble origin, – as a Page of Honour to the Dauphine Marie Antoinette, – as an officer of the King’s Guard du Corps, – as the Superintendent of the Royal Stud, and – as a Chevalier of the Royal and Military Order of St. Louis.

Marie Antoinette. (1755-1793). Artist: Joseph Kreutzinger. Courtesy: Alamy
Axel Von Fersen (1755-1810). Artist: Pierre Dreuillon de Verneville. Courtesy: Östergötlands museum, Sweden

In addition to such honourable attainment, they keep mentioning also of a secret love between Queen Antoinette and her formerly Pageboy, De L’Etang, that costed his banishment for a lifetime. Marie Antoinette was said to be scandalized disproportionately for political gain and there might have been many love stories in circulation. The Swedish count, Hans Axel von Fersen (1755-1810) referred to earlier is named as her lover [Chateau/ Alex]. De L’Etang’s love affair so far goes missing from records.

RETROSPECTION

To curate the account of Antoine De L’Etang we need to find each of the above claims, which decorated him as an adorable romantic hero, in historical proximity for closer review.

PAGE OF HONOR TO THE DAUPHINE ANTOINETTE

Since Louis XIV settled in Versailles the royal household expanded over the years. He alone employed as many as 208 pageboys and further 24 who ranked a bit over the common pageboy. We may well expect that Louis XV engaged Antoine De L’Etang, out of the select few, a Page of Honour to his daughter-in-law, Dauphine Marie Antoinette as soon as she entered the royal house of Versailles.

A Page of Honour traditionally hailed from a noble family. Typically, he would receive training in many skills such as horse riding, falconry, lancing etc. all that was part of the masculine aristocracy in medieval Europe. Generally, upon reaching around fourteen years of age, if the Page was deemed appropriately trained, he was promoted to the position of a squire. A squire then went on to serve a knight, both on and off the battlefield [Medieval Chronicles] De L’Etang started in the position of a Page of Honour to the Dauphine when he was already 14 and continued for another four years before got promoted in 1774 to a Bodyguard of the King’s Guard du Corps in the Company of Jean de Noailles (1739-1824) at the age of eighteen. 

BODYGUARD OF THE KING’S GUARD DU CORPS

De L’Etang was known to have been admitted in Garde du Corp of the King Louis XIV. ‘When he was too old to remain her Page he became an officer of her husband’s bodyguard. [Spooner] The French online directory, Officiers Généraux De L’Armée De Terre et des Services, that includes no reference to Antoine De L’Etang, discloses the existence of another L’Etang, named Dupont de L’Etang Pierre (1765-1840), whose year of death corresponds with that of Antoine de L’Etang. Dupont who was a ‘Général de Division’, fought in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and other wars – a war hero in French military history. [Etienne]

The Garde du Corps was exclusively aristocratic, in contrast to other units of the Royal Household, drawn from families with appropriate social backgrounds; as such they were noted for their courtly manners but less so for their military skills and professionalism. Individual courtier guardsmen stationed at Versailles were not subject to regular training beyond ceremonial drill, and extended periods of leave from duty were common. A critical report, dated 1775, concluded that the Body Guard and other “distinguished units with their own privileges are always very expensive – fight less than line troops, are usually badly disciplined and badly trained, and are always very embarrassing on campaign”. [Mansel]

Through his Garde de Corps training, the tall and handsome Frenchman, Antoine De L’Etang, developed an adorable personality with a courtier’s polished manners, well-groomed in aristocratic fashion and mannerism, somewhat less disciplined and less professional in martial arts, and was more inclined to showmanship.  

SUPERINTENDENT OF OF THE ROYAL STUDS, VERSAILLES

That Antoine De L’Etang was given charge of the Royal Stud, was what Roberdeau and other writers believed without giving much thought about the enormity and complexity of the Royal Stable of Versailles, a twin establishment comprising ‘Great Stables’, and “Small Stables’ built-in with incredible architecture enclosing the Place d’Arm. Nearly 1,500 men worked there, including squires, pages, coachmen, postilions, footmen, lads, messengers, chair bearers, stablemen, blacksmiths, saddlers, tack manufacturers, chaplains, musicians and horse surgeons, creating a constant hive of activity. It was a world unto itself. During the 18th century, more than 2,000 horses at any one time were stabled in the Royal Stables. 

Royal Stable of the Château De Versailles. Artist: Jean-Baptiste Martin. Courtesy: Chateau de Versailles

The Great Stables were managed by the Grand Equerry of France, while the Small Stables were placed under the orders of the First Equerry. The Grand Equerry was an important royal officer who was in charge of all the king’s horses and the equestrian academies, and he also looked after the horses ridden by the king and princes. These saddle horses were perfectly trained for hunting and war. The First Equerry was in charge more generally of all the other mounts and the coach horses … [Chateau de Versailles]. 

The name of Antoine De L’Etang was not found in any records of the Royal Stables accessible to us. This may be because of our limitations in accessing or because little resources are available to fall upon. What appears to be more realistic is that, contrary to the popular view, the superintendence of Royal Stud was too high a responsibility to be attainable for a boy in his early twenties with no adequate training other than what he picked up at Garde du Corps an institution ‘noted for their courtly manners but less so for their military skills and professionalism’. [Chateau – Stable]

CHEVALIER OF THE ROYAL AND MILITARY ORDER OF ST. LOUIS.

The Royal and Military Order of St. Louis, one of the most enviable French accolades, Antoine De L’Etang was said to have earned. Marquess Hastings, Evans Cotton and whoever else said it, must have good reasons to believe that the formerly Garde du Corps of Louis XVI had received the historic medal as they could see him wear the decoration, and so we do see in his painted portrait in a pendant reproduced here. ‘Seeing is believing’ is in human nature. Still, at times we cannot help questioning about the veracity of verisimilitudinous things when found conflicting with their context. Looking back to the history of the Saint-Louis Order and reviewing the circumstantial advantages/ disadvantages of Chevalier De L’Etang to receive the honour, should strike our mind with, in fact, not one but many a question:

Antoine De L’Etang with the Order Of St Louis. Courtesy: Amazon.Uk

Until the death of Louis XIV, the medal was awarded to outstanding officers only, but it gradually came to be an award that most officers would receive during their career. During the French Revolution, a decree changed the name to ‘décoration militaire’, and was subsequently withdrawn on 15 October 1792. Louis XVIII reinstated the Order of Saint Louis, using it to award officers of the Royal and Imperial armies alike. In 1830 the Order was abolished. 

Grand Cross of the Order of Saint-Louis

De L’Etang, besides a Roman Catholic by faith and enjoying the untold advantage of his being of noble birth, might not have qualifications to match the mandatory requirements, unless his experience in the Garde du Corps took care of the clause: ‘at least ten years’ service as a commissioned officer in the Army or Navy’, and if it was also okay for De L’Etang, who had left the French Army for good in 1795 to receive the award in 1814 which the ‘officers should receive during their career’. Nor that we know of something extraordinary De L’Etang did to warrant an order of chivalry as an ‘Outstanding Officer’. All these misgivings can be set at rest by reinterpreting the terms of legitimacy, but there remains a more fundamental question of propriety; that is, how happy and proud the French authority could feel in awarding a national order of chivalry, like the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis, to a candidate banished for unfaithful acts, and who changed his loyalty to their rival power EIC? 

It is interesting to note that among the three ranks of the Order of St Louis, namely, Chevalier, Commandeur and Grand-Croix, De L’Etang allegedly belonged to the rank of Chevaliers who was supposed to wear the badge suspended from a ribbon on the breast, whereas, De L’Etang used to wear the badge with ribbon on the left breast the specified way a Grand-Croix should do according to the norms. This deviation speaks of De L’Etang’s aspiration for an image larger than life.

Pierre Antoine, comte Dupont de l’Étang (1765-1840). Source: Commons

The official records show that there was another De L’Etang, named Pierre-Antoine, comte Dupont de l’Étang (1765–1840), a French general of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, who had earned a Commandeur of the Order of St Louis. [Mazas. V.2] We also know from the same source that the name of Antoine De L’Etang, the captain of sepahi, posted in Pondicherry was in the preliminary list but left out finally being ignored as an out-stationed candidate. [Mazas. V.3 ] 

END NOTES

History happens. One cannot make history, other than in a literary sense. In our collective endeavour to understand the past, the problem of weeding out extraneous data is always a critical one. The overzealous writers allow infiltrating superfluous data, typically, in hero-worshipping or narrating matters of pride and prejudices. Most of the biographical accounts of Chevalier Antoine De L’Etang likewise contain wishful thoughts, instead of verifiable facts, that baffle attempts to recognize the real man behind the painted mask.  

In our study, we noticed De L’Etang’s weakness for money and fame that sometimes obliged him to act meanly as he did with Soubise. It was Soubise, who already inaugurated his new institution, the ‘Calcutta Repository’, introduced De L’Etang to Blechynden as his new partner. The ‘new partner’, however, never hesitated to put him in prison for debt, and disinclined to pay him the half of the business profit as per term. De L’Etang finally bought the Repository in 1797 just a few months before Soubise died. The Repository was then renamed as ‘Mr A De L’etang’s Repository in Calcutta’. The memory of its founder was pushed back behind the scene as a mere ‘unfortunate man’. [Blechynden] Yet, contrary to such inconsiderate dealings with Soubise, De L’Etang had the story to his credit of saving the life of an unknown Maxwell, belonging to the enemy camp, out of compassion. It was, indeed, a magnanimous gesture, which De L’Etang never felt for Soubise, the Black Caribbean. For a noble aristocrat of the 18th century France, It was not unlikely to have a streak of racism in his character. His genteel countenance and refined manners might have triggered a superiority complex, which could be a reason also for his having interpersonal relationship issues in his workplaces in Calcutta and Oudh, as some chroniclers hinted.

Antoine De L’Etang had the talents and opportunities to come into prominence as – a lovable man of the town. He was known to Calcutta society in its varied grades, from the Governor to horse-dealers. His humble official position could not deter him to hobnobbing with the high-level officials in parades and parties, which is quite apparent from the incidences of negotiated marriages between his beautiful daughters and some worthy sons of famous British families. We are also aware of his making “a large number of friends among the riding-public—and nearly all Calcutta men then as now were riders” [Blechenden] We had no luck to look into the details of his interactions with the society giving more exposure to the life of Calcutta of his time truthfully instead of having been bewildered with superfluous debatable attributions to a tragic hero. 

REFERENCE

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Baillie, Alexander Charles. 2017. Call of Empire: From the Highlands to Hindostan. Chicago: McGill-Queen’s U.P. https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Call_of_Empire.html?id=uMw2DwAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y.

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Blechynden, Kathleen. n.d. “The Chevalier De L’Etang.” East and West. https://archive.org/details/historicalrecord00hodsrich/page/76/mode/2up?q=etang.

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Chateau de Versailles. The official Palace of Versailles. n.d. “Royal Stable.” Accessed October 30, 2020. http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/estate/royal-stables.

Cohen, Ashley. 2020. “Julious Soubise in India.” In Britain’s Black Past; Edi by Gretchen H Gerzinz. Liverpool,: Piverpool U.P. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=ojfWDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA215&lpg=PA215&dq=julius+soubise+britain%27s+black+past&source=bl&ots=If5xkJmj-y&sig=ACfU3U3_7EEHLEjLsSShYgWW59kbgjMFcg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjU3MD0mrPoAhXzwTgGHfayC6cQ6AEwBnoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=julius.

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Dalrymple-Champneys, Weldon. 1978. “From Royal Page to Veterinary Officer. A Short Account of the Life of Pierre Ambroise Antoine de l’Etang, Chevalier de St Louis, by His Great-Great-Grandson, Sir Weldon Dalrymple-Champneys, Bt.” The Veterinary Record 103. 265. https://europepmc.org/article/med/362692.

Dutta, Sutapa. 2017. British Women Missionaries in Bengal, 1793–1861. London: Anthem Press. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=sE5GDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Etienne, Delphine et Alain Guena. 2010. Officiers Généraux De L’Armée De Terre et Des Services: Ancien Regime – 2010. Vincennes: Bureau des archives historiques de l’armée de Terre.

France. Archives Nationales d’Outre-mer. n.d. “Personnel Colonial Moderne (FIN XVIIIE-XIXE S). Antoine De L’Etang.” http://anom.archivesnationales.culture.gouv.fr/ark:/61561/fg469ifgciy.

Hodson, Vernon Charles Paget. 1910. Historical Records of the Governor-General’s Body Guard. London: Thacker. https://archive.org/details/historicalrecord00hodsrich/page/76/mode/2up?q=etang.

India Office. 1811. “Records: Bengal Pol. 4 Sep 1811 E/4/671.” London. http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?docId=IAMS041-000738591&fn=permalink&vid=IAMS_VU2+.

India Office. 1814. “Board of the Commissioners of the Affairs of India Records: Ref. IOr/F/4/312/7127. Date: Aug 1814-Aug 1815.” London. http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=IAMS_VU2&docId=IAMS041-000740179&fn=permalink.

Jehaes, Els, and ors. 1998. “Mitochondrial DNA Analysis on Remains of a Putative Son of Louis XVI, King of France and Marie-Antoinette.” European Journal of Human Genetics 6(4). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/13505349_Mitochondrial_DNA_analysis_on_remains_of_a_putative_son_of_Louis_XVI_King_of_France_and_Marie-Antoinette.

Mansel, Philip. 1984. Pillars of Monarchy: An Outline of the Political and Social History of Royal Guards, 1400-1984. London: Quartet.

Mazas, A. and T. Anne. n.d. “Histoire De L’Ordre Royal & Militaire De Saint-Louis d’Après “Histoire De L’Ordre Royal & Militaire De Saint-Louis, Depuis Son Institution En 1693 Jusqu’En 1830.” https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://www.memodoc.com/article_ordre_st_louis.htm&prev=search&pto=aue.

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Mazas, Alex. 1861. Histoire de L’Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis; . Depuis Son Institution En 1693 Jusqu’en 1830; Tom 3. Paris: Didot. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=yugTigqHlWYC&q=etang#v=snippet&q=etang&f=false.

Medieval Chronicles. 2000. “Discover Our Medieval Past in Hundreds of Factual, Informative and Easy to Understand Articles.” 2000. https://www.medievalchronicles.com/.

Puronokolkata: Calcutta as she was. 2020. “Julius Soubise (1757-1798).” 14 July 2020. 2020. https://puronokolkata.com/2020/07/14/julius-soubise-a-magnificent-horseman-in-18th-century-calcutta/.

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Vibart, Henry Meredith. 1881. The Military History of the Madras Engineers and Pioneers, from 1743 up to the Present Time. London: Allen. https://openlibrary.org/books/OL23319477M/The_military_history_of_the_Madras_engineers_and_pioneers_from_1743_up_to_the_present_time..

