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)

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Chowringhee: Against the Backdrop of Fort William II

Chowringhee Road. 1787. Artist and engraver: Daniell, Thomas

চৌরঙ্গীঃ কোলকাতার দক্ষিন দ্বার

Genesis of Chowringhee

After Plassey, the necessity of keeping the English factory at Calcutta within the Fort was at end.[6] There was no felt need any more for reviving the ravaged Fort that proved its inadequacy in defending the old town and its own bulwark. The Fort was encumbered with houses close by, and had no proper esplanade for guns. Their triumph might not have been spirited enough to free the minds of English commanders from the dread of another war. That was why the East India Company favoured Clive’s decision of erecting a second Fort William expending two millions sterling.[8] The new Fort essentially differs from the old one being exclusively a military establishment and not a fortified factory of English traders as the old Fort was styled. Its construction set off in 1758 on the riverside ground of Govindpur village about a mile away from the old Fort. Before the Battle of Laldighi, the English were cooped up in the neighbourhood of the old Fort.[17] The prospect of an aerial, liveable habitation in the neighbourhood of the New Fort, attracted the European population to gradually move from the already crowded old township around the Tank Square and the old Minta, to settle in commodious Chowringhee.[6]

New Fort in Backdrop

Equipped with huge defense machinery and a formidable military architecture, the new Fort William was ready by 1773, but had no occasion ever since to exchange fires with enemies. Instead its resounding  tope of canon ball routinely announced mid-day hours to regulate working life of the Calcuttans. The presence of the imposing Fort on Maidan silently reminds us of the significant role it had played in transforming the town Calcutta into a city – famously called ‘City of Palace’, the centre of British India. Following inauguration of the Fort, the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William was founded. The Governors of Bengal became the Governor Generals of India. Calcutta was reborn ushering a modern society to stay connected with rest of the world.

Fort William, Govindpore. Chowringhee Gate. Photographer: unidentified. 1880’s Source: eBay,

Beyond the European buildings lying around the Old Fort were four villages of mud and bamboo, all of which were included in the zamindary limits of the first settlement. These villages were the original three with the addition of Chowringhee. Chowringhee in 1717 was a hamlet of isolated hovels, surrounded by water-logged paddy-fields and bamboo-groves, interspersed with a few huts and small plots of grazing and arable lands. The chosen site of the Fort was on the river-bank of village Govindpore, considerably south of the old Mint. As Colonel Mark Wood’s Map of 1784 inscribes.[19] Govindpore began where the Northern boundary of Dhee Calcutta ended at Baboo Ghat, and then went up to the Govindpore Creek, or Tolly’s Nullah and that was the extreme end of the English zamindary. As Rev. Long indicated, it was ‘immediately to the South of Surman’s gardens, marked by a pyramid in Upjohn’s map.’ [17] At West, the area includes King’s Bench Walk  with a row of trees separating it from the riverbank between  Chandpaul Ghaut  and  Colvin’s Ghaut , then called  Cucha-goody Ghaut  At North, Esplanade Row, from Chandpaul Ghaut, hard by the New Court House on the riverside, runs into Dhurumtollah in a straight line past the Council House and the old Government House standing side by side.

Govindpore was a populous flourishing village when its entire population was removed to make room for the new Fort and its infrastructure. The inhabitants were compensated by providing lands in places like Toltollah, Kumartooly, Sobhabazar expending restitution-money. In Govindpore itself great improvements took place. The jungle that cut off the village of Chowringhee from the river, was cleared and. gave way to the wide grassy stretch of ‘Maidan of which Calcutta is so proud’.

Pallanquin on jungle road. Illustration in book ’India’ by Richard Mayde 1876

The jungle, presumably, had been once a part of the Great Soonderband (সুন্দর বন).  Many traces of trees were found at a considerable depth below the surface of the ground. These remains are thought to be those of the soondrie forest that covered the site of Calcutta when newly emerged from the waters of the Gangetic Delta. [6] Early 1789, Government resolved on filling up the excavations in the Esplanade and levelling its ground. The plan was prepared for the benefit of Calcutta in general, and of the houses fronting the Esplanade in particular. The plan extended to drain the marsh land, in expectation that the digging a few tanks will furnish sufficient earth and thus save the project cost and time. A new tank was made at the corner of Chowringhee and Esplanade, which existed till the dawn of the twentieth century. [20]

Road to Chowringhee

The road dividing the Maidan and Chowringhee was named, Road to Chowringhy [sic] by Colonel Mark Wood in his 1784 Plan of Calcutta, which in fact was a midsection of the oldest and longest thoroughfare of Calcutta, known as Pilgrim Way  starting from Chitpore, Chitreswari temple at extreme North and ending at Kalighat temple in South. As late as in 1843, the proclamation included in the  Special Reports of the Indian Law Commissioners has no mention of ‘Chowringhee locality’, but of a ‘Chowringhi[sic] High Road’.

