Sunday, 29 January 2017

Kolkata (Calcutta) city's tearful colonial graves

Kolkata  (Calcutta), the capital city of West Bengal, India was once a dynamic power center of the British Empire, still a living example of the British legacy and heritage. Once a seat of influential political authority, the heritage sites and the numerous graveyards keep reminding us of the ebb and flow of time, the heydays of imperial glory and, at last, the fall of the empire from sublime to nothingness. Abundant job and business opportunities brought in lots of Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries whose lives were mainly dependent on the performance of the East India company that became well-established and was in the expansion mode.  Churches and graveyards came up to serve the Christian communities'  and their spiritual needs. The colonial life of Calcutta also changed and saw various changes on many fronts. The Europeans had begun to understand the glorious culture and the richness of Indian languages, whereas, the Indian natives' interest in the English languages made them widen their knowledge.The  cosmopolitan life of Calcutta was conducive to a healthy atmosphere in the areas of culture and tradition and brought about the revival in the life of Bengalis, in particular.

 City of a glorious colonial past after India's freedom from the British yoke became a city of declining economy tied to the stigma of poverty and desolation unlike cities like New Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai. In the past 3 decades or more Kolkata has moved forward with all round developments in various fields and is growing fast in tune with rapid economic developments. 

 Many colonial cemeteries are poorly maintained mainly due to neglect and there is an awareness to preserve the heritage sites  across India and the government is allocating funds for the restoration projects.  India has tens of thousands of monuments of great antiquity and it is a tough undertaking, considering the size and importance. In the last one decade, the government is taking serious steps to preserve the heritage sites without damaging the heritage values so that they will be preserved fo the posterity.

 During the colonial rule, Calcutta had a large number of Cemeteries. The largest non-church cemetery being the South Park cemetery. Tollygunge Cemetery is a Christian Burial Ground, established in 1942 before India's independence. 

 "The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Awaits alike th' inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
                                                    ― Thomas Gray

The following cemeteries served the Europeans and others
Job Charnock’s MausoleumSt John's Church, Kolkata .www.alamy.com


Above image: Job Charnock’s Mausoleum at the graveyard of St John's Church, Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal is made of a variety of granite called pink granite (containing iodine rich mineral called Hypersthene). This type of rock of Archaean age is mined at St. Thomas Mount, a suburb of Chennai. This granite variety is named after Job Charnock called Charnokites by the Geologists.
St John’s Church houses the mausoleum of Job Charnock, an honest official with the East India company, who chose a site comprising a few villages that  later  became Calcutta.   Also included are the monuments,q23 commemorating those who died in the ‘Black Hole’incident - the dungeon on the premises of Ft. Williams where more than 40 British died due to suffocation and stampede when the ruler Siraj-ud-daulah herded the soldiers and others when he captured the fort from the British company. The company went on their words and never paid the taxes due to the Nabob. Other note-worthy person in St John’s graveyard are Admiral Watson, who with Clive liberated Calcutta from the Nabob. The church also contains the study of Warren Hastings, the first Governor-general of India.


South Park Street Cemetery ‘The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power’ "The Great Burial Ground of Chowringhee" - opened on 25 August 1767.
These obelisks, Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata,.alamy.com
Pyramids, mausoleums ,South Park Street Cemetery.alamy.com

South Park Street Cemetery www.alamy.com
 It is believed to be the Great Cemetery of Asia “(South Park Street Cemetery), Kolkata” measuring some eight acres in the prime locality of this vast city,  enclosed by a high brick wall. SPSC served the European communities when they were at the helm of affairs in India in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are roughly  1600 burial sites - an array of tombs with cenotaphs, tablets, and epitaphs, surrounded by a serene, impressive landscape of tall, shady trees, bushes, and plants of many varieties. The tombs, raised on a brick plinth, have different shapes and sizes, many fronted by Corinthian or Ionian columns that support the structures. Many follow an admixture of Gothic, Indo-Saracenic styles. The black basalt carvings on the frontal façade suggest a distinct respect for the Hindu faith.  Sir William Jones, founder of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta in 1796 and other eminent persons buried here include Henry L V Derozio and David Drummond.
Preservation work had begun in 2007 and the work has been going slowly in various phases as the site is enormous. There is a proposal to introduce solar-powered lighting”. It is probably the largest Christian cemetery outside Europe and America in the 19th century.