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WAYS OF LIFE IN COLONIAL CALCUTTA: CHRONICLE OF ACCULTURATION

Dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Dr. Alok Ray (March 1937- June 2019)

 

Calcutta International Exhibition 1883_84

ঔপনিবেশিক কলিকাতায় সাংস্কৃতিক বিনিময়

PROLOGUE
If we believe that acculturation is an interactive process that brings about changes in lifestyles as well as moral and aesthetic values of two or more autonomous cultural systems, then it was a two-sided process of acculturation that happened in nineteenth-century Calcutta merging interests and identities of the two civilizations in encounter between a technologically superior Western society and a non-Western society inclined toward its empirical traditions. Acculturation in colonial India is generally interpreted as a deliberate process initiated by the British Orientalists and the English-educated enlightened Indians notwithstanding the dominating spirit of the 19th century nationalism in Victorian sense. In fact, on either side, players were products of the 18th-century world of rationalism, classicism, and cosmopolitanism. [Koff] Many Orientalists, notably William Jones, H. T. Colebrooke, William Carey, H. H. Wilson, and James Prinsep, made significant contributions to the fields of Indian philology, archeology, and history. On the other hand, Rammohun, Dwarkanath, Radhakanta, Debendranath, Vidyasagar and so many Indian reformists encouraged their fellowmen to get exposure to western science and literature, on top of vernacular sagacity. They effected in remarkably short time a widespread dissemination of western knowledge through institutionalized means like schools and colleges, printing-press and newspapers. By 1821, the Calcutta School-Book Society, sponsored by a number of public spirited individuals like David Hare, Rammohun, Radhakanta, belonging to different religious denominations, without any backing of Government grant, produced and distributed as many as 126446 copies useful works in different languages; no fewer than 14,792 were books in the English language’. Another interesting feature was the decrease in the demand for books in the Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian languages, ‘being the spoken language of no one’. By 1835, the Society had sold 31,864 books in English. Five year before the Medical College in Calcutta started professional courses in English, it was claimed that Calcutta had in 1830 nearly 200 who wrote English as naturally as their mother tongue. As for Bengali language, long before the coming of the English in Bengal, the mother tongue of the majority had been discounted as simplistic and unworthy of official status. ‘The languages of the superior civil and commercial stations were English, Portuguese, and Persian, and ambitious Hindus made certain that of these they knew at least Persian’. It was Halhed who first urged upon British civil officers the necessity of acquiring knowledge of it for the efficient transaction of their duties. He argued for the Bengali language, before anyone else ever did, specifying its inherent qualities: ‘its plainness, its precision and regularity of construction, than the flowery sentences and modulated periods of Persian.’ His Grammar printed and published in Calcutta, gave practical support to his arguments, by providing British officers with a book from which they could learn the language. [Clark, 1956]

The earliest printed book in Bengali

No sooner Bengali becomes a popular medium of communication it started borrowing words from English and the English from Bengali as well. There have been many familiar words, e.g. coolie, cowrie, cot, curry, godown, pagoda, etc., originated from some other languages, commonly used by the English and the Bengalese. There are also some distinctively of Bengali origin, like babu and bungalow. A glimpse through Hobson-Jobson may reveal many interesting evidences of liberal linguistic behavior of the Colonial Bengal despite the racial bias of which the world is continuing to suffer till today. As we understand from Sarah Ogilvie the author of ‘Words of the World’ that the former OED editor Robert Burchfield found to be an inward-looking anglocentrics who had erased 17 per cent of the ‘loanwords’ and ‘world English words’,  Indic included, that had been added by earlier editor Charles Onions. [Ogilvie]

While all these conscious efforts of magnificent persona of both the camps created a short-lived glorious age of awakening and also a golden opportunity for a giant leap toward a modern society at par with global standards. Around 1880s that opportunity got lost. Western education reached a tiny proportion of the Indian population largely confined to the major urban centres. A chauvinistic nationalism back lashed the progressive movements. The undercurrent of acculturation, however, continued to flow effortlessly as conscious and unconscious acceptance of new ideas, often with the intention of revitalizing Indian cultural practices and institutions. Slowly steadily new things and ideas percolated through layers to the bottom level of society undergoing series of changes through interactions. [Peers] What were those ‘new’ things and ideas? Historically speaking, the things and ideas branded ‘colonial’ are supposed to be grown out of Industrial Revolution directly or indirectly, which may be as big as Indian Rail or as small as a gramophone pin – everything targeted to make living in the colonial society convenient and agreeable.

Nipper, the dog is listening to a wind-up gramophone. New Vector Records September 1905 ad. Courtesy: HMV

It was still an industrial age when the Colonial style of living was being shaped through interactions with native environment. Changes incorporating new things and ideas were taking place faster and in an unprecedented large scale than ever happened in history because of the boon of technology. The Industrial Revolution, however, may not be seen as a movement for achieving speed and volume in industrial sphere. Its ultimate gain for the human society proved to be more an attitudinal change toward accepting values associated with new products than productivity itself. Acculturation during the colonial era may be more meaningfully interpreted, essentially in terms of the attitudinal changes.

EUROPEAN HABITATION IN CALCUTTA BEFORE 1830s
Captain Williamson provided immaculate descriptions of the living conditions of late 18th century Calcutta that provides us with significant resource for identifying some down-to-earth relationship between the ‘new products’ of the Industrial Age and the formation of the ‘new society’, which yet to be fully surfaced.

The EIC officers adopting some local customs while remaining distinctly British_doyely

To the gentlemen coming to settle in Calcutta on civil, military, or naval service of the Hon. East India Company, Captain Williamson offered in his Vade Mecum many practical advices along with cautionary against belittling the native sagacity unwittingly while finding the most suitable mode of living for them. During Williamson’s time, between 1787 and 1798, a new Calcutta suburb was being born south of Town Calcutta to meet the craving of the settlers for ‘airy’ life close to Nature in the Gangetic Bengal mingled with the comfort and convenience of European way of living. New townships at Chowringhee-Dhurrumtollah locality were then only at their initial stage. In 1793-94, all over the town there were no fewer than 1114 pucca houses; in 1821 it increased to 14,230. [Oneil] The new suburbs grew faster with masonry houses built by Europeans and deshi well-to-dos as nucleus of new urban experience of ‘airy habitation’.

It is worth noting that the English inhabitants were still chiefly to be found ‘where their fathers had lived before them’ in the year 1810, Colonel Sleeman spoke of the residences of the Europeans as lying mainly between Dhurrumtollah and China Bazar; and the Tank Square was in the middle of the posh ‘Belgravia of his day’. [Cotton] This happens to coincide with the timeframe Williamson depicted in his Vade Mecum pinpointing some cultural issues involved in modeling ‘airy’ homes to live in comfy liberal style, which European settlers aspired to attain once they crossed Cossitollah toward further south. And so they did achieve their ‘model home’ through an intricate acculturation, after more than three decades of trials and errors, by coming into terms with indigenous methods and means of house building that the settlers initially tended to neglect. [Williamson 1810]

IN SEARCH OF A EUROPEAN MODE OF LIVING
Williamson was one who believed that taking the general outline of indigenous customs should be considered an axiom for the settlers in exploring a new possibility of improving their quality of life. All the European settlers remained anxious to see airy habitations, through which the wind could pass freely in every direction. When the English first visited India, they adopted a mode of building by no means consistent with common sense, and displaying a total ignorance of the most simple of nature’s laws. For instance, they wasted much time to ‘become convinced that the most insupportable heats are derived from the glare of light objects’ and were to be judiciously used in designing habitats. Williamson’s advice to the settlers was ‘to coincide with the habits of the natives, to a certain extent if they mean to retain health or to acquire comfort’.
Upon arrival, travelers learnt from local doctors that nine out of ten of the advices prescribed by doctors at London, would infallibly have sent them to ‘kingdom come!’ but readily approve the homie piece of good sense that ‘do as one should find the old inhabitants do’.
Travelers, he observed, often suffer extreme inconvenience, and expose themselves to much danger because of the fact that they “bent on the refutation of the most reasonable assertions, and influenced by a ridiculous determination to support some equally ridiculous hypotheses”. Williamson tipped them with a piece of his mind: however absurd many indigenous practices may at first appear, it will ordinarily result that ‘necessity was their parent’.

British Styled Bungalow. Photographer: James Kerr (pumpparkphotos.com) c1880

All the buildings forty to sixty years old were, “like the celebrated Black-Hole, constructed more like ovens, than like the habitations of enlightened beings”. The doors were very small; the windows still less, in proportion, while the roofs were carried up many feet above both. Those roofs were in themselves calculated to retain heat to an extreme, being built of solid tarras, at least a foot thick, lying horizontally upon immense timbers, chiefly of teak, or of saul wood. Until around 1790s, the whole of the family resided in the first floor; leaving the whole of the ground floor as basements for reception of palanquins, gigs, cellars, pantries, and even stables. Since around 1780s their preferences changed in many ways. Living in single-floored thatched houses, styled as bungalows, became the way of European life. The settlers remained engaged indefatigably to improve upon the habitability of bungalow. They closed up all the intervals between the thatch, and the walls, on which it rested; so as to exclude the external air, as well as the dust: a practice religiously observed even to the present date. They improved upon the arrangement by installing a tin ventilator near the summits of the thatches. [Williamson 1810]

The shape and size of bungalows changed further having their apartments surrounded by a veranda, of full fourteen feet in width; with apertures, of a good size, in the exterior wall, corresponding with those of the interior. This arrangement renders the generality of bungalows remarkably pleasant; but, it must be noticed, that there was a very wide difference in the expense incurred in rendering them so, both as relating to the labor, and to the materials.

COLONIAL LIVINGSTYLE INVENTED
As we discussed, Europeans modeled their new home and styled a new way of living for themselves through a continuous process of interactions between their own perceptions and desi sagacity. The model was generally found most comfortable and highly adaptable for living in changing Gangetic Bengal climate, and therefore the overall cost of a complete bungalow in tune of Rs 40,000, found quite acceptable by the well-to-do families of different cultural origin. Besides Europeans, there were quite a few desi families moved to Chowringhee-Dhurrumtollah to their newly owned bungalows. The natives of the land, on the other hand, increasingly appreciated whatever the settlers fashioned for their everyday use including bungalows, furniture fixture utensils wearable, as wonderful user-friendly amenities.

The spread of English education might have a partial role in changing people mindset toward western culture – the way of life and the things they use every day. The ‘new products’ we talk about, however, more often than not, were made of old familiar things into new design; like a folding umbrella, for example. The settlers learnt by experience that it should be a madness to use a European umbrella, like a parapluie or a parasol, against a heavy Indian shower or a blazing sun. So they designed a new tough umbrella employing seasoned bamboos and heavy canvas to stand Indian weather best, and then add a collapsible holder inside to turn the old chattah into a surprisingly convenient ‘folding umbrella’. This novelty item was expected to be on high demand in Chandney shops, and the shops were expected to store umbrella and its parts as well to promote use of umbrella to all communities of Calcutta society.

A Fakir with umbrella. Details not known. Source: ebay

Bengalese Babu. Courtesy: Mary Evans.

Like the umbrella, there happen to be a innumerable new products originally designed and developed by the European settlers out of local ingredients generally employing local tools and technology to facilitate their living a decent comfortable life in India as they were used to. Such products of Colonial origin not anymore sensed as foreign to local habits and practice, and the locals feel at ease in using those, hand in hand with things they use traditionally in everyday life. Today, after a lapse of two centuries, Indian populace in general, have converted their mode of living so completely that rarely a dhoti-clad babu can be spotted on road unless he was to attend a special festive occasion. Desi dresses, Desi dishes ending with a bouquet of Benaresi pan will be soon things of forgotten past together with many essential items that remained parts of our heritage so long. The way the tune of Senhai is giving way to the resounding Rock music, every single item of our traditional pieces of life and art will be replaced with newer kinds in course of never-ending societal change.

Colonial-inspired house and interior design Courtesy: @myLusciousLife

HOUSE & FURNITURE
Colonial Scenario:
In all parts of the country houses are let with bare walls. Rent was expensive; some two hundred rupees a month for small house; which was then equal to three hundred pounds yearly. [Williamson 1813] Terrace-work is substituted for plank; and, being covered with a fine kind of matting, made of very hard reeds, about the thickness of a crow-quill, worked in stripes of perhaps a foot or more in breadth each gives a very remarkable neatness to the apartments; many of which, however, are laid with ‘satringes’ (সতরঞ্চি), or striped carpets, made of wool, or cotton, during the cold season. Carpets, in imitation of those manufactured at Wilton and Brussels, are now made in India; some of which are of incomparable excellence and beauty.
The necessity which exists for keeping the doors and many windows open at all times renders it expedient to guard the candles, which are invariably of wax, from the gusts of wind that would speedily blow out every light. Shades, made of glass, are put over such candles as stand on tables.

Present-day Scenario
Majority lives in rented accommodation; mostly unfurnished. Few have preference to ethnic furnishing with satringes’ (সতরঞ্চি), or striped carpets, sitalpapties, madoors, chics, ctc., while the generality love showy interiors with sofas, chairs centre table, side tables and so on. Urban folks keep doors closed, windows open all seasons except when gusty wind blows. Even then there was no need to guard candles as no candle was there any more, but modern homes still need shades for cutting the glare of electric lamps. As it appears, the mode and style of living in Calcutta now and then in many respects alike outwardly, yet an attitudinal difference remains much to explain why the homes of today so ill-kept in contrast with the spic and span Colonial home. The other notable difference is that the modern families ‘sacrifice comfort to appearance’ contradicting the principle of the Colonial Style as we have already discussed at length.
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GARMENTS & OUTFITS
Colonial Scenario:

Major-General Charles Stuart (circa 1758 – 1828), wrote  his first article in 1798 about military clothing and there he professed the use of Indian clothing and accessories, as they are convenient and appropriate, attacking European prejudices. Better known as ‘Hindu Stuart’, Charles was not just an admirer of the Indian religions but also an enthusiastic devotee of Indian fashions. In a series of disputed articles in the Calcutta Telegraph he tried to persuade the European women of Calcutta to adopt the sari on the grounds that it was so much more attractive than contemporary European fashions. Because of his Hindu craze, Charles Stuart was certified as ‘gone native’.  [Dalrymple]

The friends of the English young men, who are sent to the East Indies, generally fit them out with a great variety of apparel, and other articles, enumerated in the slop-merchant’s list under the head of “Necessaries” that basically include quantities of the followings: Calico Shirts, Stockings, Trousers, Drawers, Jackets, Waistcoats, Night Caps, Hats, Handkerchiefs, Neck Kerchiefs Or Bandana, etc. “Of these a large portion is entirely useless.” Among the indispensables, according to Williamson, should be a good stock of wearing apparel; generally speaking, white cotton, manufactured into various cloths; such as dimity, calico, if not made of nankeen. The beauty of some fabrics of this description was considered ‘very striking’. Thirty suits will not be found too many for a European in Calcutta society. [Williamson 1813]

 

A European, probably Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), in Indian dress, smoking a hookah and watching a nautch in his house at Delhi. Artist: unknown. c.1820. Courtesy: BL

Present-day Scenario
Inside home, Calcutta men commonly wear pajama kurta (পাঞ্জাবী), and the ladies stuck to sari (শাড়ি) wherever they go, inside or outside, till around 1980s when a wave of Anglo-American fashion maxi midi mini dresses became choices of convenience for the young ladies that ultimately gave way to oriental varities of salwar kamiz. Outside, almost all men folks and children of both sexes appear in western attire – but with no caps on head. The corporate or institutional dress codes in Calcutta do not insist to wear a headdress – a useful accessory for resisting weather bite, but a necktie around the neck to look smarter at the cost of agonizing physical discomfort. There were quite a few things Europeans invented for tropical climate that become obsolete now in spite of their latent advantages. The Sola-topee or topi, may serve a good example of such things. Topi is made of lightweight sholapith covered with khaki or white cloth. The reason for using sola is its lightness and its heat-resistant capacity for protecting head from the scorching tropical sun, cleverly fitted with two tiny holes at both sides for ventilation. Colonial men and women loved to wear it for convenience and comfort, Indians rejected it possibly because of its prosaic appearance on the first place.

