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

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.


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.


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.


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]

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.


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.

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.

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.

[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.


Holy Street Dhurrumtollah


Dhurrumtollah ka Rustah

উদারপন্থী ধর্মতলা জনপথ

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Ancient Mosque in Dhurrumtollah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jaunbazar Buddhist Adda and Dharmaraj Temple

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

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

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

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

Charyapada. 12th Cetury. Pre-modern Bengali

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

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

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


Dharma Cult and Jaunbazar Dharmalay

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

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

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

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

  Dharmaraj in Differnet Forms

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

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


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

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

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

Temple Foundation Stone

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

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


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

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


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


 Origin of the Dharmaraj Shalgram and the Missing Chaurangiswar

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

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

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

Nath_Siddha Lineage

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

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

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

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

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

Map of Calcutta Before the English. 1680

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

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




Bandyopadhyay, Rangalal. 1850. Kalikata Kalpalata (কলিকাতা কল্পলতা). Calcutta: n.p. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/KolikataKolpalata/page/n0)

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

Cesry, Rev. C. 1881. Indian Gods Sages And Cities. Calcutta: Catholic Orphan Press. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.128152).

Chattopadhyay, Suryakumar. 1891. The Antiquities of Kalighat; or, কালীক্ষেত্র দীপিকা. Calcutta: Bhowanipore Parthib Yantra. Retrieved (https://ia801904.us.archive.org/23/items/in.ernet.dli.2015.354023/2015.354023.Kalikhetra-Dipika.pdf)

Cones. 1874. Calcutta Directory, 1874. Calcutta: Cones. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.94126).

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

Dasgupta, Shashibhusan. Obscure Religious Cults as Background of Bengali Literature. Calcutta: C.U., 1946. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.31035/page/n3)

Ghatak, Pranotosh. n.d. Kolikatar Pathghat (কলিকাতার পথ ঘাট). Calcutta: Indian Associated Publishing. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.355340/page/n7).

Ghosh, Benoy. Paschim Banger Sanskriti (পশ্চিম বঙ্গের সংস্কৃতি). Kalikata: Pustak Prakash, 1950. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.354330/page/n7

Grierson, G A. Augustus Frederic Rudolf Hoernlé. In: The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.(Jan., 1919), pp. 114-124. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25209477

Hawksworth. East indian Chronologist. Calcutta: Hircurrah Press, 1801. https://archive.org/stream/eastindianchrono00hawkuoft#page/70

Korom, Frank J.” Editing Dharmaraj: Academic Genealogies of a Bengali Folk Deity. In: Western Folklore Vol. 56. No. 1 (Winter. 1997). pp. 51-77. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1500386?read-now=1&loggedin=true&seq=27#page_scan_tab_contents

Long, James. 1852. “Calcutta in the Olden Time – Its Localities.” The Calcutta Review 18:275-. Retrieved (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/002715346)

Mukhopadhyay, Harisadhan. 1915. “Kalikata: Sekaler O Ekaler (কলিকাতা একালের ও সেকালের).” Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/Kalikata-Sekaler-O-Ekaler-Harisadhan-Mukhopadhyay/Kalikata%20Sekaler%20O%20Ekaler%20-%20Harisadhan%20Mukhopadhyay#mode/2up)

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

Ray, Niharranjan. Bangalir itihas (বাঙ্গালীর ইতিহাস); Adi Parba. Calcutta: Dey’s, 1356 BS. https://archive.org/details/BangalirItihasAdiparbaByNiharranjanRoy/page/n3

Roberdeau, Henry.’Accounts of life in Calcutta in 1805. (Editorial Notes)” In: Bengal Past And Present Vol.29, 1825. https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.32669/2015.32669.Bengal-Past-And-Present–Vol29#page/n139/mode/2up.

Sen, Dinesh. History of Bengali language and literature. Calcutta: C.U., 1911


Shastri, Haraprasad. 1897. Discovery of Living Buddhism in Bengal. Calcutta: Sanskrit Press. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.47680/2015.47680.Discovery-Of-Living-Buddhism-In-Bengal#page/n3/mode/2up).

