CHANDNEY BAZAAR: A Neglected Element of Change toward Social Awakening of Bengal

Artist: George Francklin Atkinson. c.1850s Source: ‘Curry & Rice’ authored by the Artist.

 

চাঁদনি বাজার

SHOPKEEPER’S CITY, CALCUTTA
Calcutta in the 18st century was a new city with enormous mercantile resources. The respectable of its inhabitants were merchants. Men were getting involved in wealth-getting and wealth-spending activities – an economic life led by the shopkeepers. [Biswas]. Calcutta earned the moniker SHOPKEEPER’S CITY even before modern bazaars came up in 1783.
Half a century later, it was the improved company policies and the growing public interest in bazaar farming, Calcutta was looked upon as a great city for living comfortably with foods and drinks and all that facilitate city life. Emma Roberts wonders in late 1830s that there is “perhaps no place in which everything essential for an establishment can be obtained so easily as at Calcutta, carriages and horses are to be hired at a not unreasonable rate, palanquins by the day or half day, and servants of all descriptions of a very respectable class also by the day, these people are called ticca, and if recommended by individuals of known good character, may be trusted. A whole house may be furnished from the bazaars in the course of a few hours, with articles either of an expensive or an economical description, according to the means of the purchaser, a well filled purse answering all the purposes of Aladdin’s wonderful lamp. Never was there a place in which there are greater bargains, for if sales happen to be frequent, the most costly articles, carriages, horses, &c., are to be had for a mere song.” [Roberts]

Visibly, the life in Calcutta was then being supported by a range of service providers from giant merchant houses to feriwalas on foot. There were big firms who acted as auctioneers or commission agents, like Messrs King, Johnson and Pierce; Mouat and Faria; Stewart and Brown; Tulloh & Co. Most of them were in business for decades selling and commissioning wide range of articles from black bear and rabbit skin tippets to Persian attar or essence of roses to cider and other kinds of intoxicating drinks to guns to soda water to Madeira wine. The Europeans, it seems, also engaged themselves, apart from trading in manufacturing businesses dealing with carpentry, glass work, gun making, washing and mangling, distillery, jewelry, coach-making, etc. and catered essentially to the European population residing in the city. [Basu]

CALCUTTA BAZAARS
In maps, old and modern, the entire city of Calcutta may be seen dotted with bazaars, private and public. These bazaars are permanent markets or street-markets consisting of open shops grew mostly as veritable zamindaries for their owners – mostly Indians and few Europeans. Normally bazaars cater the daily necessities, like fresh vegetables, fishes, meats, groceries and stationary items, and also store ready consumer goods. Besides selling of products, there are other classes of ‘bazaar people’ who sell small services of varied kinds, like money-changers, bookbinders, stationers, cobblers, cabinet-makers, umbrella makers, petty agents, leeches-men, idol-sellers, retailers of saccharine dainties, and general dealers do regular business in these bazaars and thoroughfares.’ These are the folks who frequented these bazaars as traders and artisans to share space with regular product shoppers to sustain their livelihood. [Ghose] To a large extent, these job-vendors and artisans found their place in bazaar settlement in response to the changing pattern of consumer behavior in colonial societies. The character of the bazaar and its sales likewise shift toward new varieties of products. Emma was pleased to discover:
“European vegetables may now be purchased in the native bazaars. Indian gardeners have found their account in cultivating potatoes, peas, cauliflowers, lettuces, &c. ; and in travelling particularly, it is of great importance to be able to procure such useful and agreeable additions to the table.” [Roberts]
As we come to know from James H. Harrington’s Report of 1778 [cited in Basu] ] and Mark Wood’s Plan of Calcutta of 1792, there had been around 20 desi bazaars within Calcutta, namely
Burra Bazaar, Bow Bazaar and Lal Bazaar, Bytakhana Bazaar, Sutanuti Hat and Bazaars, Charles Bazaar or Shyam Bazaar, Ram Bazaar, Sobhaa Bazaar, Dharmatala Bazaar, Arcooly Bazaar, Machua Bazaar, Kasaitala Bazaar, Colootala Bazaar, Jaun Bazaar, Hat Jannagar, Hat Rajernagar, Colimba (Colinga) Bazaar, Simla Bazaar and Simla Road Bazaar— as far as the official public bazaars were concerned. Among the private bazaars Tiretta’s Bazaar, Sherburne’s Bazaar, Kashi Babu’s Bazaar (near Sherburne’s) and Gopee Ghosh’s Bazaar in Entally were included.

This is a part of the original panoramic view of the Dhurrumtollah crossing captured from terrace of a house on Esplanade Row by an unknown photographer supposedly at a very early date of Calcutta photography disclosing some details of immense historical significance. Source: suvrodahal.blogspot.com

