August 24, 1690 back in those times, Kolkata (Calcutta) got its brand new identity during the rule of East India Company. It was Job Charnock one of the employees under the English East India Company who actually tagged the metropolis with a new appearance. Kolkata, a 300-year-old city is still holding the glorious image of the then ruler through its relics and monuments.
Kolkata was actually a big district compiling three most essential villages – Gobindopur, Sutanuti and Kalikata. After getting the permission from the Nawab of Bengal, English tried to fortify Bengal and gave it a grand look.
Why was Kolkata (Calcutta) one of the favorite places of English? – Kolkata (Calcutta) was their summer capital due to the favorable climate, but what else made them choose Kolkata?
Well, the primary reason is the proximity to the river Ganges that is useful for navigation, as they were mainly traders. Second, it had the most flourishing economy due to Jute cultivation, availability of cheap labor, big market for both export and import and lavish lifestyle.
But readers I am here to share the thoughts of only one part of the nostalgic Kolkata – that’s Sutanuti, the lavish and cultural hub of the then Kolkata (Calcutta) that had residences of Zamindars, Rajas and Nawab’s loyal servants. Through this article, the oldest and important part of Kolkata is going to be revisited.
Take a ride through the streets of North Kolkata and savor the sweet memories.
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” – Do you remember the lines? – “Stray Birds”, written by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Yes, Jorasanko an area in Sutanuti district was the place where his poet and his family used to reside.
North Kolkata (Sutanuti), the best hub of art, culture, music, cuisines, heritage, philosophy, spirituality and above all it is the birthplace of Indian nationalism. Place, which gave us remarkable freedom fighters. Place of rich delicacies that can swoon the world with great tastes. North Kolkata is one of the oldest areas, has the fascinating architectural relics, dingy lanes and by lanes, a never-ending babu culture and the most essential thing is the rock adda.
Rock Adda, do you want to know what it is? Gossiping with matched or unmatched pairs of people on various topics, sitting on raised heights constructed in every houses of North Kolkata. This chapter will let you take a stroll on the historical paths of North Kolkata, the then Sutanuti. We will come up with more facts on music, cuisines, art and culture in our next blogs.
Places that fall under the Sutanuti area are- Chitpur, Bagbazar, Belgachhia, Shyambazar, Shobhabazar, Maniktala, Jorasanko and the famous College Street. (Extending from Chitpur to A little below Nimtola Ghat).
The birthplace of Bengali theatre, art & culture, and most eminently it gave birth to what we call street plays or Jatra. It received its name from the temple of Chiteswari raised by Gobindaram Mitra, well now the temple has no existence as it collided due to an earthquake in 1737. During the British India Company’s rule, it became one of the authoritarian places, and it became the resting hub for the French, Dutch and Danish governors when they came to visit their dominion in Chandernaagore, Chinsurah and Sreerampore respectively.
The places nearby to Chitpur had different names and each names had a reason behind it and a funny attribute. Murgihata as it was the chicken market of the then time. Due to the presence of twin bridges Jorasanko got its name (Jora= twin and bridges= sanko), Kasitola where the butchers (kaisais) slaughtered animals and the potters (kumors) colony popularly called Kumortuli.
Bagbazar had played an active role in the development of Kolkata. Here the famous Perin’s Garden existed and yes, the only pleasure resorts of the British East India Company. This is the place where the first Sarbojanin Durga Puja was organized. Yes, a Puja performed outside the premises of a Zamindars house for the first time. First, it was celebrated at the Sarkar’s house in the year 1919 and from the next year, it took at the junction of Lebubagan lane and Bagbazar Street.
On close connection with Girish Chandra Ghose, even Sri Ramakrishna hold his glimpses here in Bagbazar at Bosepara Lane were SaradaMani (wife of Sri Ramakrishna) lived until her death.
Oldest tram depot exits here from the beginning. The tram depot laid down by the British company was until Shyambazar but later in 1941, it was stretched to Belgachhia. Now you can take a ride in the single carriage Tram known as Balaka to take a ride across the hottest tram destinations within North Kolkata.
Shyambazar is one of the famous parts in citadel of the Bengal aristocracy. A big market area, which was called the Charles Bazaar earlier, renamed in honor of Shyam Rai of famous Basak family.
Sutanuti had no roads earlier. It was in 19th century that the construction of the five-point crossing began and ran till Maidan. Extension of Central Avenue built by the Kolkata Improvement Trust in 1911 made Shyambazar five-point crossing one of the busiest street crossings in Kolkata. This is the place where Horse drawn trams were first introduced and by 1902, entire system was electrified.
It was during the Basak’s the well-to-traders who arrived from Saptagram started to reside in Sutanuti area and the influential Shobharam Basak can be credited for giving Shobhabazar its name. Basaks were one of the richest inhabitants of 18th century like Setts. However, after the Deb family came to reside here, Shobhabazar rose to more prominence. During the rule of Maharaja Nabakrishna Deb, the Shobhabazar Rajbari was constructed.
After the British won the Battle of Plassey, as a thanksgiving ceremony Raja Nabakrishna celebrated Durga Puja. He played a crucial role in turning Kolkata as the British hub and people also says that he along with Mir Zafar, Amir Beg and Ramchandra Roy who sold Kolkata for just 8 Crore.
This big local market has the famous Big Ben Watch Tower erected at the center of the four-point crossing connecting APC Road and Maniktala Main road. This is the oldest commoners market famous for the fresh fish, one of the favorite dishes of Bengalis.
The birthplace of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore is a rich residential area of the then time. Jorasanko got its name Jora means twin and sanko means bridge as a twin bamboo bridge. This place is distinguishable for the Tagore family and their glory. Tagore family had built their prestigious house, popularly called Jorasanko Thakurbari. People like Singha and the Pal, Daws and Ghose also tagged the place as cradle of Bengal Renaissance. The earliest Police Station or Thana is also constructed in this region during 1785.
Some famous institutions belong here in this region, this include – Adi Brahmo Samaj, Minerva Library, Oriental Seminary (the earliest school were Rabindranath had his preliminary education) etc.
Jorasanko connects to Rabindra Sarani, which further extends south as Russa Road, Chowringhee, and Bentinck Street and towards Dumdum as B.T.Road. This is the oldest communication line-connecting place like Murshidabad the abode of Bengal Nawab’s.
Another magnificent place that adores North Kolkata (Calcutta) is College Street. The Bookworm’s Paradise (Boi Para) is College Street. You will find publication houses, the Calcutta University, Presidency College, Calcutta Medical College and the intellectual activity center Indian Coffee House is also located here.
The college area has its own nostalgia with the oldest of the tram routes go pass it to connect the Bowbazar Area. With Indian Coffee House, people get to meet the Bengal Intelligentsia over decades. An adda (gossip) center for famous people like Rabindranath, Netaji, Satyajit, Manna Dey, Amartya Sen, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay and many more.
This is just a small glimpse of bigger Kolkata/Calcutta and just a chalk out of the road you will love to take a ride. You can smell the old books, hookahs, gramophone music, classical tones of thungri, kheyal, hand-pulled rickshaw, old trams, cacophony of the oldest bazaars and lots more.
Take a ride here today in North Kolkata (Calcutta) and get Nostalgic.