Shastri, Haraprasad. Remnants of Buddhism in Bengal. Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal December. Calcutta: The Society, 1894. https://archive.org/details/proceedingsofasi94asia/page/134

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

ধর্মতলা সন্ধানে


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]


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.


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

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]


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]

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



  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)



CALCUTTA MAIDAN in 18th and 19th Centuries

Pavilion at edge of Monohur Doss’s Tank, Maidan. Photographer: Unknown. Dated c1900-1914. Courtesey: RCAHMS


কলকাতা ময়দানঃ অষ্টাদশ/ ঊনবিংশ শতাব্দী


The Beginning

After winning back Calcutta, finally defeating Siraj at Plassey, the English East India Company decided upon two things: (1) Replacement of the their old fort with a new one – mightier and better-planned, and (2) Expansion of Calcutta southward.

The onslaught of Nabob’s army wrecked the already overcrowded settlement. The situation called for immediate renovation and expansion of the town toward pastoral Govindpore where the new Fort William was to be erected. ‘Govindpore village, surrounded as it was by waste lands formed a natural esplanade.’ [4] The old Fort had no esplanade for guns, which happened to be one of the reasons for its fall. [10] About a mile away from the old Fort the construction of the second Fort William set off in 1758. The new Fort, essentially a military establishment, and not a fortified factory of English traders as the old Fort was styled, costed the EEIC some two million sterling [5]. The chosen site of the Fort was on the river-bank of village Govindpore, considerably south of the old Mint.


Calcutta from the Old Course. Artist : Chartles D’Oyly. c1838

Formerly, the village was the primary seat of the Sheths and the Bysaks. In early 16th century, four families of Bysaks and one of Sheths founded the village of Govindpore, after the name of their tutelary deity, Govindaji. They built a shrine of the Vaisnav deity on the site where the New Fort William now stands, not far from the old Kalighat temple. [17].   Govindpore had only 57 bighas of inhabited land out of 1,178 bighas. The entire population of the flourishing village was removed to make room for the new Fort with its unobstructed field of gun fire that completed in 1773. The inhabitants were  compensated by providing lands elsewhere, expending restitution-money – the fund Siraj-ud-Dowlah recompensed for the damage he did. The Sheths moved to Cotton Bale Market, (Bengali: সুতানটি হাট ), in Burrabazar. The jungle that cut off the village of Chowringhee from the river was cleared giving way to the wide grassy stretch of ‘Maidan of which Calcutta is so proud’.

Expansion of Town Calcutta

The denizens of town Calcutta never before felt like going further than  Respondentia Walk, lying beyond Chandpal Ghat, or the fish-pond near Lal Dighi as ‘there was too wholesome a dread of thieves and tigers, to induce them to wander into the grounds of the neighboring zemindars who were the Robin Hoods of those days.’[13] In 1756, when Seraj-o-dowlah took the place, only seventy houses were inhabited by Englishmen.  The sudden development activities at Govindpore encouraged them to look forward for a change in lifestyle. The prospect of living lavishly in countryside bungalows in the neighborhood of the New Fort site attracted the white population. Gradually they moved out to settle in village Chowringhee adjacent to Govindpore separated only by the ancient pathway from Chitreswari temple at extreme North to Kalighat at South. As already we noticed, Esplanade and Maidan both are being used indiscriminately for the sprawling green square around the New Fort William.

