Thursday, 24 December 2015

A SHORT STORY BEHIND ASTOUNDING BENGAL



Five gentlemen of different age groups have certain common interest. By virtue of their profession, out of five, four were associated with daily Kolkata life and they have passion for this city and its colonial history. With their limited resources three of them have started reading about Kolkata from the old book-shelves of Kolkata libraries & web world of Internet, the fourth and fifth one has choose their photography skill to portray their passion. Though their curiosity was centered within the territory colonial Kolkata but gradually it moved toward other regions of Bengal of different historical, cultural significance.
None of them were historian but, four of them have nothing to do with professional historical studies, but they have common wave length to hear & tell the story of bygone era. Their common study indicates the history of Kolkata is only of just over three hundred (?) years (much younger than Delhi or Varanashi) but it would have been worthless to ignore eastern regions of Indian subcontinent. They further went on to explore the treasure of this prosperous part.

Their passion for colonial Kolkata and for other heritage structures of Bengal come into contact with a fresh idea of the youngest of their group Mr. Sritam Mukherjee, who is doing M.A in History from Jadavpur University. He wished to introduce a blend of history, heritage and the idea around folk culture. Gradually a cumulative idea of heritage, history and folk culture appeared as Astounding Bengal.

All of a sudden it appeared to them they can share their limited resources through Blog, share their story telling & lens-work with the world, in the process they may be enriched with more information.

If you feel anything to comment you can reach us.

ranadeep_chaudhuri@yahoo.co.in

Saturday, 21 November 2015

GOURIPUR HOUSE , KALIMPONG.




There are several memories of the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in Kalimpong. “Gouripur House” (which is located about 2kms from the town towards Durpin Hill) was Tagore’s favorite, and where he wrote some of his great verses, the house is currently not in a good state and requires restoration. Kabi-Guru Rabindranath Tagore had celebrated his 78th birthday in “Gouripur House” here in Kalimpong. He had composed a poem titled “Janmadin” on April 25, 1940 ( 25th. Baishak,1345) and had aired it live via on Telephone on All India Radio from “Gouripur House”, Kalimpong. That was the day when telephone service had first commenced in Town. Tagore used to stay at “Gouripur House” whenever he climbed up the hills during the hot season. 


“Gouripur” is a small district town of Mymensingh, now in Bangladesh. Rabindranath’s long association with Roy Chowdhury (erstwhile Zaminders of Gouripur dynasty) family since 1926, when he paid a visit   to Mymensingh,( now in Bangladesh). He stayed in Alexander Castle as a guest of Maharaja Shashikanta Acharya Chowdhury.  He first visited Kalimpong in 1938 and penned several of his classic poems including “Janmodin”, “Maya”, ”Upahar”, “Namkaran” and “Jalsansar”, among other eminent pieces. In the year 1941, Tagore fell seriously ill in Kalimpong and had to be rushed to Kolkata for his treatment. Later in the year Tagore died.




 The two-storied bungalow, owned by B. K. Roychowdhury of Kolkata is on a scenic hill, near here, and is surrounded by lots of greenery. The Roy-Chowdhury family has been looked after by three generations of a family. Brajendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury also a renowned classical music maestro. Leading classical masters of the sub-continent such as Enayet Khan (father of Ustad Bilayat Khan), Mohammad Ali Khan, Ustad Masid Khan, Ustad Uzir Khan, Hafiz Ali Khan performed at functions organized in “Gouripur”. Mymensingh, Bangladesh. Brajendra Kishores son Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury, a classical maestro was also adept at musical instruments like Surbahar,Esraj and Beena. Brajendra published a paper “Sangeet Bigyan Prabeshika” from Kolkata. He wrote two books on classical music- “The status of Tansen in Hindustan music” and “Raga Sangeet”.