KITCHEN & TABLEWARE
Colonial Scenario:
The favourable oriental dejeuner usually consisted of tea, coffee, eggs, toast, and fish, (either fresh or slightly powdered with salt, rice, &c.). Many gentlemen, especially those from North Britain, add sweetmeats and soogee; the latter corresponding with porridge, oats, which were not cultivated in India. Of all things of European liking Hilsa might be the foremost. The fish tasted ‘remarkably fine’ especially when baked in vinegar, or preserved in tamarinds worcestersauce.

The knives and forks were all of European manufacture, though, within few years, some excellent imitations appeared in market. The greater part of the plate, used throughout the country, was made by native smiths, who, in some instances, might be seen to tread very close on the heels of English jewelers. Table cloths and napkins were manufactured in several parts of the country, where ‘piece goods’ were made, especially at Patna.

Present-day Scenario
Not for breakfast alone, tables for lunch and dinner (or supper as it was called then) resemble by and large what commonly Calcuttans having these days. Although, Bengalese still prefer to use hands in dining at home, cutlery are being used increasingly along with a large number of local variety of tableware like Tea Cups and Plates, Tea Cozy, Pepper Grinder, Salt Shakers, Napkins, and Pickles, Vinegar & Sauce as for instance. The English, as we all know, is basically a highly traditional race who still calls their lamb cutlet a ‘mutton cutlet’ retaining the French legacy of the product they had borrowed. Following the same tradition they call many products of Indian origin with vernacular appellations. On the contrary, in case of the colonial products, which they designed and developed using local ingredients and technology, reference to the source of origin is rarely provided. The story of the world famous Worcestershire Sauce and the theme British Curry may exemplify my view point adequately.

LEA & PERRINS® .The story of Lea & Perrins® famous Worcestershire Sauce begins in the early 1800s, in the county of Worcester. Returning home from his travels in Bengal, Lord Sandys, a nobleman of the area, was eager to duplicate a recipe he’d acquired. On Lord Sandys’ request, two chemists, John Lea and William Perrins, made up the first batch of the sauce but were not impressed with their initial results. They needed few years more to find right kind of aging process to turn the ingredients into a delicious savoury sauce. Without any kind of advertising, in just a few short years, it was known and coveted in kitchens throughout Europe.

Portrait of William Fullerton of Rosemont, Dip Chand, Murshidabad, India, 1760-1763. Opaque watercolour on paper. Company Painting. Courtesy: VAM

In the space of a few years Duncan, a New York entrepreneur, was importing large shipments to keep up with demand. Lea & Perrins was the only commercially bottled condiment in the U.S., and Americans loved it right away. Almost 170 years later, Lea & Perrins sauce remains a favorite in households across the U S.

BRITISH CURRY. “The idea of a curry is, in fact, a concept that the Europeans imposed on India’s food culture. Indians referred to their different dishes by specific names … But the British lumped all these together under the heading of curry.” [Collingham] In fact, there are many varieties of dishes called ‘curries’. In original traditional cuisines, the precise selection of spices for each dish is a matter of national or regional cultural tradition, religious practice, and, to some extent, family preference. Such dishes are called by specific names that refer to their ingredients, spicing, and cooking methods. Curry, which becomes now Britain’s adapted national dish, is largely viewed as an Anglo-Indian theme. Luke Honey, a columnist, writes “how fond I was of Anglo-Indian curry powders; the sort of thing I chuck into stews and then have the nerve to call ‘curry’”. He made his own version of Dr Kitchener’s curry powder, as described by Mrs Beeton. He slightly adapted it for the modern kitchen and added cardamom and black pepper. [Honey] Wyvern’s recipe for basic powders reveals a large number of similar ingredients, hinting at very similar flavour profiles. They all include turmeric, cumin seed, fenugreek, mustard seed, black peppercorns, coriander seed, poppy seed and dried ginger and chilies.

In 1810, the entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed, from the Bengal Presidency, opened the first Indian curry house in England: the Hindoostanee Coffee House in London. The theme of British Curry, as distinguished from Proto-Curry and Anglo-Indian Curry, presumes that Curry is the result of over four hundred years of British interaction with India. As the findings of a recent British academic research suggests, Curry is a way that the British made Indian cuisine understandable in their minds and on their palates. It is more than a mixture of Indian spices, an idea or a symbol of the success of British imperial endeavors in possessing, converting and incorporating an object of other i.e. of India, into their world. [Waldrop]

BRITISH GIFT OF TEA CULTURE TO INDIAN PEOPLE

British Tea
Tea Culture of India, Calcutta in particular, tells a fascinating story of social dynamics involving the ways of life of the British and the Indian people. The British gifted Tea Culture to India where they cultivated tea plants of native origin as well as the Camellia sinensis variety that Robert Fortune smuggled from China in 1849 for the East India Company. In Britain initially it was a luxury of the high society under the spell of Braganza the Queen Consort of Charles II during 1662 -1685, who happened to be the primary motivator behind the emerging British tea culture. Because the British East India Company had a monopoly over the tea industry in England, tea became more and more popular; and as its prices slowly fell, the luxury of drinking tea became middle-class habit. At the close of the 18th century tea – a cheaper drink than bear – turned out to be the drink of Britons of every class. There have been, nonetheless, the ways of making tea and taking tea remain distinctive of every class conforming nuances of tea culture. The popularity of tea, its respectability and domestic rituals, supported the rise of the British Empire, and “contributed to the rise of the Industrial Revolution by supplying both the capital for factories and calories for labourers” . Tea became the national drink of Britain. [Mintz]

Colonial India
In late 1870s the drinking of tea was in fashion all over India and commonly a part of everyday informal social meets. [Mandelslo] We can see from contemporary writers that ladies and gentlemen had occasions to socialize themselves many a time a day – at breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, supper, dinner, and after-dinner – and never without cups and shimmering teapots to induce sharing of minds. Calcutta was then a city of ceremonials and carnivals. Tea-parties were enlivened with spirit of sociability where anything could be discussed, less the delicate subjects like tea growing and its politics and economics. Tea and the Britain have a shady history. ‘The British brought tea to England by way of monopolistic trade, smuggling, drug dealing, and thievery’ as modern research admits [Petras]. The Colonial India produced highest bid tea in auction markets by employing bonded labourers from Assam and North Bengal. From Calcutta, troops of hair-dressers and shoe-makers of Chinese origin were also called to join on the presumption that every Chinese a good tea-plucker. The plight of these hapless slaves was first known when Ramkumar Vidyaratna and Dwarkanath Ganguly reported in Sanjibani (সঞ্জিবনী) aroud 1886 [Ganguly] long before Mulk Raj Anand portrayed their misery in his famous Two leaves and a bird appeared in 1937. [Anad]

Recent Scenario
The Tea Culture in India virtually started with the Tea Cess Bill of 1903 provided for levying a cess on tea exports – the proceeds of which were to be used for the promotion of Indian tea both within and outside India. Large hoardings and posters for tea recipes were put up in Indian languages, on several railway platforms; at Calcutta tram terminals they distributed free cups of tea, added with milk and sugar to make the drink agreeable to uninitiated tongues, and the like promotional plans put into operation to convert the teetotaler Indian public, especially the Bengalese, into a tea-addict race to whom ‘every time a tea time’. The plans, however, failed to meet their goal so long the aggressive opposition from the Swadeshi camp was in force. Gandhi called tea ‘an intoxicant’, in the same class of avoidable substances as tobacco and cacao. In the early 1920s, Acharya Prafulla Ray, an eminent chemist and a passionate nationalist, published cartoons equating tea with poison [Sanyal], in contrast of the British outlook that drinking tea is good for health of every family member including the dog. “Young dogs are frequently kept in health by a cup of tea being given to them every day.”[Roberts]

Tea Set. Oil on canvas. Artist: Jean-Étienne Liotard. 1781-83. Courtesy:Getty Center

Rabindranath Tagore, to whom the spirit of nationalist was never chauvinistic, welcomed tea cordially not only as a refreshing drink but an engaging Culture as he had experienced in Japan in 1916. He also established at Santiniketan a unique café exclusively for tea, ‘Cha-Chawkro’ (চা চক্র) in around 1929 – an addaa for the চা-স্পৃহ চঞ্চল চাতক দল tea lovers, [Chakraborty 2019]. Cha-Chawkro probably was the third stand-alone Tea Room in India, the first being The Favourite a typical vernacular tea joint set up in1918, and the second, a typical well-groomed Anglican tea-shop that the Swish Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Flury opened in 1927 under the banner “Flurys”.

Today’s Flurys is no more a tea-room – but surely a brazen joint best known for its exquisite breakfast meals. The décor has given away its colonial vibe for a fusion of cultural trends of no character of its own. [Majumdar,2009]

The old Favourite Cabin, however, still continuing with its inimitable tea-culture indigenously developed since 1918. Excepting the tea tables, crockery and the style of tea making, Nutan Barua, and his elder brother Gaur, borrowed nothing from the English to steer this first stand-alone tea room making a history contributed by generations of regular customers, many of them were firebrand writers, political activists, and young intellectuals. The tea-table manners were guided by the unwritten codes the customers formed themselves over the years that surely helped the cafe in continuing with its esprit de corps so long. [Bhaduri]

Other than the three pioneering tea shops we discussed Calcutta had quite a few local bistros famous for their addictive teas, often with some fried specialties. Basanta Cabin, Jnanbau’s tea stall, in North, Radhubabu’s stall, Sangu Valley, Bonoful in South, and Café de Monico at the city centre had been then crowdie hangouts of different social groups who were largely responsible for hauling an independent tea culture of this colonial city. Although the tea industry is still looking optimistically for the prospect of India’s National Drink status, the culture of Tea is seemingly dying a silent death. Already assaulted by coffee and the American soft-drink lobbyists, it may not stand the shock of being robbed its very identity in recent time. The good name of ‘tea’ is now being abused to mean some novelty refreshments that have little or no tea content, but mostly made of heady spices often with large proportion of milk and sugar. Such brands of desi teas sound like new versions of Gandhian tea now being marketed as Tulsi tea, Masala tea, Malai tea, Rhododendron tea, and the like. The Kahwa tea, is however different being the soul-warming drink of the Kashmiris and a part of their culture. All these refreshment drinks, of dissimilar taste and flavour, meant for people of different mind-sets than those who enjoyed tea the way Tagore’s Gora did, or a Nazrul did in Favourite Café, or someone, not necessarily an intellectual like Sydney Smith [Smith], who thanks God for tea, wondering “What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”

 

END NOTE
It is highly interesting to note, all these ‘new things’ created by the Europeans for themselves proved in no time to be equally good for Indian homes. Those products actually gave indigenous people an exposure to alternative styles of living and an opportunity to preview their relative merits that instigated necessary attitudinal change to tolerate differences in socio-cultural values and accept what found ‘best’ for them objectively. This attitudinal change we may consider as an indispensable condition for bringing about the ‘Awakening of Bengal’ and its recurrences around 1880s and 1930s.

 

REFERENCE

Anand, Mulk Raj. 1937. Two Leaves and a Bud. Bombay: Kutub.

Bhaduri, Arka. 2019. “ফেবারিট কেবিন.” Indian Express, May 9, 2019. https://bengali.indianexpress.com/west-bengal/favourite-cabin-a-century-old-kolkata-cafe-college-street-100180/.

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

Chakraborty, Sumita. 2016. “শান্তিনিকেতনে চিন ও জাপান.” Parabas, 2016. https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pSumita_china-japan.html.

Chunder, Rajarshi. 2016. “Dishes and Discourses: Culinary Culture at Jorasanko.” Sahapedia. 2016. https://www.sahapedia.org/dishes-and-discourses-culinary-culture-jorasanko.

Collingham, Lizzie. 2006. Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. London: Vintage Books. https://books.google.co.in/books/about/Curry.html? id=Sr3GUyWe3O0C.

Cotton, H E A. 1907. Calcutta: Old and New; a Historical and Descriptive Handbook of the City. Calcutta: Newman.https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog/page/n3

Dalrymple, William  (2002). White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in 18th-century India. London: Harper.

Davies, Pauline. 2013. “East India Company and the Indian Ocean Material World at Osterley, 1700-800,.” Internet: East India Company at Home. 2013. https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah/osterley-park-middlesex/osterley-case-study-winds-of-trade/.

Gandhi, Arun. 2014. Grandfather Gandhi. NY: Atheneum Books. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=wduwz6-DapAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Honey, Luke. 2008. “Dr Kitchener’s Curry Powder.” The Greasy Spoon. 2008. https://lukehoney.typepad.com/the_greasy_spoon/2008/11/dr- kitcheners-curry-powder.html.

Koff, David. 1969. No TitleBritish Orientalism And The Bengal Renaissance 1773-1835. Calcutta: Firma KL. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.98306/page/n7.

Mahomet, Sake Deen. 1794. The Travels of Dean Mahomet : A Native of Patna in Bengal, through Several Parts of India, While in the Service of the Honourable the East India Company. [Ireland]: Cork. https://archive.org/details/b28742898/page/n5.

Majumdar, Rakhi. 2009. “Into the Future: Apeejay Surrendra Group Post Jit Paul.” ET :Jun 04, 2009, 2009. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/into-the-future-apeejay-surrendra-group-post-jit-paul/articleshow/4617853.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst.

Mandelslo, Johann Albrecht von. 1669. Voyages Celebres & Remarquables, Faits de Perse Aux Indes Orientales. London: John Starkey, and Thomas Basset. https://archive.org/details/voyagescelebresr00mand/page/n8.

Mintz, Sidney W. 1993. “The Changing Roles of Food in the Study of Consumption.” In Consumption and the World of Goods; Ed. by Brewer, John; Porter, Roy. NY: Routledge. https://www.amazon.com/Consumption-World-Goods-Culture-Centuries/dp/0415114780.

Ogilvie, S. (2012). Frontmatter. In Words of the World: A Global History of the Oxford English Dictionary (pp. I-Vi). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139129046″>https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139129046

Peers, Douglas M. 2006. No TitlIndia under Colonial Rule: 1700-1885. NY: Routledge. https://books.google.co.in/books? id=dyQuAgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_book_other_v ersions_r&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false%0A%0A.