The three bazaars – Burra Bazaar, Bow Bazaar, and Bytakhana Bazaar were the biggest and busiest bazaars of Calcutta that generally dealt in daily necessities like vegetables, fruits, and of course fishes, besides some other necessities. Hat Jaunnagar, Hat Rajnagar(?) and Kashi Babu’s Bazaar had become special markets dealing in rice, betel leaf and nuts, spices, and paddy straw. Burra Bazaar , the central whole sale market of Calcutta, consists of huge warehouses and plenty of retail shops offering largest variety including, “sundry materials like cutlery, glass ware, glass, earthen ware, fans, blankets, fine mats (shitalpati), coarse mats (chattai), common mats, board mats, wickerwork, coarse cloths, silk ribbon, cotton thread, rope, cotton, leather shoes and slippers, bracelets of all kinds, necklace of wood or beads, goods tirade of brass, small iron boxes or shinduk, iron works, medicinal tools, coconut hookahs, balls for hookah, straw, paddy straw, bamboo, bird cages, umbrellas, stone cases, deshlais or match sticks, etc. were also up for sale”. [cited in Basu]
The diversity of goods on sale bears witness to the grandness of the select few bazaars, which were designed to meet the changing pattern of demands of ‘cosmopolitan population of the city’ in particular. It appears, only in Bytakhana Bazaar, Burra Bazaar and in Sherburne’s private bazaar animals like fowls, geese, duck, horses, pigeons were sold. These apart, goats were available in Burra Bazaar, and ‘homed’ cattle in Bytakhana Bazaar only. All the bazaars of Calcutta had separate places allotted for the sale of fish. Burra Bazaar, Bytakhana Bazaar, Machua Bazaar and Sherburne’s Bazaar had cowrie exchange facilities against gonads. The private bazaars in general seem to specialize in certain articles some of which catered more to the European demands. For example, in those days fireworks were sold primarily in Tiretta’s Bazaar. Among the private bazaars Sherburne’s Bazaar dealt with the greatest number of articles.

EUROPEAN BAZAARS
The owners of three new European bazaars, Edward Tiretta, Joseph Sherburne, and Charles Short came forward to propose setting of modern bazaars in tune with the changing outlook of the Company administration against the backdrop of a ‘civilizing mission’ for improvement of city life. Their proposals also contained distinctive perceptions about a bazaar and references to ‘improve’ upon the existing ill-organized and unhygienic set-ups. To bring about in Calcutta bazaar relatively modern notions in terms of western sensibilities, Edward Tiretta, Joseph Sherburne and Charles Short petitioned individually in May 1782, October 1782 and July 1783, respectively, to the Governor General and Council for permission to build such market places in accordance with the Bye Law of 1781. They pledged to set up bazaars with pucca buildings, tiled shops and stalls instead of the straw huts of the desi bazaars. Mechua Bazaar, although owned and managed since 1775 by a European marketer, Francis D’Mello, was in no way better than the bazaars run by desi masters. In fact, it was since 1882 the shapes of the Calcutta bazaars get changed outwardly and internally for the first time. The new two bazaars, Tiretta Bazaar, and Sherburne’s Bazaar, were set on larger plots, occupying 8-18-4, and 10-1-4 bighas respectively, than Bazaar Sootaluty (3-17-2), and Dhurrumtollah Bazaar (6-10-0). [ Proceedings of the Board of Revenue, Sayer, November, 1794. Cited in Biswas]

SHERBERN’S BAZAAR
Sherburne’s bazaar, like Tiretta’s and Short’s, followed western model in which hygiene was the primary consideration in its planning to safeguard against deteriorating state of the physical ‘health’ of the city. Huge waste of the native bazaars was regarded largely responsible for infecting the air leading to the degeneration of the atmosphere into poisonous miasmas. These considerations went a long way in the planning of the three newly set bazaars. Sherburne’s bazaar was permitted on a fixed annual rent of Rs.300, revised later to Rs500, and entered the 1785 list of authorized private bazaars of the city. He was given in 1785 an official position of Scavanger [(Hobson-Jobson) ] of the Town of Calcutta, and at rooms, nos. 1 and 3, in his bazaar Sherburne used to discharge his duties of inspection of the goods on sale in Calcutta markets, as well as collection of the taxes. [Calcutta Gazette] The Bazaar was situated in a piece of land, locally known as Ismail Sarang’s Garden, where Chandney Market stands now on the fringe of Dhurrumtollah Street. As we understand, Joseph Sherburne petitioned the Governor General in October 1782, for permission to establish a public bazaar on this very plot he purchased, seemingly from Gokulchandra Mitra. Mitra, who had made a fortune in salt trade and, as it was said, won the Chandney Chawk area in the first Lottery. Behind Sherburne’s Bazaar, Julius Soubise opened his Repository of horses on a large piece of land leading from the Cossitollah down Emambarry Lane. It looks like, the old Chandney Chawk has been more a part of Cossitollah than Dhurrumtollah contrary to popular belief.


After two decades of close association with the Bazaar, Joseph Sherburne passed away at Monghyr on July 18, 1805. His only son, Pultney J. P. Sherburne, died on 28 June 1831. [ Asiatic Journal ] The map of the City and Environment of Calcutta published next year by Jean-Baptiste Tassin, printed the name of Chandney Bazaar for the first time replacing Sherburne’s Bazaar in the site of Chandney Chawk. [Tassin] Although a ‘Chandnee Choke’ and a ‘Chandnee Choke Lane’ found printed in Wood’s map of 1792, there had been no Chandney Market in Calcutta until the Sherburne’s Market wiped out from Calcutta maps. In all probability Sherburne’s Bazaar shuttered down in 1831.

