Bengal National College, Calcutta, 1906

SubodhmullickHouse12WellingtonSq

PLACE OF ORIGIN

বঙ্গীয় জাতীয় মহাবিদ্বালয়, কলকাতা, ১৯০৬

The urge for setting up an institution that would impart education along nationalist lines was strongly felt by the early 20th century intelligentsia when Bengal was torn apart by the Curzon administration to reinforce British dominance politically and culturally. Backed by the Universities Act of 1904 the Calcutta University Senate and Syndicate were reshuffled co-opting more white members to ensure sufficient government control in policy making. The government also decided to disaffiliate certain new private colleges, which were looked upon by them as hotbeds of nationalist agitation. These offensive measures of the then Government frustrated the sentiment of educated middle class and incited a move for alternative systems of education.

A protest meeting was organized on November 5, 1905 under the auspices of the Dawn Society of Satish Chandra Mukherjee. The meeting was addressed by Rabindranath, Satish Chandra Mukherjee and Hirendranath Datta urging the students to severe all connections with the Government controlled university.
On November 9, a mass meeting was held at the Field and Academy Club. In that meeting it was decided that if it is the aim of the British government to destroy the freedom movement and if they exert such tyranny and oppression on young students, the people of the country would establish a national university. Subodh Chandra Mullick pledged a donation of one lakh Rupees.

Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick

Many others came forward to donate generously for the cause, including some native kings and princes and other like-minded dignitaries like Brojendra Kishore Roy Choudhury, Maharaja Suryya Kanto Acharya Choudhury. Leaders like Chitta Ranjan Das, Bipin Pal, Ramendrasundar Trivedi began to address Subodh Chandra as the ‘Raja’. Rabindranath congratulated the endeavour saying that after a long time, the Bengalis received a gift. Subodh Chandra’s contribution to the nationalist education movement seems however far greater than the sum he donated. He committed to establishing nationalist university even before its idea mooted, played a critical role in designing the institution incognito, and remained a part of its history ever since.

To challenge the British rule over education a huge meeting was sponsored by the Landholders’ Society at Park Street on November 16, 1905, attended by around 1500 delegates together with Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghosh, Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick and Brajendra Kishore Roychowdhury.

Bengal National College-191_bowbazar_streetxtr2x

191/1 Bowbazar Street where BNC held its classes

Minutes. Exec Committee Meeting July 21, 1906

On 11th March, 1906, the National Council of Education, Bengal, or Jatiyo Siksha Parishad was founded to provide a platform for ‘a system of education – literary, scientific & technical – on national lines & under national control’ following a declaration made in a meeting held in Bengal Landholders’ Association. With Dr. Rashbehari Ghosh as the president, plans were afoot to establish a national college & school in Calcutta. In a public meeting, held on the 14th August, 1906 at the Town Hall, the Bengal National College & School was inaugurated.
The institution started to work from 15th August, 1906 in a rented house on 191/1, Bowbazar Street with Sri Aurobindo Ghosh as Principal and Sri Satish Chandra Mukherjee as an Hony. Superintendent. The institution had four departments – Literary, Scientific, Technical & Commercial. Scholars like Sakhram Ganesh Deuskar, Radhakumud Mukhopadhyay, Binay Sarkar, Khirode Prasad Vidyabinode voluntarily agreed to serve this new university. Rabindranath agreed to lecture on literature, Ananda Coomaraswamy on Oriental Art, Sir Gurudas Bandyopadhyay on Mathematics, Hirendranath Dutta on Upanishads.

The same time, another nationalist body, the Society for Promotion of Technical Education in Bengal, was set up with contending ideas by Taroknath Palit under patronage of Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandy, Bhupendra Nath Bose, Nilratan Sircar and others who laid stress on the technical education alone. Under its management the Bengal Technical Institute was establish on July 25, 1906 with the objectives of spreading technical education among the masses.
In 1910 the two societies merged. The two colleges were virtually the faculties of “Humanities and Science” and of “Technology” of the National Council of Education. Several national schools also were founded in this period at different places in Bengal. Even after the merger, it was painfully observed that ‘not a student cared to come for a literary and scientific instructions along national lines’ See S. N. Sen

Sri Aurobindo Ghosh 1908

Sri Aurobindo clinically analyzed the conditions that failed the nationalist education movement originated in 1905. Some of the major causes of its collapse he pointed out were given here in a nutshell. To the majority of Council members, he thought, Nationalist Education was merely an interesting academic experiment, and regarded it merely as the ladder by which they climb and busy trying to kick it down. To others the only valuable part of it was the technical instruction given in its workshops. They really were shutting off the steam, yet expect the locomotive to go on. He also stressed on the unrealistic approach of its planning and designing. Curriculum of the Council is extraordinarily elaborate and expensive, as it was on the vicious Western system of driving many subjects at a time, serving as ‘a brain-killing and life-shortening machine’. See Sri Aurobindo –

The institution had many ups and downs in its struggling history before being reincarnated in the form of the present-day Jadavpur University.

