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.

 

 

 

Hanging Punkaha, Calcutta, c1786-90

 

tom-raw-between-smoke-and-f
টানা পাখা, কলকাতা, c১৭৮৬-৯০
The heat of the Indian summers scared the English. Before the advent of punkhas and American ice in early the 19th century, the English dreaded the oppressive heat and miseries of the hot season. As the description continues in the Putnams monthly of 1857* – In every room of every house in Calcutta a punka swings from the ceiling. Hanging Punkah (or Punka, or Punkha ) is a long, light frame of wood, covered with long-cloth or fancy paper, having a flounce of muslin along its lower edge. It is suspended from hooks by three or four ornamental cords. Then another cord passes from the body of the punka over a brass wheel on the wall, and so through the wall, and over another such wheel on the opposite side, to the hand of a punka-wallah, who squatting on the floor, pendulates his charge continually, or so long as the apartment is occupied. * The World of New York [pp. 220-224] In: Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art Volume 0008 Issue 44 (August 1856),
The side where the man pulls is the one that gets the air most vigorously circulated, for the reason that it is brought forward with a certain force, and goes back by its own weight. The people here call the one where the man pulls the Bombay side of the punka, and the other the Bengal side. We asked why it was, and they told us that when the south-west monsoon blows it comes with its full force from the sea upon the shores of the Bombay presidency; crossing the country and going over the mountains to Bengal, it expends its strength and becomes very weak. Therefore you see how the Bombay and Bengal sides of the punka get their names.Punkah-Colonel'schamber
Here is a comical description of the effects of Bombay-side pulls that GF Atkinson narrated in 1895 –If you go inside the room, you will practically experience the effects by finding your hat blown off into an adjacent corner, and your hair blown indiscriminately and unpleasantly about your eyes and face! And as there is a corresponding thermantidote hurling its Boreas blasts from the opposite verandah, and a superpending punkah, which waves recklessly and defiantly above your head, you only need a current from the ground to be involved in a general hurricane—a perfect cyclone. So what with the tatties—those moistened furze screens that close up every other aperture—” Our Colonel ” has unquestionably the coolest house at Kabob. And we have opportunities, many and oft, for appreciating it, as ” Our Colonel ” gives no end of dinner-parties; and the claret and beer submitted to the refrigerating influences of his ingenious devices are soothing and appeasable to the desiccated throats on a summer’s eve.Curry & Rice by GF Atkinson. See6.punkhawallah
The punkah-wallah, the man who pulls the huge fans with which every office, dining-room, parlor, and church is provided, is a well-known character not in Calcutta but also in Madras, as in all Southern India. This occupation often descends from father to son, for many generations, and the true punkahwallah by instinct and training develops expertise. Usually they charged three annas per day and three annas per night per man.
It is learnt from Echoes from Old Calcutta , that the hanging punkah came in between 1784 and 1790, and it was originally introduced into this country by the Portuguese. By 1900 the punkah was becoming a big white elephant for the shrinking salaries of the white man. Ashcroft writing for the electrical world magazine explains – The electric desk fan and the electric ceiling fan have sealed the fate of the punkah; its oscillations are becoming feebler and feebler, and will soon entirely cease.
The oil on canvas,’Tom Raw Between Smoke and Fire’, featured at the top was painted by Charles D’Oyly in c1820

Mohammedan College of Calcutta, 1848

MohamadanCollegeকলকাতা মাদ্রাসা কলেজ, ওয়েলেসলি স্কোয়ার, ১৮৪৮
This painting depicts the Islamic College of Calcutta. popularly known as Madrasah-e-Aliah or Calcutta Madrasah, the first educational institution set up in India in 1780 by Warren Hastings, to train Muslim men for office in the courts of justice. It taught Arabic, Persian and Islamic Law. The original building was completed in 1782 and was situated on the south side of the Bow Bazaar, but the college moved to Wellesley Square in the 1820s.
Many eminent scholars were associated with this institution as administrators, principals, teachers as well as students. Calcutta Madrasah was upgraded to Calcutta Madrasah College and then to Aliah University in recent time.
This coloured lithograph is taken from plate 18b of Sir Charles D’Oyly’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’ in 1848

Cheetah Chasing A Deer, Barrackpore Park, c1802

চিতা শিকার-খেলার দৃশ্য, ব্যারাকপুর লাটবাগান, c১৮০২
Here is a colourful description of a cheetah hunt in Lord Wellesley’s Park at Barrackpore. A cheetah is chasing a deer with huntsmen on horseback and elephant at Barrackpore, located 14 miles from Calcutta and was originally a permanent barracks. When Marquess Wellesley took over the Commander-in-Chief’s residence in 1801, he decided to make improvements to the area. He created a summer residence for future Governor-Generals’ and he landscaped the gardens while adding an aviary, a menagerie and a theatre. As a result, Barrackpore Park became a popular place for leisure pursuits, including organised hunts, as seen in this image.
Watercolour by Sir Charles D’Oyly (1781-1845) painted in c1802

Charak Puja, Calcutta, 1848

ChrrackPuja-d'Oylyচড়ক পূজা,কলকাতা, ১৮৪৮
Charak Puja is a very delightful folk festival, also known as Nil Puja, celebrated in Bengal on Chaitra Songkranti, the last day of the month Chaitra. This is a view of a large procession in Calcutta during Charak Puja. The painting reminds us of the lively version of Charak festival given by Bishop Heber of Calcutta: “All the persons who walked in the procession, and a large majority of spectators, had their faces, bodies, and white cotton clothes daubed all over with vermilion, the latter to a degree which gave them the appearance of actually being dyed rose-colour. They were also crowned with splendid garlands of flowers … many trophies and pageants of different kinds were paraded up and down, on stages drawn by horses, or bullocks.” Charak Puja, a colourful festival was celebrated all over Bengal with much pomp and show on the eve of the Bengali New Year. As described in হুতুম প্যাঁচার নকশা by Kalipranna Singha, the famous mid 19th century Bengali satire “The city of Calcutta is rocking at the sound of drums, the devotees are warming up, the blacksmiths are making all kinds of hooks”. The festival was known to the English in Calcutta as “hook swinging festival”.
This coloured lithograph is taken from plate 9 of Sir Charles D’Oyly’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its environs’ in 1848.

Chowringhee Road from No. IX Esplanade Row, 1848

এসপ্ল্যানেড রো থেকে ধর্মতলা (ট্যাঙ্ক) তালাও চত্বরে সাহেবদের আবাস, ১৮৪৮
Chowringhee Road formed part of the main residential area for Europeans in Calcutta. This view was taken from No 11 Esplanade Row and looks across the reservoir, Dhurrumtollah (Dharamtola) Tank. Prominent in the distance is the column of the Monument to Sir David Ochterlony – a strange mix of Egyptian, Turkish and Greek styles, of 152 feet high. It was erected in 1828 by public subscription, in honour of Ochterlony
This coloured lithograph was taken from plate 25 of Sir Charles D’Oyly’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’.