Friday, 5 December 2014


When  the British ruled the country, some outstanding personalities from the West, who made an immense contribution to further the interest of “natives “ and vernacular languages, were William Jones, who established the Asiatic Society, Henry Ferdinand Blochmann, the Orientalist and historian who translated many works like “Ain-i-Akbari” ,James Prinsep, the Anglo-Indian scholar and antiquary who deciphered the rock edicts of Ashoka, and the missionary William Carey , who set up a printing press in Sreerampore. They were man who operated within the colonial framework and are still remembered for their valuable work.

Soon after Independence, there arrived in Bengal a youngish, independent-minded academic from Britain, who, in spite of his pioneering work- a extraordinary number of photographs and a series of writings on the trracotta temples of both West and East Bengal which he travelled extensively, “patas”, brick temples of Bengal and was also one of the first scholars to write a study of the emerging field of Indian writing in English (IWE), a field in which his work is still regularly read a quoted today.

McCutchion was born in Coventry, England, 12th August,1930. David went to King Henry VIII Grammar School in this city in West Midlands. While there it was bombed in a German raid and he was evacuated for a time. After the war he spent a year on National Service in Singapore. He went up to Cambridge in 1950 to read Modern Languages (French and German) at Jesus College. In 1957 got an MA degree from the same university. In the Jesus College his interest in the east had led to him being a keen member of the Tagore Society, a factor which must have drawn him to Bengal. 

 He went out initially on a temporary six-month contract to teach English at Tagore’s Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan. Thereafter in Calcutta he mixed with a circle of  Indians writing in English around Purusottam Lal’s Writer’s Workshop, a publishing house that went on to publish many of his works, some posthumously. As an academic McCutchion also took this phenomenon as his field. He became Professor, then Reader in Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University in Kolkata after 1960, where he taught eighteenth-century French and English literature and thus begun the most active period of his short life.

 Around 1960 McCutchion also met and developed an important friendship, based on a relaxed rapport, with Satyajit Ray, with whom he shared a taste for Western classical music. Ray asked him to help translate his film dialogue from Bengali into English, a task that helped inversely to increase McCutchion’s command over Bengali. It was while on shooting location in Birbhum district for “Abhijan” in 1962, McCutchion developed a fascination for the brick temples scattered across the Bengal landscape. Over the next decate they become a passion; of categorizing, conservation and documentation, driving his use of photography as a recording device. His photographic collection amounting to some 20,000 images was held by the “International centre for study of Bengal Art(ICSBA)”. He also studied and collected the Bengali Patua art, or scroll paintings of traditional artists, which developed out of the religious art surrounding the temples. The collection was later bequeathed to the “Herbert Art Gallery” in Conventry. 

 Two man who often accompanied McCutchion on his tireless and unrelenting quest were Tarapada Santra and Hitesranjan Sanyal, both of whom continued their research on Bengal’s built heritage and folk culture till their death. Both Sanyal and Santra addressed him as “Davidbabu”, a name not unsuited to a man who lived like a hermit and dressed at home like any middle class Bengali in crushed pyjamas and bush shirt.

 In his tribute to David McCutchion , Hitesranjan Sanyal had made an assessment of his exhaustive documentation of terracotta temples: “ When David McCutchion started his work on Bengal Temples there was not much information on them….. But the countless temples that were constructed all over Bengal between 15th century and early 20th century had not attracted much attention…..The material he collected is a huge repository of information- a data bank.”


A volume of homage from Indian and foreign friends and admirers of McCutchion – we get an impression of the high esteem in which this man of varied interests was held by people from different fields , Satyajit Roy, Lila Roy ( the American wife of litterateur Annada Sankar Roy) Ashin and Uma dasgupta, Amiya Bose, in whose house at 4 Nandy Street, he lived as a paying guest.

Sadly McCutchion died prematurely at the age of 42, due to an attack of polio, leaving his work on terracotta temples incomplete but in the process inspiring a generation of terracotta lovers. His mortal remains lies in the Bhawanipur Cemetery in Kolkata. The grave decorated with small terracotta panels attracted visitors. The grave is well maintained and from time to time the terracotta enthusiasts of Kolkata have paid tribute to the great man by putting up plaques in his grave.

Sources:  1.  The Temples of Bankura District (Calcutta, Writers Workshop)
                   2.  David John McCutchion  -Wikipedia
                   3.  The Brick Temples of Bengal: From the Archives of David McCutchion edited by 
                        George Michell. ( Princeton University Press).
                   5.  Patuas and Patua Art in Bengal By Devid McCutchion and Suhrid K. Bhowmik.(Firma .KLM)
                   6.  Unpublished letters and Selected articles by Devid J. McCutchion. (Monfakira Books)
                   7.  Photo courtesy : The Telegraph, Kolkata, Facebook of Devid J. McCutchion.
                   8. The epistles of David-Kaka to Plalm’n {1960-71}: The record of a friendship ( P.Lal: CWW).

