DHURRUMTOLLAHA AND ITS OLD BAZARS

Dharamtala Mosque on the Corner of Chowringhee Road. WilliamPrnsep-c1840-45

Tipu Sultan Mosque on the Corner of Chowringhee Road & the Dhurrumtollah Street opposite the old Bazar. An oil on canvas by William Prinsep, c1840. Courtesy: ANU

ধর্মতলা এবং আঞ্চলিক প্রাচীন হাটবাজার

Looking through the lenses of John Saché , the Belgian-American photographer, a long stretch of the Esplanade Row leading to Dhurrumtollah Street comes in view beyond Chowringhee Square. The photograph was taken, from the East Gate of new Government House in around 1865.

From Gov.GateJohn Edward Saché_ Views of Calcutta (ca 1865-1882)

Esplanade Row leading to Dhurrumtollah Street. Photographed by John Ward Saché. c1865. Courtesy: BL

The location of Dharmatala that we recognize today is virtually the same as when it was called Dhurrumtollah in colonial Calcutta to mean the Esplanade or Maidan in broad sense. The huge tank excavated in 1790 at the north-east corner of the Esplanade was known as ‘Dhurrumtollah Tank’ where it existed until the dawn of the 19th century.

Dhurrumtollah had been a part of the ancient jungle remaining at the south of the old Calcutta township till the jungle cleared after 1757. The Dhurrumtollah Street came up in around 1762, so did Jaun Bazar Road, both running eastward leaving Dingabhanga mouja in between. Originally a causeway raised by deepening the ditch on either side of a land owned by Jafer, a zamadar in the employ of Warren Hastings.” [Cotton] Dhurrumtollah remained for a long while “an open and airy road lined with trees leading to Beliaghata. The Street, then called  Dhurrumtollah ka rustah, goes in a line with the nor­thern boundary of the Esplanade commencing at no.1 Chowringhee Road.“ The Street is nearly equal in dimensive cha­racter to Chowringhee Road, but Dhurrumtollah Street has the distinction of being on each side bordered by a row of houses of good elevation, and many of them even splendid in their outward appearance — with but comparatively few native hut-edifices on its line — it would claim to be considered a first-rate street in any western capital”. [Handbook of India 1844]

The old scene of Chowringhee Square, where meet four highways – Dhurrumtollah Street, Cossitollah Road, Road to Rusupagla, and Esplanade Row – has been captured by contemporary painters, and the presence of a visiting bird in one of them brings about the idyllic environ of the then Dhurrumtollah.

Maidan Cor. Dharamtala ByJohnWardSache_collections.carli.illinois.edu

Dhurrumtollah Tank. Photographed by John Ward Saché. c1865

Dhurrumtollah is relatively old a district. Chowringhee, which grew along the New Fort and groomed in spot-less English style unrelated to the local traditions and culture of community living, which have always been focused in the street life of Dhurrumtollah. The good bad and ugly in Dhurrumtollah Street scenario expose the weakness and strength of ethnic fusion and liberal thinking – a breeding ground of radical forces for social change. Dhurrumtollah can be distinguished as one of the most remarkable streets in the world of happenings toward formation of new society.

The crowd of Dhurrumtollah Street has been of a different kind than anywhere in Calcutta. To Rudyard Kipling the street is like Hammersmith High­way – the main shopping street in Hammersmith, London. “Dhurrumtollah is 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. They are the Eura­sians, and there are hundreds and hundreds of them in Dhurrumtollah now.” [Kipling]

On this road in 1881, Rev. C Cesry found many faiths, many occupations, many institutions existing next to each other. The Union Chapel, the American Mission Home, the small old and new large Methodist Churches, the Corinthian Theatre, the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the only good looking Masjid, boarding houses, institutions, societies – all have had their part in defining the history of the street. All the largest livery stables of Calcutta were also here. About the centre is Wellington Square with a Maidan on which troops of little children frolic and gambol of an evening. Dhurrumtollah was full of shops and bazars. Here are also Engineers, Under­takers, Chemists, Doctors, Midwifes, Photographers, Professors of Music, Horse Doctors, Auctioneers, Jewelers, Book-sellers, Publicans, Barbarians, Scythians, Bond and Free.  [Cesry]  What Rev Cesry misses in his short list is the schools – particularly the Dhurrumtollah Academy of unforgettable David Drummond.

The stories of Dhurrumtollah Street I fear might take more space than what can be managed at one go. Hope, you would bear with my plan of publishing it in few instalments. Here I take up Dhurrumtollah bazars keeping other facets on hold for a while.