The Road to Chowringhy[sic] was initially a short stretch between Dhurumtollah and Park Street that subsequently developed into an 80 feet broad and nearly two miles long roadway commencing from the  Creek  where it crossed Cossitollah (later Bentinck Street) between Waterloo Street and British India Street, and ended at Theatre Road where from Rossapagla Road took the queue. Before the modern Chowringhee came into being, Cossitollah, was thronged with a large proportion of European shops and often called ‘the Indian Elysium of plebeians’. [6]. The eastern side of the Chowringhee Road is lined by handsome houses, facing the fine grassy Maidan which lies between them and the river. Houses are generally ornamented with spacious verandahs to the south, that being the quarter from which the cool evening breeze blows in the hot weather. [12] The Bishp’s Palace was the most imposing among those.

Changing Landscape

When Josua Conder visited Chowringhee, this city was ‘the quick growth of a century’, and ‘still half jungle’. He wrote, “at Chowringhee, where you now stand in a spacious verandah supported by Grecian pillars, only sixty short years ago, the defenseless villagers could scarcely bar out the prowling tiger.” His presumptions about the future of Chowringhee however were all wrong. Contrary to his beliefs, in sixty more years the city never depopulated but its strength intensified; and all these perishable palaces of timber, brick, and chunam did not disappear but multiplied more time than it should have. [7]

Calcutta. A French map. 1839. credited to Dufour and Benard. [Read ‘Rue’ for ‘Road’]

So far back as 1714 ‘Cherangy’[sic] is named among the township neighbourhood within the Pergunnah of Calcutta either possessed or desired by the Company.[23] Originally, Chowringhee was an ancient village named after one  Jungal Giri Cherangi, a pious worshipper of Kali. Between 1726 and 1737, Cherangi (sic) came to be treated as a part of the English settlement. It was still separated on the West from Govindapur by jungle, where now the grassy level of the Maidan extends. The creek wandering inland past the southern wall of the burying ground divided Chowringhee-Govindapur from the Old Town – the township around the Old Fort. Until then Chowringhee had been a native portion of Dhee Calcutta and Bazar Calcutta.[23] There were “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, which is now daily crowded at sunset with the gayest equipages of Calcutta”. [8]

The above 9 lithographs of William Wood’s paintings included in his album, Views of Calcutta.published in 1833. The elegant forms of the buildings of European Calcutta heralded an important stage in the history of architecture of the subcontinent: the evolution of Western styles into forms which would become commonplace in the Indian context. This building depicted shows what became the conventional pattern, a two or three storeyed block, well-proportioned and set in a garden, and with columned verandahs protecting its rooms from the heat. Courtesy British Library

Colonel Mark Wood in 1784 marked Chowringhee on the South of Park Street away from the original locale of the village Cherangi. A decade later, Upjohn put back the district of Chowringhee as Dhee Birje, on the North of Park Street. The boundaries were shown with Circular Road on the East, Park Street on the South, Colingah on the North and a part of Chowringhee Road on the West. [17] After half a century, Dufour and Benard in 1839 put Chowringhee on both the sides of Park Street spreading over Dhurumtollah to Theatre Road. [3] Bit by bit its boundaries extended from the village at North of Park Street, then called the Burying Ground Road, to cover the whole South-East part of Calcutta. In 1802 Lord Valentia writes : “Chowringhee, an entire village, runs for a considerable length at right angles with it (the Esplanade) and altogether forms the finest view I ever beheld in any city.” In 1810, Miss Graham found Calcutta ‘like London a small town of itself ‘, but its suburbs swell it to a prodigious city. [14] Chowringhee in 1824, is no more a mere scattered suburb, but almost as closely built as, and a very little less extensive than Calcutta. [23] , “separated from Calcutta by an ancient John bazaar [Jaun Bazaar]”.[16] Chowringhee, to Rev W K Firminger, was the  West End  of Calcutta, socially but not geographically,  a district bounded by Park Street on the North, Lower Circular Road on the East and South, and the Maidan on the West. [13]

The modern view ignores the historicity of Chowringhee. The row of buildings on Esplanade Row at the edge of Maidan becomes its Northern skirt. Its territory is nowadays more or less compatible with old Govindpore – a place no more exists.

