NABARATNA TEMPLE OF GOBINDRAM MITTER

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

নবরত্ন কালী মন্দির। চিৎপুর। কলিকাতা। ১৭৩০/১৭৩১

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

REFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Old Calcutta Mints, Calcutta, 1757 –

calcutta minxt
পুর্বাতন কলকাতা ট্যাঁকশাল, কলকাতা, ১৭৫৭ –

Before 1757 the East India Company had no right to its own mint. Therefore to obtain current coin it had to send its silver and gold to the Murshidabad Mint and pay the standard duties and charges. This was not a favourable arrangement for the Company as these often caused delays in obtaining needed coin, and more importantly, the situation allowed the Seths at Murshibad to take business advantages over the Company’s deal with Murshidabad mint. Robert Clive after recapturing Calcutta and overpowering Nawab of Bengal made the stipulations in the subsequent treaty between the East India Company and the Nawab that the Company to have its own mint where gold and silver coins struck on the standard of the Murshidabad mint could be made.

The First Mint
Holwel's Monument - Calcutta (Kolkata) c1910The first East India Company’s mint was located in a building next to the Black Hole in the old fort – where the General Post Office stands today. The above photograph of Holwell Monument shows a rare view of an unidentified building standing near about the indicated spot at the opposite side of the then Writers’ Buildings. (No details of the photograph. Source: Recoolections of Calcutta … by Montegue Massey, 1919) The Calcutta mint made changes to the mint’s name struck on its coins. Its first issues, from April 1757, bore the mint name A’linagar Kalkatta; then from July simply Kalkutta. However, once the East India Company were appointed Diwan of Bengal in 1765 their mint at Calcutta began to use the name of the capital, Murshidabad, making its coins identical in every way to those from Murshidabad itself. Confusion in identifying the mint for a particular coin remains until 1777 when the mint at Murshidabad was closed and for a time the Calcutta mint was the only mint in operation.

The Second Mint
The second Calcutta Mint was established with the modern machinery brought in 1790 from England. The second Mint was located at the Bankshall, opposite to the western entrance of St John’s Church. It was on the site of Gillet Ship building Establishment, one of the docks from which several good ships were launched. The Governor General arranged for two Bengal Army engineers, Lieutenants Golding and Humphries, to superintend the construction of the machinery for the Calcutta mint and other mints to be established. New minting machinery, still based on the hand operated screw principle, was developed locally. Some years later, when the Calcutta Mint was removed from the Gillet’s dockyard, in 1829, to the New Mint, which had been built on the Strand, the Old Mint passed into the hands of Messrs. Moran & Co., indigo brokers. Long years afterwards, when this firm relocated to Mango Lane, they carried with them the well-known designation of The Old Mint Mart, to become a puzzle to later students of local topography. See Blechynden

The Third Mint
In March 1824 the third Calcutta Mint, better known today as Old Silver Mint, was founded, ready with over 300 tons of equipment freshly arrived from England in October 1823. The mint was to be built on a piece of water-logged land owned by the East India Company near a quay on the Hooghly. The new silver rupee that was being struck at the new mint in 1830 to go into circulation in January 1831.. The imposing frontage of the building of the third Mint was based on a design oMint, Burduan Raja's Bazar -Prinsep-2f Parthenon, the Greek Temple, stood on the Strand Road just beyond the highest spot of ground in Calcutta, the point where Cotton Street meets Clive Street. It is revealed from the William Prinsep’s scribbles on the pen & pencil image he drawn in c.1832, that the mint location was actually Burdwan Raja’s Bazar as the place was then called. The mint was opened for production from 1 August 1829.
In 1860 a new set of mint buildings was begun in the north of the Calcutta Mint grounds. It was known as the Copper Mint and began operation in April 1865. However demand for copper coin was not sufficient at that time to require a separate minting facility so it was moth-balled from 1866 until 1878. From 1889 until 1923 the Calcutta Copper Mint provided all copper and bronze coins for India. The coinage production capacity then was varying between 3,00,000 to 6,00,000 pieces per day. The silver and copper mints both used to function and produce coins of bronze, silver and gold.
CalcuttaMintWorkers The oil on panel painting by Arthur William Devis dated c.1792 describes assayer at work in the Calcutta Mint. Courtesy: The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. Between 1916 and 1918 on account of World War I, the Calcutta mint was employed producing bronze penny and ½ penny coins for Australia; prior to that these denominations had been struck in Britain. At the end of the war the master tools from Calcutta were sent to the Melbourne Branch of the Royal Mint where they were used to produce the first bronze coin struck in Australia in 1919. Apart from minting of coins another important function of the Kolkata Mint was the manufacturing of medals and decorations during the British regime. The production of medals continues to this day.

After the Government of India Mint at Alipore was opened on 19 March 1952, the building of the Old Silver Mint fell into disrepair and neglect. There are currently plans to restore the building and open it as a museum.

Find more historical data and illustrations of Murshidabad and Calcutta coinage here.

The view of the Calcutta Silver Mint featured at the top was painted in watercolour by Thomas Prinsep in 1829. Courtesy: Caroline Simpson Collection