Petras, Claire. 2013. “British Tea 17th-19th Century.” Clairepetras.Com. 2013. http://clairepetras.com/history/ .
Roberts, Emma. 1837. Scenes and Characteristics Hindostan,with Sketches Of Anglo-Indian Society. Vol. 1 (2). London: Allen. https://archive.org/details/scenesandcharac04robegoog.

Sanyal, Amitava. 2012. “Mahatma Gandhi and His Anti-Tea Campaign.” BBC News Magazine, May 2012. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17905975.
Shastri, Shibanath. 1909. রামতনু লাহিড়ি ও তৎকালীন বঙ্গসমাজ. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Calcutta: SK Lahiri. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.111.479.1009-a.

Smith, Sidney. 1855. A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith. By His Daughter, Lady Holland. With a Selection from His Letters. NY: Harper. https://archive.org/details/memoirofreverend02smituoft/page/n6.

Waldrop, Darlene Michelle. 2007. “A Curried Gaze: The British Ownership Of Curry.” Univ. Georgia.

Williamson, Thomas. 1810. East India Vade Mecum; or, Complete Guide to Gentlemen Intended for the Civil, Military,or Naval Service of the Hon. East India Company; Vol. 2 (2). London: Black, Parry. https://www.scribd.com/document/305022589/The-East-India-Vade-Mecum-Volume-2-of-2-by-Thomas-Williamson.

Williamson, Thomas. 1813. Costume and Customs of Modern India from Collection of Drawings by Charles Doyley… Ed. by Thomas Williamson. Oxford University. Vol. XXX. London: Edward Omre. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=VNFbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP7&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Continue reading “WAYS OF LIFE IN COLONIAL CALCUTTA: CHRONICLE OF ACCULTURATION”

ARMENIAN GHAT PAVILION: An update of 28 May 2015 post

 

 

আর্মেনি ঘাট মণ্ডপ

This is one other instance of mistaken identity of Armenian Ghat, which is often being called Mullick Ghat or Mullik Ghat  by laymen and scholars alike. The root cause of such a mistake probably lies in our inattention to the fact that the river ghat and the ghat pavilion are two distinctive entities. It becomes a knotty problem when a new ghat replaces a ruined one by reconstructing its ghat-steps, and erecting a new pavilion. As we all know, Armenian Ghat and Mullick Ghat existed close to each other with their separate structure and unique history, but a few know how close they were in terms of yardsticks and timetables so that their identities never get lost . We already discussed these issues in earlier posts.

Photochrom Zurich, is the company behind the production and distribution of this type of event, this photochrome is an authentic photochrome of their house. Every image produced by them is referenced in gold letters in the lower left corner: 20036.PZ. The photochrome is a process that borrows applications from photography and lithography. The proof is produced from a black-and-white negative and then processed using a color lithographic method. The invention was deposited in 1888 by the Swiss company Orell Fussli, then presented to the public at the 1889 World Fair in Paris.

A black-and-white negative used for colored lithograph of Armenian Ghat

Besides the identity issue, the publisher provided us with a misleading information about the pavilion structure, which was made of wrought iron and not ‘of wood’ as stated. “A singularly beautiful lacy cast iron canopy with arches and pillars – distinguishes Armenian Ghat from all brick and stone pavilions of those days. In the mid-18th century, the rich Armenian trader Manvel Hazaar Maliyan had shipped in an elaborate cast iron facade for the Armenian Ghat ..”
Sebanti Sarkar, who did a fascinating study (2017) on colonial architecture in consultation with celebrated architect Professor Manish Chakrabarti, observed that the elegance of the lacy floral motif fashioned in cast iron aroused a general interest in using ornamental wrought iron to beautify public places, corporate buildings as well as family mansions. Calcutta elites assumed the ‘newer aesthetics of living’. The merchants and, zamindars, munshis and baniyas found it appropriate to adopt the new hallmark and style of power. Gradually innovative patterns evolved admixing different European with traditional Bengali motifs. Local variety of cast iron grilles, bells and whistles, sometimes twined with religious icons or family insignia became affordable and popular by early 1900s. [See: Sarkar]

 

 

 

Living in Style in I9th Century Calcutta. Courtesy:  Timorous Traveler

 

REFERENCE

Ajantrik. 2015. “Armenian Ghat, Calcutta. 1734.” Puronokolkata.Com. 2015. https://puronokolkata.com/2015/05/28/armenian-ghat-calcutta-1734/.
Ajantrik. 2018. “Mallick Ghat and the Jagannath Steamer Ghat.” Puronokolkata.Com. 2018. https://puronokolkata.com/2018/08/22/mullick-ghat-and-the-jagannath-steamer-ghat/.
Park, Keith. 2010. “Introduction to Photochromes.” Photographers Resource. http://www.photographers-resource.co.uk/photography/history/introduction_to_photochromes.htm.
Sarkar, Sebanti. 2017. “Tudor Roses at the Ghoses.” Hindu. 2017. https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/tudor-roses-at-the-ghoshes/article19819052.ece.
Timorous Traveler. 2010. “Poetry in Iron- The Charm of Old Kolkata Balconies.” Sights and Sounds of Kolkata. 2010. https://pedantictraveler.blogspot.com/2010/03/poetry-in-iron-charm-of-old-kolkata.html.

DHURRUMTOLLAH STREET: WAY TO BENGAL RENAISSANCE

A triple portrait of the East India Company ship Royal Charlotte – Indiaman (1758-1770. Oil on canvas by Robert Dodd. Couresy: National Maritime Museum,

নবজাগরণের যাত্রাপথে ঐতিহাসিক ধর্মতলা স্ট্রিট

LEAD UP
As early as in May 1772 when Dean Mohamet (1784–1851) arrived, Calcutta was already a major center of commerce for the English East India Company, prosperous and entrepreneurial. [Dean Mahomet] Calcutta was then just a township desperately in need to grow into a city to fulfill the common ambition of the Company Bahadur and the British colonialism under the administration of Lord Clive and his immediate followers. It is interesting to note that the Industrial Revolution, the critical turning point in modern history, had its origin in village Sutanuti cotton market that allured the British traders to settle and exploit. The wave of Industrial Revolution, which had started a decade ago in Britain with manufacturing of textiles, reached the shore of river Hughly by then, and let its impact felt in the planning for Town Calcutta expansion beyond the up-coming Fort William at Govindpore. Its chronicle gradually discloses a co-relation between industrialization and urbanization.

It all started with the initiation of the new Fort that set off huge mobilization of the Europeans southward and of the natives of Govindpore to Kumartooly, Sobhabazar, and Burrabazar at north and to Taltola at east. Both the parties had to spend lengthy time experimenting with new realities before they settled themselves in changed environment. That was the time since when new occupations being introduced as the unheard-of opportunities coming up as a result of scientific inventions and industrial diversification. Calcutta in the process of urbanization started experiencing effect of industrialization. The external economic orientation of Calcutta to England emerged in18th and 19th centuries, provided the young city with an industrial prospect. It took however pretty long time to develop some minimum indigenous technological systems of production, transportation, construction, and the logistics required for large concentrations of people in urban areas. [Ghose] The progress slowed down because of the typical political apathy and cultural lethargy of colonial Calcutta.

THE CLIMATE

Until 1813 the commercial relations between India and England was free from industrial capitalist exploitation. Trade with India had been relatively small. Its huge potential, however, was foreseen by the industrial capitalist who wasted no time to frame policies for maximizing capital gain to feed British machine industry. They defined their policy with the objective, set out by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, to make India an agricultural colony of British capitalism, supplying raw materials and buying manufactured goods. British rule brought the destruction of traditional handicrafts as well as their technical proficiency, carried off plunder, and revenue extraction. [Sarkar] By 1814 the Company servants themselves had begun to invest their capital in Agency Houses born out of an alliance between the private trading interests of the Company’s servants and the Free Merchants. This unseemly alliance had been continuing since early days of East India Company. We understand from a scholarly note on the Company’s ship Royal Charlotte – Indiaman (1758-1770) featured at the top, that the Company placed bulk orders for official goods with the ships’ captains and supercargoes encouraging the flourishing network of private trade that supported the regular inflow of luxury commodities into Europe. This form of ‘regulated corruption’ was sanctioned through indulgences in Company policy. [Davies]

Despite all the mighty negative forces driven by the political machinery, industrialization happened in Bengal as well as other provinces in India at uneven pace mostly on European initiatives, excepting few instances of Indian entrepreneurship. Calcutta and its neighborhood were on the threshold of a small scale industrial revolution. The local business community embarked upon a broad range of steam-powered industries. Calcutta became ‘a seat of numerous extensive manufactories, vying with many British cities.’ [Stocqueler] The scenario changed in the second half of the 19th century. Faster transportation, and a uniform legal framework, in particular, expanded possibilities of capital and labour movements. ‘The Empire encouraged factor-market integration, increased the scope of public-private partnership and the separation of banking from trading and of trading from manufacturing. This diversification of risk was a key impetus to the industrialization drive.’ [Ray] It was the English who exploited the opportunities most. The natives of Calcutta missed it almost because of their so called entrepreneurial backwardness – a deeply-seated socio-cultural attitude. ‘Power over land, not mercantile or industrial enterprise, was the economic hallmark of social statuses.’ Trade was associated with low ranking castes, Brahmins and Kayasthas considered only the intellectual and administrative professions as proper occupations. Thus the indigenous Bengali elite turned its back on business and left modern industry and international commerce in Calcutta to Europeans. [Sarkar] Neither the shrewdness of colonial policy nor the apathy of general Bengalese toward business could stop Industrialization Revolution that brought forth radical and innovative changes in manufacturing and transportation from manual to mechanical mode. We may note in this context that it all had started with the bonanza of British textile industry at the cost the death of Indian cotton hand mill tradition. The first textile industry in India, Bowreah Cotton Mills, was established in 1818 by British at Fort Gloster near Calcutta; the first jute mill at Rishra started spinning in 1855 when they brought its machinery from Dundee. Industrialization produced a new market economy, and most importantly, a new society desirous of using innovative products and transports to set the revolution go.

Dhurrumtollah Bazar – a section of the coloured lithograph depicting Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart created before 1838 (pub. 1848) by Sir Charles D’Oyly. Courtesy Heidelberg U Univ.

DHARRUMTOLLAH IN CONTEXT

Walking around the Dhurrumtollah Street we may still find few footprints of Industrial Revolution that modernized the ‘process of manufacturing consumer goods and capital goods and of building infrastructure in order to provide goods and services to both individuals and businesses.’ The industrial orientation was discernable more markedly in the new township around the Fort covering the entire southern expansion up to Surman’s Park including villages of Govindpore, Birji, Chowringhee and sections of Colinga – the area commonly understood today in terms of east and west Dhurrumtollah. That time Taltola, or Talpooker, with its segment Jaunbazar was an undeveloped swampy land of Colinga mouza nearest to ‘Bazar of Govindpore on the site of Fort’ (also referred to as ‘Dhurrumtollah Bazar). The only landmark it had was a shrine of Dharmathakur, or the Dharmatala. A road to Dharamtala that known to exist in 1762 as a causeway immediate north of Dingabhanga or Jala Colinga was reinforced with Birbhum gravel in 1796 just after the new Dhurrumtollah Bazar established. [Setton-Kerr]

As we have already noticed, during the time of expansion of the Town Calcutta and construction of the new Fort, there had been massive mobilization from all directions. The Europeans moved toward south, the Govindpore villagers toward north and east where the later had to take up new occupation for living. In addition, there had been a steady inflow of people from outside India of varied cultural background and expertise for doing business or working as professionals or employees in government and private institutions. The uprooted Govindpore folks gained prospect of living in civil areas and availing new job opportunities in exchange of homes they lost. The opportunities were not limited to serving the European and the Native aristocracy as domestics, but also in public places and at the Fort site as coolies, road-labourers, or palanquin-bearers who in those early days were customarily natives of Bengal. So far we understand, the Hindu settlers from Govindpore had no serious involvement in the process of developing Dhurrumtollah into a neighborhood of historical importance. In our collective mind, the area of ‘Dhurrumtollah’ today no more includes the eastern part of Jaunbazar, which found its own identity after Pritaram Das had built his palatial house in 1810s – the hallowed site where Rani Rashmoni, his daughter-in-law, lived her distinguished life of spiritual, social and political significance. As we conceive, Dhurrumtollah of recent time comprises the entire area between the Lindsay Street and the Dhurrumtollah Street. The road was widened up in 1836 allowing the adjacent land to develop fast into a modern colony next to Chowringhee, but unlike Chowringhee, it was for people of all shades, not white alone. So to speak, such liberal inclusion was a striking exception to the administrative directions pronounced for removing ‘native inhabitants from the black town and to build houses for themselves on another spot, at a greater distance from the fort’. We gather from the English traveler, Edward Ives that this was ‘owing to the governor and council’s resolution in consequence of Colonel Clive’s advice, to enlarge and well secure Fort William, which could not be done, whilst the Indian town was standing. [Ives]

The White Town concentrated around the Tank Square. The region centering on the Govindpore Fort, including Chowringhee, Park Street, Dharmatala, Esplanade, formed the European part of the town. [Wallace] Dharmatala, though commonly designated as a European district, can hardly justify so by its mixed populace and liberal lifestyle, which has been encouraged to diversify further culturally and economically, keeping pace with the changes taken place in global societies through ever increasing Calcutta connections.

GreatMarket_Solvyns,
Of the Nations Most Known in Hindoostan. Solvyns, Les Hindous, Vol. III. 1811

The crowd of Dhurrumtollah Street is always different from anywhere else in Calcutta – “full of the People of India, walking in family parties and groups and confidential couples. And the people of India are neither Hindu nor Mussulman — Jew, Ethiop, Gueber, or expatriated British” (like James Augustus Hickey, Justice Le Maitre, or a David Drummond). “They are the Eurasians, and there are hundreds and hundreds of them in Dhurrumtollah now.” [Kipling] Because of the presence of British insiders, Dhurrumtollah milieu is essentially more inclusive than the grey town Murgihatta, and may be justly called a global town. On this road, Rev. C Cesry found in 1881 many faiths, many occupations, and many institutions existing next to each other. [Cesry] The road becomes congested with swelling population and their multifarious activities – commercial, professional, humanitarian, devotional, and recreational.

Calcutta may aptly be called ‘a city of shop-keepers’ if ‘getting and spending’ proves to be the essence of its economic life. This was what Sambhoo Churn wrote in Mookherji’s Magazine in 1861. The most respectable of its inhabitants were merchants, and the next might be the judiciary and law practitioners in Calcutta. Those days their profession found highly profitable. So were the medical practitioners. Englishmen in those days carried on other professionals as well. They were jurymen. Besides, they were engaged in different trades as coach-making, watch-making, tavern-keeping, tailoring, wine-dealing, shoe-making, hair-dressing, tanning and the like. [Biswas]

NEW PHENOMENA
A glance through the street directories of late 18th century or early 19th century Calcutta should show the changing pattern of occupations in Dhurrumtollah Street with “addresses of Engineers, Under¬takers, Chemists, Doctors, Midwifes, Photographers, Professors of Music, Horse Doctors, Auctioneers, Jewelers, Book-sellers, Publicans, Barbarians, Scythians, Bond and Free. [Cesry] There were more, most importantly the teachers who contributed singularly to awakening of a new Bengal. The role of Dhurrumtollah Academy of David Drummond and certain other extraordinary institutions carried out gently their grand missions on this rowdy street of ‘shops and bazars’. To Rudyard Kipling the street was like Hammersmith High¬way – the main shopping street in Hammersmith, London.

