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.

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FINDING DHURRUMTOLLAH

Calcutta. a steel engraving. 1839. Source: Meyer’s Universalism 1850.

ধর্মতলা সন্ধানে


DHURRUMTOLLAH STREET Away From Durrumtollah

Dhurrumtollah Street, nicknamed ‘Dhurrumtollah ka Rasta’, is an approach road to Dhurrumtollah – a vaguely indicated locality north of village Chowringhee that anonymously spreads over the marshy terrain known as Colinga at one time. None of the old maps of Calcutta specifies the place of Dhurrumtollah, though the Dhurrumtollah Street invariably shows up in its place since Mark Wood’s map of 1784-85.
The Dhurrumtollah Street came up in around 1762, so did Jaun Bazar Road (later ‘Street’), both running eastward leaving Dingabhanga in between [Mark Wood, 1784]. Originally it was a causeway raised by deepening the ditch on either side of a land then owned by Jafer, a zamadar in the employ of Warren Hastings.”[Cotton]

COLINGA

Topography
It was the time when the English territory south of Town Calcutta was partly jungle, an extension of Sunderban, where Hastings said to have had the pleasure of tiger hunting.
Before coming of the English, Calcutta topography had been much simpler as Barrel’s 16th Century Bengal map reveals. The vast surrounding area, where the English later founded their first zamindari, looked like populated by only three distant villages – Chitpore, Kolikata, and Kalighat, connected by an unnamed jungle path. The 1680 map ‘Calcutta before the English’ adds few more names pointing to Sutanuti, Govindpore, Chowringhee, and also the Creek, and Jannagar at the eastern end.

Bengal. 1550. River: From Hughli to Sea; according to Joao de Barrel and the Bengali poets. Source: Wilson.Annals.v.1

The landscape in the vicinity of the Creek was then viewed as an extension of village Chowringhee – unworthy of any distinction. 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 within its boundary. The two villages, Colinga, and Jala Colinga, however, were already enlisted in 1717, as ‘Colimba’ and ‘Jola Colimba’, among the 38 villages the English Company was permitted by the Emperor to buy. [Ray]
Talpooker was not in the buying list of villages. In Upjohn’s Mark Wood’s maps Talpooker was prominently placed and it still exists as Taltola, an old quarter of metropolis, bearing one of the most common rural-names in Bengal, featuring habitations centered on ponds bordered with palm trees.
Jala Colinga is better known by its sobriquet ‘Dinga-bhanga’, which originated after the great 1737 cyclone that wrecked a dinga, i.e. large boat, on swampy shoreline of the Creek – the vanished man-made canal for carrying cargo boats from Chandpal Ghat toward Beliaghata at the east end. [Blochmann]

Calcutta before the English 1680

The Creek was also referred to in Company documents as Calcutta khal. The vast territory extending from Calcutta Khal to the Tolly’s Nullah, covering the whole of the maidan spread a jungle tract of heavy undergrowth and giant trees. “This jungle was intersected by numerous creeks and watercourses, where the muddy yellow waters of the Hughly swept in with the rising tide, or ebbed with the drainage of the surrounding rain-drenched country”. The old bed of the Creek remained, long after the closing of its connection with the river had deprived it of its stream, and turned it into a ditch. [Blechynden]
We normally accept unquestioningly whatever presented in a historical map, while the opposite may not be true in all cases. Whatever not presented, cannot be read as non-existent for sure since the possibility of their being existed namelessly can never be overruled without verifying the circumstantial evidences. Colinga is one of such cases. With all its parts: Talpooker and Jala Colinga appear separately in the list of 19 mauzas, and Dhee Calcutta, composed during 1767-1857.

 

Colinga and the newly enlisted villages were not expected to come up suddenly out of nothing. Normally, it takes ages for a geographic entity to acquire a name of its own, unlike the modern way of deciding street names on board meetings, as did the English Company in 1792. For a prolong period, when it remained essentially a part of village Chowringhee, Colinga had been a thinly populated uncultivated landscape occupying north-east segments with Dingabhanga and Talpooker on the peripheries.