The photograph featured at the top shows the house of Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick, at 12 Wellington Square. This was where the idea of national university in nationalist line was seeded and grown into Bengal National College with the initiative and care of Subodh Chandra and Aurobindo who stayed with him as his honourable guest. When he served as the Principal, Aurobindo would go from the Bengal National College to the evening gathering at this house to exchange views and plans in nationalist line.

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St James Theatre, Circular Road, Calcutta, 1871

stJamesTheatre(1871)
সেন্ট জেমস থিয়েটার, সার্কুলার রোড, কলকাতা, c১৮৬০
Before the Saturday Club came into existence in 1875, the members of European communities depend for their dancing on the fornightly assembly balls at the Town Hall, or private dance parties. The Town Hall also used to hold concerts mainly given by amateurs, occasionally assisted by professionals, but there were no professional theatricals. The demand for this kind of entertainment was filled by the Calcutta Amateur Theatrical Society (CATS), which used to give about six productions during the cold weather season. In their amateur performances there were no actresses. All the ladies’ parts were taken by young boys. At first for their performances, CATS were given on the ground floor of where the Saturday Club now is, but after a time this was not found satisfactory. Then one of its most enthusiastic members, “Jimmy” Brown, who was a partner in a firm of jewelers, carried through a scheme for building CATS’ own theatre – the St James Theatre. The St James Theatre was erected, presumably around 1860, in Circular Road at the corner of Hungerford Street by Jimmy Brown, who at a cost of Rs. 30,000. Here CATS carried on until in the great cyclone of 1864 the roof was blown off and the building seriously damaged.StJamesTheatre-remains
Montague Massey in his Recollections wrote the end story after the St James Theatre was destroyed. “We had, therefore, to move again, and went to where Peliti’s is now, which was then occupied as a shop. After one season there, we were temporarily located in a theatre built in the old Tivoli Gardens, opposite La Martinière. The “CATS,” as we used to be designated, was a very old institution, and had been in existence some time before I joined up. They were very ably and energetically managed by Mr. G.H. Cable, assisted by Mrs. Cable, the father and mother of the present Sir Ernest Cable. They were affectionately and familiarly known among us all as the “Old Party and the Mem Sahib.” He used to cast all the characters and coach us up in our parts, attend rehearsals, and on the nights of the performance was always on the spot to give us confidence and encouragement when we went on the stage, while Mrs. Cable was invaluable, more particularly to the “ladies” of the company. She chose the material for the gowns, designed the style and cut, tried them on, and saw that we were properly and immaculately turned out to the smallest detail”.
English Opera Rose Of Castile at St James’s Theatre. Calcutta, 1871. Artist unknown. Published in Grapghic: an illustrated newspaper, [1871]

Old Court House, Tank Square, c1760-1774

writersBuildings_Danniel_1786পুরনো আদালত ভবন, ট্যাঙ্ক স্কোয়ার, কলকাতা, c১৭৬০-১৭৭৪
The first Mayor’s Court was established in the Presidency Town of Calcutta in 1728 that started functioning at the Ambassador House belonging to the East India Company. The Court House stood at the corner of Lalbazar and Mission Row. That site was occupied later by Martin Burn and Company’s Building. In 1732, the Mayor’s Court moved to the premises of Charity School, which was subsequently known as the Free School. As seen in the picture the Old Court House – the two storied building with its Ionic columns and an urn-topped balustrade – stands on the right. It occupied the site of St. Andrew’s Church by the side of the Writers’ Buildings. This building also served as the Town Hall of Calcutta at one time. See The Court House which Mr. Bourchier built was in 1762 greatly enlarged by the addition of verandahs, an additional saloon with a rooms as well as a dancing-saloon “in order that it might be used as an Exchange, Post Office, Quarter-Sessions Office, public entertainments, and Assembly rooms. For over thirty years the Old Court House was the scene of most of the public entertainments, and assembly balls. Towards the close of the century society had begun to break up into classes, subscription assemblies went out of fashion, and the old house became unsafe. The building was pull down in 1792.

Coloured etching with aquatint of the Old Court House and Writers Buildings in Calcutta by Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) no. 2 of his ‘Views of Calcutta’ published in 1786. This view is taken from the north side of Tank Square and looks towards the old Fort.

Town Hall, Calcutta,1813

TownHallinCalcuttaকলকাতা টাউন হল, ১৮১৩
Kolkata Town Hall was built 1813 by the architect Col. John Garstin, then the Chief Engineer of Calcutta. The cost of the construction was raised through a public lottery. The Roman Doric style two-storied building, which stood in a rectangular block with two porticos, supported by rows of pillars had suddenly became the centre-piece of attraction. The Town Hall remained in charge of the Government till 1864. Later that year, the charge was transferred to the Justices of the Peace.
The Town Hall is situated in Esplanade Row beside Wellesley’s Government House at 4 Esplanade Row (west). The Town Hall was used for meetings, official public functions, and entertainments that had previously been held either at the Old Court House, or at the Harmonica Tavern.

Uncoloured lithograph of The Town Hall in Calcutta by Frederick Fiebig dated c.1847.