As we have elsewhere discussed at length about the old bazars of Dhurrumtollah, including the Chandney Market that still exists. [puronokolkata] The old Chandney was altogether a different class of market. It was set to cater raw materials like cloth lengths, threads and needles, or tools like scissors, knives, hammers or a fishing rod, but barely any ready-made consumer goods like garment to wear or fishes to eat. It was also a good shopping centre for household wares. I believe it still continues with the tradition to a large extent.  This apart, I like to draw your attention to the variety of specialty shops in Dhurrumtollah locality that sale, repair and offering services and products of modern technology.

Madan Theatre by Night” by Gaganendranath Tagore. Held at National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Image Courtesy: NGMA

There was no dearth of photographic studios, camera shops, professional cameramen, gramophone players, and music records, projectors and films, and above all there was the pioneering Indian cinema production company, the Madan Theatres to show how very receptive the ambience of Dhurrumtollah has been to innovative merchandise. Even today one goes there for a treasure hunt for rare music records, and some finds the master mechanic for gramophones and cameras in its lanes and bi-lanes. Such experience veritably takes us back to the old days of Dhurrumtollah.

CamelCarriage_Atkinson_1860
Camel Carriage. Coloured lithograph by F. Jones after Captain G.F. Atkinson. 1860

The scenario Kipling described did not grow overnight but an outcome of a slowly built tradition since 1762 – the time when Dhurrumtollah Street was a muddy road frequented now and then by animal-drawn carts pulled by bullocks, horses, and possibly elephants and camels.
The road became wider in 1867; building plots were numbered in 1843 and revised in 1869. Along with the continuous improvement of the Street and its surroundings, changes take place not only in mode of transportation, or form of vehicle, but in people’s lifestyle and the design of the institutions within the orbit of Dhurrumtollah Street.

OBSERVATIONS
Dhurrumtollah Street is, as we see, one of the few roads of the 18th century Calcutta that may claim to be a distinctive reserve for augmenting the history of making Calcutta a modern City out of the colonial ‘Town Calcutta’. The Street carries the traces of the socio-cultural progress on the route to urbanization basking in the glow of Industrial Revolution. It turned up in Dhurrumtollah rather than in any other part, because of two reasons, I believe. First, it was a free society and a learning society, continuously adjusting itself with new ideas and technological inventions. Second, the resolute role of institutions and few little-known, liberal forward-looking people that made it all happened.

CHAPIN PUMPING ENGINE.Dwarkanath imported this technology from England for his business ventures

Contrary to this view, there is a general notion that ‘the early and prolonged exposure to British administration resulted in the expansion of Western education, culminating in development of science, institutional education, and social reforms in the region, including what became known as the Bengali renaissance.’ [Bengal Chamber] When there is no denying that India owes to the British for the revival of its heritage, the British had little to contribute to the formation of the liberal spirit of Bengal Renaissance simply because they never had such values in their national character founded on the rock of convention.

Neither the contemporary business world had much to effect a change in Bengali mind-set. We know many illustrious names of the 19th century business and industrial leaders, British and Indian, from Andrew Yule to Octavius, from Dwarkanath to P C Ray. Among the Indian entrepreneurs there were many great public figures but hardly any persuasive leader capable of being an agent of social change. When Dwarkanath launched his firm, Young Bengal found a hero, and expected the Bengalis to ‘compete with the nations of Europe and America, not only in English literature, but in fine arts, sciences and commerce’. [Sarkar]

There had been however many renowned adorable renaissance men, including foreigners like a David Hare, and many more unacknowledged people who readied the Calcutta society at large with their open and inquisitive mind imbibed with liberal values. The society was shaped by those extraordinary minds behind the scene that produced leaders to instill new values in public mind, and influence politics of the land. While the industry, the political power, the social elites all had their respective roles to back the new society to flourish, essentially it was the work of the unaccounted activists – the mind-makers.

ENDNOTE
To illustrate my views I shall present few cases, starting with Chandney Bazar, an obscured offshoot of the industrial age. It will be followed by profiles of some magnificent men who left their invisible signatures on some very important chapters of Calcutta history leading to Bengal Renaissance. They came from dissimilar walks of life at different points of time – two horsemen, one Caribbean the the other French by birth, a atheist teacher of Scottish birth, and one Brahmoite  American Unitarian activist. Hopefully, you would enjoy their stories so far unheeded, when come out on puronokolkata pages before long.

REFERENCE
[Anonymous]. 1816. Sketches of India; or, Observations Descriptive of the Scenary, Etc in Bengal. London: Black, Purbury and Allen. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=tEcVAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Bengal Chamber of Commerce. 2016. Discover Bengal: A Guidebook Of Business Prospects In West Bengal. Calcutta: Bengal Chamber. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwi77uKz1PnhAhUk63MBHQ8vDkYQFjAAegQIAxAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bengalchamber.com%2Feconomics%2Fdiscover-bengal.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1V8wDJ0_pSUMaxTwj7VrZ9.
Bengal Hurkaru. 1838. Bengal Directory and Annual Register 1838. Calcutta: Samuel Smith. https://archive.org/details/dli.bengal.10689.14012/page/n5.
Biswas, Oneil. 1992. Calcutta and Calcuttans From Dihi to Megalopolis. Calcutta: Firma KL. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.149376.
Cesry, Rev. C. 1881. Indian Gods Sages And Cities. Calcutta: Catholic Orphan Press. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.128152.
Chunder, Bholanauth. 1869. Travels of a Hindoo; to Various Parts of Bengal and Upper India; Vol.1. London: Trubner. https://archive.org/stream/travelsahindoot00chungoog#page/n9/mode/2up.
Davies, Pauline. 2013. East India Company and the Indian Ocean Material World at Osterley, 1700-800, East India Company at Home (May 2013). https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah/osterley-park-middlesex/osterley-case-study-winds-of-trade/
Dean Mahomet. 1997 The Travels of Dean Mahomet: an eighteenth-century journey through India; ed. By Michael Fischer. California: UCPress,1997 https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520207172/the-travels-of-dean-mahomet
Forbes, James. 1834. Oriental Memoirs: A Narrative of Seventeen Years Residence in India; Vol.2. 2nd ed. London: Bentley, Richard. https://archive.org/details/orientalmemoirs00montgoog/page/n10.
Ghose, Benoy. 1960. “The Colonial Beginnings of Calcutta Urbanisation without Industrialisation.” The Economic Weekly, no. August 13: 1255–60. http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/1960_12/33/the_colonial_beginnings_of_calcuttaurbanisation_without_industrialisation.pdf?0=ip_login_no_cache%3Dfc8386086015fc6e2268f71b76bece16.
Kipling, Rudyard. 1899. City of Dreadful Night. New York: Alex. https://archive.org/details/citydreadfulnig02kiplgoog/page/n7
Puronokolkata. (2018). Durrumtollah And Its Old Bazars. Retrieved from https://puronokolkata.com/2018/05/08/dhurrumtollaha-bazars/
Roy, Tirthankar. 2014. “Trading Firms in Colonial India.” Business History Review 88 (1): 9–42. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007680513001402.
Sarkar, Suvobrata. 2013. “Bengali Entrepreneurs and Western Technology in the Nineteenth Century: A Social Perspective.” Indian Journal of History of Science 48 (3): 447–75. http://www.insa.nic.in/writereaddata/UpLoadedFiles/IJHS/Vol48_3_4_SSarkar.pdf.
Sen, Amit pseud. [i.e. Susobhan Sarkar] ]. 1947. Notes on Bengal Renaissance. Bombay: People’s pub. https://archive.org/details/notesonthebengal035527mbp/page/n6.
Setton-Karr, W. S. 1865. Selections from Calcutta Gazettes; Vol.2. Calcutta: Military Orphan Press. https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.44506/2015.44506.Selections-From-Calcutta-Gazettes–Vol-2#page/n3/mode/2up/search/beerbhoom.
Stocqueler, J.H. 1845. Handbook of India: A Guide to the Stranger and the Traveller, and a Companion to the Resident. 2nd ed. London: Allen. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=SelHAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA348&lpg=PA348&dq=a+seat+of+numerous+extensive+manufactories,+vying+with+many+British+cities.&source=bl&ots=O-V1sg-gc6&sig=ACfU3U1bRKpuM94feKVkwAc3A7wwaWsOPg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi8hbmhlO3hAhWKP48KHYEm.
Wallace, Robert Grenville. 1822. Fifteen Years in India; or, Sketches of a Soldier’s Life Being an Attempt to Describe Persons and Things … U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. London: Longman. https://doi.org/10.1016/0003-6870(73)90259-7.

THE EDEN GARDENS – A PARADISE LOST

ঈডেন উদ্যান কলকাতা
In 1940, John Barry, the Calcutta Journalist, finds Calcutta “admirably served in the matter of ‘lungs’. There is no part which is not provided with a park or open space.” Besides the vast green of the Esplanade around the new Fort William, there have been as many as seven parks in the south of Tank Square, the Eden Gardens being the prettiest of them all. It served as the Promenade of Calcutta as Perrin’s Garden did long back in 1740s.

Garden City Calcutta
Calcutta has gardens of varying descriptions and many luxurious garden houses of upscale European and native families; a few of those turned later into institutional gardens like Horticultural Garden and Zoological Gardens.  Two of the oldest gardens, Perrin’s Garden and Surman’s Garden were the most inviting entertainment grounds for the early English genteel in Calcutta.

The Perrin’s Garden at the extreme north of the town, now Bag Bazar, was named after Captain Perrin, owner of several ships.  Perrin’s Garden was a pleasure resort, once the height of gentility for the Company’s covenanted servants to take their ladies for an evening stroll or moonlight fête. [Long.  It began to be less frequented when the English left Sutanuti. By 1752 it was alto­gether out of use and sold out for Rs. 25,000..  The other old garden, Surman’s Garden, lay at the extreme south of the town. Surman owned both Belvedere House and its garden which were sold on his behalf by public auction to Captain Tolly. It was afterwards purchased by Hastings for the Governor’s garden-house.  [Calcutta Census 1905]

Topography
Between Government House and Garden Reach there was a broad open plain, about 150 acres in extent, called the Esplanade or maidan in Hindustani. It was laid out with fine broad macadamized roads, bordered with trees. The space between the roads is plain turf. As seen in Thacker’s Guide of 1906, the Calcutta Gate of Fort William.

Strand Road west of Eden Gardens. Photographer: Samuel Bourne. c1868

leads out in a straight line to the Eden Gardens at the north-west extremity of the Maidan, bounded on the north by Auckland Road and on the west by Strand Road. [Thacker’s 1906] On Strand Road where the Bank of Bengal now stands, the native boatmen careened their craft at Cutcha- goody Ghaut before the English occupation. Later, when Supreme Court stationed in Calcutta, an avenue of trees marked this spot along the river-bank up to the Creek as King’s Bench Walk.  A more elegant avenue was planted by the Lottery Committee stretching from Chandpal Ghaut to the New Fort, known as Respondentia Walk. [Blechynden]  The Calcutta society  took their constitutional, evening after evening, while the more wealthy drove round in palanquins —facetiously called “coach and four ” —or chaises. Others still went up and down the river in budgerows, over exactly the same ground as their successors do in carriages or motors ; for the Hughli at that date flowed along what is now the Strand. [Minney]

Strand Road north of Eden Gardens. Photographer: Samuel Bourne. c1868

The Strand Road was laid on the land resulted from alluvial deposit. The Municipality contributed largely in the reclamation of this valuable land, or chur (চর) by depositing the sweeping of the town upon the alluvium so formed for many years.  In 1848, the sweeping, which were reported to cause a nuisance, were covered up and consolidated by the Municipality. The property became valuable and the income formed the Strand Bank Fund, which was utilized by Government not only for improving itself but for draining and painting trees on the Maidan, the Eden Gardens, and works on the Esplanade.  The Lottery Committee constructed Strand Road and Strand Bank , in 1820-21,that passed through two Zamindaries, Calc utta and Sootanaty. [Friends of India. 8 Sept.1853]

The Calcutta society  took their constitutional, evening after evening, while the more wealthy drove round in palanquins , facetiously called “coach and four “, or chaises. Others still went up and down the river in budgerows, over exactly the same ground as their successors do in carriages or motors; there were no Eden Gardens, which came nearly half a century occupying most of the old walks.  [Minney]

 

Genesis
There are different unverified stories about acquisition of the land. According to some, it was Babu Rajachandra Das (Marh)  who gifted it to Lord Auckland [Wiki]; some suggested Auckland himself purchased a plot for the garden in 1841 [Ency Date]. Whatever might be source of procurement, it is obvious that Auckland tended the garden when it formed part of the Governor’s Estate. [BL Annotation to Band Stand Photo by Malitte]
That the Eden Gardens is named after Emily and Fanny Eden is now a common knowledge, but a few know why it was not after their brother George Eden instead. Something similar happened with the Barrackpore Eden School which was established and grew under personal care of Lord Auckland, often erroneously credited to Emily Eden.  Around 1842 the Eden Gardens of Calcutta came into existence with the name Auckland Circus Gardens, or just ‘Auckland Garden’. We are yet to know when it adopted the new name ‘Eden Gardens’ and why the change needed at all. {Ency. Indian Dates} Some believed that the makers of the Gardens being ‘inspired by Garden of Eden in the Bible’, changed its name. What we gather from the words of Curzon and Cotton, that it were Misses Eden, the sisters of Lord Auckland, whose ‘liberality and taste’ contributed most in making the gardens to benefit  Calcutta society [Cotton] . Unfortunately, their claims appear somewhat inconsistent with the details Emily recorded in her Letters from India.