 

Etemology
The name Colinga, assigned in Upjohn’s and Mark Wood’s maps, is a derived form of a rare Bengali word কলিম্বা (Colimba), has multiple meanings. It poses a serious challenge for us to distinguish between the etymological and the popular sense of the word in current context. Vernacular lexicon shows 25 different sets of meanings, of which the followings are found plausible attributes contributing to the naming of the village Colimba (কলিম্বা), or Colinga:
(1) Trees: পাকুড় (Ficus religiosa, sacred fig) / শিরিষ (Lebbek Tree)/ কামরাঙ্গা (carambola) / তরমূজ (water melon) (2) Terrain: marshland (হাজা। “হাজালে কলিঙ্গ দেশ”) (3) People: Kol tribe, worshiper of Bonga (বঙ্গা) [Jnanendramohan]
On the basis of such semantic interpretations we may imagine how Colinga might have been before the increasing homesteads changed its ecology. Colinga and its surrounds, by lexical interpretation, apparently looked like a jungle of Sirish শিরিষ and Pakurh পাকুড় trees and a marshland (at Jala Colinga) with abundance of kamranga কামরাঙ্গা vegetation; lived by Kol কোল and such tribal folks.

The Banks of the Hooghly River, Calcutta, Source: The Graphic, v.24, no 646, Ap.15, 1882

Ecology
The soil of Calcutta, marshy and damp, has always been displeasing, particularly in the rainy season, and more so because of proximity of the river and a widespread lake – about 3 to 4 miles long and in no part above 18 inches deep, frequented by innumerable flocks of wild geese, duck, teals, etc. The site of Colinga was the nearest to that lake [Chattopadhyaya]

Colinga happened to be the last of the “typical swamp-type of vegetation including mangroves throve in and around Calcutta” for about 3000 years, as experts find. Perhaps, with the rise of land as a result of continued river silting and increased population the forest has since migrated southwards giving rise to the swampy forest of the present day Sunderbans. [Biswas]

Biodiversity

Since prehistoric eras the birds and animals travel Gangetic Bengal, migrate and settle colonies enriching natural resources contributing to improve quality of the soil and its landscape. As we all know, birds transport seeds and twigs from far and near across lands and oceans to germinate new variety of plant life, and they do it selectively by the atmospheric condition of a terrain. The birds living in and around Calcutta, and those visiting seasonally during last two centuries, have been systematically recorded by birdwatchers. Frank Finn is one of them. His Birds of Calcutta is more relevant to our theme than elaborated work, Pet Birds of Bengal [Law]. We find 24 species of birds, all familiar to us but some like Paddy-bird – once so prevalent in the City of Palace, gone out of sight for good. Those are:

House Crow পাতি কাক, Oriental Magpie Robin দোয়েল, Seven Sisters ছাতারে, Bulbul বুলবুল, King-Crow দাঁড় কাক, Common Tailorbird টুনটুনি, Oriole, বেনে বউ common? Mynah ভাত শালিক, Dhtalধুলাল, Sparrow চড়াই, Honey-Sucker মৌটুসি, Woodpecker কাঠঠোকরা, Coppersmith Barbet বসন্তবাউরি, Blue-Jay নীলকণ্ঠ, Kingfisher মাছরাঙ্গা, Swift বাতাসি, Koel কোয়েল, Parrot তোতা Owl প্যাঁচা, Vulture শকুন, Kite চিল, Dove ঘুঘু, Gull গাং চিল, Paddy-Bird ধান পাখি।

A cursory glance through the list may suggest that not all the species were fit for habitation in early Colinga environ. Flocks arrive at in stages with different compositions, adaptable for the ecological diversity, to contribute in transforming Colinga landscape from a marshland to cultivable woodland, orchard and paddy-field. There were no woodpeckers, honey-suckers at the beginning but gulls, kingfishers, snipes and the like. [Finn]

Route dans le Bangale. c1791-1823. Artist: François Balthasar Solvyns.

The landscape of Colinga before mid-18th century, so far we see, was much dissimilar to woody Govindpore, Birji and Chowinhee villages. Colinga remained a vast inhabitable wetland for centuries, infested with insects and aquatic creatures including water-birds. Initially, a number of coarse weeds began to invade the territory and a variety of thorny shrubs and other plants, not attractive to grazing animals advanced slowly, their seedlings sheltered by the weeds until large enough to escape the trampling. Eventually a thicket of small trees and shrubs appeared, of which, the commonest constituents should have been the thorny beri কুল, benchi বৈঁচি,and their near relative dumar ডুমুর,- a quick-growing, shrubby plant with coarse hairy leaves, also arrived early on the scene.