Maidan looking beyond Esplanade Row. Dhurrumtollah Tank at right corner, criss-cross pathways, and tents are visible. No details available. Courtesy: Alamy

Maria Graham in her, Journal of a residence in India, penned a picturesque description of Maidan as she found in 1810.  The road which leads past Fort William, con­necting Garden Reach with Calcutta, is called the Esplanade. It is shaded, by umbrageous trees, and forms a very pleasant drive in the evening. The light air coming off the water is cool and grateful to the multitudes in search of air, change, or exercise. This esplanade is terminated by a very handsome colonnade ghat, which forms a most classical and pleasing object to the eye, as well as a most con­venient and useful accommodation to the natives for the performance of ablutions in the river, to which the bathers descend by a flight of steps. It was built solely for this object by a pious and opulent Hindoo. [9]

The snow-white paddy bird, with elegant and outstretched neck and stork-like dignity, walks care­lessly, unheeded, undisturbed, unscared he pursues his watchful employment of fishing in the shallows, with an almost domestic familiarity and fearlessness of the presence of man. [12]


Maidan, the chief open space in Calcutta between Government House and Garden Reach, is also called the Esplanade (Bengali: গড়ের মাঠ), that is, plain ground in front of a fort, in which attackers are exposed to the defenders’ fire. Calcutta Maidan, or the Esplanade of the New Fort, never had an occasion to partake defense task but acts as a fulfilling centre of entertainment and refreshment ever since its formation.

Maidan virtually covers, besides small portions of Birjee and of Chowringhee, the entire area of Govindpore, which began at the Northern boundary of Dhee Calcutta and ended at Baboo Ghat, and then went up to the Govindpore Creek, or Tolly’s Nullah at the extreme end of the English zamindari. It was ‘immediately to the South of Surman’s Gardens, next to the General Hospital building.  At West, Maidan includes King’s Bench Walk with a row of trees separating it from the riverbank between Chandpaul Ghaut  and  Colvin’s Ghaut, or Cucha-goody Ghaut, as it was called then.  At North, Esplanade Row, from Chandpaul Ghaut, runs into Dhurumtollah in a straight line past the Council House and the old Government House standing side by side.

The borings made in the Fort, in 1836-40, under the superintendence of Dr. Strong and James Prinsep, have shown that the ocean rolled its waves 500 feet beneath the surface of the present fort, and in 1682 an ancient forest existed in that locality. [1] Early 1789, Government resolved on filling up the excavations and leveling its ground. The plan was prepared for the benefit of Calcutta in general, and of the houses fronting the Esplanade in particular. The plan extended to drain the marsh land, in expectation that the digging a few tanks will furnish sufficient earth and thus save the project cost and time. A new tank was made in 1791 at the corner of Chowringhee and Esplanade, which existed till the dawn of the twentieth century.

Calcutta: David Rumsey Historical Map (cropped). London: Chapman & Hall. 1842 Courtesy: Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (GB)


Talaos or Tanks

The City of Calcutta is supplied with good drinking water, from a considerable number of large ponds mostly situated towards the Chowringhee quarter. Those facing Chowringhee Road were construct­ed by Monohur Dass, the chief member of the Shah Nowputee Muhajun of Benares in Lord Cornwallis’s time. [2]

A series of artificial lakes (tanks) stretched down the length of Chowringhee Road: the Dhurrumtolah Tank at the northern limit; the Manohardoss or Colinga Tank with its corner pavilions opposite Lindsay Street; the General’s tank opposite Park Street; Elliott’s Tank facing Harington Street previously ‘Graham Street’; and at south-end the Birjee Tank.

Dhurrumtollah Tank


Photograph of Dhurrumtollah Tank on Maidan from Chowringhee Road. Creator: Samuel Bourne. 1865. Courtesy: British Library

This is a view from the north end of Chowringhee Road, beside the carriage stand, looking north-west across the Dhurrumtollah Tank, towards the façades of the houses along Esplanade Row, with Government House at the extreme left. The flat-fronted, verandahed building behind the premises of William Coish & Co is the Adjutant-General’s offices. Among the commercial premises on Esplanade Row are Mountain’s Hotel, Madame Nielly (French milliner), Payne & Co’s Belatee Bungalow and Thomson & Company.

The view looks south along Chowringhee Road with impressive array of private and public buildings on the far side of Maidan.