Emily and Her Sister

Miss Emily Eden. Portrait Artist: Simon Jacques Rochard. 1834

There is no denying that Edens had a genuine love for gardening.  Gardens were their means to secure Englishness in India. At each of their houses in Calcutta, Barrackpore, and Simla, George and Emily made sure they had a garden. But the letters Emily Eden left with us provide little or no indication to establish her involvement in making Eden Gardens.  Emily’s ‘new garden’, which comes up frequently in her correspondences, refers to the Park Gardens, or the Ladyship Garden at Barrackpore where she stayed mostly,  happily engaged in overseeing her ‘new garden  turning out very pretty,  observing that her plants doing a great deal in six weeks, enquiring  about the Gloriosasuperb growing almost wild there.  [August 2. (Finished August 9), 1836] – all these mentions were about their private garden in Barrackpore where she planted seven hundred flowering plants that Dr Wallich of the Botanical Garden gifted. This was the garden the two sisters and their brother George Eden had built for enjoying privately their Englishness in continuity of their Greenwich days.  Historically, Emily and Fanny Eden had no more than accidental relations with  Eden Gardens and, if any, that should be hardly enough to justify changing of the name of Auckland Circus Park into Eden Gardens, in other words, replacing Lord Auckland with the names of his two sisters in public mind for some external reasons .
We have also difficulty in accepting Eden sisters as liberal-minded as Curzon and Cotton suggest disregarding their highly opinionated conservative mind-set uncovered in great many private letters Emily.
“Eden’s place in English society developed out of a permanent class hierarchy, from birth. Being dropped into the contrasting classes of Anglo-Indian society made Eden psychologically uncomfortable”. In fact, hardly ever Emily minded her language in expressing her aversions, as we see in her letter of 24th March 1824, Emily describes their dinner with Anglo-Indian guests:  ”have great dinners of 50 people, ‘fathers and mothers unknown’, to say nothing of themselves”. March 24, 1836.  Eden sisters were upset seeing the loss of British identity in those white people of Calcutta. They abhorred ‘the black naked creatures’ – the native Indians. The status and prestige Emily enjoyed as George’s sister made her “royalty” among the inhabitants of Calcutta, yet unlike their brother George they detested Calcutta, and sometimes thought India a barbarous country.

George Eden, Earl of Auckland
George Eden, earl of Auckland was different being liberal and concerned for the welfare of the people many of the stiff neck Britons looked down, as did his two sisters. He was known as ‘Cold-mannered, reticent, shy, good-natured, robust of figure, disliking all pomp and parade, and delighting in regular official work’. He was said to be least fitted to organize wars and gain victories. He took charge as Governor- General of India in 1836. During his tenure, the first Anglo-Afghan war gave a severe blow to British Prestige in India. He was termed as most unsuccessful GovernorGeneral of India and is known for his follies in Afghan wars. Though Auckland was found “least fitted to organize wars”, he “eminently fitted by temperament and long experience to discharge the most exacting duties of quiet times,”[Trotter] The then British authority, as we see,  preferred a war-hero to a good statesman in India. Auckland was called back in 1842 as a failure notwithstanding the immense good he had done for India and its people.

Earl of Auckland, George Eden. Portrat Artist: Simon Jacques Rochard. c1843

During his six year administration Auckland amply proved his will and ability to improve the living conditions and opening opportunities for self development. Launching the Fever Committee programs, introducing the basics of municipal governance, abolishing Pilgrimage Tax, empowering religious endowments, improvement of the medical and general education, extending government scholarship to studying Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian, designing Slavery Act of 1843, are some of his lasting contributions to the colonial India, Calcutta in particular.  Lord Auckland’s despatches and State papers impressed Fitzgerald, as President of the Board of Control. He perceived, Auckland “was, with the sole exception of Lord John Russell, by far the ablest member of his party; his views most statesmanlike, and his government of India particularly just.’ “If modern Calcutta has ever a thought to give to the citizens who have made her what she is, she will find many a name worthy of honour among those who recognized Moira and Bentinck and Auckland and Dalhousie as king in turn.”[Cotton]  The new Viceroy astonished the inhabitants by showing himself on foot at times and places where he would be least expected. ‘He walked,’ says his private secretary, “to the Eden Gardens in the gloom of these January evenings, and, like the Sultan in the Arabian Nights, heard with amusement or with interest remarks about him as he mingled with the crowd.  [Thaker’s Guide to Calcutta 1906]

As already said, Auckland loved gardens, and that wherever he lived maintained a garden there. Government House apart, Auckland had owned one of the most magnificent Garden houses, the Belgachia Villa, which later passed to the hands Dwarkanath Tagore. Auckland’s deep sense of living in harmony with nature prevented him to sanction a plot of ground “at the south-east corner of the enclo­sure of Tank Square ”for the purpose of erecting Imperial Library. He thought that those spaces of the town which are appropriated to light and ventilation ought not to be given up for purposes of building.” [Cotton]

So far what I have said is only to suggest that George Eden had by far the most appropriate candidature  for being the ‘Eden’ of the Eden Gardens, previously called Auckland Circus Garden, or simply ‘Auckland Garden’, though it is being said in chorus  that the garden was named after ‘Emily and Fanny Eden’.

A Garden of Eden
The garden was the best of its kind in English colonial states. The Eden Gardens along the river’s bank had been a place of “great show of fashionables out for the purpose of enjoying a drive— ‘eating the air’ (howa-khana) as the Indians express it.” [Carey] Entering the Strand Road we turn to the North, and on our right we pass the Eden Gardens. A large space has been turfed and is well patronized by hundreds of citizens who may be seen taking their evening exercise on the green sward. [Cotton]  Thirty years ago, the evening walk in the Eden Gardens was sacred to the Calcutta elite, and, if not in uniform, one had to assume a top hat and frock-coat in order to mingle there with the great ones of the land. Then a wave of liberal sentiment break the order, and the pleasure of listening to the military band discoursing sweet music ceased to be a monopoly for Europeans. The hierarchy since then has not patronized the Gardens as in the days of old.  [Thaker’s 1906] The Eden Gardens complex sprawls over a lush green land of 50 acres many gardens, lakes, a Pagoda and a Bandstand of special historical importance. The gardens themselves are laid out with winding paths and artificial water, interspersed with a profusion of flowering trees and shrubs. A pleasanter place for a morning or evening stroll cannot be found. The portion devoted to promenading is well illuminated with the electric light [Carey]

The prettily decorated Pagoda and its reflection on the adjacent lake water was a favourite spot of the visitors.   This Burmese Pagoda, a specimen of Tazoungs architecture, was built in 1852 in Prome by Ma Kin, wife of the then Governor. It was then removed from Prome after the Burmese War in 1854, and re-erected here in 1856. Within the Pagoda there was an image of Gautama Buddha with its forehead set with precious stones, used by Buddhist Priests for worship. [Thaker’s 1906] The lake alongside the Pagoda, where giant lilies bloom in plenty, is a pleasing sight. For the happy holiday-makers there were two rowing boats, very appropriately named Adam and Eve. These can be hired at the rate of four annas per head per hour. [Barry 1939/40] Round the whole is a broad grassy ride for equestrians, enclosed by shady walks and plantations. [Carey]

Town Band & Operatic Culture
Thanks to the fact that Calcutta was the seat of the Governor-General, brass bands had been of enormous import since the city’s earliest days. The town’s regimental bands, or the Governor-General’s own private band, had initially provided Calcutta with this public music.  Curzon reminded us that for the first time the Governor General’s Band was played at his Party in the new Government House to celebrate the King’s Birthday on 4th June, 1803. But it was much later in 1820s a separate Band for the Vice-Roy was formed on assured basis. Since then ‘visitors to Government House have always noticed and as a rule expressed much admiration for, the Viceroy’s Band.  Emily Eden, writes on 16 March 1836:

“To-night there was the concert, at which the natives came, besides all the same society that was at the ball. Fanny said there was nothing very splendid about the rajahs. I heard the music in my bedroom, and it did not sound ill. Our own band is a very good one, and plays every evening when we have company.” [Emily 16Mar1836]

In the late 1850s, after the Rebellion, promenade band concerts became a regular part of White Town life. By August 1861, the concerts had grown in popularity and the more musical residents of Calcutta established a Town Band that entertained the town each night. A large sheltered bandstand was erected in the Eden Gardens. By the winter of 1861-62, the Town Band had become a musical and social institution; evenings would find the bandstand occupied by the Town Band, an ensemble of twenty-five performers supported entirely through voluntary private donations, with crowds of townsfolk coming in carriages, on horseback or on foot to listen. The Band’s best contributions to operatic culture were the regularity of its offerings and its low-cost. [Calcutta Premiere]

The repertoire for each day’s concert was published in the morning edition of several Calcutta newspapers, including The Englishman. Although the individual pieces varied each day, the programmes followed a fairly standard formula: one or two opera overtures, a dance such as quadrille, waltz or march, an arrangement of an operatic set-piece, an arrangement of a British ballad or song, especially of a patriotic nature, and occasionally an arrangement of a parlour song or Hindoostannie (sic) air. We find Sisir Bhaduri, the maestro of Bengali theatre, staged DL Roy’s Sita at the Eden Gardens during Christmas in 1923. [Christiansen]  The recitals of the city’s professional musicians and the daily promenade concerts given by the Town Band were invaluable contributors to Calcutta’s operatic culture.

The Statue of Auckland
This noble statue of Lord Auckland was installed in the Eden Gardens, or the Auckland Circus Garden as it was called then. Facing the river, the statue remained prominently visible from strand. The height of the statue itself is about 8 feet 6 inches; and on the whole, including pedestal, 20 feet only. The casting, as well as the model, was sculptured by Henry Weekes, R.A. The monument was complete in 1848. A fee of £.2000 was paid to the sculptor from the fund collected by the people of Calcutta for making the statue of the Earl after his departure from India as a token of their love and gratitude.

Earl of Auckland. Marble Statue. Sculptor: Henry Weekes, R.A. 18481848

The statue of George Eden comes in view when one walks past the Burmese Pagoda and close to the northern gate. The inscription on the pedestal upon which it stands declares that the statue was erected by men, of whom some were the instruments of his government, of whom many knew that government only by its benign effects, all of whom agreed in the affectionate desire to perpetuate the memory of the six years during which be ruled the destinies of British India — for this just reason that, throughout the whole course of those years, he laboured earnestly and unremittingly to make security from rapine and oppression, freedom of internal trade, the medical science of Europe, the justice which is blind to distinctions of race, and the moral and intellectual affluence which it opens, a common and perpetual inheritance to all the nations who inhabit this Empire. 1848.” [Steggles]  It was ‘an almost fantastic panegyric’, Curzon commented, and regretted that the name of Auckland was forgotten in Calcutta by then, ‘except the Eden Gardens, which Calcutta owed to the liberality of his sisters, and for its own statue’. [Curzon, v2] Today, none of those two, the Eden Gardens and Auckland’s statue, survives to bear out the loving memory of the Earl in this city.  It seems Auckland was covertly stripped of everything he achieved while in India because of some untold sins he committed –failure in Afghan War, or for some good he did for Indian people that proved bad for the British interest. It might also be a streak of his character. As Charles Greville, who knew him well, found in him some very best qualities for a statesman but ‘a certain diffidence in his own judgment, a diffidence which was soon to lead him, his party, and his country, into disaster. [Trotter]
Firstly, Auckland Park lost its definite identity by changing its name into Eden Gardens in an attempt to cut off Auckland from Calcutta people very unkindly, indeed. The new name convenience spreading of the make-belief story, that it was a gift to the townsfolk due to liberality of the Eden sisters, who had been in real life conservative British aristocrats utterly disrespectful to the native Indians and Anglo-Indians on different counts.
View of Eden Gardens and its Burmese Pagoda. Photographer: Hoffman and Johnston. 1865Besides Auckland’s statue, there had been two other monuments located in Eden Gardens. On its north side, the grave of Charlotte, Lady Canning was buried and remained there until moved to Barrackpore Park. On its south side stood the statue of the Naval Commander William Peel until reinstalled at Temple of Fame, Barrackpore. No memorials of Emily and Fanny Edens ever installed to acknowledge their supposed involvement in making of the garden. The statue of Auckland that stood in Calcutta from 1848 was taken away to Auckland City in 1969, after a short stay in Victoria Memorial Hall being a part of its statuary collection.  The cost of transportation and its erection on site was arranged and financed by the New Zealand Insurance Co. Ltd. as a gift to its home city. Calcutta bade adieu to the last of Auckland.

A Paradise Lost

The garden that was steadily being developed since early 1840s under the care of Lord Auckland and his successors into an enchanting sphere of natural beauty and peace for the people of Calcutta, encountered a threat in 1864. The Calcutta Cricket Club, after many refusals of their prayer to the successive Governors-General obtained permission to move to the eastern end of the Eden Gardens. The garden authorizes did never mind accommodating such events as of  Bengal Lawn Tennis Championship, Kennel Club Dog Shows, Presidency Sports, Rowing Club boating, but not a game that may ruin the delicate natural atmosphere and its exquisite garden architecture with the tumult of the maddening crowd from the stadium. The stadium has since grown into a large walled realm larger than Roman coliseum ruled predominantly by the law of fashion, entertainment and commerce in the name of sports. It was an unholy marriage that ultimately reduced the  Eden Garden, once so much loved, next to nothing but its name, which now stands for:
”a cricket ground in Kolkata, India established in 1864. It is the oldest cricket stadium in India. It is the home venue of the Bengal cricket team and the IPL franchise cricket team Kolkata Knight Riders, and is also a venue for Test, ODI and T20I matches of the India national cricket team. The stadium currently has a capacity of 68,000.” [Wikipedia]

This shows how we like to redefine our past and ourselves giving a damn to our roots.

 

REFERENCE

Blechynden, Kathleen . 1905. Calcutta: Past and Present. London: Thacker. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/calcuttapastand02blecgoog).

Carey, W. H. 1907. The Good Old Days of Honorable John Company, Being Curious Reminiscences … during the Rules of the East India Company, from 1800 to 1858; Vol.2. Calcutta: Cambray. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.116087).

Carey, William. 1882. Good Old Days of Honorable John Company; Vol.1. Calcutta: Quins Book. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/goodolddaysofhon00careuoft).

Christiansen, Amy Marie. 2012. Discomforts of Empire: Emily Eden’s Life in India, 1836=1842 -. Auburn: Auburn University. Retrieved (https://etd.auburn.edu/bitstream/handle/10415/3271/AChristiansen-Thesis.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y).

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

Firminger, W. K. 1906. Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/thackersguidetoc00firm).
Gupta, Hemendranath Das. 1944. The Indian Stage; v.4. Calcutta: M K Das Gupta. .(https://www.amazon.in/Indian-Stage-Vol-IV/dp/1178594637)

Marquis Curzon. n.d. British Government In India Curzon 2 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive. Retrieved January 21, 2019 (https://archive.org/details/BritishGovernmentInIndiaCurzon2/page/n3).

Massey, Montague. 1918. Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjRr_WylsPXAhUDV7wKHTWJAXcQFggxMAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Farchive.org%2Fdetails%2Frecollectionsofc00massiala&usg=AOvVaw3uvydXqyjqB3xbkOOZe4jp).

Minney, R. J. 1922. Round about Calcutta. London: Oxford U P. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/roundaboutcalcut00minnrich#page/n5/mode/2up).

Ray, A. K. 1902. Calcutta: Town and Suburbs; Pt.1 A Short History of Calcutta. Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books?id=-Lo5AQAAMAAJ&q=calcutta+town+and+suburbs+ak+Ray&dq=calcutta+town+and+suburbs+ak+Ray&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjDnrz11MnXAhUCN48KHdgEDQUQ6AEIJzAA).

Rocha, Esmeralda Monique Antonia. 2012. “Imperial Opera : The Nexus between Opera and Imperialism in Victorian.” 1833–1901. Retrieved (https://api.research-repository.uwa.edu.au/portalfiles/portal/9844782/Rocha_Esmeralda_Monique_Antonia_2012.pdf).