CHANDNEY BAZAAR
When Chandney Bazaar came into existence by 1832, there was no R C Church, no Tipu Mosque, but only the Dhurrumtollah Bazaar opposite Dhurrumtollah Tank stood on roadside since 1796 with Stibbert’s House behind. The oldest institution remained there was the Native Hospital built in 1793 near Chandney. In Talpooker, Pritaram erected his Jaunbazaar House in 1808. “In 1793-94, all over the town there were no fewer than 1114 pucca houses; in 1821 it increased to 14,230” [Biswas] The new suburbs as southern extension of Town Calcutta grew faster with masonry houses built by Europeans and deshi well-to-dos as nucleus of new urban experience of ‘airy habitation’ .

Chandney Market stands on no. 167, Dhurrumtollah Street, at the crossing of Chandney Chawk Street, or Chandney Chawk Bazaar ka Rastah, on the north side of Dhurrumtollah, where Sherburne’s earlier stood. Chandney Bazaar did not replace Sherburne’s Market but came up with a unique identity of its own, completely dissimilar kind of a bazaar, to sell commodities of special kind to altogether different sections of consumers than what Sherburne’s or other bazaars usually target, that is, the common people whose requirements are chiefly food and other daily necessities such as household items, weareables, fashion items – all for ready consumption. In contrast, Chandney Bazaar has never been a place to retail fresh food unlike others. It was not a market for ready-made garments but held shops of cloth lengths and cut-pieces, and tailoring shops for making dresses cheaply and quickly. Chandney was known as a native shopping complex for retailing popular as well newest materials, accessories and tools needed primarily for consumption of journeymen, including artisan, craftsmen, petty tradesmen, mostly pieceworkers like tailors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, smiths and small manufacturers.

Stuart Hogg’s Market. Photographer: Bourne and Stephens. 1860s

Cotton described the Bazaar as ‘a labyrinth of ill-kept passages, lined with shops, in which may be found a wonderful collection of sundries, from a door nail to a silk dress. The list can be lengthening endlessly by adding items like ‘brass and iron hand-ware, clothes, umbrellas; shoes, stationery, and various other articles of domestic use.’ Cotton, however, unwittingly left a piece of empty advice for shopaholics that “very similar shops and stalls may now be found, but under conditions infinitely more advantageous and comfortable, in the Municipal Market in Lindsay Street, off Chowringhee”. [Cotton] In reality, the two markets have been entirely dissimilar. So much so, no comparison can be possible between the two without distorting facts that still alive. Yet his advice as to the ‘getting favourite picks at pocket-friendly price’ at Chandney by ‘bargaining at your heart’s content’, and that ‘one must essentially be guarded with sharp shopping skill’ may prove helpful for a shopaholic even today.

Chandney Bazaar has never been a market for gentlefolk – sahibs or babus; rarely shoppers go there with families. Most shops were kind of mini warehouse, with no display-windows, no fashion shows. On the whole, the market looked drab, shabby, and uninviting – a mockery of the model market of Sherburne. Chandney, however, was not a ‘second-hand’ market, nor a chore bazaar – a ‘receptacle for all stolen goods’ as Cotton perceived. Chandney Bazaar was essentially, and still it is, a hardware market and not a market of second-hand goods, like some other auction houses and antique bazaars of Calcutta where stolen fancy goods of every description were being sold in the open.

CHANDNEY AMBIENCE
The ambience of Chandney Bazaar has always been disgustingly chaotic – a contradiction of the model picture of the bazaars the city administrators drew in 1783 that Tiretta, Shorts, and Sherburne followed. Outside the Bazaar, the doldrums of Chandney crowd and its unruly traffic overflowed into Dhurrumtollah crossing creating a logjam on the highway.

Chandney Bazaar Interior 2017. Photographs by Olympia Banerjee:

“Gharis wait outside shops, the horses hunched up in their shafts and harness, limp-legged, asleep. The drivers are asleep on the box and syces (সহিস) slumber behind. Water and rubbish on the pavements. The air is heavy with a fetid smell of hookah and food; paint, oil and cycles. In the shadow of the gold-tipped minarets women swathed in sheets clatter their slipperiered feet along the road. … The patrons of the ‘Chandni’ bazaar, scowling, busy; bargaining, wrangling; smiling, smirking; cycle shops, camera shops, pigeon stalls for cigarettes and sherbet. Pavement vendors with their wares in their baskets, pavement barbers assisting the needy with their toilet; street hawkers who pause on the roadway at the; hailing of a customer quarrelsome ghari men lashing their whips at one another.” [Minney ]
Yes, this picture penned by R.J. Minney represents a true to life profile of Chandney – a pet object for a satirist it seems. The pathetic scenario of Chandney inspired even Sukumar Ray to chose the spot to make the road accident happen to one of his comic characters, namely, the over-smart uncle of Ramesh, as we may read in his immortal book, আবোলতাবোল (Aboltabol):

রমেশের মেজমামা সেও ছিল সেয়না,
যত বলি ভালো কথা কানে কিছু নেয় না ;
শেষকালে একদিন চান্নির বাজারে
পড়ে গেল গাড়ি চাপা রাস্তার মাঝারে ।
[সুকুমার রায় ।“সাবধান”,আবোলতাবোল । ১৯২৩]

 

