NABARATNA TEMPLE OF GOBINDRAM MITTER

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

নবরত্ন কালী মন্দির। চিৎপুর। কলিকাতা। ১৭৩০/১৭৩১

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

REFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Writers’ Buildings, Tank Square, Calcutta, 1780

Writers'-Buildings1885

রাইটার্স বিল্ডিং, ট্যাঙ্ক স্কোয়ার, কলকাতা, ১৭৮০
The most imposing colonial public building in the city of Calcutta, the Writers’ Buildings, has a telling history of over three century long of its makeover. The initial plan was designed by Thomas Lyon, a self-styled builder, in 1777 for a brick-made edifice on the northern side of the Tank Square, facing the Avenue to the Eastward, also called the Great Bunglow Road’ [See Wilson]. It was then one of the most fashionable of streets in the settlement – ‘the Chowringhee of the day’ [See Minney].

WritersBuildings_Danniel_1786

Writers’ Buildings, 1786 Daniell, Thomas (1749-1840). Aquatint with etching.

Before the present building came up, the ‘writers’, or the freshly recruited civilians, of the East India Company had their shelters in mud shanties within the old Fort William campus until the disastrous storm of June 25, 1695 razed the hutment to the ground. Subsequently, a block of buildings, known as the Long Row, consisting damp unhealthy lodgings of the young gentlemen in the Company’s service, was erected within old fort. These were the Writers’ Buildings of the first half of the eighteenth century that stood where the G.P.O / Fairly Place located now, and grounded by Siraj-ud-Daula’s guns during the Battle of Lal Dighi in 1756. [See Wilson]

Lord Wellesley, when Governor-General, required all the young civilians or writers freshly arrived to undergo a one year study of oriental languages at the College of Fort William under moonshees and pundits. Wellesley found the buildings Burwell had constructed in 1780 good enough to ensure the comfort of the young civilians at Calcutta. The Fort William College was located in its establishment in 1800 in these houses, which were occupied later by ‘The Exchange’ and the ‘Hurkuru office’. The two buildings were connected by a gallery that ran across the street. [See Carey].

-daniell

Writers’ Buildings, 1798 Daniell, Thomas (1749-1840) Aquatint, coloured

This new Writers’ Buildings also had gone through several extensions over the years. It was initially two-storied. When one more floor added, the building became the first three-storied building in Calcutta. It was a need-based, utilitarian structure with fifty-seven sets of identical windows, a flat roof, and a central projection of ionic columns. The 150 meter long Writers’ Building covers the entire northern stretch of the water body of Tank Square, or Dalhousie Square as called later. It was the site of the demolished St Anne’s Church and the adjoining plot were granted to Thomas Lyon for construction of the Writers’ Buildings. Lyon was acting on behalf of the landowner, Richard Barwell, a member of the Council, and a friend of Warren Hastings. Barwell’s children handed the building over to a trustee board, which in turn was again leased to the East India Company.

writers'Buildings_Frase1826

Writers’ Buildings, 1826 Fraser, James Baillie (1783 – 1856) Medium: Aquatint, coloured

The building, being originally constructed as ‘a monument of commercial prosperity’, used to be occupied by shops and all sorts of people, merchants, private residents, etc. etc. Some of the rooms on the ground floor were let out as godowns. The Britons started to utilize Writers’ Building for private affairs and for merry-making and enjoyment. Hence the Company started out to enforce several limitations upon them, which as a consequent outcome, made the house vacant. Writers’ Buildings apart there were other houses in the vicinity leased out to the Company by Lyon.

The Writers’ Buildings, before Government took it over, was ‘a plain white stuccoed building utterly devoid of any pretensions to architectural beauty’ Massey continued, “I lived there myself for some months on my first arrival in Calcutta, and very pleasant and airy quarters I found them. I recollect in the early morning quite a number of small green paroquets used to fly all about the place, and their incessant chatter and calls to each other made it very bright and cheery.”

When the Bengal Government acquired the property they erected an entirely new facade of a totally different design from the original, built the present long range of verandahs and Council chamber which they completed in 1881-1882. [See Massey]

writers1851

Writer’ Buildings, 1851. Fiebig, Frederick Photographic print

Carey told the same story in his memoir. The Writers’ Buildings, which had up to the year 1821 been remarkable by its nakedness of their appearance, were now ornamented with three pediments in front, supported on colonnades, which formed handsome veranda s, The centre one adorned the front of four suits of apartments appropriated to the use of the college. The lower floor contained the lecture rooms. And the second was fitted up for the reception of the college library, which occupied four rooms, each 30 by 20 feet. On the upper floor there was a large Hall, 68 feet by 30 feet intended for the examination room. Each of the pediments at the extremities of the building fronted two suits of apartments for the accommodation of the secretary and one of the professors. The intermediate buildings, eleven in number, were for the accommodation of twenty-two students.

writersBuildings1978

Writers’ Buildings, 1878 Photographer: Unknown Photographic print

The Bengal Chronicle of 4th November, 1826 states, that the College of Fort William was to be done away with, and that the Writers Buildings were to be converted into public offices. The College was abolished in 1828, and a saving of Rs. 1,70,000 per annum was thus effected. The young civilians were henceforth sent at once to their appointed stations, where moonshees were provided for instructing them in the native languages. [See Carey]

In 1836, Lord William Bentinck banned the haphazard use of the building for classified issues. It took, however, about half a century more to define the character of the Writers’ Buildings in terms of power and politics. Within the period of 1877 to 1882, Lt. Governor Ashley Eden installed the keystone of the Government Department at this place.