DhurrumtollahBazar_section ofDhurrumtolla Churchitho_dOyly

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.

DHURRUMTOLLAH BAZAR

So far we know, the Dhurrumtollah Bazar, situated at the crossing of the ‘Road to Chowringhee’ and the Dhurrumtollah Street. Cotton maintained that the plot was in one of the sites thought of for the erection of present Town Hall. It was ‘a very eligible situation for the new bazar’, so writes Calcutta Gazette in September 1794. The bazar has ‘already contributed much to the convenience of the community at large. Such an establishment, from the great increase of the inhabitants and the situation of the Chowringhy [sic] houses, has long been wanted. [Setton-Karr Vol.2] The report indicates that the new bazar was established before 1794 and not in 1794, and that it served the demands of Chowringhee households as well. It was still called – by a generic name, Natun Bazar. Cotton suggested without any clue that the Bazar was known once upon a time by a quite unexpected name ‘Shakespeare Bazar’. There has been another supposed name ‘Memba Pirer Bazar’ mentioned in Harisdhan’s book with no reference, which sounds  improbable for naming a bazar created to feed the Chowringhee residents. The Dhurrumtollah Bazar was actually referred to as the Bazar at Chowringhee –  the first edition of the modern New Market.

We come to know from an advertisement issued by Messrs Tulloh & Co. dated 18th April 1799 that the Dhurrumtollah Bazar, termed as Bazar at Chowringhee, was on sale by the auctioneers. The bazar was “bounded by General Stibbert’s house on the east, by the Dhurrumtollah road to the north, by the Chowringhee road to the west, and by the Jaun Bazar to the south.” It stood on the ground measured  about nine beegahs [sic] on which there were 207 pucka built rooms or shops, 143 arched ditto, and 36 large cutcha godowns, yielding a gross monthly rent of Rs. 1,043 [Carey]  We needed to know a little more of General Stibbert’s house, which luckily came handy through a different advertisement announcing the shifting of new Calcutta Academy from Cossitollah to General Stibbert’s House. The house was described as a large, airy, commodious, and eligibly situated house in the west end of the Dhurrumtollah and in the vicinity of the Esplanade, of which, as well as of the river, it commands a view. [Setton-Karr Vol. 3]

Rev. Long put forward another hint to spot out where exactly the Bazar stood ‘half way between Wellington Square and Government House’. He held that the Bazar actually occupied the site of the residence of Colonel De Glass, the then superintendent of the gun manufactory, which has since been removed to Kasipur. [Long]. The account of Rev. Long, however, leaves some doubts as to Colonel De Glass’s occupancy since the said ‘gun manufactory’ was actually established in 1802 as ‘Gun Carriage Agency’, and only in 1830 it was shifted to Cossipore renaming as ‘Gun  Foundry’. The history of Dhurrumtollah Bazar so far revealed disallows any chance of De Glass’ occupancy in either no.1, or no.2, Dhurrumtollah Street where Dhurrumtollah Bazar housed. The street directories authenticate that the first two premises, number 1 & 2, on the right side of Dhurrumtollah Street was where the Bazar stood.

The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register reported the government approval of the Tipu Sultan’s Mosque to be erected at “the corner where the Dhurrumtollah and Cossitollah roads join each other, opposite Jackson’s Bazar” revealing the fact that the Bazar at Dhurrumtollah was once named Jackson’s Bazar. [Asiatic Vol 29]

From a news published in December 14, 1844 we knew more of the Dhurrumtollah Bazar. It was nicknamed ‘Jackson’s Bazar’ after one Dr. Jackson who owned the Bazar  until he sold out the property to Mootee [Mutty] Lall Seal. Thereafter the name ‘Dhurrumtollah Bazar’ came to stay. We still have no good guess what the Bazar was called before Dr Jackson, but we know by now the formal name of the Bazar, its exact position and the names of the owners since 1839. [Ben.Catholic vol.8]

As it appears, Dhurrumtollah Bazar was being managed ably by Hira Lall on behalf of his father Muttee Lall Seal, and mainly responsible for its commercial success and reputation competing against rival forces. The first contender Anandabazar of Ananda Narayan Ghose went out of competition after a while, but the second one, The New Market of the Municipality, that came up in 1874 proved to be too powerful and desperate to fight out. The two cases of rivalry are being summarized before ending the story of Dhurrumtollah Bazar.

