|South Park street centery, Kolkata. www.bcmtouring.com|
|South Park Street Cemetery, Kolkata. nshmpgmedia2013.blogspot.com|
The old tombs here are part of British legacy left behind in Kolkata prior to 1947 that speak volumes of their bright and darker side of their supremacy in this part. Park Street cemetery has innumerable memorial stones that narrate stories of unsung heroes, many of them were scholars, administrators, sailors, soldiers, judges, teenagers, young kids and housewives, who contributed their mite in building British Empire. It is simply an open-air museum of a large number of neo-classical, funerary sculptures consisting of various pyramids, mausoleums and tomb statues. They are all big the masonry work of those times and they exude an aura of the British Raj. It is frequently commented that that this South Park Street Cemetery has every qualification to be in the imposing pantheon of the world's great cemeteries, alongside Pere Lachaise, Paris, La Recoleta near Buenos Aires, Argentina and Highgate Cemetery in north London..
The South Park Street Cemetery is located on Mother Teresa Sarani, Kolkata, West Bengal State, NE India. The road leading to the burial ground was called Burial Ground road, later the name had been changed to Park street after the park around Vansittart's garden house. What is surprising is though it is entirely a Christian graveyard, not a single crucifix is is noticeable. The inscriptions on the grave rarely make reference to Christian piety. Nor is there any quotation from the Christian scriptures as normally one can see on the tombstones!! The another fact that is worth mentioning is here in the cemetery one can see numerous big masonries which is quite unusual. The assumption has been that this could be an attempt to prevent the spreading of contagious diseases that were the primary causes of scores of death. In those days the longevity for the people was very low. The native Indians somehow managed to survive ailments by using herbal medicines.
Considered to be the one of the earliest non-church cemeteries in the world, and presumably the largest Christian cemetery outside Europe and America in the 19th century, it was opened in 1767 as the Christian population in Kolkata had begun to grow with the arrival of more Europeans, seeing business and job opportunities in India. The old cemetery in other place was not good enough, hence this site was built out of necessity. This cemetery has become a heritage site under the care of the ASI (Archaeological Society of India) and it was once a marshy area prior to the construction of the cemetery. In 1785 expansion of the cemetery took place on the norther side to meet the additional demand and later in 1840 a vast cemetery was built east of the Circular road to cater to the growing christian population. The earliest grave, on record, dates to 1768 and the last memorial, was erected in 1895.
However, by 1790, the Europeans stopped using this site for burial purposes and the reason attributed was Plague epidemic. A marble plaque at the gate which reads "South Park Street, Opened:1767, Closed:1790" confirms this. Several famous personalities of the bygone colonial era are buried here, along with commoners like “breeder of cattle, jail-keeper, silversmith, school teacher, architect, translator, livery, printer, postmaster, surgeon, etc – as is mentioned in the official website.
In ‘City of Dreadful Night’ (1891) – a blistering commentary on colonial Calcutta, Rudyard Kipling, writes about the Park Street cemetery, “The tombs are small houses. It is as though we walked down the streets of a town, so tall are they and so closely do they stand – a town shriveled by fire, and scarred by frost and siege. Men must have been afraid of their friends rising up before the due time that they weighted them with such cruel mounds of masonry''.
Now, the cemetery is not active and it is quiet inside. What is so paining is while the vista of innumerable monuments is just baffling, many of the tombs built in a mix of Indo-Gothic-Sarcenic style are crumbling and are in a state of neglect. The site is tarnished by the random growth of wild plants, trees and thick bushes that need to be cleared so that further degradation in the future may be avoided. Root-wedging is bad a process of weathering that will make the old, weak structure crumple faster than we expect.I am sure the state and the central governments will clear the weeds, plant growth, etc., carry out the repair work and restore this historical cemetery back to its past grandeur and opulence. It looks like a haunted graveyard of 1000 horrors, and at night it becomes a spooky place, one has to put every stride forward with anxiety and trepidation.
As for the former North Park Street Cemetery, it is now being used by the Assembly of God Church School and the Mercy Hospital with only a sole grave, recalling the past. The Lower Circular Road cemetery, that has a few monuments still exists today and is being used for burial.