Monohurdass’ Tank

Monohur Dass Tank. Creator: Samuel Bourne. 1868 Courtesy: British LibraryThe view looks south along Chowringhee Road, with the Monohurdass Tank in the foreground and General’s Tank beyond. The spire of St Paul’s Cathedral can by seen on the skyline at the extreme right.


General’s Tank on Maidan. Creator William Wood. 1833. Courtesy: British Library


The General’s Tank

 The General’s Tank was one of the three large artificial reservoirs in the Chowringhee district of Calcutta. It was just south of the junction with Park Street. This print also shows the house of Thomas Babington Macauley, who was a Law Member of the Supreme Council of India, and worked on the reorganisation of the Indian legal system necessitated by the New India Act of 1834. He lived at number 33, Chowringhee Road, from 1834 to 1838. Thereafter the building became the headquarters of the Bengal Club.This lithograph is taken from plate 21 from ‘Views of Calcutta’ an album of paintings by William Wood.

Elliott’s Tank


Elliott’s Tank. Creator: William Wood. 1833. Courtesy: British Library

 Elliott’s Tank facing Harington Street, previously ‘Graham Street’, situated between the General Tank and Birjee Talao. The tank was named after Sir Charles Elliott, Lieutenant-Governor, 1890-1893.



The Fort occupied a large chunk of Maidan around the centre with as many as seven gates, each having its own approach road across Maidan, namely, the Calcutta Gate leading out to the Eden Gardens, the Plassey Gate facing south of Government House; the Chowringhee Entrance Gate leading out of the road entering Park Street; the Chowringhee Exit Gate leading out of the road entering Park Street; The Hospital Gate leading out of the Race Course; the St. George’s Gate facing north of Hastings; and the Water Gate facing the river near the Gwalior Monument. It is only in recent years we have had any road outside the fort. Pathways thread their way across the Maidan which has been cleared of the jungle. The oldest among them is the ‘Course’ made to take the air in’. The road was, however, full of dust, yet considered one of the airiest and pleasantest drives in Calcutta, extending from the Cocked Hat on the north to the Kidderpore Bridge. The Course, so called as being a coss or two miles in length, is described in 1768, as being ‘out of town’ in a sort of angle. [13]


The broad gravelled walk on the west side of that portion, known as the Red Road, then called Secretary’s Walk, constructed in 1820. To the south of the Fort ran the Ellenborough Course. The Vice-Roy Lord Northbrook led the grand procession this way taking the Prince of Wales from the Prinsep’s Ghaut to the Government House. It was a fine raised and turfed ride for horse exercise; and towards the cast, the Race Course, commenced in 1819.[6]

Strand Road with Indians with bullock carts and horse-drawn carriages and sailing ships and other boats on river in Calcutta. Creator: Samuel Bourne. c1860s Photograph by Bourne and Shephard



Another avenue of trees was planted, about the time of the Lottery Committee, on the river-bank from Chandpal Ghaut to the New Fort. Its position was indicated by the row of fine trees which stood south of Baboo Ghat.  This was known as Respondentia Walk – the resort of those fond of moonlight rambles, and of children, with their train of servants. ‘Calcutta society, alighting from carriages and palanquins, promenaded in the cool of the evening’. Dogs and horses were not allowed to disturb the harmony of polite conversation, by an order of the Governor-General in Council forbidding persons accompanied by dogs to enter Respondentia Walk.  [4] The Esplanade on the banks of the Hooghly, thus provided the fashionable promenade of Calcutta a Hygeian Walk, as William Jones called. [1] Where the Bank of Bengal stands on the bank of the old Creek, at Cutcha- goody Ghaut, an avenue of trees ran along the river-bank to the Supreme Court, as King’s Bench Walk. The Walk was exclusively reserved for the English inhabitants from 5 to 8 o’clock every evening, sentries being posted **near the sluice-bridge” to prevent the entrance of natives.