Dhurrontallah Steet scene from Govt Housec_byJohn Edward Sache_Collections.carli.illinois.edu

Dhurrumtollah Street with Tipu Sultan Mosque on the left and the spire of the Sacred Heart Church on the right behind the Dhurrumtollah Bazar opposite the Mosque. A hand-coloured print from the Fiebig Collection: Views of Calcutta and Surrounding Districts, taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851. Courtesy: BL

ANANDABAZAR AND DHURRUMTOLLAH BAZAAR

 Around 1844, when Mutty Lall Seal bought up Dhurrumtollah Bazar, a new bazar was established at no. 157  Dhurrumtollah Street, next to Hospital Lane, by Baboo Anandanarayan Ghosh, uncle of Khelat Chunder Ghose as a rival enterprise of Dhurrumtollah Bazar, which was variantly known as ‘Ananda Baboo’s Bazar’, new Dhurrumtollah Bazar, or Anandabazar. This has led to a number of assaults. The two belli­gerent powers have hired clubmen,—(this in the city!) and the Police has been vigorously em­ployed in preventing disturbances. The new market will cost Eighty Thousand Rupees, and the competition will reduce prices”. [Ben. Catholic vol.8.]  The ambition of Anandabazar never fulfilled.  Their objective was failed. The proprietor has leased it out. Miscellaneous shops were established throughout; but no market is held here.

NEW MARKET AND DHURRUMTOLLAH BAZAAR

It was long felt by the Europeans of the posh Chowringhee neighbourhood that the old Dhurrumtollah Bazar was no good any more to meet their everyday needs.  To cater all kinds of food for European consumption they resolved in 1866 to construct a large-scale market on the ground of the old failing Fenwick’s bazar and its surrounding bustee areas. The New Market, as it is still called, was housed in an extensive building, forming three sides of a quadrangle opened in 1874. The land and the building cost about Rs. 6,65,000.

Newmarket-_Sir_Stuart_Hogg_Market

Vintage Postcard with view of Sir Stuart Hogg Market Dharmatala Calcutta. A Pre 1914 anonymous photograph. Courtesy: oldstratforduponavon.com

At the outset of its career, the new market suffered severely from the competition of the Dhurrumtollah Bazar, and its fortunes did not prosper until the Justices subsequently bought the bazar for seven lakhs. The whole of this money was raised by Government loan, the interest of which is far more than met by the rents of the stalls and shops in the market. The municipal executive tried to entice stallholders and butchers away from the Dharamtolla Bazaar. There were unseemly scuffles, followed by “cri­minations and recriminations”. A local paper predicted that the Stuart Hogg market would soon be seen as a “white elephant”. [Furedy]

Hiralall brought a suit against the chairman of the municipality charging that he had no right to use municipal funds for the market and for the opening ceremonies. The Dharamtolla Bazaar owner did not win his case. The government of Bengal hastily passed an act to legalize the decisions of the Corporation. [Furedy] A few years later Hiralall had to sell the market premises to the Justices of Peace of the Calcutta Corporation at 7 lakh to let their newly created Municipal Market, later Hogg Market, runs out of competition. The old Dhurrumtollah Market was demolished and its ground was distributed in small plots and a lane in between. In 1890 the Calcutta Corporation was generous to name this new lane as Mattiloll Seal Lane in memory of Hiralall’s father.

 Besides Dhurrumtollah Bazar and Ananda Bazar, there is another deshi daily bazar called Napit Bazar on nos. 103-5, Dhurrumtollah Street. There is also another food bazar, Gopee Baboo’s Bazar situated between the Jaun Bazar and Dhurrumtollah Roads [Setton-Karr Vol.2]

CHANDNEY BAZAR

Chandney Bazar has never been for fresh food retailing as the other ones were, but a sort of native shopping complex mainly for domestic accessories and handymen’s tools. Chandney shops and entrances are on no. 167, Dhurrumtollah Street, standing at the crossing of Chandney Choke Street, or Chandney Choke Bazar ka Rastah, on the north side of Dhurrumtollah.

Chandney Bazar is 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. [Cotton] 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 left a piece of helpful 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] While shopping in modern New Market was more comfortable and reassuring, it lacked the adventurous spirit of shopping, getting favorite picks at pocket-friendly price by bargaining at your heart’s content. For that, one must essentially be guarded with sharp shopping skill. Besides, the shop-goers should be extra-cautious as Chandney has been apparently a notorious receptacle for all stolen goods, and such encourages theft by domestics”.

