Thursday, 20 November 2014

Serampore Rajbari

Exactly how rich were the Goswamis of Serampore? Sample this. When the Danes, finding their factory in Serampore to be a losing concern, were looking for someone to sell their title of Serampore to, Raghuram Goswami offered to purchase it for the sum of Rs. 11,00,000! However the Danes found this sum to be inadequate and ultimately sold their possessions to the East India Company in 1845, for 12,00,000. The Goswamis of Serampore, are the descendants of one of the five Brahmin families whom Adisur, King of Gaur had invited to settle in Bengal, with gifts of land and monies, for the propagation of knowledge. One of his descendants was Lakshman Chakravarty. Lakshman was married to the daughter of Achyut Goswami, son of Advaitacharya Goswami, an ardent disciple of Sri Chaitanya. Lakshman settled in Shantipur, with Achyut’s family, and out of their marriage was born a son, Ramgobinda, who took on his mother’s maiden name, Goswami. It was Ramgobinda’s son, Radhakanta, who settled in Serampore. His grandson was Raghuram Goswami.

Serampore Rajbari South Block

Finding far too much fragmentation of his original property in Goswamipara, Raghuram left, to build a house for himself and his children and it was thus that the giant mansion known today to locals as “Serampore Rajbari” came up, sometime between 1815 and 1820, during or shortly after the construction of Serampore College. Although it is called Rajbari, author Kanailal Goswami, himself of the family in question, says that it would be more accurate to call it the “Thakurbari”, since a portion of it was made debottar property. Once the house had been completed, the family deities, Radhamadhav Jiu (antiquated form of “Ji”, the suffix of respect) and Gopalji were transferred there. To this was added an “ashtadhatu” (eight metal) idol of Radharani by Raghuram’s son, Gopikrishna. These three idols adorn the family altar to this day.

Serampore Rajbari North Block
The house remains standing, though it has clearly seen better days. While it appears on the outside to be two separate blocks, these blocks were infact connected by an intricate network of passages before walls were erected to separate the sections for brothers. On the South is the portion that was probably originally allotted to Hemchandra Goswami. This two storied structure is now used both as a residence, as well as being hired out for marriage receptions, as well as other social functions. The more magnificent section is the one on the North, with its driveway, ionic columns and cast iron gates. This is the portion of the house that was turned into debottar property. It is still used as a residential property today. A board announces that a portion of the house is used by the Government as a “Child Guidance Centre”.

The Chandni. Note collapsed roof section
Inside, the most striking feature is the “Chandni”, or “Naatmandir”, a covered courtyard, measuring 120 feet by 30 feet. This spot was originally a tank from which water was drawn for domestic consumption. Unfortunately, Raghuram’s oldest son, Atmaram, drowned while swimming in that tank, at the age of 5. This accident caused Raghuram to have the tank filled up, and the Chandni was constructed. 24 Corinthian columns, 32 feet in height and 5 feet in diameter were raised to support the roof. The floor was covered in Chunar stone. For the rafters and beams on the roof, Sal wood was brought from Nepal. The Chandni was used for festive occasions, such as Holi, for marriages, receptions and social gatherings and even for staging plays. On the occasion of Durga Puja, the Chandni was the venue for feeding 500 people at a time, seated in long rows. Unfortunately, the Chandni is now decaying due to lack of maintenance. The gutters on the roof must have been clogged with mud for quite a while, leading to rainwater collecting on the roof, seeping through and slowly weakening it. When I visited, I found a section of the roof had collapsed, and the interior of the Chandni had been fenced off. One of the pillars was completely covered in moss.

The Thakur Dalan. Note metal stands for lights

Serampore Rajbari North Block driveway


Kishorilal's Rajbari
Raghuram’s son, Gopikrishna had five sons. The eldest among them, Krishnalal had a falling out with his father, and was disinherited as a result. The remaining four brothers, Nandalal, Kishorilal, Rajendralal and Radhikalal continued to live in this house as a joint family, until the death of Nandalal in 1908, caused family unity to disintegrate. Kishorilal had probably anticipated this, and had begun construction of a palatial residence on the river bank at the cost of Rs. 1,50,000. The property was protected by a formidable wall right from the river bed that afforded it an attractive river frontage, and made it possible to lay out a large garden. To this house, he moved his branch of the family in 1910. This building too is still standing, and in use, and is in far better shape than Raghuram’s original Rajbari.