Finally appear the large trees – the lofty palms তাল raise their crowns of fan-shaped leaves, mangoes আম, tamarind তেঁতুল and the lighter green of a neem নীম amidst them can probably be seen, and in the cold season – the naked branches of a simul শিমুল, or the spreading crown of a siris শিরিষ covered with yellowish pods stands out conspicuously from the green around them. There were some 69 trees only that Benthall considered naturalized in the neighbourhood of Calcutta, 41 were thought to be truly indigenous, 20 are natives of other parts of India, 6 originated in America, and 1 each in Africa and Malaya. On the other hand several plants, which seem to have been fairly common even in 19th century Calcutta have become scarce or lost forever, like Croton Tiglium Linn জায়ফল. [Benthall]

Benthall writes in early 20th century, “Not much more than a hundred years ago the wild rhinoceros roared near Alipore, and panthers were often hunted in what is now part of the city of Calcutta. In those days jungle must have stretched from the Sunderban to the edge of the city … Around Calcutta the country consists of treeless swamp and lake, and broad expanses of paddy-fields, interspersed with roads and paths and villages.” In such country, Benthall maintains, waste land suitable for the growth of trees and shrubs is scarce, but here and there patches may be found which for some reason or other are neither cultivated nor planted with useful trees. [Benthall]

Banyan Tree. Artist: Unidentified. Source: Journal of Residence In India By Maria Graham. 1813

Colinga was certainly one such place of marshy land that remained till recent time uncultivated, in an atmosphere totally different from the then Kalighat, Govindpore, Calcutta areas. It was then wild marshy woodland lived by tribal in hutments making minimal anthropogenic hazards barring the manmade canal created for navigation by the early village dwellers. The scenario discourages us to believe of a presence of grand shrine revered by people of all faiths as a holly place. If at all any such generally acceptable shrine erected as a place of dharma (ধর্ম), it must have been created long after, but not later than, 1764 when ‘Dhurrumtollah ka Rasta’ was rolled over a muddy beaten track that supposed to lead to the holy place.

Modern Scenario
The reconstructed view of the expansive area of Colinga, earlier a part of the forested Chowringhee for about three centuries, may prove to be a rude contrast of what we see in the colonial paintings and photographs documented by the contemporary artists and lens men. Upjohn’s 1793 map gives an idea of the expansion by marking the site of Colinga Bazar Street, and of the Colinga Tank. Colinga Bazar Street stood at the south of Jaunbazar Street, and Colinga Tank, later Monohur Doss Tank, was shown on Maidan opposite the house of Messers Stone and Hoffmann. In Bailie’s map of 1792 Chowringhee contains 45 houses and plenty of paddy-fields. Europeans have moved eastwards and southwards to Bow Bazar Street and Circular Road, while Taltola, Colinga, and Fenwick Bazar are inhabited by native Indians. [Ray] During the end of the 18th century, Europeans came to stay here. The Bengal Gazette editor, James Augustus Hickey, Justice Le Maitre resided in this neighborhood. Since mid-19th century the Colinga Street became an infamous locality of European and Eurasian harlots.
In a Calcutta Municipal Corporation meeting of 17 July 1912, the previous name ‘Collingabazar Street’ was changed into ‘Collin Street’. By dropping the last two letters from its name,‘Collinga’, a variant of ‘Colinga’, turned into ‘Collin’, which the commissioners found necessary to make the Street sound more respectable and attractive to the prospective buyers of lands and houses. Following the decision, not the street alone but everything else known by its name got changed. Colinga was erased from Calcutta map and collective mind of the people, leaving Dhurrumtollah homeless, faceless unidentified geographic entity.