Thick foliage has grown all over the house, the windows are broken and the interiors are in a bad shape too.  Even the approach road, which is a part of the property, had seen better years. The structure itself is on the verge of collapsing any time. The authentic date of its construction is unknown. It is established as summer residence of Roy Choudhury family. It was very unfortunate that “Gouripur House” was not a familiar name even among the local residents. Some portion of the house has been severely damaged during the earthquake in September 18th, 2011.


It is necessary to save “Gouripur House” as it is attached to the legacy of Tagore. It is the moral responsibility of the State Government to save Gouripur House. The structure must be accord heritage status. There is no dearth of tourists to the place even now. “Tourists keep coming here occasionally. Most of them go back with bitter-sweet memories of the place” said Sangita Sharma, who lives with her husband on the first floor of the bungalow. Her family has been the caretakers of the buildings for three generations now.





               Reasearch & Picture Courtesy - Santanu Roy.


Sunday, 14 June 2015

THE GREAT PHILANTHROPIST IN BENGAL


Born in a village in Scotland in the year 1775, David Hare was brought up as a watch-maker and in the year 1800, at the age of twenty-five, he come down to Kolkata. Watch making was undoubtly his business, but he was never engrossed in it. The study of the native society of Kolkata to which Hare had free access, was his main pre-occupation. He found a great friend Rammohan Roy, was intimately associated with his circle and his famous “Atmiya Sabha”, founded in 1815. From the progressive movements lunched under the leadership of Rammohan Roy- against the hoary superstitions, the monstrous super idolatry, the most inhuman custom of the sati (suttee) rite and in favors of the dissemination of the Western system of scientific education- David Hare drew his inspirations and discovered the mission of his life. In the crucial circumstances, watch maker David Hare was molded into an ardent educationist and a veteran Social reformer. His interest shifted from the intricate mechanism of watch to far more intricate mechanism of society, from the study of the mechanical “Time” to the study of the dynamics of humanity.

British rulers were not in the least concerned with the social and educational problems of India in the first phase of their imperialist adventures. The East India Company, for nearly half a century  after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, was almost completely occupied with the tusk of consolidating their power over the entire country. “Calcutta Madrasah” and “Benares Sanskrit College” was established in 1781 and 1792, for the sole purpose of bringing out a band of Pundits and Maulavis capable of interpreting native laws and customs in administrative and judicial matters. In 1800, the Fort William College of Kolkata was also established with the purpose of teaching Bengali language to young British Civilians.


 The need for the study of the Bengali language was keenly felt by the English Rulers. Halhed’s “A code of Gentoo Laws” (1776) and “A Grammar of the Bengali Language” (1778) were not sufficient for the purpose. Serious efforts must be made for the study of a language, William Carey rightly viewed the importance of the Bengali language in the preface to his “ A Grammar of the Bengali language” (1801) : “ Bengal, as a seat of the British Government in India, and a centre of a great port of the commerce of the east, must be viewed as a country of very great importance. Its soil is fertile, its population great, and the necessary intercourse subsisting between its inhabitants and those of other countries who visit its ports, is rapidly increasing. Knowledge of this country must therefore be a very desirable object.”


The introduction of modern education by the East India Company was primarily motivated by the political-administrative and economic needs of British imperialists. It had, therefore, its limitations. It could neither spread among the people, nor could its foundations be laid strongly on modern scientific basis. It is simply turning out English knowing Pundits, Maulavies and Bengali- Hindustani- knowing English civilians for filling up the administrative apparatus of the British rule. Raja Rammohan Roy was the pioneer of this modern education in India. But David Hare could equally and rightly claim to be a pioneer of modern education in this country.  And though by birth a native of Scotland,he could claim to be an Indian for his life-long social and educational activities and his intimate association with our countrymen.  None can deny his claims, distortion or ignorance of facts cannot minimize the role of Devid Hare as a promoter of modern education in this country.