The Bengal Secretariat led a nomadic existence for years together. Evan traces the movement of the Secretariat from 1854 when it was set up 1, Council House Street. Two years later it had been transferred to Somerset Buildings, at the cornerer of Hastings Street and Strand Road. During the seventies it occupied two houses, one in Chowringhee on the site of the present School of Art, and the other in Sudder Street. It was not until 1880 that a permanent home was found in Writers’ Buildings. [See Cotton]

Writers_Buildings-unknown
View of Writers’ Buildings on busy road captured by photographer Theodore Julius Hoffmann (c.1855-1921) in late 19th century and surely not after 1892 when horse-driven tram car service discontinued.

Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary; or, Portuguese Church, Murgihata, Calcutta, 1826

পর্তুগিজ গির্জা, মুরগীহাটা, কলকাতা, ১৮২৬
In 1690 Charnock founded Calcutta. Portuguese from Hugli settled here much before, as some new historical evidences suggest. They built a chapel and were attended by Augustinian priests. The chapel was replaced by the beautiful church dedicated to Our Blessed Lady of the Rosary, which is used today as the cathedral, commonly known as the Portuguese Church, and the street on which the Church is situated was named Portuguese Church Street until recently, in the area of Murgihata adjacent to Lalbazar. The main Church of the Padroado in Kolkata till 1834, when it became the first parish Church of the newly erected Vicariate Apostolic of Bengal, the Salesians, who took over charge from the Jesuits in 1921, handed it over to the Diocesan Clergy in 1972. The Cathedral Annexe was built in 1979.
Coloured aquatint by James Baillie Fraser, Plate No.17 from ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’. It may be noted that the location as indicated on the Plate, is not Lollbazaar (Lalbazar) but Mughihatta (Murgihata).

Taylor and Company’s Emporium, opposite Palmer’s House, Lall Bazar, Calcutta, 1826

টেলর কোম্পানির দোকান ঘর, নিলাম ঘর, লাল বাজার, কলকাতা, ১৮২৬

Before Chowringhee was grown to a grand centre of amusement and entertainment for the European communities, Lall Bazar had been the best attraction for them. Calcutta’s first theatres, hotels and restaurants, coffee house, ball rooms, shops and markets were all clustered around Lal Dighi.  From the junction with Mission Row, there is eastward down the length of the street. The grand house dominating the composition is the house of John Palmer, Palmer was one of the richest merchants of then Calcutta, the so-called Prince of Merchants, but in the end became a pauper because of his habit of charity. Palmer’s house was sold shortly afterwards to the government and converted into a police station, now the police head quarter. Beyond it, on the intersection with Chitpore Road, is the house that served as a court for the Justices of the Peace. Opposite Palmer’s house stand the emporium and auction rooms of Taylor and Company.
This is a coloured aquatinted plate no. 16 from James Baillie Fraser’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’, painted in 1826.

Bazaar on the Chitpore Road, Calcutta, 1826

fraser-calcuttaBazarচিৎপুর রাস্তায় দোকান-বাজার, কলকাতা, ১৮২৬
Chitpur Road was Kolkata’s oldest road. It has existed for at least 400 years. It was known as Pilgrim Road and started from the North-end of the city stretched up to Kalighat Temple on Adi Ganga. Apart from the aristocracy, there have been common folks engaged in various trades. The distinctive Bengali panjika almanac and Battala books were brought out from this place. So many things on Chitpore Road have been an integral part of Bengal’s life and culture being the centre of supplies for jatra, magic shows and musical instruments, including English brass bands. It might have received its name from the goddess Chiteswari, who had a splendid temple here erected by Gobindram Mitter, or one Gobinda Ghosh, in 1610. At the temple, Chitey dakat, the notorious bandit of the region, offered human sacrifices. The area could also have acquired its name from him. The lofty dome of the temple, which was known as Nabarutna or the shrine of nine jewels, fell during the earthquake of 1737, and it is now in ruins.
This Aquatint, coloured painting dated 1826 is the last plate from James Baillie Fraser’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’. Fraser wrote: “At the east end of Esplanade Row, the European quarter continued if one turned at right angles southwards down the Chowringhee Road. However, if one turned left up Cossitollah Street (named from its being the butcher’s quarter originally), one began to enter the Indian city, and especially so when this road crossed the Lall Bazaar and became the Chitpore Road. The Street exhibits a bewildering mix of Indian and decaying Palladian architecture, but is very obviously a bazaar. Cossitollah Street had in it a large number of purely European businesses.”

Chandpal Ghat, Calcutta, c1814

Chandpal Ghat by James Baillie Fraser - 1826চাঁদপাল ঘাট, কলকাতা, c১৮১৪
This view of riverside depicted by James Baillie Fraser with bathers and ferry near Chandpal Ghat, the bussiest ferry ghat of Calcutta for a long time. Existence of Chandpal Ghat as the southernmost Ghat on Hooghly is easily discernable in the ‘Plan of Fort William and part of the city of Calcutta’ surveyed in 1753. With the landing of Sir Philip Francis and his fellow Councillors of the Supreme Council for India under East India Company at Chandpal Ghat in 1774, it became a class apart from the other Ghats. Incidentally, this Ghat took its name not from an elite Indian, but from an obscure and forgotten native shopkeeper Chandranath Pal or Chand Pal who used to sell his petty merchandise beside the Ghat. Until the railway was opened the principal landing place was customarily the well-known Chandpal Ghat. Lord Cornwallis was the first Governor General who landed at this Ghat on 12th September 1786. Chandpal Ghat became the gateway not only of Calcutta but also of British India for a long time to come. Calcutta was then fast becoming the first City of Asia. Expansion in every sphere of it was then its hallmark, Ghats included. See more
This is plate one from James Baillie Fraser’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’. Fraser (1783-1856)