View of Circular Road, Calcutta. Artist: Edward Augustus Prinsep. 1848

There is perhaps another way of finding Dhurrumtollah by applying our mind more toward human elements than to the physical elements of issues. So far we attempted to understand the natural condition of the venue, now let us question how the human folks lived there when Colinga became habitable. We knew that on the plains of Bengal, two trees, peepul(অশ্বথ) and banyan(বট) tend to dominate all others, and Colinga might not be an exception. We may question now why the two are called sacred fig-trees, and try to examine how far Bentham was correct when he said, “Both these trees are venerated by the Hindus and are often planted for religious reasons near houses and temples and in villages. Beneath their branches may be seen little shrines marked by the presence of rounded stones, and sometimes small temples are erected in their shade” (my emphasis). [Benthal]

Endnote
The scenario reminds us of the beaten jungle path of pre-colonial days leading to a widely acknowledged dhurrumtollah, or ‘divine place’, where worshipers arrive from distant villages taking the eastward route that the present Dhurrumtollah Street follows. This street may not lead to a locality ‘Dhurrumtollah’ as the Chowringhee Road and Jaunbazar Street did – one to locality Chowringhee, the other to Jannagar. Instead, it can be in all probability a sacred location and not a locality. Before exploring new directions, it is important to settle a few questions bothering our focus. Should this dhurrumtollah necessarily be an outstanding devotional edifice like temple, mosque or a church? If yes, its location must have been somewhere off the street and not on the street or its sides. Secondly, how far realistically we can think of such an architecture erected before 1764 – the year Dhurrumtollah Street constructed?
I would like to take up these questions in my next post: THE HOLLY STREET DHURRUMTOLLAH

REFERENCE

Books

  1. Bagchi, P.C. 1938. The Second City of the Empire. Calcutta: Indian Science Congress Assoc.
  2. Benthall, A. P. 1933. Tree’s of Calcutta and Its Neighbourhood. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/TheTreesOfCalcutta).
  3. Biswas, Oneil. 1992. Calmtta and Calcuttans From Dihi to Megalopolis. Calcutta: Firma KL. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.149376).
  4. Blochmann,H. 1978 ‘Calcutta during the Last Century’ in Alok Ray edt. ‘Calcutta Keepsake’, Calcutta: Rddhi-lndia. (https://www.amazon.com/marsh-township-east-Calcutta-Department/dp/8170740738)
  5. Cotton, Evan. 1907. Calcutta, Old and New: A Historical and Descriptive Handbook to the City. Calcutta: Newman. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog).
  6. Chattopadhyaya, Haraprasad. 1990. From marsh to township east of Calcutta: A tale of Salt Water Lake and Salt Lake Township. (Department of History, University of Calcutta, monograph) (https://www.amazon.com/marsh-township-east-Calcutta-Department/dp/8170740738)
  7. Frank Finn. 1904. Birds of Calcutta. 2nd ed. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/birdsofcalcutta00finnrich).
  8. Kathleen Blechynden. 1905. Calcutta: Past and Present. London: Thacker. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/calcuttapastand02blecgoog).
  9. Law, Satya Churn. 1923. Pet Birds of Bengal; v.1. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/petbirdsofbengal00laws).
  10. 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).
  11. 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).
  12. জ্ঞানেন্দ্রমোহন দাস. n.d. বাংলাভাষার অভিধান. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/bub_man_c3ef006702a4d6c876970cc35b669346).

Maps and Plans

  1. Bengal. 1550. River: From Hughli to Sea in the 16th century;  according to Joao de Barrel and the Bengali poets. [Reprinted See:  Wilson.  page 129]
  2. Calcutta. 1680.  Calcutta before the English [map] [Reprinted See:  Wilson. page 126]
  3. Calcutta. 1792 & 1793.  Map of  Calcutta and its environs;  by A Upjohn (http://www.museumsofindia.gov.in/repository/record/vmh_kol-R565-C1737-2914)
  4. Calcutta. 1792-93 Map of  Calcutta and its environs From the accurate survey taken in the year 1792 & 1793 by A Upjohnhttp://www.museumsofindia.gov.in/repository/record/vmh_kol-R565-C1737-2914
    Calcutta. 1793. Plan of Calcutta; reduced by permission of the Commissioners of Police from the original one executed for them by Lietn Colonel Mark Wood of 1784-1785. Published in October 1792 by William Baillie. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Kolkata_Old_Map.jpg
  5. Calcutta. 1847-49. Map of Calcutta from actual survey. Contributors: Simms, Thillier, and Smyth. London: Chapman, 1858 (https://www.loc.gov/resource/g7654c.ct001429/?r=0.604,0.19,0.07,0.03,0)

