NABARATNA TEMPLE OF GOBINDRAM MITTER

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

নবরত্ন কালী মন্দির। চিৎপুর। কলিকাতা। ১৭৩০/১৭৩১

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

REFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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The First English Settlers: Sutanuti Sahibs, 1690 – 1706

View of Calcutta from Hooghly River by William Hodges. c1789

View of Calcutta from Hooghly River by William Hodges. c1789

সুতানুটির সাহেব; ইংরেজ পত্তনির প্রথম ষোল বছর, ১৬৯০- ১৭০৬

Charnock was the main instrument that worked behind the foundation of the British Empire in the East. He felt that Sutanuti was a strategic position and had many advantages for the English that the other places lacked. Provisions were plentiful at its bazaars and hats, Communication by land routs with interior was easier, yet the village was an island that could be cheaply defended. It was a secure position for a naval power. A suitable landing Ghat was already there. Just below the place, the river Hooghly had become deep enough for large ship to ride in. There existed a pucca building which might be used for factors, in case of need. The place, being marshy and unhealthy, had no much value in the eyes of the Moghul. Articles of export could also be had, as a trading community, such as the Setts and Byasacks, had already actively engaged in business there.

bazar india

Cloth merchant measuring cloth. Artist Unknown. 1820

Before acquisition of Calcutta the Savarnas were traditionally the proprietors of Calcutta and its adjacent areas. The Byasaks and Setts came there to settle as the earliest dwellers. After the name of their idol Chitreswari, they called their locality on the north of Calcutta as ‘Chitpur’. After their family deity Govida, the Bysaks named their village Govindapur. Among the Hindu residents of the time in Calcutta and its neighbouring village we find mentions in the traditions of Monohar Ghose, an ancestor of Dewan Shrihari Ghose, at Chitpur; of a predecessor of Govinda Mitter, who acted as a Black Zamindar under Holwell at Sutanuti; of Govina Saran Dutt and Panchanan Tagore, ancestors of Dutts and the Tagores of Hatkhola and Pathuriaghata, respectively settled at Chttanuttee and Govindapur”

Black (Gentoo) Pagoda, Chitpore-Daniel

Gentoo Pagoda and House – Thomas Daniel. c 1787

Due to the diversion of the trade of Satgaon, cities and villages rapidly grew up along its banks. The situation helped the villages Sutanuti, Govindapur and Kolikata to grow into prominence together with some newly come up villages, namely Chitrapur (Chitpur) on their north, and Bhowanipur and Kalighat on their South. Govindapur and Kalighat were separated by a creek marking the northern edge of the old Adi-Ganga that connected the Hooghly and the Balurghata and the Salt-water Lakes. Shortly after, a place for the sale of cloth was set up further north that became famous as Sutnati Hat, the Cotton Bale Market, In the 17th century, Betor gradually washed out and its foreign trading were shifted to Sutanuti where new connections with European traders, particularly the English, are being fostered.
“On 24th August 1690 for the third and last time Charnock found himself at Chuttanutte (sic), where ‘the restored merchants were received with respact.’ This was the foundation day of the City of Palaces.” – Hyde Parochial annals of Bangal. Charnock’s Sutanuti was considered the best choice for business prospect, but worst for the settlers. Three miles to the north-eastward was a salt-water lake that overflows in September -October, then prodigious numbers of fish resort thither, but in November –December, when the floods are dissipated, those fishes left dry, and with their putrefaction affect the air with stinking vapors, and cause a yearly mortality.

View of Circular Road, Calcutta- Prinsep, Edward Augustus 1848

Circular Road Calcutta, by Edward Prinsep. 1848

Procession of the Goddess Kali - Calcutta October 1841

Procession of the Goddess, L.H. de Rudder 1848

Charnock died in 1693 leaving the new settlement in chaos. During last days Charnock lived like a spent-force landlord, allowing everyone the liberty to enclose lands, dig tanks, and build houses where and how they pleased. The settlement remained unfortified and vulnerable even ten years after his death. In 1696 during insurgence of Subah Singh, the English obtained the much delayed permission to defend themselves.

North view of the Water Gate and Royal Barracks at Fort William in Calcutta by William Baillie . 1794

A bastion and a walled enclosure were completed by January 1697. The Company has by the year 1699 sufficiently secured their position in Bengal and elevated to the rank of independent Presidency. Supposedly, by this time the supply of the ten guns ordered for did arrive from Madras. Next year their rising fort was granted the name ‘Fort William’ a tribute to the reigning King. The construction of the Fort took some 16 years more to complete. It was, as the Court of Directors observed in 1713 , of very little real use as fortification. See CR Wilson/ Old Fort William

The first English settlement at Sutanuti ‘seems to have consisted of mud and straw hovels’. Its chief defence was the flotilla of boats lying in the river, The renewed settlement established by Charnock in 1690 was of the same nature. Except a small area round the Park and the Factory, there had been no township grown in the settlement during early days of British occupancy. The only noticeable masonry building Charnock acquired was the Catchari of Sutanuti jaigirdars. With the construction of the Fort at its site and reclamation of the great tank, the Portuguese and Armenian together with few Dutch and Danes flocked around the Fort.