[6] In 1823 the Strand road was formed, which led to a great sanitary improvement. This road has been widened at the expense of the river, so that where the western railing of the Metcalfe Hall stands, there were, in 1820s, nine fathoms of water. [13]




View of Eden Gardens Calcutta. Creator: Samuel Bourne. 1865. Courtesy: British Library


The site was initially named Auckland Circus Gardens, which stands at the northern-end of Maidan toward Calcutta Gate. The Gardens came into being when the Governor General, Lord Auckland, desired to create a circus and a garden. A pleasure ground with an oblong tank in center was laid out on this site generally resorted to for riding and recreation. The in­habitants are indebted to the liberality and taste of the Misses Eden, sisters of Lord Auckland. There was a Band-stand, where the Town Band or the Band of the European Regiment stationed in the Port, discourses sweet music every evening. Of late years the Gardens have been greatly enlarged, and laid out with winding paths and artificial water, interspersed with a profusion of beautiful flowering trees, and shrubs —a pleasant place for a morning or evening stroll. In the Gardens is a Burmese Pagoda, removed after the last war in 1851. and re-erected there in 1856.



In the green of Maidan there had been several installations of statues of Governor-Generals, and Heroes of the British Raj. While each statue was a perfect specimen of Western art, not all the personalities were found equally adorable; few were hated by the native subjects. The statues remained scattered all over Maidan till the end of colonial era, and thereafter replaced by figures of Indian national leaders. The old ones are now archived at the Flagstaff House in Barrackpore. Some nice photographs of the statues curated by DBH Ker in recent time can be seen in Flickr.[12] The details of the statues are available in Raj Bhavan(WB) Occasional Paper-4.[15]

Unveiling of Statue of Outram on Horseback, modelled by John Foley. Bourne and Shephard. 1874


The statue of Outram on horseback set in Calcutta Maidan was one the finest sculptural specimens modeled by John Foley in 1874. The statue inspired Barbara Groseclose, the art historian, to remark that ‘doubts and anxieties, as well as assumptions about their own place in Indian life, bear strongly on the roles and achievements for which the British sought or received commemoration ..’ See Outram Institute Puronokolkata



The Maidan has come into existence when the Company built the second Fort William in Govindpore in 1773. The General Hospital was already constructed at the outskirt in 1770 near the old Jail, which was demolished to make room for construction of the Cathedral in 1839. The Race Corse Stadium and Ochterlony Monument followed in 1809 and 1863 respectively. Victoria Memorial and the Curzon Park – the two integral constituents of Maidan created in 20th century – are outside the scope of the present discussion.



The works of the Fort were planned by an engineer named Boyer. Undoubtedly it is the 2nd Fort William, the regular architecture and commanding position of which are equally conspicuous.  This fortress completely commands the town. Evidently, it was designed to hold the inhabitants of Calcutta, in case of another siege, as permission was originally given to every inhabitant of the settlement to build a house within the fort. But entertaining views of the comfort of living in garden houses discouraged the people to accept this privilege. They preferred living in developing Chowringhee neighbourhood. In 1756 the plain were occupied by native huts, and by salt marshes, which afforded fine sport to buffalo hunters. [1]


Fort William, Govindpore. Chowringhee Gate. Creator: Unidentified. 1880’s Source: eBay,


The first hospital was erected in 1707 for soldiers and sailors, was located in the present Gerstein’s Place, near St. John’s Church, and lasted for nearly half a
century until the sack of Calcutta in 1756. The Company’s second hospital was a make-shift structure in the Old Fort, and was used for about thirteen or fourteen years till 1770. The project was mooted at a Consultation of the Board over which he presided on the 29th September, 1766. The hospital that stood in 1707 beside the old graveyard in a most insanitary site at Gerstein Place was removed ‘into the country’ at the far end of Maidan. The house was initially purchased in 1768 from a native gentleman for the purpose.