In the year 1815, Raja Rammohan Roy entertained a few friends at his house and suggested the establishment of “Atmiya Sabha” for improving the moral conditions of the countrymen. The Raja was animated with a fervent desire to lift the society from the swamp of idolatry and superstations to a higher moral plane and he was convinced that the Brahma Sabha by preaching the Vedanta system of religion could serve his purpose. David Hare differed from his views and suggested as an amendment the establishment of a college. It was Hare’s considered opinion that education of native youths in Western Literature and Science would be a far more effective means of enlightening their understanding, without real education, and rational understanding of truth, no lasting moral improvement of society was possible. The proposal was of course, enthusiastically accepted by Rammohan. Mr. Hare himself soon after prepared a paper containing a paper containing proposals for the establishment of a collage and the paper was handed over to Sir Edward Hyde East. E. H. East offered his most cordial co-operation in the establishment of an institution “for the education of native youth”. Thus in 1817, The Hindu College was opened. David Hare was, therefore, the real originator and promoter of Hindoo College.


Mr. Hare’s educational activities did not end with the foundations of the Hindoo College in 1817, with the unique service he rendered to its progress as a visitor first and one of its Directors afterwards. He was closely associated with the “ School Book Society”., founded in 1817, for preparing  and publishing text books in English and Bengalee and the “School Society” founded in 1818, for establishing English and Bengali schools in Kolkata. In later life he did not find time to devote to his watch business and so he sold it to a friend named Mr. Grey and spent some of the money to buy a small house for himself and the rest for the development of the schools.


After a long life of activity he fell ill. He was attacked by cholera. One of his students Dr. Prasanna Kumar Mitra, tried his best but all efforts failed and Devid Hare died on 1st June,1842.
As news spread around the city, a fade of gloom spread over the city. The Christian missionaries refused to allot him land in their cemeteries, as they thought that he was a non-believer. He was buried in what was then the compound of Hare school-Presidency College that he had donated. The tomb, marked with a bust statue, currently falls within the College Square ( now named Vidyasagar Udyan) swimming pool, opposite to Hare School. According to Sivanath Sastri, “As his body was brought out of Mr. Gray’s house, thousands of people, some in vehicles, others on foot, followed it scene that was witnessed again. Right from Bowbazar crossing to Madhab Dutta’s bazaar( now Calcutta University campus), the entire road was flooded with people.” The road where he lived called Hare street (Nicco House) just off Binoy-Badal-Dinesh Bag (earlier Dalhousie Square). A life-size statue was build with public donations and placed in the compound of Hare School.



Sources : 1. “A Biographical Sketch of David Hare” by Peary Chand Mitra.
                2. “Ramtanu Lahiri O tatkalin Bangasamaj” by Sivanath Sastri.
                3. “David Hare and the beginnings of English Education in India” by
                     Jogesh Chandra Bagal.
                4. "Senate haller smitichitra" by Purnendu Patri.


         Research - Santanu Roy
                Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.


Saturday, 11 April 2015

BASHBERIA (Banshabati)



Bashberia is located in the Hooghly District of West Bengal, between Bandel and Tribeni. Bansberia is under Chinsurah and Mogra Police stations in Chinsurah division. Previously, it was included as a village in ancient “Saptagram”, an important port town in medieval Bengal. It served as a main port and commercial complex of the area. The Ancient place belongs to the age of Shah Jahan. It was captured by the Mughal dynasty and Raghab Datta Roy of Patuli was the Zamindar of the region. The name of the place has been derived from the myth that Raghab’s son Rameshwar built a fort here by clearing a bamboo grove.





Bashberia’s importance in pre-Muslim Bengal was religious, owing to its location at the Tribeni or confluence of three rivers (Ganga, Jamuna, and Saraswati). After Muslim occupation in the late 13th century (by Zafar Khan Gazi) it continues to be an important city under the Tughlaks, as a military base, and port. After the Mughal conquest of Bengal in the mid-16th century, the city started to decline due to the loss of royal patronage, but some areas such as Bansberia continued to prosper up to the 19th century, sponsored by semi-independent zamidars who built several temples in the area.