-          by Deepanjan Ghosh



I am grateful to Supratim Chowdhury for being my guide around Serampore


From Frederiksnagore to Serampore: Recollection of the Past – Kanai Lal Goswami

Saturday, 15 November 2014

St. Stephen's Church, Diamond Harbour Road

We call it “the rocket Church”. I mean come one! How can you not? Take a good look. That unique looking steeple, that looks like the body of a rocket, complete with nose cone, and on both sides of the entrance, you see the way the walls are sloping? That looks like tail fins, right? The books say that the Church is typically Gothic in architecture, and that steeple, while unique, was never meant to look like a rocket. It was meant to look like a ship’s lantern from the old days. The reason why a Church with a steeple like a ship’s lantern is located on Diamond Harbour Road is simple enough to understand. The Kidderpore docks are nearby, and therefore, this area would have been filled with seafaring people. This would have been the first Church anyone would see when travelling East towards the city after disembarking from a ship. Located on 3, Diamond Harbour Road, St. Stephen’s Church is right next to the St. Thomas Boys’ School, but must be entered through the somewhat chaotic lanes of the Kidderpore Bazaar.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Radhanath Temple, Mondal Temple Lane

The temple as seen from a neighbour's rooftop
A little less than 30 kilometers to the South West of the city of Calcutta, is the village of Bawali. During the Mughal era, Raja Ram Mondal received from the emperor a royal charter granting him full control over fifteen villages (the East India company, in contrast, began with three). Thus began the story of the Bawali Raj family. Sometime in the eighteenth century, Robert Clive invited the Mondals to come and settle in Calcutta. In response, Ramnath and Manick Mondal moved into the area known today as Chetla, and settled by the banks of what was then the Adi Ganga; today’s Tolly Canal.

The family deity of the Mondals was Lord Krishna, and the temples that they constructed in the area, are to his various manifestations. The largest and most spectacular of them still exists, on the road named after it. Approaching the Radhanath Temple of Mondal Temple Lane can be somewhat tricky. If you’re coming from Tollygunge Phari, once you cross the bridge over the Tolly Canal, the second turn on your right is Chetla Road, but right turns into the lane are prohibited before 1pm, and therefore it is simpler to take the next right turn, a serpentine lane that connects with Mondal Temple Lane. Turn right at the T Junction, and keep a lookout to your left. The huge temple, located near the crossing of Mondal Temple Lane and Chetla Road, is easily visible even through the jigsaw of modern buildings.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Turner Morrison & Co., Lyon's Range

The whole reason Calcutta developed into what she is today, was shipping. There are those who deny the role of the British in the formation of the city, or those who say that Charnock’s landing here could not possibly mark the birth of the city. But even such people agree, and the historic evidence is difficult to refute, that this part of the world was fairly active in trading, especially in textiles. The village of Sutanuti, some say got its name from the yarn, or suta, that was spun and sold from here, to European and other ships, which would venture up the Hooghly. During the British era, the imperial capital was the largest and most important port in the East of India, and many of the shipping companies that operated then, are still active today. Among them is Turner Morrison.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Neveh Shalome Synagogue, Brabourne Road

…Velvet curtains in rich dark hues and embroidered in gold and silver, some with Hebrew lettering, hung down in rows from the ladies’ gallery. Glittering chandeliers shone down on a sea of heads wearing different coloured skull caps and swathed in prayer shawls, chanting and responding in unison to the Hazzan, a venerable king on the central dias…after hearing the Kol Nidre, I went home happy to be a Jew…

Sally Solomon, Hooghly Tales

Monday, 20 October 2014

Hastings Chapel, Clyde Road

Me and my friend Amartya were on one of our Sunday morning rounds of the city when we stumbled upon Hastings Chapel. We do this almost every Sunday, walking the streets of Calcutta, with our cameras, photographing heritage buildings, and often discovering things that we never knew about. This was one of those things.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Jewish Cemetery, Narkeldanga Main Road

“…Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, and thine eyes shall look, and fail with longing for them all the day long: and there shall be no might in thine hand.

The fruit of thy land, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed…”

Deuteronomy 28:32-33

Such were the terrible curses that would befall the Jews if they ever strayed from the path of the Almighty. In reality, first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians and finally the Romans forced the Jews from their lands, and they wandered the earth, for many years a stateless people. With their pragmatic and business oriented approach to life, they prospered wherever they went, but I wonder how many of the Jews who came to India from Aleppo in Syria, Isfahan in Iran and of course, Baghdad in Iraq, ever imagined that their mortal remains would be interred in a place called Narkeldanga.