CHANDNEY BAZAAR, AN AGENT OF CHANGE
Behind the bland homely face of Chandney Bazaar, we may still discover signs of its lost charms that helped Calcutta society to keep pace with the industrial productivity 1832 onward. During the industrial era, the ‘new products’, that is, the newly designed products manufactured by the industrial giants as well as petty workshops, were being increasingly likened by all. There have been also some ‘new products’ designed and developed by the European settlers to help them living comfortably and in style in oriental environment. Society accepts some and rejects others for more than one reason. Market availability, replacement and maintenance are evidently among the main factors for decision-making. Chandney Bazaar stood by the consumers with steady stocks of current and the latest utility products for them to buy replace or repair. Though there were few relatively decent shops, like Nandy’s that used to sell fancy household items, or Kar & Kar the tailoring and garment seller, Chandney has been largely a receptacle of machine-tools, machine parts, and raw materials for the consumptions of small manufacturers, tradesmen, and mechanics. This group of working hands plausibly provided Chandney Bazaar with a unique opportunity to motivate utilization of new products to homemakers more effectively, and to reach families at their homes who hardly ever visit the stinky marketplace – not meant for gentlefolk. That might have been a good reason to postulate that Rev Evan Cotton never had occasion to step inside Chandney Bazaar in person to verify his ideas before attempting to compare it unfairly with Hogg’s Market.
It is unfortunate; Chandney Bazaar does not have enough archival records available for us to distinguish between gossips and facts, so that the worth of its contributions to Calcutta society, in accommodating new products, ideas, new habits, could have been determined with some degree of certainty. Had Chandney Bazaar existed when Captain Thomas Williamson lived in Calcutta (1778-1798), he would have depicted Chandney analytically and objectively in the manner he elaborated on China Bazaar in his prudent Vade Mecum published in 1810. [Williamson] In absence of dependable sources we are being overwhelmed with skewed information disseminated through prints and e-media. Google may take you at once to a number of blogs publicizing Chandney Bazaar of Calcutta in chorus as an exclusive market of electronic goods; while in reality not a single stall of electronics to be found inside, but outside Chandney Bazaar hundreds wait to greet you on the street. I fear the ever increasing nonsense in today’s manufactured information will pose greater challenge to future researchers to investigate issues with scanty documentary evidence, depending largely on literary references and oral traditions, as is the case of Chandney Bazaar of Calcutta.

 

REFERENCE

Asiatic journal and monthly register for British India and its dependencies. (Jan. 1830-Apr. 1845). London : Printed for Black, Parbury, & Allen. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.095922792&view=1up&seq=4

Basu, Shrimoyee. 2015. “Bazaars In The Changing Urban Space of Early Colonial Calcutta.” University of Calcutta. http://hdl.handle.net/10603/163761.

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

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.

Minney, Rubeigh James. 1922. Round about Calcutta. Calcutta: OUP. https://archive.org/details/roundaboutcalcut00minnrich.

Ray, Sukumar. n.d. “Sukumar Sahitya Somogro; vo.1.” Calcutta: Ananda. https://archive.org/details/SukumarSahityaSomogro3/page/n17.

Roberts, Emma. 1845. East India Voyager, or the Outward Bound. London: J. Madden. https://books.google.co.in/books/about/The_East_India_Voyager.html?id=rOFAAQAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y.

Setton-Karr, W. S. 1864. Selections from Calcutta Gazettes. Calcutta: Military Orphan Press. https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.195937/2015.195937.Selections-From-Calcutta-Gazettes-1864#page/n5/mode/2up.

Tassin, Jean-Baptiste. (1832). Map of the City and Environs of Calcutta;  Constructed chiefly from Major Schalch’s Map and from Captain Prinsep’s Surveys of the Suburbs. Retrieved from https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b530996458

Williamson, Thomas. 1810. East India Vade Mecum; or, Complete Guide to Gentlemen Intended for the Civil, Military,or Naval Service of the Hon. East India Company; Vol. 2 (2). London: Black, Parry. https://www.scribd.com/document/305022589/The-East-India-Vade-Mecum-Volume-2-of-2-by-Thomas-Williamson.

Wood, Mark. (1792). Plan of Calcutta. Calcutta: William Baillie. Retrieved from https://www.bdeboi.com/2016/02/blog-post_27.html

Yule, Henry ; and Coke Burnell. 1886. Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases and f Kindred Terms. London: Murray. https://archive.org/details/hobsonjobsonagl02croogoog/page/n8.

 

 

Chowringhee: Against the Backdrop of Fort William II

Chowringhee Road. 1787. Artist and engraver: Daniell, Thomas

চৌরঙ্গীঃ কোলকাতার দক্ষিন দ্বার

Genesis of Chowringhee

After Plassey, the necessity of keeping the English factory at Calcutta within the Fort was at end.[6] There was no felt need any more for reviving the ravaged Fort that proved its inadequacy in defending the old town and its own bulwark. The Fort was encumbered with houses close by, and had no proper esplanade for guns. Their triumph might not have been spirited enough to free the minds of English commanders from the dread of another war. That was why the East India Company favoured Clive’s decision of erecting a second Fort William expending two millions sterling.[8] The new Fort essentially differs from the old one being exclusively a military establishment and not a fortified factory of English traders as the old Fort was styled. Its construction set off in 1758 on the riverside ground of Govindpur village about a mile away from the old Fort. Before the Battle of Laldighi, the English were cooped up in the neighbourhood of the old Fort.[17] The prospect of an aerial, liveable habitation in the neighbourhood of the New Fort, attracted the European population to gradually move from the already crowded old township around the Tank Square and the old Minta, to settle in commodious Chowringhee.[6]