 

 

Barrackpore : Story of a Little Calcutta

Governor General’s House & Park at Barrackpore. Water colour by Edward Hawk Locker. 1808. Courtesy: British Library

ব্যারাকপুর – কলকাতার অদূরে ‘ছোট কলকাতা’

Barrackpore, some 16 miles away from Calcutta, turned into a little Calcutta or Chhota Calcutta. This happened because of the mastermind of Marquis Wellesley, who moved to Barrackpore in 1801 and occupied the Commander-in-Chief’s residence – one of the two bungalows bought by the Government with 70 acres of land when the cantonment was founded in 1775. This is where Wellesley lived for about 3 years devoting his mind in enlarging and improving the surrounding park area. He landscaped the gardens in the ‘English Style’, added an aviary, a menagerie and a theatre. The rustic hamlet emerged as a fashionable abode of the Britishers for sojourning.

by Ozias Humphry, pencil, chalk and watercolour, 1783

Marquis Wellesley (1760-1842) by Ozias Humphry, 1783

Barrackpore had a long history that began much before the coming of Job Charnock, who had been in Barrackpore for a while, raised a bungalow, and gathered a little bazaar closed by. Here his beloved wife of native origin had died. The area was previously ruled over by a line of Zamindars based in Nona Chandanpukur, Barrackpore. In ‘Ain-e-Akbari’, Abul Fazal (1596–97)  referred to this place as Barbuckpur, and it was Chanak in `Manasa Vijay` written by Bipradas Pipilai (1495). Chanak and the other nearby towns were developed into chief marketing, trading and populous towns along the side of river Hooghly. The local name Achanak seems to be a localized version of Chanak.

Barrackpore, however, went into the British colonial history more significantly because of the two revolts. The first one was the 1824 insurgency led by Sepoy Binda Tiwary, and the second was the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 led by Mangal Pandey. With the exception of these two horrifying experiences of tumult and fury, Barrackpore have always been a calmly country seat for the white’s leisurely pursuits contrary to the demanding living condition of the up-and-coming city of Calcutta.
In pre-Plassey Calcutta, the servants of East India Company used to live in dark and damp lodgings in the Fort, and warehouses where the gates shut upon them at night. After Plassey, the growth of the garrison and the influx of European officers and troops from Madras worsened the lodging condition. New quarters came up along the Avenue, Pilgrim road, and Bow Bazar and, bypassing the native quarters of Dinga,  and Colinga, spread over the open ground of Chowringhee and Dharmatallah. [See The Social Condition of the British Community in Bengal: 1757-1800 By Suresh Chandra Ghosh. 1970] No wonder that the Europeans, gradually migrated from Tank Square – ‘the Belgravia of that day’ — and took up their abodes in Chowringhee ‘out of town’. [See ‘Calcutta in the olden time — its localities In Calcutta review. Sept.1852.]. Earlier James Atkinson in a verse, published in 1824, described the condition of Calcutta more pungently as ‘an anxious, forced existence’.   [ See City of Palaces, a poem by James Atkinson. 1824]

barrackpore-bridge_fiebig1851

Barrackpore Bridge, hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

The road from Calcutta to Barrackpore was opened to the public on the 26th July, 1805, perhaps the best road constructed so far. Miss Emma Robert,the English lady traveller, wrote after two decades, that the ‘drives and rides about the city are not very numerous, nor very extensive, excepting towards Barrackpore.’ [See Scenes and characteristics of Hindostan; with sketches of Anglo-Indian society; v.1 by Emma Roberts. 1835]

 

In 1830 the Barrackpore Bridge, commonly called, ‘Shyambazar Bridge’, was constructed connecting Barrackpore Road to Calcutta at its northern end. The 100 ft long and 30ft wide Bridge was built by the Canal Superintendent, James Prinsep at the cost of Rs 20,529. It was a beautiful bridge, as revealed in the hand-coloured photograph of the bridge and the road with running horses and carriages, taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851.
J H Stocqueler while journeying through Brarackpur road looked out from his palanquin [ see Hand-book of India, guide to the stranger and the traveler, ..ed. by Joachim Hayward Stocqueler. 1844], to the pleasing view of an extensive avenue of trees skirted by villages, gardens, and rice-fields. Cox’s Bunglow, the site of a building then used as a stables for relays of horses, was on the right-hand side of the road, and there the first change of relay proceeds onward through Barrackpore Cantonment.