Chowringhee Road View from No 11 Esplanade Row , across Dhurrumtollah Tank. Col. Lithograph. Artist: Sir Charles D’Oyly

Growing Chowringhee

A year before the construction of Govindpore Fort stared, there had been only a couple of European houses in Chowringhee. One at the corner of Dhurumtollah with entrance from that street, the other was at a little distance from it, with an entrance facing the Maidan. Most likely the first house was the General Stibbert’s House in the west end of the Dhurumtollah and in the vicinity of the Esplanade, where Mr. Farrell’ New Calcutta Academy moved in from Cossitolla Street as gazetted on 31st May 1804, much before the foundation of St Paul’s School, which was sometimes referred to as one of the two first houses in Chowringhee. The second one was indisputably the manor of Lord Vansittart at number 7 Middleton Row. It was better known as Sir Elijah Impey’s house where Impey happily stayed surrounded by an expansive deer park. In those days Maidan was ‘strangely treeless’, and Impey’s manor happened to be the foremost erection stood across it’s stretch. The site is now occupied by the Loreto Convent.

The number of houses continued to grow in isolation till 1770s. Between Jaun Bazar Road (or Corporation Street as called later), and Park Street, forty European residences, mostly with large compounds, are depicted in Upjohn’s Map. An equal number may be counted in Dhee Birjee – the quarter immediately south of Park Street. Even so late as 1824, Chowringhee was regarded as a suburb. Miss Eden calls it the Regent’s Park of Calcutta. Miss Emma Roberts spoke about suburb Chowringhee of 1831-33 – the favourite residence of the European community. From the roofs of their houses, they viewed “a strange, rich, and varied scene discloses itself: the river covered with innumerable vessels,— Fort William, and Government House, standing majestically at opposite angles of the plain,— the city of Calcutta, with its innumerable towers, spires, and pinnacles in the distance,— and nearer at hand, swamps and patches of unreclaimed jungle, showing how very lately the ground in the immediate neighbourhood of the capital of Bengal was an uncultivated waste, left to the wild beasts of the forest.” [25]

“In this part of the town,” notes Mr. Beverley in his census report for 1876, “ the streets are laid out with perfect regularity, very different from the rest of the town” – the town rising about the old Fort. [9] The report was contrary to what Miss Emma viewed over half a century ago and said, “No particular plan appears to have been followed in their erection, and the whole, excepting the range facing the great plain, Park-street, Free-School street, and one or two others, present a sort of confused labyrinth,”. and then she added ,”however, it is very far from displeasing to the eye; the number of trees, grass- plants, and flowering shrubs, occasioning a most agreeable diversity of objects.” [25] The difference between the observations of Miss Emma of Beverley evidenced the good works done in between by the Lottery Committee. “To them Calcutta is indebted for a long catalogue of improvements: and they may justly claim to be held in grateful remembrance as her second founders. Roads and paths were run across the Maidan and the familiar balustrades set up. Numerous tanks were excavated The New Market, which was built between 1871 and 1874, is another monument to the energy of the Justices which the ordinary citizen of Calcutta probably feels better able to appreciate. The grand success of the Lottery Committee encouraged the government to undertake further developmental programs under the management of the Fever Committee [9]

Chowringhee Redefined

An illustration is from a picture drawn by Captain F. J. Bellew, illustrating his book entitled, A Griffen, on Landing at Calcutta, 1818

Chauringi [sic]) is a place of quite modern erection, originated from the rage for country houses.”, At the beginning of 19th century the people of Calcutta, as of Bombay and Madras, loved to live in garden-houses midst trees and flowers. They preferred living away from the hot, unhealthy and already crowded Town of Calcutta, to a place ‘where they could enjoy some privacy’.[17] They admired the landscape of Chowringhee. Chowringhee premises themselves were often very extensive, the principal apartments looking out upon pretty gardens, decorated with that profusion of flowers which renders every part of Calcutta so blooming. [25] The surroundings were mostly open fields among which were scattered villages, with here and there a garden house, standing in wide grounds where roamed plenty of deer, water birds, particularly the adjutant birds, or the Indian stork with a pinkish-brown neck and bill, and a military gait seen walking around. Camels and mules were not uncommon sight on Chowringhee Road. Jackals roamed at night mischievously to undermine foundations of old houses, as they did so to the Free School’s old house that fell in 1854. In spite of such small inconveniences the ‘lordly Chowringhee stood ‘equal to the finest thoroughfare anywhere; and the blessed Maidan – that enormous lung responsible for all the health and happiness of the people of Calcutta’. [20]