New Fort in Backdrop

Equipped with huge defense machinery and a formidable military architecture, the new Fort William was ready by 1773, but had no occasion ever since to exchange fires with enemies. Instead its resounding  tope of canon ball routinely announced mid-day hours to regulate working life of the Calcuttans. The presence of the imposing Fort on Maidan silently reminds us of the significant role it had played in transforming the town Calcutta into a city – famously called ‘City of Palace’, the centre of British India. Following inauguration of the Fort, the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William was founded. The Governors of Bengal became the Governor Generals of India. Calcutta was reborn ushering a modern society to stay connected with rest of the world.

Fort William, Govindpore. Chowringhee Gate. Photographer: unidentified. 1880’s Source: eBay,

Beyond the European buildings lying around the Old Fort were four villages of mud and bamboo, all of which were included in the zamindary limits of the first settlement. These villages were the original three with the addition of Chowringhee. Chowringhee in 1717 was a hamlet of isolated hovels, surrounded by water-logged paddy-fields and bamboo-groves, interspersed with a few huts and small plots of grazing and arable lands. The chosen site of the Fort was on the river-bank of village Govindpore, considerably south of the old Mint. As Colonel Mark Wood’s Map of 1784 inscribes.[19] Govindpore began where the Northern boundary of Dhee Calcutta ended at Baboo Ghat, and then went up to the Govindpore Creek, or Tolly’s Nullah and that was the extreme end of the English zamindary. As Rev. Long indicated, it was ‘immediately to the South of Surman’s gardens, marked by a pyramid in Upjohn’s map.’ [17] At West, the area includes King’s Bench Walk  with a row of trees separating it from the riverbank between  Chandpaul Ghaut  and  Colvin’s Ghaut , then called  Cucha-goody Ghaut  At North, Esplanade Row, from Chandpaul Ghaut, hard by the New Court House on the riverside, runs into Dhurumtollah in a straight line past the Council House and the old Government House standing side by side.

Govindpore was a populous flourishing village when its entire population was removed to make room for the new Fort and its infrastructure. The inhabitants were compensated by providing lands in places like Toltollah, Kumartooly, Sobhabazar expending restitution-money. In Govindpore itself great improvements took place. The jungle that cut off the village of Chowringhee from the river, was cleared and. gave way to the wide grassy stretch of ‘Maidan of which Calcutta is so proud’.

Pallanquin on jungle road. Illustration in book ’India’ by Richard Mayde 1876

The jungle, presumably, had been once a part of the Great Soonderband (সুন্দর বন).  Many traces of trees were found at a considerable depth below the surface of the ground. These remains are thought to be those of the soondrie forest that covered the site of Calcutta when newly emerged from the waters of the Gangetic Delta. [6] Early 1789, Government resolved on filling up the excavations in the Esplanade and levelling 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 at the corner of Chowringhee and Esplanade, which existed till the dawn of the twentieth century. [20]

Road to Chowringhee

The road dividing the Maidan and Chowringhee was named, Road to Chowringhy [sic] by Colonel Mark Wood in his 1784 Plan of Calcutta, which in fact was a midsection of the oldest and longest thoroughfare of Calcutta, known as Pilgrim Way  starting from Chitpore, Chitreswari temple at extreme North and ending at Kalighat temple in South. As late as in 1843, the proclamation included in the  Special Reports of the Indian Law Commissioners has no mention of ‘Chowringhee locality’, but of a ‘Chowringhi[sic] High Road’.

The Road to Chowringhy[sic] was initially a short stretch between Dhurumtollah and Park Street that subsequently developed into an 80 feet broad and nearly two miles long roadway commencing from the  Creek  where it crossed Cossitollah (later Bentinck Street) between Waterloo Street and British India Street, and ended at Theatre Road where from Rossapagla Road took the queue. Before the modern Chowringhee came into being, Cossitollah, was thronged with a large proportion of European shops and often called ‘the Indian Elysium of plebeians’. [6]. The eastern side of the Chowringhee Road is lined by handsome houses, facing the fine grassy Maidan which lies between them and the river. Houses are generally ornamented with spacious verandahs to the south, that being the quarter from which the cool evening breeze blows in the hot weather. [12] The Bishp’s Palace was the most imposing among those.

Changing Landscape

When Josua Conder visited Chowringhee, this city was ‘the quick growth of a century’, and ‘still half jungle’. He wrote, “at Chowringhee, where you now stand in a spacious verandah supported by Grecian pillars, only sixty short years ago, the defenseless villagers could scarcely bar out the prowling tiger.” His presumptions about the future of Chowringhee however were all wrong. Contrary to his beliefs, in sixty more years the city never depopulated but its strength intensified; and all these perishable palaces of timber, brick, and chunam did not disappear but multiplied more time than it should have. [7]

Calcutta. A French map. 1839. credited to Dufour and Benard. [Read ‘Rue’ for ‘Road’]