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Entrance to Barrackpore. Lithograph ( coloured ).Charles D’Oyly. 1848. Courtesy: British Library

Though a large station, Barrackpore presents an air of quiet and retirement like a country village; which joined to its military neatness and propriety, make it one of the sweetest places in India. The bungalows in four lines stand each separated firom the others, every one surrounded by its own corn-ground, flower-garden, and neat trimmed hedge; while the whole cantonment is at right angles intersected by well kept roads, smooth as bowling-greens, and has the river in front and the parade ground in the rear. Government-house, and it’s beautiful grounds, are merely separated from the cantonments by a piece of water from the river, over which there is a bridge; and the park, as a drive, is at all times open to the European inhabitants. [See Life in India: Or, The English at Calcutta; v.2 by Monkland. 1828]

maria_callcott_by_thomaslawrence

Maria Graham (b1785-d1842) (in later life, Maria, Lady Callcott) An Englsh travel writer. Portrait by Thamas Lawrence. 1819

How Barrackpore was in the first half of 19th century can be figured out more from the true-to-life excellent paintings and photographs than the textual documents handed down to us – mostly official transactions and records, and also letters and diaries of the travellers and residents, which provide human-side view, factual information apart. Unfortunately, not many travel-writers visited Barrackpore. The English lady, Maria Graham(later Lady Callcott) was an exception. In her book, Journal of a Residence in India, she left her lively and credible impressions of everything she saw there. Her account of Barrackpore commenced from Nov 20, 1810.

RIVER-SIDE

It was a delightful day she arrived by boat. The weather was so cool that ‘one really enjoys a river view walk’. Close to Calcutta, it is the busiest scene one can imagine; crowded with ships and boats of every form,—here a fine English East lndiaman, there a grab or a dow from Arabia, or a proa from the eastern islands. On one side the picturesque boats of the natives, with their floating huts; on the other the bolios and pleasure boats of the English, with their sides of green and gold, and silken streamers. Up the river, the scene became more quiet, but not less beautiful.

barrackpore-ghaut_fiebig_1851

Barrackpore Ghaut, A hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

The trees grow into the water, and half hide the pagodas and villages with which the banks of the river are covered on both sides. It was late when we arrived here, and some of the pagodas were already illuminated for a festival; fireworks, of which the natives are very fond, were playing on the shore, and here and there the red flame of the funeral fires under the dark trees threw a melancholy glare on the water. From the opposite river bank, The missionaries Serampore had enjoyed the same view of Barrackpore riverside. Carey’s biographer, George Smith reproduced William Carey’s memory of ‘The garden slopes down to the noble river, and commands the beautiful country seat of Barrackpore, which Lord Wellesley had just built’. [See Life of William Carey,  by Gerge Smith. 1909]

THE PARK

conservatory-barrackpore-park-_fiebie1851

Barrackpore Ghaut, A hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

Many of the Barrackpore goers maintained that it was not the Barrackpore House itself ‘but its accessories were the best features it can boast of’ – an aviary and a menagerie, a garden and a pleasant promenade, where the society of the station assemble, while one of the regimental bands plays upon the green sward, constitute the chief agremens of the place’. [See Hand-book of India, a Guide, ed by Stocqueller. 1844]

When Mrs Graham came to the Park of Barrackpore, the tamarind, acacia, and peepil trees, through whose branches the moon threw her flickering beams on the river, seemed to hang over our heads, and formed a strong contrast to the white buildings of Serampore, which shone on the opposite shore. We landed at the palace begun by the Marquis Wellesley, but discontinued by the frugality of the Indian Company; its unfinished arches shewed by the moon-light like an ancient ruin, and completed the beauty of the scenery. The area of the whole Park is nearly 350 acres and the cost was £9,577. Lord Wellesley started acquiring the land and making the Park.  In the North-East corner he established the menagerie that continued to exist till the Zoological Gardens at Calcutta opened in 1876.