The name ‘Chowringhee’ denotes a new found ‘comfort zone’ in the South of Town Calcutta for the Europeans who loved a trendy hassle-free life to lead in airy environs. Whenever their comfort-zone shifted its focus the habitat moved along revising its boundaries but keeping the name unchanged. The historical maps may well justify redefining ‘Chowringhee’ in terms of habitation socially and not geographically in terms of territorial location. Chowringhee like two other old localities, John Bazaar and Taltallah, ‘came adrift from their moorings and carried away by the surging tide of population beyond Dhurumtollah toward Bhowanipore.[18] Somewhat like a Gypsy camp, the community moved on southward leaving some cohabitants behind in lesser locations.

Chowringhee Stratified

Plan of Calcutta. 1784 & 1785. Credited to Colonel Mark Wood

Chowringhee, we may notice, is a cluster of residential blocks of distinctive characters, categorized by racial, religious, economic differences. Blanchard in his memoir mentions: “A house in the “City of Palaces” is very apt to look like a palace. But the comparison applies only to that portion of the town where dwell the Europeans of the higher ranks, the Civil and Military officers, and principal merchants of the place. These congregate for the most part in the Chowringhee road and the streets running there from, which make up the only neighbourhood where it is conventionally possible for a gentleman to reside.” [5] This description of Blanchart found inapplicable to the whole of Chowringhee, but to some exclusive neighbourhood like. Hastings Place, at the southern end of Chowringhee. The group of streets which commemorate the various titles of Lord Hastings and his wife, who was Countess of Loudoun in her own right, are also the work of the Lottery Committee, and were designed to afford access to the Panchkotee (92 Elliot Rd ?), or five mansions, which will be found surrounding Rawdon Street, Moira Street, Hungerford Street and Loudoun Street (as it should be properly spelt). [9] We are informed by different authors that while barristers had their houses in the neighbourhood of Supreme Court, the officials, medical men, and merchants, have their residences in Garden Reach, and the numerous streets contained in the district rejoicing in the general name of Chowringee [sic]. [16] All these points out to the practice of social ranking among the European residents in Chowringhee. Chowringhee was built by Europeans for residing there in European way life, surpassing the standard of living prevailed in their homeland. Montgomery Massey penned an intimate and lively picture of Chowringhee of relatively recent time covering half a century from 1870s. [20]

Social & Religious Reservations

Procession of the Churruckpooja in Chowringee. Coloured lithograph by Charles D’Oyly. 1848

For a long time Indians had no place in Chowringhee, excepting very few. We find in a late 18th century map three Rustomjees on Chowringhee Lane, Jamsedjee Ruttunjee on Lindsay Street. Chowringhee allowed these rich business men of Parsee community to stay with the sahibs rightfully. It took a hundred year for the native gentlemen to share the privilege liberally with the Europeans to settle in Chowringhee. Some of those privileged ones were: Kumar Arun Chundra Singha at house 1(?) Harrington Street, Sir Rajendranath Mookherji’s house on 7 Harrington Street, Sir B. C. Mitter’s 19 Camac Street, Raja Promotho Roy Chowdhury’s 9 Hungerford Street. The presence of native houses in Chowringhee before coming of Europeans may not be improbable. Rev. Long spoke of a ‘large house’ identical to Sir Elijah Impey’s, stood on the very spot, nearly half a century before Impey. That house as referred to in the ‘Plan of Calcutta’ of 1742 ‘cannot have been an English residence’ he continued, ‘and was possibly the property of a native official’. [17]

Chowringhee in its first two centuries had been exclusively a Christian colony. The two early Bengali converts, Rev. K. M. Banerjee, and Gunendra Mohun Tagore had houses in European quarter on Bullygunge Circular Road at premises numbers 1 and 2. We are never sure if Chowringhee would have welcomed these two native Christians as residents, if so they desired. It is interesting to note, however, that there was a Hindu, of European origin, living in posh Wood Street area. Hindu Stuart was more a conservative Hindu than many native Hindus were. The European residents had tolerated Stuart’s conformity to idolatrous customs. It shows that the Europeans had no problems with native faith as such, but to them the native way of living was utterly disgraceful and unhygienic. Besides their own experience, the reactions of the overseas visitors gathered from their memoirs and letters, reinforced European antipathy toward the way of living of the Calcutta people in general, and of the lower-class in particular. One of the serious objections they had against native citizens was ‘lack of sensitivity’ and indifference toward their own surroundings. They called the native town, a black town, as it was a ‘wretched-looking place – dirty, crowded, ill-built, and abounding with beggars and bad smells’ [30]. Beyond Black Towns, even the best neighbourhoods were not completely free of such menace. “The whole appearance of Chowringhee is spoiled by the filthy huts that exist everywhere, almost touching the ‘palaces’.” These eyesores are to be seen even in the ultra-fashionable Park Street and Middleton Street, and on the Maidan in front of Chowringhee. [12] It is a repulsive scene for civilized members of any society. The problems are often thought of economy oriented and related to lower-class of the society, overlooking their cultural significance.