The North Park Street Cemetery does not exist, save for one grave—the Robertson family tomb. The cemetery was cleared in 1953 and the land is currently occupied by the Assembly of God Church and the Mercy Hospital. But the map of Calcutta prepared by Frederick Walter Simms in 1847 identifies two more cemeteries at this end of Park Street. Located on the south-western corner of the North Park Street Cemetery was the Mission Cemetery 
( commonly called Mr Kiernander's opened in or by 1773), which has also disappeared. Further north was the small French cemetery,  where the Apeejay School is functioning. One tombstone that has been preserved is that of Anne Kiernander, wife
The North Park Street Cemetery. qz.com/
of the  Swede, Johann Zachariah Kiernander, who was the first protestant missionary to Bengal. Her tombstone is inside the Assembly of God Church building and is fixed in the  wall. Among the tombs lost when the French cemetery was demolished was that of Josephine Tiretta, wife of town planner Eduardo Tiretta. A bazaar called  Tiretti Bazar is in her memory. Her tombstone is not yet located, further, several tombstones from the French cemetery are now on the walls of the South Park Street Cemetery.

North Park Street Cemetery was the burial place of Richmond Thackeray (father of novelist), Lt Col James Achilles Kirkpatrick (the White Mughal) and other well-known persons.
 

Bhowanipore Cemetery:"The Military Burial Ground, beyond the General Hospital, was opened in the year 1782-83".

 Bhowanipur cemetery Kolkata ; West Bengal.http://www.alamy.com/s  
Bhowanipore cemetery, Calcutta. PK Bhattacharyya - WordPress.com
Bhowanipore cemetery. TripAdvisor
Bhowanipore Cemetery located one km from the southern end of the Calcutta Maiden and is enclosed by a high wall. The war plot is at the rear of the civilian cemetery, some 200 meters from the main entrance. The cemetery is at no. 15 Debendra Lal Khan Road, Calcutta 700027.

Bhowanipore Cemetery was a civil cemetery and has been in 
use since 1864 and the earlier burials involving personnel and their dependants took place nearby garrison at Fort William.
The cemetery initially took its name from it. Initially there 
were war graves, but subsequently, civilian graves got mingled with them. Calcutta (Bhowanipore) Cemetery has  95  Commonwealth burials of the WWI, including one brought in from Fort Chingrikhali Cemetery in 1934. WWII burials number 617. The Commission also has responsibility for the care of 233 non-war burials in the cemetery.
Visiting Information: Opening hours are: 09.00-16.00. A notable fact is the Wheelchair access to cemetery is possible  for elderly people via main entrance. In 1954, the church authorities moved   the graves to places with largest war burials.


Lower Circular Road Cemetery-Also known as General Episcopal Cemetery, it is located on the crossing of Mother Teresa Sarani (former Park Street) and Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road (former Lower Circular Road), Kolkata  with its entrance on Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road. Established on 29 April 1840 and it is still operating; the grave is not well maintained. It is said that burial records are maintained on site.

At one time, this cemetery contained a number of war graves of both world wars and was in use till 1953. Later, the cemetery had no room for additional burials. But for two of the Second World War graves rest were therefore moved into the services plot in Calcutta (Bhowanipore) Cemetery The graves have permanent private memorials and are privately maintained. They include persons who worked in the civil organizations recognized by the Armed Forces, whose members' graves rank as war graves.

Calcutta Lower circular road cemetery. cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/

 WWI casualties remain here and their maintenance was a major hurdle here. So, they are commemorated by name on 1914-18 War Memorial in Madras War Cemetery at Chennai, Tamil Nadu. 

 In 1904,  a Gas Crematorium was commissioned for the first time to facilitate ash or urn burials. The crematorium is believed to have been first of its kind in Asia.  The “Mini Cemetery” located behind the LCRC at No.2 Crematorium Street. 
Inside the Lower Circular Road Cemetery in Calcutta.www.alamy.co
Charles Freer Andrews (died 1940), Sir William Casement, British Army Major General, Member of  Supreme Council of India (died 16 April 1844), Henri Hover Locke, Michael Madhusudan Dutt (died 1873), et al are buried here at Calcutta.