 

MENAGERIE

Menagerie at Barrackpore

Menagerie at Barrackpore, Lithograph ( coloured ). Charles D’Oyly. 1848. Courtesy: British Library

“A little nulla, or rivulet supplies several fine tanks in the park, which embellish the scenery, and furnish food for a number of curious aquatic birds kept in the menagerie. The pelican, whose large pouch contains such an abundant supply of food, the produce of her fishing, for her young; the syrus, or sarasa, a species
of stork, whose body is of a delicate grey colour, and whose head, which he carries above five feet from the ground, is of a brilliant scarlet, shading off to the pure white of his long taper neck; and the flamingo, whose bill and wings are of the brightest rose-colour, while the rest of his plumage is white as snow,—are the most beautiful of those who seek their food in the water. Among their fellow-prisoners are the ostrich, whose black and white plumes attract the avarice of the hunter; the cassowary, whose stiff hard feathers appear like black hair; and the Java pigeon, of the size of a young turkey, shaped and coloured like a pigeon, with a fan-like crest, which glitters in the sun like the rainbow. [Graham]

the North-East corner of the Park known as Chiriakhana. The Governor General’s elephants used to be kept at Barrackpore. The place across the Grand Trunk Road to the North North-East of the Park was known for a long while as Hatikhana, although the last of the elephants was sold in Lord Elgin’s time. It was here in the Park that the poet-bishop first mounted an elephant — “the motion of which,” he confesses, “I thought far from disagreeable, though very different from that of a horse.” [See Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta ed. by Walter Kelly Firminger. 1906]

On Nov. 25, she wrote ‘The north winds are now so cold, that I find it necessary to wrap up in a shawl and fur tippet when 1 take my morning’s ride upon one of the governor-general’s elephants, from whose back I yesterday saw the Barrackpore hounds throw off in chase of a jackal’. “The quadrupeds in the menagerie are only two royal tigers, and two bears, one a very large animal, precisely like the bears of Europe; the other was brought here from Chittagong, where it is called the wild dog. His head is shaped like that of a dog, but bare and red about the muzzle; his paws are like those of the common bear, but his coat is short and smooth; he refuses to eat any kind of vegetable food, which the large bear prefers to flesh, and is altogether the most ferocious creature I ever saw. ”

GAITIES

On December 5, 1810, Graham was in great expectation of the festivity in Barrackpore. In three weeks, she mused, all the gay world will be asembled at Barrackpore, on account of the races, which are run close to the park-gate. This year there will be little sport, as the horses are indifferent, but I am told the scene will be very gay, “ with store of ladies, whose bright eyes rain influence”. Barrackpore had a tradition of public merriments to celebrate important events. Three years ago. On the 12th September 1807, Barrackpore celebrated  the anniversary of the battle of Delhi. A splendid entertainment was given in ‘the new Theatre at Barrackpore’ at which were present the Right Hon’ble Lord Minto, the Governor General, General St. Leger and Staff, the whole of the officers and ladies at the station, and a numerous party of visitors from Calcutta.  [See Life of William Carey, by Gerge Smith. 1909]

Lord Wellesley was not in favour of horse race. He stopped horse racing and all sorts of gambling as soon he arrived India; yet at the end of November 1809, there were three days’ races at a small distance from Calcutta. After a lull the Calcutta Races again commenced under the patronage of Lord Moira. Stocqueler tells us “there at Barrackpore a race-ground existed, but races have not taken place any more. The sports of the place are confined to an occasional steeple-chase, a run with the Calcutta hounds, and a few balls and public dinners.” [See Hand-book of India, a Guide, by Joachim Hayward Stocqueler. 1844]

cheetah-chasing-a-deer-with-huntsmen_doyly1802

A Cheeta Hun in Wellesley’s Park. Lithograph ( coloured ). Charles D’Oyly.1802. Courtesy: British Library

In the Park there was also an excellent golf links much resorted to by Calcutta folk. Closer to the house there was a vast banyan tree beneath whose shade many a viceregal tiffin-party had assembled.   Mrs Graham had some fascination for Indian custom s and traditions. On the first day she mentioned in her journal whatever she had seen on the river bank – the illuminated Hindu pagoda, festivity, fireworks, and the melancholy glare of the flame of funeral – all important elements of Hindu life in a flash.