So far back as 1714 ‘Cherangy’[sic] is named among the township neighbourhood within the Pergunnah of Calcutta either possessed or desired by the Company.[23] Originally, Chowringhee was an ancient village named after one  Jungal Giri Cherangi, a pious worshipper of Kali. Between 1726 and 1737, Cherangi (sic) came to be treated as a part of the English settlement. It was still separated on the West from Govindapur by jungle, where now the grassy level of the Maidan extends. The creek wandering inland past the southern wall of the burying ground divided Chowringhee-Govindapur from the Old Town – the township around the Old Fort. Until then Chowringhee had been a native portion of Dhee Calcutta and Bazar Calcutta.[23] There were “only a few miserable huts thatched with straw : a jungle, abandoned to water-fowl and alligators, covered the site of the present citadel and the course, which is now daily crowded at sunset with the gayest equipages of Calcutta”. [8]

The above 9 lithographs of William Wood’s paintings included in his album, Views of Calcutta.published in 1833. The elegant forms of the buildings of European Calcutta heralded an important stage in the history of architecture of the subcontinent: the evolution of Western styles into forms which would become commonplace in the Indian context. This building depicted shows what became the conventional pattern, a two or three storeyed block, well-proportioned and set in a garden, and with columned verandahs protecting its rooms from the heat. Courtesy British Library

Colonel Mark Wood in 1784 marked Chowringhee on the South of Park Street away from the original locale of the village Cherangi. A decade later, Upjohn put back the district of Chowringhee as Dhee Birje, on the North of Park Street. The boundaries were shown with Circular Road on the East, Park Street on the South, Colingah on the North and a part of Chowringhee Road on the West. [17] After half a century, Dufour and Benard in 1839 put Chowringhee on both the sides of Park Street spreading over Dhurumtollah to Theatre Road. [3] Bit by bit its boundaries extended from the village at North of Park Street, then called the Burying Ground Road, to cover the whole South-East part of Calcutta. In 1802 Lord Valentia writes : “Chowringhee, an entire village, runs for a considerable length at right angles with it (the Esplanade) and altogether forms the finest view I ever beheld in any city.” In 1810, Miss Graham found Calcutta ‘like London a small town of itself ‘, but its suburbs swell it to a prodigious city. [14] Chowringhee in 1824, is no more a mere scattered suburb, but almost as closely built as, and a very little less extensive than Calcutta. [23] , “separated from Calcutta by an ancient John bazaar [Jaun Bazaar]”.[16] Chowringhee, to Rev W K Firminger, was the  West End  of Calcutta, socially but not geographically,  a district bounded by Park Street on the North, Lower Circular Road on the East and South, and the Maidan on the West. [13]

The modern view ignores the historicity of Chowringhee. The row of buildings on Esplanade Row at the edge of Maidan becomes its Northern skirt. Its territory is nowadays more or less compatible with old Govindpore – a place no more exists.

Chowringhee Road View from No 11 Esplanade Row , across Dhurrumtollah Tank. Col. Lithograph. Artist: Sir Charles D’Oyly

Growing Chowringhee

A year before the construction of Govindpore Fort stared, there had been only a couple of European houses in Chowringhee. One at the corner of Dhurumtollah with entrance from that street, the other was at a little distance from it, with an entrance facing the Maidan. Most likely the first house was the General Stibbert’s House in the west end of the Dhurumtollah and in the vicinity of the Esplanade, where Mr. Farrell’ New Calcutta Academy moved in from Cossitolla Street as gazetted on 31st May 1804, much before the foundation of St Paul’s School, which was sometimes referred to as one of the two first houses in Chowringhee. The second one was indisputably the manor of Lord Vansittart at number 7 Middleton Row. It was better known as Sir Elijah Impey’s house where Impey happily stayed surrounded by an expansive deer park. In those days Maidan was ‘strangely treeless’, and Impey’s manor happened to be the foremost erection stood across it’s stretch. The site is now occupied by the Loreto Convent.

The number of houses continued to grow in isolation till 1770s. Between Jaun Bazar Road (or Corporation Street as called later), and Park Street, forty European residences, mostly with large compounds, are depicted in Upjohn’s Map. An equal number may be counted in Dhee Birjee – the quarter immediately south of Park Street. Even so late as 1824, Chowringhee was regarded as a suburb. Miss Eden calls it the Regent’s Park of Calcutta. Miss Emma Roberts spoke about suburb Chowringhee of 1831-33 – the favourite residence of the European community. From the roofs of their houses, they viewed “a strange, rich, and varied scene discloses itself: the river covered with innumerable vessels,— Fort William, and Government House, standing majestically at opposite angles of the plain,— the city of Calcutta, with its innumerable towers, spires, and pinnacles in the distance,— and nearer at hand, swamps and patches of unreclaimed jungle, showing how very lately the ground in the immediate neighbourhood of the capital of Bengal was an uncultivated waste, left to the wild beasts of the forest.” [25]