The East India Company (Calcutta Council) purchased the plot of land with a garden house from Rev. John Zacharias Kiernander at a cost of Rs. 98900.00 along with an adjoining plot belonging to a Bengali Gentleman. Gourchurn Tarsor (Tagore?) was the only Bengali among those who offered their property on sale, the others being James Dollas and Domingo de Rosario. After various alterations and additions including two other buildings erected in 1770 on the-then Lower Circular Road. The hospital renamed as the Presidency General Hospital was open for admission of general public. In 1795 two new wings and some other additions and alterations were made to equip the hospital with latest medical technology. [14]




View of Eden Gardens Calcutta. Creator: Samuel Bourne. Sig.date:1902.


The St Paul’s Cathedral was designed in the Indo-Gothic style by William F Forbes. Forbes, a military engineer who was later promoted to Major General, was also responsible for the design of the old Calcutta Mint where he held the post of Mint Master for a time. It was through a long course of discussions the site for its construction was decided. In favor of the site finally selected, a plebiscite of the most representative bodies and organizations in Calcutta voted overwhelmingly. The Cathedral has been erected on the site of the hideous and obsolete structure of the old Jail that was demolished by the Government at its own cost. [7] Construction of the cathedral began in 1839, when the foundation stone was laid by Daniel Wilson, Bishop of Calcutta, and completed in 1847. The tall central spire and square tower beneath were inspired by a similar feature at the twelfth century cathedral in Canterbury, England. The upper portion of the tower, which originally reached a height of sixty-one meters, was destroyed in an earthquake in 1934.
Source: ‘Photographs of India and Overland Route’ by Oscar Mallitte in 1865.



The Race Course, which originated as the Course or promenade of Calcutta is one of the finest in the country. Racing was started at the Akra farm at the foot of Garden Reach from 1780, if not earlier. There at that time, the Nabob of Oudh, deposed by the British, and his descendents lived in their palatial garden houses. In 1812, the new course was laid out in Calcutta roughly where it is located today.


Racecourse Calcutta. Viceroy’s Cup Day. Creator: Johnston & Hoffmann in 1845

Lord Wellesley, during his administration, set his face decidedly against horse-racing and every other species of gambling. His influence threw a damp on it for many years, though last century a high value was attached to English jockeys, and the races were favorite subjects of expectation with the ladies. With the amusement of the turf came the spirit of betting. [13] One of the most significant events in the history of Calcutta racing took place in 1847 when the Calcutta Turf Club was officially born. [See: Royal Calcutta Turf Club  https://puronokolkata.com/2014/01/06/royal-calcutta-turf-club-calcutta-1845/%5D




The Ochterlony Monument is an iconic landmark of Calcutta. It was designed by J. P. Parker and erected by Burn & Company in 1828, on the north-eastern side of Calcutta Maidan. The Monument was dedicated to the memory of Major-general Sir David Ochterlony, a commander of the British East India Company. He was commemorated for his successful defense of Delhi against the attack of the Maratha Yaswantrao Holkar in 1804, and also for the victory of the East India Company in the Anglo- Nepalese War of 1814 to 1816. The expenditure regarding the construction and the foundation of the monument was paid from the public fund. The ‘Cloud kissing Monument’ as Mark Twain called it, is 48 metres (157 ft) high.

It has a foundation based on the Egyptian style.  The column is a combination of styles with a classical fluted column, a Syrian upper portion, and a Turkish dome. It has two balconies at the top. The top floor is accessible by a serpentine staircase of 223 steps.




Maidan is so many things to so many people. Apart from army parades, and drills of mounting police, there are washermen who wash clothes and themselves in its ponds (see Dhopa Pukur in Mark Wood’s map), shepherds who tend their flocks, citizens taking their morning walks, and the last vestiges of the horse-drawn hackney carriages plying its fringes entertaining merrymakers and businessmen to make money. When Jamshedji Framji Madan entered the ‘bioscope’ scene in 1902, he began to screen films in tents, one of which was set up on the Maidan.