The 21-metre high five-storeyed Hangseshwari temple has 13 domes shaped like lotus buds. The structure has similarities with St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, which is also known as the onion dome church. The Hangseshwari temple was constructed in 1814 by the wife of Nrisinghaadeb (Rani Sankari), the grandson of Rameshwar. With its unique shape, it stands out among Bengal temples. An arched gateway leads to its sanctum sanctorum, where an idol of Hangseshwari is placed on a lotus.





The Hangseshwari temple is a five storied structure exhibiting a distinct architectural style. The temple was three “Minars” of the shape of a lotus bud and the inner designs resembles human anatomy. “Goddess Kali” was the presiding deity of the temple. Raja Nrisinhadeb Roy had initiated the construction of this temple which was completed by Rani Sankari, his wife in the year 1814. The Zamidari, Raja Rameshwar Dutta inherited was already quite wealthy based on earlier estates and sanads (imperial land grants). Rameshwar was further enriched by a sanad from the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, as well as the title of Raja. Besides the temple the remains of Duttaroy Palace are also located here. Fragments of arches and broken walls of the palace are still found around temple complex.





The large Vasudeva temple was built by Raja Rameshwar Dutta in 1679 to express his devotion to Vaishnavism. The temple is a large ek-ratna temple with triple arched entrances on each side and a sharply curving cornice. The octagonal turret is in a chala-style and with carved cornice. Raised on a low platform on the roof, the turret has single arches on each of its eight faces. All expect the east and west arches are false entrances.






 The main attraction in this village is two temples with intricate terracotta works that inspired Rabindranath Tagore. Moved by the art, the poet had asked Nandalal Bose to document the panels on the temple walls. Intricate terracotta carving on the walls of the temple show cases scenes of love, war, everyday life and gods. Especially the arch panels were filled with densely
packed figures from the great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as the Lilas of Krishna ( Krishnalila), juxtaposed with fascinating social courtly scenes. 




Sources :  1.  “Hoogly Jelar Itihas” by Sudhir Kumar Mitra.
                 2.  “ Paschimbanger Sanskriti ” by Binoy Ghosh.
                 3.  “ Rupmanjari” by Narayan Sannyal.


        Research  &  Picture Courtesy-  Santanu Roy
              




Tuesday, 17 February 2015

OLDEST SURVIVING MONUMENT IN BENGAL



According to Hindu mythology “Triveni Sangam” is the confluence of three rivers and the point of flowing together is treated as sacred place. Tribeni in Hoogly district in eastern Bengal is at the meeting of Bhagirathi-Hoogly, Jamuna and Saraswati River. The name of the town derived from the meeting of these three rivers. These three rivers are different from the river of same name in North India and several streams of the same name in the eastern Bengal.


Monuments in Tribeni which include Zafar Khan Gazi’s mosque and tomb are considered to be the earliest surviving monuments of Muslims in Bengal. Tribeni a small riverside village in the district of Hoogly, was one of the earliest Muslim settlements in Bengal. From their base here, the Muslims pressed inland and established control over a wide area between Burdwan and Hoogly. The mosque of Zafar Khan Ghazi bears the Arabic chronogram 1298, but several later inscriptions can also be found which suggest that the mosque was remodeled over time, although the simple rectangular plan is probably original.


 The influential phase of Muslim architecture in Bengal began in the later part of the 13 century in the monuments of the newly conquered regions of Tribeni, Chhoto Pandua and Satgaon in the District of Hoogly. Tribeni, an important centre of Hindu culture was conquered by Zafar Khan Gazi. Zafar Khan was the military commander of the region during the governorship of Ruknuddin Kaikaus (A.D.1292-1302). The masjid, build in 1298 within a century of Delhi Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak’s (of Qutb Minar fame) military general Md. Bhaktiyar Khilji’a take over Bengal in 1204.