“In this part of the town,” notes Mr. Beverley in his census report for 1876, “ the streets are laid out with perfect regularity, very different from the rest of the town” – the town rising about the old Fort. [9] The report was contrary to what Miss Emma viewed over half a century ago and said, “No particular plan appears to have been followed in their erection, and the whole, excepting the range facing the great plain, Park-street, Free-School street, and one or two others, present a sort of confused labyrinth,”. and then she added ,”however, it is very far from displeasing to the eye; the number of trees, grass- plants, and flowering shrubs, occasioning a most agreeable diversity of objects.” [25] The difference between the observations of Miss Emma of Beverley evidenced the good works done in between by the Lottery Committee. “To them Calcutta is indebted for a long catalogue of improvements: and they may justly claim to be held in grateful remembrance as her second founders. Roads and paths were run across the Maidan and the familiar balustrades set up. Numerous tanks were excavated The New Market, which was built between 1871 and 1874, is another monument to the energy of the Justices which the ordinary citizen of Calcutta probably feels better able to appreciate. The grand success of the Lottery Committee encouraged the government to undertake further developmental programs under the management of the Fever Committee [9]

Chowringhee Redefined

An illustration is from a picture drawn by Captain F. J. Bellew, illustrating his book entitled, A Griffen, on Landing at Calcutta, 1818

Chauringi [sic]) is a place of quite modern erection, originated from the rage for country houses.”, At the beginning of 19th century the people of Calcutta, as of Bombay and Madras, loved to live in garden-houses midst trees and flowers. They preferred living away from the hot, unhealthy and already crowded Town of Calcutta, to a place ‘where they could enjoy some privacy’.[17] They admired the landscape of Chowringhee. Chowringhee premises themselves were often very extensive, the principal apartments looking out upon pretty gardens, decorated with that profusion of flowers which renders every part of Calcutta so blooming. [25] The surroundings were mostly open fields among which were scattered villages, with here and there a garden house, standing in wide grounds where roamed plenty of deer, water birds, particularly the adjutant birds, or the Indian stork with a pinkish-brown neck and bill, and a military gait seen walking around. Camels and mules were not uncommon sight on Chowringhee Road. Jackals roamed at night mischievously to undermine foundations of old houses, as they did so to the Free School’s old house that fell in 1854. In spite of such small inconveniences the ‘lordly Chowringhee stood ‘equal to the finest thoroughfare anywhere; and the blessed Maidan – that enormous lung responsible for all the health and happiness of the people of Calcutta’. [20]

The name ‘Chowringhee’ denotes a new found ‘comfort zone’ in the South of Town Calcutta for the Europeans who loved a trendy hassle-free life to lead in airy environs. Whenever their comfort-zone shifted its focus the habitat moved along revising its boundaries but keeping the name unchanged. The historical maps may well justify redefining ‘Chowringhee’ in terms of habitation socially and not geographically in terms of territorial location. Chowringhee like two other old localities, John Bazaar and Taltallah, ‘came adrift from their moorings and carried away by the surging tide of population beyond Dhurumtollah toward Bhowanipore.[18] Somewhat like a Gypsy camp, the community moved on southward leaving some cohabitants behind in lesser locations.

Chowringhee Stratified

Plan of Calcutta. 1784 & 1785. Credited to Colonel Mark Wood

Chowringhee, we may notice, is a cluster of residential blocks of distinctive characters, categorized by racial, religious, economic differences. Blanchard in his memoir mentions: “A house in the “City of Palaces” is very apt to look like a palace. But the comparison applies only to that portion of the town where dwell the Europeans of the higher ranks, the Civil and Military officers, and principal merchants of the place. These congregate for the most part in the Chowringhee road and the streets running there from, which make up the only neighbourhood where it is conventionally possible for a gentleman to reside.” [5] This description of Blanchart found inapplicable to the whole of Chowringhee, but to some exclusive neighbourhood like. Hastings Place, at the southern end of Chowringhee. The group of streets which commemorate the various titles of Lord Hastings and his wife, who was Countess of Loudoun in her own right, are also the work of the Lottery Committee, and were designed to afford access to the Panchkotee (92 Elliot Rd ?), or five mansions, which will be found surrounding Rawdon Street, Moira Street, Hungerford Street and Loudoun Street (as it should be properly spelt). [9] We are informed by different authors that while barristers had their houses in the neighbourhood of Supreme Court, the officials, medical men, and merchants, have their residences in Garden Reach, and the numerous streets contained in the district rejoicing in the general name of Chowringee [sic]. [16] All these points out to the practice of social ranking among the European residents in Chowringhee. Chowringhee was built by Europeans for residing there in European way life, surpassing the standard of living prevailed in their homeland. Montgomery Massey penned an intimate and lively picture of Chowringhee of relatively recent time covering half a century from 1870s. [20]

Social & Religious Reservations

Procession of the Churruckpooja in Chowringee. Coloured lithograph by Charles D’Oyly. 1848

For a long time Indians had no place in Chowringhee, excepting very few. We find in a late 18th century map three Rustomjees on Chowringhee Lane, Jamsedjee Ruttunjee on Lindsay Street. Chowringhee allowed these rich business men of Parsee community to stay with the sahibs rightfully. It took a hundred year for the native gentlemen to share the privilege liberally with the Europeans to settle in Chowringhee. Some of those privileged ones were: Kumar Arun Chundra Singha at house 1(?) Harrington Street, Sir Rajendranath Mookherji’s house on 7 Harrington Street, Sir B. C. Mitter’s 19 Camac Street, Raja Promotho Roy Chowdhury’s 9 Hungerford Street. The presence of native houses in Chowringhee before coming of Europeans may not be improbable. Rev. Long spoke of a ‘large house’ identical to Sir Elijah Impey’s, stood on the very spot, nearly half a century before Impey. That house as referred to in the ‘Plan of Calcutta’ of 1742 ‘cannot have been an English residence’ he continued, ‘and was possibly the property of a native official’. [17]

