Friday, 16 December 2016

AN UNIQUE LANDMARK OF PATNA, BIHAR

Any tourist visiting Patna has been directed by Guide Book or his / her local contact to visit Golghar at Fraser Road. Fraser Road is a busy connection in between Patna Central Railway Station and the lungs of Patna, Gandhi Maidan. The name suggests it is a round storage house of food grains (abbreviation of Gola Ghar).  


For centuries, its feature has mesmerized visitor for its huge scale & unique shape.

On a cloudy July morning when we were in front of this structure, we found the restoration work of this century old structure is under implementation, the access staircases of the structures are prohibited for any visitor.

It is a huge Brick Made dome having internal width of 125 m at bottom, and a total height of 29 m. The thickness of wall at base is 3.6 m. This masonry structure does not have any concrete beam column frame.  It has a small door at the bottom & one circular opening at the top of the dome. This top opening can be approached by two spiral staircases (145 steps each) erected on the outside surface of the main structure.

 
 GOLGHAR AT PATNA ON JULY 2016 UNDER RESTORATION DRIVE

At first instance, it seems to be a futuristic structure right from a Hollywood script of a science-fiction movie. The oldness of the structure is quite evident by naked eye.

Bishop Heber (visit to Patna in 1824) mentioned the structure in Biblical term “the old prints of Tower of Babel”.In 1844 Fanny Park while describing Patna touched about this very structure. Bholanath Chunder elaborated this Golghar in his“Travel of a Hindu”(Published- 1869).



Was the designer inspired from the shape of beehive? Was it a replica of old Buddhist Stupa? Was it a mammoth scaling of the private golas of Bengal-farmers (inhabitant of sube Bangla of Moghul era, modern-day West Bengal, Bihar, Bangladesh & Orissa)? When was it built?

All of those questions may be answered from the two plaques inserted on the wall of this huge dome, one in Persian (?) & the other one was in English.


THE ENGRAVING IN ENGLISH AT GOLGHAR WALL
The English stone engrave run like this:
No. I
In the part of a General Plan
Ordered by the Governor General and Council
20th of January 1784
For the perpetual prevention of Famine
In these province
THIS GRANARY
Was erected by Captain John Garstin Engineer
Completed on the 20th of July 1786
First filled & publicly closed by--------

The nascent British Administration of India assigned Captain John Garstin to erect itas the very first Government Granary in 1784. Garstin designed & implemented this unique granary as a preventative measure to in famous famines of Gangetic-delta within British Territory in 1786.



This young captain of Bengal Engineers of British Military subsequently became Major General & Chief Engineer of British India.Major General Garstin’s signature master-piece till standing in Calcutta is the Town Hall of the city (opened in 1813). John Garstin never went back to Europe. Kolkata’s South Park Street Cemetery remained his last resting place.


JOHN GARSTIN (1756-1820)
Courtesy British Library

Since 1760, a big grain market was developed at Marufgunge, at eastern outskirts of the walled Patna City (Azimabad) with active participation of British East India Company personnel and local merchants.  Similarly another market Bakergunge was developed in the western outskirt of the city’s wall with European co-operation. Almost 6 miles from this western boundary, at Bankipur the European town was developed by the British administration at the beautiful river bank. Among the features of this British Patna,Golghar was located in such a way that from the river transport the first glimpse to the European quarter of Patna used to be frozen on it. On the other-hand, from the top of this tallest structure of the-then city, a bird’s eye view of the old Azimabad & New Patna with eternal Ganga unfolded in front of viewer’s eyes. This was a structure with difference, contrasting to the entire skyline of a mart-city comprising of a small broken fort, one abandoned European factory, some mosque minarets, one modest catholic church,age old Punjabi shrine, old Islamic mansions with wooden roofs& numerous mud huts.


A MAP OF PATNA IN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Courtesy Bihar & Orissa District Gazetteers by L S SO’malley

The structure was an advertisement of power, authority & assurance. It might be treated as a racial supremacy of the ruler to a city which had seen lot of bloodbath for almost half a century prior to the construction of Golghar (Maratha invasion, rebellion of Afgan army, Mughal attack, Anglo Mohammedan conflict, British search for French fugitives& uprising of neighboring states).

The earlier referred travelogue writers always asked about the utility of this structure. Heber &Chunder tried to explain their respective views, whereas Fanny Park coolly referred it as a guard house. Emily Eden in 1837 without candidness expressed “it is useless”.