Scottish Cemetery:   "The Scotch & Dissenters Burial Ground - was purchased in 1820.
The Scottish cemetery, Kolkata. Find A Grave
The Scottish Cemetery at Calcutta established in 1820 (3 Karaya Road) was meant to serve the specific needs of the large Scottish population in the Kolkata area. It consisted mostly of soldiers, missionaries, business people, etc. Many held positions of power and prominence with the headquarters of the East India Company, and later the administration of the British Raj, whose capital was Calcutta. The cemetery was in use until the 1940s but after India's independence fell into disuse in  the 1950s. Well over 90% of those buried bear recognizably Scottish names. Around 10% are Bengali.
A huge plot comprising 6 acres (24,000 m2) the cemetery is in the middle of the city in a prominent place and has  over 1600 burial plots, with at least 2000 burials. 

A few  important graves areThomas Jones 1810-1849, a Welsh missionary, the director of the Calcutta Zoological Gardens,
Rev. John Adam, "late missionary to the heathen", besides several  officers of the EIC.
   
Armenian Church & Cemetery:The Armenian Church of St Nazareth built 1724 has a burial ground attached to it.

Old Grave at the Christian Armenian Church in Calcutta Indiahttp://www.alamy.com
The grave of Astwasatoor Mooradkhanen.wikipedia.org
  Above image: The grave of Astwasatoor Mooradkhan (died at Calcutta on 29.09.1799). He was one of the founders of the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy, Kolkata.
 
tombstone of Rezabeebeh,wikipedia.org

Above image: Located in an Armenian Church, the oldest Christian tombstone in Calcutta belongs to Rezabeebeh, who died on 11 July 1630.

The association of Armenians with India dates back to several centuries and has been mutually beneficial. As a matter of fact India's cultural fabric had been enriched by their continuous presence here. Their major settlements include  Agra, Surat, Mumbai, Kanpur, Chandernagore, Calcutta, Saidabad, a suburb of Murshidabad, Chennai,  Lucknow, etc.  By the 7th century a few Armenian settlements came up on the Malabar coast of Kerala.  Armenians had a strong control over a big chunk of export of precious stones and quality fabrics. A 1956  archive directory in Delhi states the first Armenian to reach the Malabar coast of India  in 780  was one Thomas Cana, a merchant-cum-diplomat, using the overland route. In the year  1498, Vasco da Gama landed on the Kappad Beach of Calicut (Kozhicode.)  Thomas Cana was an affluent merchant dealing chiefly in spices and muslins. He was referred to as  "Kanaj Tomma", meaning Thomas the merchant by the locals. After independence, their numbers, just like Jews, has come down to less than 100 mostly settled in Kolkata. They established a college there - The Armenian College which still functions there. 

Greek Church & cemetery: The Greek Church of the Transfiguration of Our Blessed Redeemer on Mount Tabor was consecrated 6 August 1781, but later was demolished. A new one came up at Kalighat in 1926. "Greek cemetery at 105 Narkeldanga Main Road is forlorn'. Located in a busy residential area - near Phoolbagan, Kolkata, it is tough to locate it and is in a pathetic state due to negligence on the part of authorities concerned. It is believed this cemetery will be renovated soon.
greek cemetery of Calcutta. IndiaMike.com
In Colonial Calcutta, along with other communities, the Greek community also lived. Two Greek tombstones, dated 1713 and 1728, preserved in the Catholic Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Rosary in Murgihatta, Kolkata (Calcutta) Commonly known as Portuguese Church,  confirm  Greek or Hellenic presence in Calcutta in early 18th Century.
Greeck graveyard -various tablets.indrajitdas.wordpress.com

Alexander Argeery or Hadjee Alexios Argyree from Philippoupolis (documents suggest  Hadjee is a Turkish word and subsequently not to be found in Greek Lexicon)  came to Bengal in the year of 1750. Greek merchants, settled here in Bengal, were mostly from Thracian cities of  Philippoupolis (Now Plovdiv in Bulgaria) and Adrianoupolis. Thre was an exodus of Greeks to this place during the Turko-Russian war, as the Greeks lost all their properties and valuable possessions when they left their homeland.

The ldest grave is 1777 of Alexander Argeery, who died in Decca (Now Dhaka in Bangladesh) subsequently brought here in 1949.  There are around 120 graves, named gravestone is 108 and remaining 12 gravestone is unnamed. One  Basanta Das is the caretaker of the cemetery, the newest one is 2013, the grave of a Greek Lady. 
Ref:

http://christianburialboardkolkata.com/statistics.html

http://wiki.fibis.org/index.php?title=Cemeteries_in_Calcutta