Chowringhee in its first two centuries had been exclusively a Christian colony. The two early Bengali converts, Rev. K. M. Banerjee, and Gunendra Mohun Tagore had houses in European quarter on Bullygunge Circular Road at premises numbers 1 and 2. We are never sure if Chowringhee would have welcomed these two native Christians as residents, if so they desired. It is interesting to note, however, that there was a Hindu, of European origin, living in posh Wood Street area. Hindu Stuart was more a conservative Hindu than many native Hindus were. The European residents had tolerated Stuart’s conformity to idolatrous customs. It shows that the Europeans had no problems with native faith as such, but to them the native way of living was utterly disgraceful and unhygienic. Besides their own experience, the reactions of the overseas visitors gathered from their memoirs and letters, reinforced European antipathy toward the way of living of the Calcutta people in general, and of the lower-class in particular. One of the serious objections they had against native citizens was ‘lack of sensitivity’ and indifference toward their own surroundings. They called the native town, a black town, as it was a ‘wretched-looking place – dirty, crowded, ill-built, and abounding with beggars and bad smells’ [30]. Beyond Black Towns, even the best neighbourhoods were not completely free of such menace. “The whole appearance of Chowringhee is spoiled by the filthy huts that exist everywhere, almost touching the ‘palaces’.” These eyesores are to be seen even in the ultra-fashionable Park Street and Middleton Street, and on the Maidan in front of Chowringhee. [12] It is a repulsive scene for civilized members of any society. The problems are often thought of economy oriented and related to lower-class of the society, overlooking their cultural significance.

Living Conditions and Style

The Black Towns also includes the upper-class genteel who lived in ‘handsome houses enclosed in court-yards between the mud huts, the small dingy brick tenements, and the mean dilapidated bazaars of the middling and lower classes of natives. These Armenian merchants, Parsees, and Bengallee gentlemen of great wealth and respectability’ did never mind their environment. [25] Interestingly, the lowly tribal folks of Bengal, like the santals, keep their homes and villages clean and beautiful. The underlined social malady is an issue of critical importance for investigating the root cause of stagnation of the vernacular society. The matter is beyond the scope of present discussion. Elsewhere we discussed related issues in historical context. See: Rajendra Dutta 1818-1889

 

Chowringhee Today & Tomorrow

Since 1754 Chowringhee revealed itself variantly in maps, paintings, and texts. It is almost impossible to separate Chowringhee from boundary areas, or to imagine a Chowringhee excluding North of Park Street, a Chowringhee without the old Hogg Market, the Museum, Bible House, The Grand, and Firpo’s, and the like – attractions of old and recent past. For Chowringhee goers, riding an Esplanade-bound tram across the green of Maidan was a special pleasure. Alighted at Esplanade they felt already in Chowringhee, and perceived the two as inseparable. To them and some modern scholars, Chowringhee and Esplanade denote the same place and are generally called by any of the two names irrespectively. The comprehensive view of modern Calcutta embraces the grand view of Maidan and on its opposite, shiny lines of shops, hotels, restaurants, cinema halls and range of magnificent edifices built mostly by the Armenian architects who were responsible more than others for upgrading Calcutta to the City of Palace. Minney in his time wondered “if all these mighty edifices will be abandoned some day by those for whom they were built. Will the Britons say to the Indians, “We built all this for ourselves, and for you; but we can no longer live together?” [20] And so it happened. Calcutta has been losing her Oriental identity for good. The little collective will the society had earned to resist the lure of westernization is being siphoned off in the process of misconceived globalization.

 

NOTES
The name of the rural Cherangi (চেরাঙ্গী) changed during its transformation into urbane Chowringhee (চৌরঙ্গী). The original vernacular name [26] acquired variant renditions with some twists to suit English tongues, and spelt out fancifully by writers of last three centuries. Among the good alternatives, ‘Chowringhee’ is found most popular in the works consulted. That is the only reason why I used ‘Chowringhee’ and some other place names in certain anglicized forms as standard.

REFERENCES
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21. Minney, R. J. 1922. Round about Calcutta. London: Oxford U P. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/roundaboutcalcut00minnrich#page/n5/mode/2up).
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23. Montefiore, Arthur. 1894. Reginald Heber: Bishop of Calcutta, Scholar and Evangelist. New York: Revell. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/reginaldheberbis00bric).
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25. Roberts, Emma. 1843. “Memoirs of Emma Roberts. In Memoirs of Literary Ladies of England; Ed. by Mrs Elwood; vol.2.” in Oxford University, vol. 2. London: Colburn. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books?id=ROsQAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA333&lpg=PA333&dq=memoirs+of+emma+robert&source=bl&ots=c_ubDSyGKS&sig=PW6CgPPZ3uZuZq0Ev71kl_Ll7vU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiI5PPQ0cjXAhXHto8KHTQ7DFQ4ChDoAQgmMAA#v=onepage&q=memoirs of emma robert&f=false).
26. Thacker, Spink. 1776. “Alphabetical List of the Streets in Calcutta, Howrah, and the Suburbs.” Calcutta: Thacker, Spink.
27. 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).