                   Research  -Santanu Roy.
                   Picture Courtesy -  Sudip Ghosh.         

Saturday, 29 November 2014



Basubati”, the palatial mansion of Nandalal and Pashupatinath Basu is an iconic landmark which still stands wearing a decrepit look. The year was 1874. The Basu family was Zamindars of Gaya. Mahendra Basu, the eldest son of Basu family inherited a large property from his uncle at Bagbazar. However, Mahendra could not enjoy his inheritance and died early, his two brothers- Nandalal Basu and Pashupatinath Basu build up the house with their inheritance after lying foundation in 19th October, 1876.

The first qualified Bengali engineer Nilmoni Mitra was employed by Basu family to design and build up the mansion. Nilmoni Mitra had built several remarkable mansions including the “Emerald Bower” (new location of Rabindrabharati University, formally Tagore House at B. T. Road) and Sadharan Bramho Samaj. He also redesigned the famous chariot of Mahesh which is used in the most celebrated Ratha Yatra festival of Bengal.

 However, Basu Bati was Mitra’s “magnum opus”. He builds up the huge mansion shifting away from the prevalent European style architecture. Instead his work seems to be inspired from the traditional Bengali style and Islamic pattern, the arches had distinctive Islamic flavor in them, while prevalence of lotus could be seen in different forms. He used highly decorative murals and reliefs using turquoise and amber paint work.  One hundred of paintings by famous painter Bamapada Mukherjee adorned the walls of Basu Bati. “Thakurdalan” of Basubati was very famous for its wall paintings, and relief work in plaster. This is perhaps one of the few examples where some Bengali motif and art are evident. This paintings are unmistakably, done by the chitrakars of Kalighat. This is mentioned in the “Ramkrishna Kathamrita”.


Joane Taylor describes the interiors of the house in this manner. The house once boasted of a gold ceiling, large chandeliers and twenty four feet high walls in the grand hall. A dancing room on the second floor included a stage, rows for chair for guests and a zenana on the upper level from where the ladies and children of the house could watch the activity below.” She also describes the room in details Although the carpets have long since gone, the room is comfortable with large ornately carved armchairs, marble side tables and statues and potted palms. Enormous oil paintings of the Basu’s ancestors line the room in gilt frames, a number of them painted by artist Bamapada Mukherjee.”

This residence has witnessed a number of historic events. Nandalal Basu was very religious. It is because of him Sri Ramkrishna and many other spiritual persons visited this house. S. N. Banerjee addressed an assembly of activists against the partition of Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore and Surendranath Banerjee visited the house often to hold meetings in the central courtyard. Swami Vivekananda apparently received his first civil reception after coming back from the Chicago conference at the “Basubati”. Rabindranath Tagore, too has used the mansion as a platform to call for strengthening the amity between Hindus and Muslims.

In the history of  Swadeshi Movement , Basubati fills up a significant part. The formation of the Swaraja Party took place here under the leadership of  Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das. The first Swadeshi Mela inaugurated by Kasturba Gandhi was held in this building. The famous student’s conference in which Anti-imperialistic slogans were raised aloud was held in the adjoining ground of the Basubati in 1931.The Boses gave shelter to the revolutionaries and arms and ammunitions which were later confiscated by British Police.


Kolkata’s grand colonial era architecture that has for decades been in a state of decay, this is especially true of North Kolkata, which is known for its old 19th Century homes that were once opulent residences of zamindars and industrialists. Most of the homes are enormous mansions that would be tough to maintain by anyone but the super rich. The families that continue to inhabit the houses are clearly barely able to do so, which is why the houses are in various stages of dereliction.

At the Shobhabazar ferry jetty look up at the glorious but derelict mansion that dominates the river bend. “Putul Bari’s ornate terrace juts out into the sky, wich a clutch of dancing figurines. Inside, the two top floors are held up by Corinthian columns surrounding a charming inner courtyard.  We were stood mesmerized at the middle of the courtyard, concentrated on the intricately designed figurines perched on the columns. Although the elaborate stucco and plaster fallen to the ravages of time, we could recognize almost all the members of the Hindu pantheon from amid thick layers of moss.

Makhan Lal Natta, an old man who owns a more than the 140-year old Natta Company (Natta Company has been a leading exponent of Jatra- a Bengali folk theatre form) acquired the property  in 1978 and now the third floor of this grand mansion doubles as his office. The rest of the rooms are occupied by tenants.