Steggles, Mary Ann. 1993. Empire Aggrandized: A Study in Commemorative Portrait Statuary Exported from Britain to Her Colonies in South Asia, 1800 to 1839; Vol.1. Leicester: Leicester. Retrieved (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/44103641_The_Empire_Aggrandized_A_Study_in_Commemorative_Portrait_Statuary_Exported_From_Britain_to_Her_Colonies_in_South_Asia_1800_to_1939).

Trotter, L. J. 1893. Earl of Auckland. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books?id=1ypnW6TwjQAC&pg=PP2&lpg=PP2&dq=captain+trotter+auckland&source=bl&ots=vKMRrW9x7i&sig=rCHTnT2EZ0Z_FyF0dtIz_uFAREU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiBspPbhejfAhWIQI8KHbqfDLUQ6AEwAXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=captain trotter auckland&f=fals).

Wikipedia . Eden Gardens. 12 Jan. 2018 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eden_Gardens)

Mullick Ghat and the Jagannath Steamer Ghat Update: Chhottelal Ghat

Mullick Ghat and the Jagannath Steamer Ghat. Update: Chhottelal Ghat


The descriptions of the questioning edifice gathered from texts and photographs fit best to the structure presently stands on the riverbank a little high up with an added floor close by the Howrah Bridge. The cartographers earmarked the riverbank as Mullick Ghat in maps prepared before 1873, when the edifice was constructed, and also thereafter. I was tempted to accept the edifice as the original pavilion of Nemai Mullick Ghat, ‘subject to further verification’. Sri Animesh Kundu, backed by his recent findings, proved my guesswork all wrong, establishing that this grand pavilion was built in 1873 to serve as a memorial to Babu Durga Prasad Chhottelal, a Furrukhabad businessman. The details of the story revealed by his painstaking efforts may be read in Kolkata and Surroundings.  For the first time we come to know the identity of Chhottelal and the nitty-gritty of making of his memorial. The newly acquired knowledge, however, helps us little to answer our old queries such as:
1. Why some old photographic prints, commercial and private, were captioned ‘Juggernath Ghat’ / ‘Mullick Ghat’ instead of ‘Chhottelal Ghat’, ignoring the presence of the eye-catching Chhottelal memorial pavilion?
2. Why we find no mention of Chhottelal Ghat in texts and maps barring very few like Richard’s 1913 map.

  1. The Chhottelal Ghat marble plaque, mounted on wall no more than a decade ago by the National Ganga River Basin Authority who funded for the ‘Improvement & Re-Development of Chote Lal Ki Ghat’. It is a recent notice, undated, written over the original text hidden behind. Conversely, the memorable plaque of the 1887 Ship-wreck preserves the original texts in vanishing ink. The new findings provide no clue to figure out necessary association of the two plaques, in other words, how ‘Chote Lal ki Ghat’ relates to the memory of the ship-wreck on Jagannath jatra.

To my mind, for those answers it is critical for us to recognize a river ghat as a typical public facility in Indian context, mostly set up out of philanthropic zeal, or pious wish. Primarily it consists of a flight of steps to river edge to enable people to reach Holy River for performing rituals, bathing or ferrying. Besides that, optionally, ghat provides pavilion to benefit the bathers, and carries memories of the ghat-founder. Chhottelal pavilion is a rare exception to this convention, being erected on an ‘old existing ghat’ to commemorate someone unrelated to the original ghat. Perhaps, this is the reason why we find some vintage pictures of the Chhottelal pavilion bear names of Jaggernath Ghat, or Mullick Ghat, and the maps indicate no name of Chhottelal Ghat either. Moreover, we need to learn the exact position of the ferry ghat called ‘Juggernath Ghat’. Is it the same as ‘Basak’s Bathing Ghat or Jagannath Ghat of Barabazar? The only guidance to locate ‘Juggernath- ghat’ we find in Bradshaw 1935 where the shipping companies notify passengers to approach:

“Juggernath-ghat, which is situated on the Calcutta side of the River Hooghly above Howrah Bridge, several times weekly on the opening of the bridge.“ See: Puronokolkata.com 

Since there were several river-ghats between Jagannath Ghat of Burrabazar and the Pontoon Bridge, it is most unlikely for the steamship companies to send passengers to the Burrabazar ghat but the ghat next to the bridge instead.

We hope to enrich our understanding with new findings, by correcting and incorporating pieces of information – not only facts but also the rationale to get them established.

Holy Street Dhurrumtollah

 

Dhurrumtollah ka Rustah

উদারপন্থী ধর্মতলা জনপথ

Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in Calcutta on Dhurrumtollah Street: Col Lithograph. Artist: Charles D’Oyly. c1833. Courtesy: BL

Preliminaries

This is a sequel of the story ‘Finding Dhurrumtollah’ I posted last June 4. It was an attempt to trace back the situation of Dhurrumtollah within the province of huge marshy land of Colimba-Talpukur, populated with very different varieties of flora and fauna, and people of different cultural orientation and faith.

The aboriginal Dhurrumtollah continued to exist till the old city of Calcutta stretched across Govindpore and Chowringhee villages amidst forest of sundari trees. Around 1764 the beaten jungle path toward the east was made over by the East India Company as ‘Dhurrumtollah ki Rustah’. But the place ‘Dhurrumtollah’ where to the muddy dusty street supposed to lead remains curiously unspecified in historical records since Mark Wood’s map of 1784-85 sited its name and location.

Should this ‘Dhurrumtollah’ necessarily be an outstanding devotional edifice like temple, mosque or a church? If so, how far realistically we can think of such construction in a forlorn marshland? An answer to this should conceivably help to resolve at least one of the two old theories. The one advocated in 1859 by James Long, that the name ‘Dhurrumtollah’ was originated from an ancient Mosque; the other initiated by Augustus Frederic Rudolf Hoernlé in 1888, that it was originated from a Buddhist adda in the neighborhood of Jaunbazar.

Before we come closer to look into these theories, often restated by later writers, we must get prepared to free our mind of all sorts of ethnic bias that prevented native communities to accept some other’s faith likewise divine. Calcutta has had a relatively short history of communal living but a long torturous memory of bloody relationship between Hindus and Muslims because of sheer religious predisposition politically instigated time and again. In spite of its many ugly episodes, Calcutta has been regarded a glorious seat of divine cultural heritage of Hindu-Muslim creative alliance in the form of Hindustani music, for instance.

Dhurrumtollah Street has too many religious institutions of diverse faiths standing peacefully side by side. We will see in course of our ongoing discussions that this street was a playground for experimenting with liberal principles in social, economic, educational, and spiritual orders as well.

 

Ghulam Muhammad’s Mosque on the left and the spire of the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart on the right taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851. Courtesy: BL

View along Dhurrumtollah Street with Ghulam Muhammad’s Mosque on the left and the spire of the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart on the right taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851. Courtesy: BL

At the very beginning of the Street stand an elegant mosque and a Catholic Church. The view set a blessed disposition, which quickly disappears journeying further into the crowded thoroughfare passing by bazars and commercial houses, public and private institutions and residences of European, Eurasian and native families. There have been also a number of religious houses in close proximity of each other attended by Islamic, Christian and Hindu devotees.

In this ‘street are the Union Chapel, the American Mission Home – the small old and the new large Methodist Churches, the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and besides the good looking Tipu Sultan Masjid at least 5 more mosques, and 2 minor temples. We can add few more to Rev Cesary’s list, and make the aggregate more impressive, but that would hardly improve our understanding of the historicity of holy Dhurrumtollah, which this article aims to establish.  [Cesary]

 

Ancient Mosque in Dhurrumtollah

Rev. James Long says there had been an ancient mosque, since demolished, on the very site of Cook’s stables, where tens of thousands Musalman devotees assembled to observe the Kerbaladay. The ground of mosque and its neighboring land were owned by a zealous Musalman, Zaffir, who happened to be a Zamadar employed under Warren Hastings. Though Long specifies no direct source, he subscribes to the idea that the ‘local sanctity’ due to the mosque’s presence lent it the name ‘Street of Dharamtolah’, or the holy street.[Long].

Before 1888, when Frederic Hoernlé talked about his theory about the presence of Buddhism in Bengal, there had been no other theory available except what Rev. Long had proposed and many accepted him unquestioningly. Rangalal Bandyopadhyay was one of them.

“ধর্ম্মতলার পূর্ব নাম এভেন্যু অর্থাৎ বারাসৎ, কারণ তাহার উভয় পার্শ্বে বৃক্ষ শ্রেণী ছিল। ধর্ম্মতলা নাম হইবার কারন এই যে হেষ্টিংশ সাহেবের জমাদার জাফের নামক এক মুসলমান, যেখানে এখন কুকের আড়গোড়া রহিয়াছে সেখানে এক মসজিদ নির্ম্মাণ করে। পরে সে স্থানে বর্ষে বর্ষে কার্বালার সময় সহস্র সহস্র মুসলমান একত্র হইতে থাকিলে ধর্ম্মতলা নাম হয়।“[Bandyapadhyay]

 After Rangalal, writers like William Carey, A K Ray, Evan Cotton, Harisadhan Mukhopadhyay, keep both the ideas alive by repeating Rev. Long and Dr. Frederic Hoernlé without making attempt to check their veracity.

Dhurrumtollah Street Scene. Calcutta Ladder, Cook &. Calcutta. (Old Picture Postcard) Courtesy: Ebay

The alleged Mosque was told to be built on Zamadar Zaffir’s land and that should have happened during the tenure of Warren Hastings who employed Zaffir. The Mosque was worn out before Cook’s livery stables occupy the plots at nos. 182 and 183 Dhurrumtollah Street. It was originally an enterprise of Chevalier Antoine de L’Etang who came to Calcutta in 1796 and opened a riding school on Park Street and a horse repository on Dhurrumtollah Street to conduct weekly auction sales of horses. [Roberdeau] Most likely, the alleged mosque was built after Plassey and disappeared at the end of 18th century. During its existence the Musalman population in Calcutta had never been so high to let us imagine tens of thousands Musalman devotees at Karbala, as Long says. The Census reports that the Musalman population In Calcutta grew from 37848 in 1752 to 48162 in 1821. It is also interesting to note that the ancient mosque, as Long indicated, was situated close to the entry point of the Street and needed no approach-road or a ‘Dhurrumtollah ka Rastah‘.

Lastly, the scope of general acceptance of an Islamic shrine by other religious sects, Hindus in particular, sounds unrealistic in the historical context of socio-cultural relationships primarily based on religious practices, rites and ceremonies. What Alexander Hamilton writes in early 18th century remains still relevant that “In Calcutta all religions are freely tolerated”, but there have been polemics, as always, to shatter the harmony in living together instigated by vested interest in gaining power and glory. The extract from East India Chronicle published in 1801 shows a short and sharp picture of the conflicting situation, and the social and political attitude to buy quick solution rather than any permanent gain.

“The Mussulman Mohurrum, and Hindu festival in honour of Doorga, happened to occur at the same time from the former being regulated by Lunal Calculate, disputes between the two sects took place in many parts of India, and their contests were attended with bloodshed. During the Government of Ally Verdi Khan, the Hidoos were publicly prohibited from celebrating their festival, whenever it happened to interfere with that of the Mahomedans. – An event proof of the bigotry and intolerant spirit of them and their arbitrary government of the Hindoos.” [Hawksworth] The kind of 1801 reportage discourages us to admit Rev. Long’s view as plausible theses that presupposes acceptance of non-idyllic Musalmans are equally virtuous and Masjid a holy (ধর্মীয়) institution. Thus the presence of the Ancient Mosque and its association with the naming of Dhurrumtollah Street may remain a mere myth until researchers bring to light sufficient supportive evidence.

 

Jaunbazar Buddhist Adda and Dharmaraj Temple

We have come to know from Evan Cotton that Dr Hoernlé discerns in the name ‘Dharamtala’ a reference to Dharma, one of the units in the Buddhist Trinity, and he also points to the ‘Buddhist Temple in Jaun Bazar hard by’, in confirmation of his theory. Cotton, however, left no citation for the readers to reach Hoernlé’s exact version in context. [Cotton]

Augustus Frederic Rudolf Hoernlé (1841-1918), the India born British Indologist of German origin, is better known as philologist. He spent nearly his entire working life studying Indo-Aryan languages, editing and translating manuscripts. His work, ‘Manuscript remains of Buddhist Literature from Eastern Turkestan’, was brought out in 1916. [Grieson] . Those interested may find a complete list of his works in OCLC WorldCat Identities. http://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n83172870/

Jataka. Turkish version. Courtesy: Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Hoernlé was associated with the Asiatic Society of Bengal since long and presumably had occasions to share views with MM Haraprasad Shashtri (1851-1931) working then as the Director of Operations in Search of Sanskrit Manuscripts. Haraprasad became famous for discovering the Charyapada, the earliest known examples of Bengali literature. One of his most important scholarly contributions is ‘Living Buddhism in Bangal’ where he elaborates his theses of Dharma Cult and its relationship with Bengal Buddhist trends in plain language. In an attempt to substantiate his ideas Haraprasad introduces us to a Dharma-Thakoorbari in Jaunbazar, which seems most likely  the one Hoernlé had in mind.

Charyapada. 12th Cetury. Pre-modern Bengali

Haraprasad suggested that the imagery, symbolism and worship of Dharmaraj bore very close resemblance to Buddhist notions of the sacred. He dedicated his entire career to pursue his ideas that resulted in numerous publications. His basic tenet that the worship of Dharmaraj was nothing more than a remnant of decaying Buddhism in Bengal stayed vir­tually unchallenged for almost half a century. It was Khitish Prasad Chattopadhyay who, based on his anthropological field studies, first questioned his hypothesis in 1942. Khitish Prasad noticed “a preponderance of tortoise-shaped stones” and inferred a tortoise cult that was later absorbed into Buddhism.  He thus intro­duced the novel idea of pushing the origin of Dharmaraj back even farther into the past by equating Dharmaraj with the Vedic deity Varuna. [Korom] Soon after Sukumar Sen suggested in an article that it was Dharma worship that influenced Buddhism and not otherwise. The antiquity of Dharmaraj, he believed, predated the Vedas, and the cult in its most primitive form was brought in by the Austric immigrants. This view got a support from grammarian Suniti Kumar Chatterji who independently proposed the Austric origin of Dharmaraj based on philological evidence.