Chitpore Road Calcutta, by Simpson William. 1867

The huge area of its neighboring marketplace, Burrah Bazaar, had every available space within its boundaries taken up by houses and shops of the native traders. The Bazaar was accessible by a road east of the Fort and west of the Park that ran northwards, and one of its branches passed through Algodam (potato godown). There was also the old zamindari avenue leading eastwards that crossed the junction of Broad Street and Chitpur Road – Calcutta’s earliest thoroughfare. Along these waysides, the affluent Company merchants and opulent native traders happily started settling in garden houses. Omichand, the Sikh millionaire had his mansion on the north of the Tank Square. Rasbehari Sett and Ramkissen Sett had theirs on the west of the Burying Ground. Near Middle Street the Company had its own vegetable garden and fish ponds. The Company’s factors and writers still resided in ‘convenient lodgings inside Fort.

In 1706, only 2248 bighas of land occupied with dwellings in Town Calcutta, and 364 bighas were shortly to utilized for houses, although the Burrahbazar to its immediate north was already most populous, having 400 bighas built over out of its entire area of 488 bighas. The land actually held by the English at Calcutta at this time was about three miles in length and about a mile in breath, its inland boundary being the Chitpore road, which afforded access to the famous Kalighat temple.  This immemorial pilgrim path disguised today under such various names as Chitpore Road, Cossaitollah Gully (or Bentink Street) and Chowringhee Road.

EsplanadeRow-River-CouncilHouse-x

Esplanade Row from the river to the Council House, Etching by William Baillie. 1794

 

In spite of the increasing effort being made for suburbanization the settlement stll reeking with malaria. Mortality was extraordinarily high. Out of the twelve hundred Englishmen no less than 460 died within five months as Hamilton reported in 1710. Till August 1705 there was only one doctor to attend and until the autumn of 1707 there was no hospital in town Calcutta. It was ‘a pretty good hospital in Calcutta’ where many go in to undergo the grievance of physic, but few come out to give accounts of its operation. Braving such a challenging situations the Englishmen built their home away from home and did their best to live in their own style.

As Calcutta became settled with its fort, quarters, parks, roads, bazaar and other amenities, Sutanuti became abandoned by the English as a place of abode. They left behind their favourite Perrin’s pleasure garden, ‘where once it was the height of gentility for the Company’s covenanted servants to take their wives for an evening stroll or moonlight féte. Bellamy lived to see a gunpowder factory in the grounds. As he rode out to Perrin’s besides his wife’s palanquin, along what is now Clive Street, he would have marked how between the new stockaded Christian town and citadel and the old defenseless village of the cotton market lay the gardens, orchards, and houses of the thriving native middlemen to whom English methods of trade then, and revenue administration later, gave so ample scope of fortune-making.’

The English Company boys, who landed at Sutanuti accompanying Charnock, were evidently differently motivated people than the factors and writers arrived decade after. The first generation settlers were a band of adventurist traders, with little or no education and no high ambition in life. Who knows, they might have preferred to continue in Sutanuti rather than to live in town Calcutta alienated from the rest.

Job_Charnock_founding_Calcutta,_1690-2

Job Charnock Founding Calcutta. Illustrator unknown. Source: Hutchinson’s story of the nations

In that wee hours, none of them, neither their Company nor the Royal authority, had an inkling of the future role of the English in India. It was, however, not unlikely that the idea of a permanent English settlement first came to Charnock’s mind when Sutanuti was the ‘halfway house of the European merchants’. He had a speculative flair. As the time-honoured legend goes, he used to sit and smoke a meditative hookah under the shade of the famous peepul tree where Bow Bazaar Street meets Lower Circular Road. The tree is no more there. It was uprooted unceremoniously during Marquees Hastings’ regime, in 1820, leaving behind a memory of the tree hidden in the new street name, Baithakkhana Road. Charnock nevertheless, could not have taken his ideas further because of his growing indifference and lack of initiative, as discussed before. History took its own course. Calcutta suburbanization eventually made Calcutta the second-best city of the British Empire. The first English settlers, the Sutanuti sahibs, were lost by this time in oblivion.

 

SOURCEBOOKS

The book ‘Calcutta, town and suburb’ has been extensively used besides few other sources.