 Chowringhee, the new township next to Maidan, is a place of modern creation. In 1768 there were a few European families enjoyed ‘out of town’ living. They always looked for opportunities of entertainment and recreation – including the out-door varieties held at Maidan, like Ballooning, Circus, Bicycle Race, Horse Race, Polo, Cricket and such exciting sports of the day. A large stretch of the Maidan is dotted with small greenish tents belonging to sports clubs.


Charak Puja procession in Maidan – coloured lithograph. Creator: Charles D’Oyly. 1848.



Balloon ascent was indeed a novelty in India. On 30th July, 1785, a balloon, measuring six feet in diameter, and filled with rarefied air was let off from the Maidan. Mr. M’intle. the young gentleman who constructed the balloon, favoured the settlement with another exhibition next evening. The first ascent of a large balloon from the plains of Bengal took place on the 21st March, 1836.


“Every now and then some adventurous ‘entertainer’ makes a tour of the country; but seldom, I fancy, with satisfactory results; and travelling circuses appear to meet with no better success”. An Opera Company which has been lately enlivening Calcutta, seems to be an exception to the general rule, being the best thing of the kind that has ever been seen in India. [3]. Chiarini’s Italian Circus performed in Calcutta in August 1880.

Around 1880, the cited playbill advertised Wilson’s Circus in Calcutta, featuring Edwin Moxon, who appeared with his Magic Tom-Tom act, and with the Moxon Brothers in their ‘wonderful balancing act’ with a pyramid of chairs. Around that time Royal Italian Circus where Chiarini, an Italian director performed in Calcutta. Professor Bose’s great Bengal Circus exhibited its shows at the Maidan in January 1900 in which Bir Badal Chand wrestled with a Royal Bengal Tiger.


Polo has been played in the Maidan since 1861. The modern game of polo, though formalised and popularised by the British, is derived from Manipur where the game is known as  ‘Pulu’. In 1862 the Calcutta Polo Club was established by two British soldiers, Captain Robert Stewart and (later Major General) Joe Sherer. They were inspired by the game in Manipur and later they spread the game to their peers in England. The club runs the oldest and first ever Polo Trophy, the Ezra Cup (1880).


Cricket & Football



Ground of the Calcutta Cricket Club, 15th July 1861. Creator: Percy Carpentier. 1861. Courtesy: MCC Museum at Lords


Calcutta Cricket & Football Club, founded in 1792, is one of the oldest sports clubs in the world. The first formal cricket match played between the Etonians and the rest of the Civil Servants of the Company was played for two consecutive days on the green before the Government House in January 1804.

In the absence of a permanent venue, the Calcutta Cricket Club played its games on the esplanade between Fort William and Government House. By the 1820s, the members felt the need for a permanent ground. In 1825, the Calcutta Cricket Club managed to obtain the use of a plot of land on the Maidan. In 1841 the Club was relocated to the eastern boundary of the Auckland Circus Gardens. [See: Calcutta Cricket https://puronokolkata.com/2014/06/18/calcutta-cricket-maidan-calcutta-1792/%5D




The Maidan is deeply embedded in the Bengali psyche as well. It was fashionable for the Babus of old Calcutta to go for fresh air in the esplanade, or গড়ের মাঠ. Carey described the great show of fashionables in evenings at the Eaden Gardens out for the purpose of enjoying a drive—“eating the air (howa-khana) as the Indians express it.” [5] Rabindranath , in his reminiscences  mentioned about the sports-loving public rushing to playground in Maidan riding on crowded tramcar footboards; how his elder brother, Jyotirindranath took his wife, Kadambari, on horse-back to Maidan for a promenade defying social taboos. Maidan has stood a mute witness to the unfolding history of the city until the beginning of the 20th century, when the Maidan spread out its huge stage to voice against British rule, supporting national agenda for freedom movements. In connection with the founding of Victoria Memorial Hall upon the Maidan, some anxiously felt that “…it needs but the smallest acquaintance with that great city to know that its inhabitants regard the Maidan as a virtuous woman regards her honour, any assault upon which must be repelled as the deadliest form of insult.” [7]



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