This suggested, though the Granary was built; this was never utilized up to its designed level. We found two common explanations. First, the mammoth volume of the granary was too small in comparison with the one day consumption of famine stricken population of nearby locality. Second, the opening of the only door of the granary was inward hence if the granary was packed up to extreme capacity the grain would be in ever-locked position.


THE SPIRAL STAICASE OF GOLGHAR, AN ESTABLISHED MYTH -A PRINCE OF NEPAL ASCENDED & DESENDED ON HIS PONY THROUGH THIS STAIR CASE, ORIGINALLY BUILT FOR THE MOVEMENT OF LABOUR TO CARRY GRAIN IN HEAD LOAD AT THE TOP OF THE STRUCTURE, POURED THE LOAD THROUGH A CIRCULAR OPENING TO THE GRANARY AND THEN DECENDING THROUGH THE OTHER STRAIRCASE
Courtesy Stone of Empire: the Buildings of the Raj – Jan Morris & Simon Winchester

Both these causes appeared to be without substance. The basic design capacity of 1784 could not cater the single day consumption of nearby locals – a remote possibility, even if accepted, why it was even not used up to its actual capacity as a mean of exigency, as the first British Cantonment was several miles away (Dinapur cantonment was established prior to Barrackpore cantonment!). Secondly, the changing of the opening direction of the door was not so difficult proposition for an engineer of Garstin’s class.


THE PLAQUE AT THE RESTING PLACE IN PARK STREET CEMETERY

But it was evident by the Garstin’s plaque that the date of filling & first public closure had never happened.There had to be concrete cause for this unfinished business of this Granary.

While searching through internet we got an important document of eminent historian Ms. Kumkum Chatterjee (Merchants, Politics and Society in Early Modern India: Bihar 1733-1820). Her painstaking research on eighteenth century Bihar took us to the period of construction of this Golghar. It was an era when earliest British administration was focusing more towards governance of its Indian territory. The basic mercantile persuasion of British East India Company (as a monopolistic trading conglomerate, oppressive revenue collector & private business ventures of its employees) was becoming a past.


 TOMB OF JOHN GARSTIN IN PARK STREET CEMETERY

A Department of Grain was conceived. Intention was - to collect grain at lowest market rate when it was plentiful, stocked it in huge Government granaries across British India, distribution in control rate during the time of famine to Indian subjects. A structured disaster management proposal & its implementation- “Grand Plan” as mentioned in the Garstin’s engrave. Implementation of “No.I” related to this Grand Plan went smoothly. The crisis aroused on its operation.

When on completion of Patna Golghar, the British District Collectors were desperately trying to procure grain in lowest market rate, curtail of local suppliers prevented that scheme. The nexus of merchant & mediators was too strong for the nascent Government system. The rate asked against grain supply increased in exponential series at marts after marts. Stream of letters flowed from residencies to Calcutta;subject was- failure to find a suitable vendor for supplying grain to Government granary with a proper rate.

Golghar at Bankipur, near Patna, 1814-15
Courtesy British Library

The “No.1” of the Grand Plant never got operative to its full capacity, hence, the No.2 structure of the Grand Plan never saw the day’s light. Almost 230 years ago a move of first hand Government trading & passing the benefit to the consumer directly like todays e-commerce portal failed.

But the structure remained. The huge hollow space of inside produced echo against the faintest sound, it became a prized spot for visiting tourist. Subsequently the robust structure embalmed as the face of modern Patna.

Even today, when we found the official document in internet for “Proposed River Front Development in Patna” its proposal commenced with the above sketch of Golghar.



Ironically with the search “Captain John Garstin” we can land up in internet to Golghar, Patna. Whereas “Garstin Place” in Kolkata invariably took the searcher to the stories of haunted house at No.1, Garstin Place, the original office of All India Radio, Kolkata.

Though Garstin was never been able to engrave the date after “First filled & publicly closed” on Golghar wall, the structure remained faithful to its designer & executioner till date.



KOLKATA TOWN HALL IN ROMAN DORIC STYLE, WAS BUILT IN 1813 BY THE ARCHITECT ENGINEER MEJ. GEN . JOHN GARSTIN WITH A FUND OF 700,000 RUPEES......

When we were leaving Golghar, one advertisement caught in to our eyes.It was about evening Laser Show at Golghar Premises.

John Garstin’s one of the most serious endeavor on Indian soil is  no more be treated as a venue for morning-walkers only, it also becomes an entertainment zone for the Patna City in week-ends of twenty first century India.

The Granary which never been publicly closed, is well taken care for public viewing by the independent Indian Government. 



  Research - Abhijnan Basu.
  Picture Courtesy - Abhijnan Basu & Santanu Roy.