R.J Minney in 1922 penned a typical picture of the Chandney Market, its inside and outside, in few lines. The following passage on Chandney may also contribute to our understanding of Dhurrumtollah characteristics in its totality:

 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 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 slippered feet along the road. Children’s garments flutter in the wind from the line that dangles outside the open shop front. Shopkeepers glare expectantly but have too much self respect to solicit custom. A stout undressed Bengali sits on the mattressed floor, laid with white clean linen, fanning himself lazily. By his side stands a hookah with a long stiff spout. There is more bare body than shop. He probably does not depend on his shop for a living. An inquisitive passerby, who peered in to gaze at his stock, was not even hailed as a possible customer. Idle barbers sit by their doors hailing passers-by. 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]

Chandney market has its own world of business. They operate in their own style and communicate with their European and Eurasian customers in typical Chandney-English – a pidgin dialect of Anglo-Bengali concoction. Chandney salesmen were not always as unconcerned as Minney had found in his visit. A funny dialogue of Chandney bazar touts was in circulation in my boyhood days:  “Take, take; no take, no take; একবার তো see!”, or in plain language, “You take it, or you don’t, why not give a quick glance for once?”  This may serve as an instance of how Chandney salesmen approach their nonchalant customers in typical Chandney-dialect. It represents a proactive selling approach, often hatefully nagging and annoying, but can hardly be defined as unfriendly or indifferent as Minney suggested.

UPDATES

 New Market

Richard Roskell Bayne (1836-1901)de­signed the New-Market. The unique architecture of this public market of some 7.200 square meters exerted substantial influence on the design of large urban markets throughout South Asia. [Welch]



REFERENCES

Asiatic Journal. 1839. “Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register.” 29. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books/download/Asiatic_Journal.pdf?id=vCsYAAAAYAAJ&hl=en&capid=AFLRE71UN1fNXSmO80NUacGNXrTijYacn5XNM0vBRP4b3jb4htcUQHOMuHowsJWtwtIw7k70PPOyXbnuS46vH3aR0-16f5ZTsA&continue=https://books.google.co.in/books/download/Asiatic_Journal).
Bengal Almanac. 1851. Bengal Almanac , With A Companion and Appendix. 1851st ed. Calcutta: Hurkaruh. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books/about/The_Bengal_Almanac_for_1851.html?id=4UNBAAAAYAAJ&redir_esc=y).

Bengal Catholic Herald. 1844. Bengal Catholic Herald. Calcutta: D’Rozario [printer]. Retrieved (https://books.google.com.au/books?id=YmKXiWDrh8QC&pg=PP5#v=onepage&q&f=false).

Bengal Hurkaru. 1838. Bengal Directory and Annual Register for 1838. Calcutta: Harkau. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.68584).

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).

Cones. 1877. Directory and Almanac, 1877. Calcutta: Cones. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.91820).

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).

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

Furedy, Christine. 1979. “Retail Trade in Calcutta.” Capital 183(4587):4–10. Retrieved (https://www.google.com/search?q=RETAIL+TRADE+IN+CALCUTTA+Offshoot+from+the+land+of+shopkeepers+by+++CHRISTINE+++FUREDY&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b).

Hobbs, Major H. 1944. John Barleycorn Bahadur: Old Time Taverns in India. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.53429).

Hurkaru. 1841. Bengal-Directory and Annual Register for 1841. Calcutta: Harkaru. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.68587).

Kipling, Rudyard. 1899 The City of Dreadful Night. New York: Alex. https://archive.org/details/citydreadfulnig02kiplgoog

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

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

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).

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

Setton-Karr, W. S. 1864. Selections from Calcutta Gazettes; Vol.3. Calcutta: GOI. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.531269).

Setton-Karr, W. S. 1865. Selections from Calcutta Gazettes; Vol.2. Calcutta: Military Orphan Press. Retrieved (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. 1844. Handbook of India: A Guide to the Stranger and Traveller and a Companion to the Resident. Calcutta: Hurkaru. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/handbookofindiag00stoc).

Thacker Spink. 1876. Bengal Directory, 1876. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.68578).

Welch, Anthony, and ors. 2009. Building for the Raj: Richard Roskell Bayne.
Canadian Art Review.Vol.34, No.2 (2009) (https://www.jstor.org/stable/42630806?read-now=1&loggedin=true&seq=10#page_scan_tab_contents)

হরিসাধন মুখোপাধ্যায়। ১৯১৫। কলিকাতা সেকালের ও একালের / Kalikata Sekaler O Ekaler / কোলকাতা। পি এম বাগচি (https://archive.org/details/Kalikata-Sekaler-O-Ekaler-Harisadhan-Mukhopadhyay#page/n0/mode/2up)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).