It is hard to believe that this magnificent building which served as a shooting location for Roland Joffe’s “City of Joy” and which Desmond Doig tagged as “a perfect example of Calcutta rococo” was built as a warehouse. Hence several warehouses were build in this area to store imported goods. But why such an elaborately decorated structure for a warehouse?  Well, the answer is surely lost in the mists of time.

Mallick’s of Pathuriaghata.

Before the advent of the British, there were already many well established, erudite families in Kolkata with flourishing business. They traded in gold silver, silk, cotton, salt. Or were involved in shipping, transport etc. When the British started taking over in the mid eighteenth century, these families used the situation to their advantage. They joined hands with them and entered their services as “munshis”(teachers), “banians”, officials or commissioners. They employed British architects to build large mansions, mimicking antique Doric, Iconic, Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque styles among many others. An outer fa├žade of polished plaster made from lime of burnt shells, decorative tiles and murals, an inner courtyard with a “thakur dalan” (permanent place for the worship of the family deity) characterized these houses. The inner courtyard was surrounded by colonnaded balconies office at one end rooms for entertaining at the other. The family quarters were upstairs, again along the balconies.

Mallick family had come into prominence during the seventeenth century. Rajaram Mullick shifted from Kolkata from Triveni. His great grandson Nimaicharan invested in salt trade and real estate business and in the process brought his family into the political and social circles. At the time of his death he left over three crores in his will.  A fascinating legend is connected to this family. Rajaram’s ancestor Baidyanath Dey Mallick climbed to the top of Chandranath mountain to find a betweel idol of Durga (Maa Singabahini). The priest of the temple gifted it to him and he brought it down with him to Triveni and it was later brought to Kolkata. The family adopted the goddess as their family deity. Many years later, in 1883, when Ramkrishna visited the family he was enamored by the goddess and immediately entered a deep reverie.

Three large structures have already come up next to this building; one of them is the Barrabazar Branch of Metropolitan School, established in 1887. Jadulal Mallick had numerous contributions in social and law spheres. At one time he donated enormously to the Oriental Seminary from where he passed entrance, school leaving examination. Jadulal Mallick has a road named after him in the area. His son, Manmathanath Mallick bought a pair of zebras from Alipore Zoological gardens to pull his carriage through the streets of Kolkata. One of the poor creatures died soon after, yet he persisted. He even got his carriage painted in Zebra colors’. He had nine types of carriages and a stable full of horses.

One of the grandsons of Jadunath Mallick, Pradyunno Kumar Mallick had 35 cars; out of which 10 are were Rolls Royce. The Mallicks have contributed enormously for charitable purposes. The courtyard of Jadulal Mallick’s house has intricate cast iron works, one of the finest in Kolkata.

Sources: 1. “The Forgotten Palaces of Calcutta” by Joanne Taylor.
                2. “Glory dreams of Kolkata’s Rajbaries” by Namrata Acharya-Business Standard.
                3. “Past Glory of Bengal” by Rudrashu Mukherjee.
                4. “Bonedi Kolkatar Gharbari” by Debashish Bandopadhyay.
                5.  Blog by Amitava Gupta, under the title “Ruined heritage of a gloried past”.
                6. The Telegraph. 30th.October, 2013.
                7.  “Calcutta : An artist's Impression ” by Desmond Doig.
                8.  "Calcutta in urban history” by Pradip Sinha

   Research  -Santanu Roy.
   Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.        

Saturday, 1 November 2014


In Western European countries, where the concept of conservation is a part of their culture, and is now so deeply rooted within it that they forget that the practice of conserving is an expression of the values of that culture. The scenario however is totally different in developing countries such as India, which have different cultures, values, priorities and an obsession with modernism. It is here that the question, “Why conserve?”  Is frequently raised. In India conservation of living historic towns and monuments cannot be justified solely by a romantic attitude of “picturesque”, “artistic”, “historical”, or “antic” alone, there are many other reasons such as: Conservation of resources, for preserving our skills and tradition, for the quality of life, for continuing the past into future, for identity, for character and appearance, for stability and continuity, for architecture and history, and for tourism.

The striking castle near Pathuriaghata in north Calcutta may be the only building of its kind in all over the country. What was once a fantastic palace has turned into a death trap with only two entrances, illegal structures which have come up all over the building? Tagore Castle was constructed in the year 1820 and was remodeled in 1896. Tagore castle is one of the kolkata’s lesser known (native architecture) buildings, but it is no less of a magnificent structure. Herein lays the shame of India, completely devoid of any sense of heritage, preservation of its history and architecture. It has been carved up and butchered almost beyond recognition, and certainly beyond any restoration.