The most cautious review of Haraprasad was brought out in 1946 by Shashibhusan Dasgupta in his book, Obscure Religious Cults. Having critically examined archival resources he comes to a conclusion that proves to be most significant for our discussion. As he perceives, Dharma cult can be said to be a crypto-Buddhist only so far as it bears faint relation to that form of later Buddhism, more than 90% of which belong to religious systems other than Buddhism – including the beliefs and practices of the Hindus, Muslims, and even of the non-Aryan aborigines. This might be the kind of reasons why Nihar Ranjan Ray in his book, বাঙ্গালীর ইতিহাস (Bangalir Itihas), pronounces ধর্মঠাকুর বৌদ্ধধর্ম থেকে উৎপন্ন নয়’ (Bouddhism not the origin of Dharma cult) [Ray]

As we have already noticed, the researchers involved in the discovery, identification and interpretation of Dharmaraj are generally coming either with literary or anthropological background. Asutosh Bhattachayya belongs to both the camps. Like every other scholars in this field he acknowledged the pioneering works of Haraprasad and other veterans but at the same time felt that the various opinions put forth by them might apply to a specific location without producing a gen­erative model for the whole area in which Dharmaraj is worshipped. [Korom] I fear, our story of Jaunbazar temple, to be told in a moment, might contribute some more issues to clear up before looking for such a generative model.

 

Dharma Cult and Jaunbazar Dharmalay

Old Jaunbazar Native Shops. Chromolithograph  By William Simpson. 1867. Courtesy: BL

We learnt from Haraprasad that the Calcutta temple of Dharma, situated at the premises no. 45 Jaun Bazar Street contains six prominent images namely Dharma on a simhaśana, with his conspicuous eyes and his tapering head representing the light of the Adi Buddha. This is a miniature of the chaitya. Below the simhaśana are big images of Ganeça and Pancánand as a form of Mahádeva. Below these is a stone with eruptions representing small-pox. This is çitalá. There are Sasthi, the goddess of procreation, and Jvarásura, the demon of fever, also to be found in the room. According to him,“çitalá or Háriti is a constant companion of Dharma in Nepal. Ganeça and Mahákála are regarded as Dváradevas, the gods at the door of Dharma.”

Haraprasad then draws our attention to ‘something very curious in the Calcutta temple’. He found there three regular shaped stones forming one object, the middle one being smaller than the other two. They are decked with brass or silver nail-heads fastened on the stones with wax. One is led to suspect that ‘this is the ancient representation of Dharma, Samgha and Buddha in one piece of stone. This representation is very ancient, – much older than the present form of Budhism in Nepal’ (my emphasis). To his estimate, ‘the Calcutta temple is a very old one and represents a very ancient state of religion in this part of the country”. [Shastri]  This is an extraordinary view in the context of the findings of Shashibhusan that the Dharma cult originated and spread only in some parts of Western Bengal, which is proved beyond doubt by the local references found in the ritualistic works and the semi-epical Dharmamangal works. The stone-images of Dharmathakur, as exists in Jaunbazar Temple, are still being worshipped in West Bengal. He believes, “Dharma cult, developed in Bengal out of the admixture of some relics of decaying Buddhism, popular Hindu ideas and practices, a large number of indigenous beliefs and ceremonies, and ingredients derived also from Islam” as well.

Shashibhusan endorses fully the insightful statement of Haraprasad that “no religious movement of long-standing cultural influence can be eradicated all at once from a land by any other religious movement or political or religious causes. Buddhism, even in its Tantric from, was pushed aside and was gradually assimilated into the cognate religious systems among Hindus and the Muslims, and the Dharma cult is the outcome of such a popular assimilation.” It may not be difficult for us to appreciate that the followers of Dharma cult with their monotheistic belief in the formless God could easily have responsive terms with the Muslims who had the same monotheistic belief in the formless God and who were particularly antagonistic to the polytheistic belief of popular Hinduism. Hindus, like Dharmites themselves, regard Dharmathakur either as a form of Vishnu or of Shiva. They do not have anything to oppose until Dharmathakur is claimed to be the supreme deity – the creator of Hindu Trinity.

  Dharmaraj in Differnet Forms

Dharmathakur is also called Dharma Thakur, Dharma Raja or Dharma Ráya. Dharmathakur is known in different places by different names, such as, Chand Rai, Kalu Rai, Dolu Rai, Bankurha Rai, Banka Rai. Dharma cult is a far more popular among common folks – unsophisticated and the less advantaged populations forming a huge body of devotees to frequent Dharamtala – to worship Dharmathakur presumably at the foot of a tree, as the suffix ‘tala’ (তলা) indicates [Beverley. Census, 1876], A temple has been built there only toward the end of the 19th century, in 1300 BS at premise no. 45 Jaunbazar Street, [Shastri]

Of late, we come to know from the locals, including a sevayet and a purohit, that immediately before, it was only a small shrine next to the pond, talpukur, within the same Taltala area, where Dharma Raja had his home under the patronage of Rani Rashmani. As before Gajan is being held every year two days before Chaitra Sankranti – an occasion of great festivity for the locals – no matter Hindus and Muslims.

Dharmatala

Dharmatala. In a unique celebration of Buddha Purnima. Courtesy: Anandabazar

The findings of Haraprasad should have been well-known in the academic world of his time and thereafter. Yet the existence of Jaunbazar Thakurbari is sadly overlooked by all but a few. Pranotosh Ghatak, a 20th century journalist, is one of them. He narrates the story of Dhurrumtollah Street justly pointing to the hallowed seat of Dharmathakur on Jaunbazar Street as the origin of the name of Dhurrumtollah Street.  Pranotosh provides whereabouts of the few other Dharma Thakurbaris around Dhurrumtollah. A Banka Rai Street, goes behind the Wellington Square connecting Dhurrumtollah Street, and a temple of Banka Rai remains there. In Bengal & Agra Annual Gazetteer for 1841 he also finds citations of places of Dharma worship in the localities of Dinga-Bhanga Lane and Doomtala Street.

Until very lately, we were unsure about the exact address of the Jaunbazar Street Thakurbari that Haraprasad had visited and referred to as premise no. 45 and not no. 51 as found in the Bengal & Agra Alamanacfor1841.

Temple Foundation Stone

Another directory, namely, the Bengal Directory for 1876 shows it at premise no. 48, instead. As one may find today, the ‘Thakoorbari’ now known as Sitalamandir, though inscribed ‘Dharmalay’ on a stone-slab dated 1300 BS when the temple was built by Harish Chandra De (referred to by Haraprasad as ‘Hari Mohan De’ whom he met personally), stands on number 45 Surendranath Banerjee Road (formerly Jaunbazar Street).

During the last hundred years the temple ‘Dharmalay’ and its ambience have considerably been changed and more so the situation inside the holy chamber of gods and goddesses. While many of the idols Haraprasad described still show up, some seemingly go missing or misplaced. Unfortunately, the single-piece stone with three regular shaped figures, which Haraprasad belived to be ‘an ancient representation of Dharma, Samgha and Buddha’ was not found by recent visitors.

 

Dharmaraj Sila wth metallic Eyes. Taltala Dharmalay Temple. 2018. Photo.: Author

The most important among the available ones is the Dharmaraj sila – with two metallic eyes set on the uncut primeval stone placed above three separate stone tablets bearing symbols of Kurmo avatar, matsya aavatar and a pada-padma of exqusite minimalistic style of ancient Indian art. Besides the idol of Dharmaraj with two metallic eyes fitted on black granite in primeval form, there are idols of kurmo avatar and matsya(?) avatar and a padma-pada made of stone..

 

More uncertainties like this may remain for the future researchers to settle, but it is, I believe, the facts discussed here should be convincing enough to accept that ‘Dharmatala’ or Dhurrumtollah, where ‘Dhurrumtollah Ki Rasta’ originally destined for, was actually the seat of Dharmathakur discovered on Jaunbazar Street in recent past. The entire region remained for few centuries predominantly under the spell of the pre-Aryan religious sect of Dharma cult, supposed to be ‘much older than the present form of Buddhism in Nepal’. This is not a hasty conclusion but actually conceived long back by Haraprasad, Shashibhushan redefined it, and since then generally accepted and retained by informed people. [See:  অগমকুয়া http://sisirbiswas.blogspot.in/2016/01/blog-post.html%5D

 

 Origin of the Dharmaraj Shalgram and the Missing Chaurangiswar

 A question, which never been asked ever before, is being put forward here for understanding how and where from the ancient cult of Dharma worshipping came and settled at Jaunbazar  Dharamtala, in the neighborhood of Dinga-Bhanga, Talpukur. How and when this non-Aryan religious sect, outwardly Buddhistic, propagated? Who inspired this faith in this part of the country? The subject sure enough goes far beyond the colonial Calcutta but not unrelated to the topics we discuss in puronokolkata. The issues need handling with sophistication and perhaps a different platform. However, I intend to address the questions summarily to share with you my perceptions and also to encourage researchers to undertake intensive studies to reveal an obscure ethnic cultural link with ancient Calcutta.

In Paschimbanger Sangskriti, Benoy Ghosh suggests that it was the migrated fishmongers from Ghatal/Arambagh settled in the locality of Jeleparha who initially started worshipping Dharma-Thakur. Sadhus from the riverside go to Dharmatala to pay homage, take part in Gajan and Mela organized by the fishermen under the patronage of Rani Rashmoni. The Dom-pandits played the role of ministers in performing rites and ceremonies of Dharma-Thakur. Those apart there has been a well-established  community of Nath-Pandits, who also act as ministers to Dharma-Thakur. [Ghosh] There are some Dharmamangal narratives that contain regular mixture of the legends of the Nath literature and the Dharma literature, where prominent Nath siddhas along with gods, goddesses and demigods are worshipped in line with some Dharma-puja-vidhana. [Shashibhushan] Most significant poets of Dharmamangal are Rupram Chakrabarty (17th century) and Ghanaram Chakrabarty (17th-18th century). Manikram completes his work in circa 1725 (4th Jayistha 1703 Saka era). The recency of Dharmamangal kavyas and the era of Rani Rashmoni dispute the theory that Dharma-cult was introduced in Calcutta by the Jelepara fishing community.  Moreover, the primeval shalgram of Dharma-Thakur found in Jaunbazar-Dhurrumtollah Sitala-temple differs radically from the depictions of Dharmamangal kavya, being more akin to the pseudo-Buddhist notion of Nath-cult. The most prominent among the Nath-siddhas are Minanath (or Matsyendranath), Goraksanath, Jalandhari and Chauranginath – all included in the list of the Buddhist Siddhacaryas. Since the last mentioned Nath-siddha ‘Chauranginath’ happens to be our focal point, I may be allowed to dwell upon the legend of Chauranginath without delving into the history of Nath-cult which appears to Shashibhushan as a ‘hotchpotch of esoteric Buddhism and yogic Saivism’ representing a particular phase of the Siddha cult of India.

Chauranginath, or Chaurangi Swami, is regarded as one of the apostles of Bengal. Dinesh Sen writes “The Aryans who came to Bengal and settled here had distinctly a high religious object in view. From Silabhadra, Dipahkara and Mahavira to Minanath, Gorakjanath. Hadipa. Kalupa, Chaurangi and even Ramai Pandit — the apostles of Bengal all proclaimed to the people the transitori­ness of this world and the glory of a religious life. [Sen]

Nath_Siddha Lineage

Vajradhara surrounded by smaller figures of Telopa, Naropa, Marpa and Milarapa Hanging scroll (mounted on panel). Courtesy of the Freer Sackler Gallery.

Chauranginath (c1400), a contemporary of Kabir(1398-1518), lived few generations behind Śīlabhadra (529AD-645AD), Atīśa-Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna(980AD_1054AD), and Gorakshanath (11th- to 12th-century). He is one of the nine nathgurus and according to some traditions a direct disciple of Minanath. We know little of Chauringhi but some unverified stories like the ones retold by Harisadhan in his book.

  1. Legend has it that the sacred granite bearing the face of Kali the Goddess was discovered by Chauringi swami or his disciple Jangalgiri, and thereafter the jungle covering the area between Lal Dighi and Southern end of Govindpore was named Chowringhee after his name. Though we get this from flimsy source, it may be worth exploring since, other than hearsay, there is no clue as yet how and where from the vigraha of Kali was brought into the Kalighat temple. We learnt from Kalikshetradipika that it was found in the wilds by a wandering sanyasi: “যাহা হউক ইহা অবশ্য স্বীকার করিতে হইবে যে কালীঘাটে কালীমূর্ত্তীর প্রথম প্রকাশ অবশ্য অরণ্যবাসী বা গৃহত্যাগী ভ্রমণ তৎপর কোন না কোন সন্ন্যাসী বা ব্রহ্মচারী দ্বারা হইয়া থাকিবে। কোন সময়ে এবং কাহা দ্বারা কি প্রকারে প্রকাশিত হয় তাহা স্থির করা বড় দুরূহ।“
  2. Harisadhan gathered from an octogenarian that long back there were four Shivalingas being worshipped by sanyasis within the jungle of Chouringhee and its neibourhood. Nakuleswar discovered and reestablished in Kalighat by one Tarachand Sikh; Jangaleswar Mahadeva, said to be relocated somewhere in Bhowanipore Kansaripara by Jangalgiri – a disciple of Chauringinath; Nangareswar Mahadev exists near Burrabazar Pan-posta; Chouringiswara Mahadeva is said to have been unearthed while the Asiatic Society building was being constructed and removed afterwards to some unknown destination. We may recall that the land upon which the Society’s building constructed had been occupied previously by Antoine de L’Etang’s riding school.

A K  Ray, however, rejects Chauringinath as there is “no tangible evidence that Chauranga Swami ever came to Calcutta and lived in its jungle”. The original name of “Chowringhee”, he believes, is “Cherangi”, and suggests that the goddess Kali herself, called Cherangi from the legend of her origin that they trace back the name of ‘Chowringhee’”.

AK Ray is right so far as there is no hard evidence that Chauranga Swami ever came here. But there is no evidence either that he never did, especially being an acknowledged apostle of Bengal. The interpretation that the jungle was called after the Goddess Kali who herself called ‘Cherangi’ may not be readily acceptable.

Map of Calcutta Before the English. 1680

As we experience, a place name evolves from what it is being frequently called by. The name ‘Cherangi’ is little known and does not appear in the 1001 names of Kali. It is therefore very unlikely to be a valid ground for accepting the name ‘Cherangi’ as an alias of Kali the Goddess.

We know from Dinesh Sen that one of the Bengal apostles is Chaurangi swami. He and his disciples are known as Chaurangis in the sense that their religious life was to stand the fourfold test of ascetics, viz., parama-tapssita(great privation), parama-lukhata (great austerity), paramajegucchita (great loathness to wrong-doing), and parama-pavivittata ( great aloofness from the world). No wonder Chauringi swami and his disciples find the jungle adjacent to river Ganges an ideal retreat for them, and the jungle becomes then known by the name of Chaurangis.  The jungle Chaurangi had been in existence long before the English occupation. The earliest map of Calcutta made in the 16th Century shows its topography covering the entire region between the Creek and Kalighat opposite Govindpore. It was for the first time, the map Mark Wood prepared in 1784-85 charted the chunk of land separated from Chowringhee as Colinga. Colinga includes two subareas: Talpooker and Jala Colinga where Jaunbazar-Dhurrumtollah belongs to. It is the site of Dharma-Thakur Temple very much within the domain of Chaurangi. Here the Nath devotees of Dharma put their obscure religion into practice and made it adored by people of all sects. In course of time Dharmatala turns into a holy place for all, and a landmark of Calcutta then and now.

 

 

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