Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The South Park Street Cemetery, India - largest outside Europe and America - 01


South Park street centery, Kolkata. www.bcmtouring.com
South Park Street Cemetery, Kolkata. nshmpgmedia2013.blogspot.com
If there is one city in this world that has sentimental  overseas connection or a sort of unbreakable bond  with the Britons - British, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and others, it is none other than Kolkata (Calcutta), once the capital of the mighty British overseas Empire. It was here where their forefathers came in search of jobs, business opportunities, etc., in the early period of consolidation. Braving the tough tropical climate, dreaded diseases like Smallpox, Cholera, Malaria, etc., not to mention risky child birth, wild animals and poisonous snakes, etc., most of them  served in a strange wooded land for the East India Company and later  for the British government during the colonial time. Many of them spent much of their life here,died and buried  in Kolkata. Now these forgotten souls are taking eternal sleep in the cemeteries of Kolkata such as Scottish cemetery, the largest one outside Scotland  and  the one on South Park street street ((now Mother Theresa Sarani). 

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Park_Street_Cemetery