Living Conditions and Style

The Black Towns also includes the upper-class genteel who lived in ‘handsome houses enclosed in court-yards between the mud huts, the small dingy brick tenements, and the mean dilapidated bazaars of the middling and lower classes of natives. These Armenian merchants, Parsees, and Bengallee gentlemen of great wealth and respectability’ did never mind their environment. [25] Interestingly, the lowly tribal folks of Bengal, like the santals, keep their homes and villages clean and beautiful. The underlined social malady is an issue of critical importance for investigating the root cause of stagnation of the vernacular society. The matter is beyond the scope of present discussion. Elsewhere we discussed related issues in historical context. See: Rajendra Dutta 1818-1889

 

Chowringhee Today & Tomorrow

Since 1754 Chowringhee revealed itself variantly in maps, paintings, and texts. It is almost impossible to separate Chowringhee from boundary areas, or to imagine a Chowringhee excluding North of Park Street, a Chowringhee without the old Hogg Market, the Museum, Bible House, The Grand, and Firpo’s, and the like – attractions of old and recent past. For Chowringhee goers, riding an Esplanade-bound tram across the green of Maidan was a special pleasure. Alighted at Esplanade they felt already in Chowringhee, and perceived the two as inseparable. To them and some modern scholars, Chowringhee and Esplanade denote the same place and are generally called by any of the two names irrespectively. The comprehensive view of modern Calcutta embraces the grand view of Maidan and on its opposite, shiny lines of shops, hotels, restaurants, cinema halls and range of magnificent edifices built mostly by the Armenian architects who were responsible more than others for upgrading Calcutta to the City of Palace. Minney in his time wondered “if all these mighty edifices will be abandoned some day by those for whom they were built. Will the Britons say to the Indians, “We built all this for ourselves, and for you; but we can no longer live together?” [20] And so it happened. Calcutta has been losing her Oriental identity for good. The little collective will the society had earned to resist the lure of westernization is being siphoned off in the process of misconceived globalization.

 

NOTES
The name of the rural Cherangi (চেরাঙ্গী) changed during its transformation into urbane Chowringhee (চৌরঙ্গী). The original vernacular name [26] acquired variant renditions with some twists to suit English tongues, and spelt out fancifully by writers of last three centuries. Among the good alternatives, ‘Chowringhee’ is found most popular in the works consulted. That is the only reason why I used ‘Chowringhee’ and some other place names in certain anglicized forms as standard.

REFERENCES
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21. Minney, R. J. 1922. Round about Calcutta. London: Oxford U P. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/roundaboutcalcut00minnrich#page/n5/mode/2up).
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23. Montefiore, Arthur. 1894. Reginald Heber: Bishop of Calcutta, Scholar and Evangelist. New York: Revell. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/reginaldheberbis00bric).
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25. Roberts, Emma. 1843. “Memoirs of Emma Roberts. In Memoirs of Literary Ladies of England; Ed. by Mrs Elwood; vol.2.” in Oxford University, vol. 2. London: Colburn. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books?id=ROsQAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA333&lpg=PA333&dq=memoirs+of+emma+robert&source=bl&ots=c_ubDSyGKS&sig=PW6CgPPZ3uZuZq0Ev71kl_Ll7vU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiI5PPQ0cjXAhXHto8KHTQ7DFQ4ChDoAQgmMAA#v=onepage&q=memoirs of emma robert&f=false).
26. Thacker, Spink. 1776. “Alphabetical List of the Streets in Calcutta, Howrah, and the Suburbs.” Calcutta: Thacker, Spink.
27. Wilson, Charles R. 1895. The Early Annals of the English in Bengal; Summarised, Extracted, and Edited with Introductions and Illustrative Addenda; Vol.1. London, Calcutta: Thacker. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/earlyannalsofeng01wilsuoft).