The cultural difference between the European and Asiatic societies did not deject her spirit of inquiry and appreciation of the estranged tradition of India. She writes:   “The other day, in going through a small bazar near one of the park gates, 1 saw five ruinous temples to Maha Deo, and one in rather a better state to Kali. As 1 had never been in a pagoda dedicated to her by that name, I procured admittance for a rupee. Her figure is of brass, riding on a strange form that passes here for a lion, with a lotus in the place of a saddle. Her countenance is terrific; her four hands are armed with destructive weapons, and before her is a round stone sprinkled with red dust. The sacrificial utensils are mostly of brass; but I observed a ladle, two lamps, and a bell of silver; the handle of the bell was a figure of the goddess herself. The open temple in the square area of the pagoda has been very pleasant, but is now falling into ruin, as are the priests houses and every thing around.”

hindoo-pagodas-hunt1824

Hindoo Pagodas below Barrackpore on the Ganges. Geoge Hunt. 1824. Courtesy: British Library

As it shows, Graham was not unfamiliar with the Hindu themes of deities, and also her feelings on seeing the ruinous state of the temple. In a later note, however, she showed her deep concern, silently, about the desperate order of the native society, while recounting the horrid scene of dead bodies uncaringly floating in the river, vividly and dispassionately.

Bodies of the Dead

“The other night, in coming up the river, the first object I saw was a dead body, which had lain long enough in the water to be swollen, and to become buoyant. It floated past our boat, almost white, from being so long in the river, and surrounded by fish; and as we got to the landing-place, I saw two wild dogs tearing another body, from which one of them had just succeeded in separating a thigh-bone, with which he ran growling away. Now, though I am not very anxious as to the manner of disposing of my body, and have very little choice as to whether it is to be eaten by worms or by fishes, I cannot see, without disgust and horror, the dead indecently exposed, and torn and dragged about through streets and villages, by dogs and jackals. Yet such are the daily sights on the banks of the Hoogly. I wish I could say they were the worst; but when a man becomes infirm, or has any dangerous illness, if his relations have the slightest interest in his death, they take him to the banks of the river, set his feet in the water, and, stuffing his ears and mouth with mud, leave him to perish, which he seldom does without a hard struggle; and should the strength of his constitution enable him to survive, he becomes a pariah; he is no longer considered as belonging to his family or children, and can have no interest in his own fortune or goods. About thirty miles from Calcutta, there is a village under the protection of government, entirely peopled by these poor outcasts, the numbers of whom is incredible.

Earlier, Graham expressed her mind loudly and clearly– reacting to the unconditional submission of the Hindoos to the evils of caste system. She felt degraded seeing the half-clothed, half-fed people, covered with loathsome disease, without attempting ever to overstep the boundaries which confine them to it indelibly. “Perhaps there is something of pride in the pity”, she says, “I cannot help feeling for the Lower Hindoos, who seem so resigned to all that I call evils in life”. The story of this hapless lot stands in glaring contrast to the vibrant city life of Barrackpore.

The park-city of Barrackpore was designed and developed by the British and for the British. It was an English garden Lord Wellesley planned and laid there. An English theatre, ballroom,  race-ground, golf-link, a Hotel Charnock  came in place for their entertainment. There was something in the scenery of this place that reminds Maria Graham of the beauty of the banks of the Thames; ‘the same verdure, the same rich foliage, the same majestic body of water’.

The local inhabitants were, however, never allowed to enter park-area except for work. Graham met few of them while moving around, and had glimpses of their repulsive way of life. Graham never tried to pass a judgement, nor any advice either. She questioned about the root of their malady – ‘how they came into the state, and what could amend it’. The spontaneous reply she received was: “It is the custom —   it belongs to their caste to bear this”. At the end of the century, Swamy Vivekanada found the key to her final question what unfortunately remains ignored ever since.