The Archaeological Survey of India has done a fabulous job for rehabilitating what were once ruins. The tomb was probably used as a Madrasa or Muslim centre for learning.The stone inscription in Arabic calligraphy reads: (according to an inscription dated A.H.698/A.D. ) “ Zafar Khan, the lion of lions, has appeared, by conquering the towns of India in every expedition, and by restoring the decayed charitable institutions. And he has destroyed the obdurate among infidels with his sword and spear, and lavished the treasures of his wealth in (helping) the miserable.”


 The Mosque of Zafar Khan Ghazi is the earliest known example of Mosque architecture in Bengal, and “ is certainly the oldest in Bengal”. Marking the earliest phase of Muslim  building activities, it incorporates fragments of non-Muslim monuments. R.D.Banerjee is of opinion that “the mosque of Tribeni was most probably a Vaishnava temple.” Unmistakable Hindu workmanship is evident in the mutilated figures in some of the architectural fragments used a phenomenon to be observed in the Zafar Khan Mosque. 




Joseph David Beglar wrote in his report for the Archaeological Survey of India (1872-73) that the tomb had been built using material taken from Hindu temples. “The temple….must have been of the style of the beautiful and profusely temples… which are ornamented internally throughout with scenes from the Ramayana and others.” The list of Ancient Monuments in Bengal (1896) says of this building, “The building is oblong, containing two nearly square chambers, each about 30 feet in length and breadth…there is no doubt that many of the material are of Hindu workmanship, as numerous stones, especially those which form the lintels and doorposts, are covered with carvings representing living creatures.” 

 “There are five mihrabs in the qibla wall, the most striking being the central one. Tastefully carved multifoil brick arch of the central mihrab is supported by slender stone pillars of some Hindu temple. The predominant motif of terracotta art in the mihrab is an interwoven and swinging creeper imitated undoubtedly from the luxurious plant life of Bengal. The qibla wall is beautifully decorated by well-proportioned rectangular panels neatly carved with floral designs.”


 

In some form or the other, this monument presents a significant change from the stone post-and-lintel temples belonging to the Pala-Senas to the brick dome-and-arch strictures which are favored by most of the Bengali Muslim rulers. The bases and stone columns used here to provide support to the sandstone and brick arches and domes are possibly reused from temples. 

A few yards to the east of the mosque, outside an open country-yard, are two square rooms arrayed east-west adjacent to each other. The western room holds two graves: Zafar Khan Ghazi, his wife and two sons, while the eastern room exhibiting four graves placed on a masonry platform, consists of Gazi’s third son and grandsons. The walls are constructed by using old temple materials including rectangular stone pieces while the rooms do not possess any roof. The western room’s northern door is constructed by using Hindu frame as evident from the carved Hindu figures while the eastern room exhibits sculptured scenes linked to the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Several other stone sculptures are there, which are fixed at the other face of the plinth.

It is surprising to notice that the structures neither conform to a Muslim tomb nor a Hindu temple. It can thus be assumed that the structure was constructed on a temporary plan by using reshuffled temple materials. The unsettled form of occupation of the region by the Muslims of the period adheres to this suggestion.


Sources:
1.    “Pre-Mughal Mosques of Bengal” by M. M. Chakraborty. New Series, Vol.VI.
2.    “Indo-Muslim Architecture in Bengal” by S.K. Saraswati. Vol. IX.1941.
3.    “An Account of the temple of Triveni near Hughli” by D. Money.
4.    “Indian Architecture (Islamic Period)” by P. Brown.
5.    “Revised List of Ancient Monuments in Bengal” A.S.I.1987.
6.    “Bengal District Gazetteer” Hooghly, L.S.S.O’Malley.
7.    “ASI Bengal Report” 1888, by J.D. Beglar.


 Research & Picture Courtesy - Santanu Roy.