Monday, 8 February 2016

Hooghly Imambara

Around 60 km to the North of Calcutta (Kolkata), in the Hooghly-Chinsura municipality may be found the magnificent Hooghly Imambara. An Imambara, also referred to as a Hussainia, an Ashurkhana or Imambargah, is a congregation hall for Shia commemoration ceremonies, especially those associated with the remembrance of Muharram. The Hooghly Imambara functions as both a Mosque and an Imambara. With its striking 80 feet tall towers above the main gate, it is the principal tourist attraction of the area. Although the Hooghly Imambara is associated with Haji Md. Mohsin, the original Imambara existed long before he had the present one constructed.


Monday, 1 February 2016

Bibi Ka Maqbara, Aurangabad

The Bibi Ka Maqbara is the chief tourist attraction of Aurangabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra, although technically it lies just outside the city. Due to its resemblance to the Taj Mahal in Agra, it is called the Taj of the Deccan or even unflattering names like “poor man’s Taj Mahal” or “duplicate Taj Mahal”. But the Bibi ka Maqbara is, in fact, an original design; “the last in a distinguished lineage of Timurid inspired imperial Mughal mausoleums”, the earliest example of which would be Humayun’s tomb in Delhi, which was constructed 100 years earlier.


Monday, 25 January 2016

Garia Rajbari, South 24 Parganas

I have been staring at the Garia Rajbari of South Garia for years without knowing what it was. You see, every year, before the Kali Puja festival, a bunch of my friends and I travel to the firecracker market of Champahati and we pass a crossing known as China More or Cheenar More (more being Bengali for crossing or crossroads), and right there, next to a pond, stands this palatial building. Last winter, I carried my camera with me and managed to take a shot. When I asked around in the local market, a shopkeeper told me that this was the house of someone called Durgadas Banerjee. A google search threw up the following information…

Durgadas Bannerjee (1893-1943)

Major Bengali actor in Calcutta Theatres. Born in Kalikapur, 24 Parganas District. Introduced to film by Sisir Bhaduri (Taj Mahal Film) in 1922. From his first major film, Maanbhanjan, until the late 30s, he was the definitive Bengali screen hero.

I get it, actors are rich people, and they can have large houses, but why here? Surely it would make more sense for someone who worked in the studios in Tollygunge, to have a house in Calcutta (Kolkata)? And the house certainly does not look like it was built in Durgadas’s lifetime. So I returned, armed with a camera, and with my friend Ranajit, determined to get to the bottom of this. What I found was completely new to me. As it turns out, Garia Rajbari is the ancestral home of actor Durgadas Banerjee, politician Bijoy Banerjee (who served as speaker of the Bengal Legislative Assembly) and musician Sudipto “Buti” Banerjee of Bengali rock band, Cactus!


Monday, 18 January 2016

Duff College (Jorabagan Police Station), Nimtala Ghat Street

I'm standing on Calcutta’s (Kolkata) Nimtala Ghat Street taking photographs of the building known as Duff College (now Jorabagan Police Station) when suddenly I hear a voice behind me say, “I see you've found our heritage forest”. The cheeky humour and sarcasm, as well as the voice itself, make me turn around. This is the voice of a man who is used to commanding people. The only equivalent that comes to mind is Bengali actor Kamal Mitra whose portrayal of tough father-in-law characters would make people quake in their boots. The source of the voice turns out to be advocate and author Guru Biswas. “You should upload this photograph with the caption, Is this a heritage forest?”, he chuckles, and he isn't very wrong. The building is completely overgrown with weeds and trees making it impossible to get a clear shot. Mr. Biswas takes me inside the Jorabagan Police Station, which now occupies a modern building behind Duff College, and I manage to get a few shots of the northern side of the building as well. But ever since I saw photographs of this building in INTACH’s book on Calcutta’s built heritage, I have wanted to find out exactly what this massive structure was, and how it was connected to Scottish Missionary Alexander Duff. Let us begin with Duff himself.


Monday, 11 January 2016

Niyamatullah Ghat Masjid, Nimtala Ghat Street

The Niyamatullah Ghat Masjid stands on Calcutta’s (Kolkata) Nimtala Ghat Street. Notice something curious there? Nimtala and Niyamatullah sound rather similar don’t they? That is what originally sparked my interest in this mosque. So who was Niyamatullah and why is a mosque named after him? And how did the area come to be known as Nimtala? As it turns out, several stories intersect at this one location.


Monday, 4 January 2016

Photo Feature: Chandi Mela, Behala

Behala’s famous 10 day annual fair, known as Chandi Mela , known as Chandi Mela is held in the winter of every year at the Sakher Bazar crossing of Behala, in South Calcutta (Kolkata). Stalls are generally set up in the lanes to the west of Diamond Harbour Road at Sakher Bazar and take up the better part of an entire municipal ward. To my mind, there are two things which make this fair unique. First is the fact that it is not limited to an open ground and spills out on the streets, and the second, the fact that in the middle of a modern metropolis, Chandi Mela offers all the attractions, sights, sounds and smells of a rustic village fair. The fair gets its name from the Chandi Puja (worship of the Hindu Goddess Chandi, another incarnation of Goddess Durga) which was started by Mahesh Chandra Ray Choudhury, of the Sabarna Ray Choudhury family, in 1792.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Sea Ip Church (Chinese Temple), Tiretta Bazar

At 22/1 Chattawala Gully, in Calcutta’s (Kolkata) old Chinatown stands the Chinese temple known as the Sea Ip Church. It is one of the many temples built by the city’s Chinese community which has been settling in this part of town since the early 19th century. The Sea Ip Church is one of 6 Chinese temples in the area, and one of the most active, with Chinese families still worshipping in the old way. But if you were to ask anyone in Calcutta today about Chinatown, they would tell you about a very different area called Tangra. This part of Central Calcutta (Kolkata) now goes by the name “Poddar Court”. So what are so many Chinese temples doing here?