The first house, on the land where tagore castle now stands on at 26, Prasanna Kumar Tagore street in Pathuriaghata, was built by Kali Kumar Tagore. It was a three storey structure. Kali Kumar had given the house to his younger brother Prasanna Kumar. In 1895 Jatindra Mohan drastically renovated and turned it “Tagore Castle”. The building was remodeled by Macintosh Burn. It had a 100 ft high centre tower, inspired by the “Windsor Castle” a flag staff and a clock imported from England, reminiscent of “Big Ben”. He even had permission to fly to Union Jack.

The building had large rooms as in the castles of England. There was an auditorium on the second floor, meant mainly for staging of plays (Nachghar). The Tagore’s patronised Banga Natyalay, from 1859 to 1872. It was started by Jatindra Mohan Tagore and his brother Shourendra Mohan Tagore, both ardent Theatre enthusiasts. The first play staged here was Kalidas’ “Malavikagnimitram” in Sanskrit, in July 1859. From here Jogendra Mohan Tagore helped Ishwar Chandra Gupta to publish “Sambad Prabhakar”, first as a weekly from 28 January 1831. Later the building had been given out on lease to the S.B. House And Land Pvt Ltd of Haridas Mundhra ( a Marowari banian ) and has altered most of it to beyond recognition.

The present owner, Sreejit Tagore, has been busy fighting one court case after another to regain control over the castle. Several thousand people now reside in the castle and all of them have made some construction or the other to suit their own convenience. Most of them pay no rent either.

Pathuriaghata Tagore Family
The Bengal renaissance of the 19th century was a remarkable period of societal transformation in which whole range of creative activities-literary, cultural, social and economic – flourished. The Bengal renaissance was the culmination of the process of emergence of the cultural characteristics of the Bengali people that had started in the age of Hussein Shah (1493-1519). This spread over covering around three centuries had a tremendous impact of Bengali Society. Incidentaly that coincided with the raise of the Tagore family.

The family earlier held the title (surname) of Kushari, and hailed from Jessore District, now in Bangladesh. Two of the Kusharis, Panchanan and Sukdeb, settled in Gobindapur,one of the villages that developed into the city of Kolkata. Being Brahmins, the neighbors called them Thakurmashai, or “holy sir”. After the British gained control of the country, “Thakur” became their family name. In English, It was Anglicized to “Tagore”, with some variations in spelling within the family. They were “Pirali Brahmins”, a sort of outcaste in orthodox society.( An ancestor of Tagore’s is said to have polluted himself by interacting with a local Muslim fakir and allowing some of his family members to get converted to Islam, and thus the family became socially dubbed as the outcast Pirali Brahmin.)

Scholars and Historians assert that Joyram Tagore (d.1762) was the first historical figure, come from Jessore. From Joyram, the history of the Tagores in Kolkata begun. Formerly Joyram worked with the French as their Dewan (amin) in Chandannagar. He settled in Govindapur, one of the three villages of the East India Company bought from the emperor, shifted from Gobindapur to Pathuriaghata, when British constructed new Fort William in mid eighteenth century. There is a road named after his son, Darpanarayan Tagore.  Among Joyram’s sons Darpanarayan was first person in the family to gain prominence, earned major revenues through Banian of the French at Chandannagar. And Nilmoni Tagore was Sheristadar or civil judge of the district court. In 1765 the two brothers fell into a property dispute, as a result of which Nilmoni left home to find a niche elsewhere. He built a modest house in mechhuabazar in north Kolkata. This became Jorasanko House. The Tagore family was thus bifurcated into Pathuriaghata branch under Darpanarayan and the Jorasanko branch under Nilmoni Tagore.

Darpanarayan was succeeded by his son Gopimohan Tagore (1760-1818), who continued in the service of the French and expanded the family’s landholdings. He was a personal friend of several European merchants and was among the few Hindues who invited foreigners into their homes. He befriended and supported the reformer Rammohan Roy, who settled in Calcutta in 1815. Gopimohan Tagore was educated in several languages, had a passioin for music (holding performances in his house), and was a patron of learning.       He was a large donor to the foundation of the Hindu College in Kolkata in 1817.

Gopimohan’s son Prasannakumar Tagore (1801-1868) was an esteemed pleader and a member of the governor-generals legislative council. He, Dwarkanath Tagore, and Rmmohan Roy together sued the government for its resumption of lak-i-raj(rent-free tenures) throughout Bengal and later the president of the British Indian Association, the earliest organizations of Indians in the country. He was a supporter of Rammohan’s theistic movement. Apart from being a director of Hindu college, he was involved with the activities of several institutions. Prasannakumar was the founder of first local theatre- The Hindu theatre.

Tagore Law lectures are organized by Calcutta University on the strength of donations he made. He was as famous for his library of law books at Pathuriaghata House as his brother Harakumar Tagore (d.1858) was for his rare collection of Sanskrit manuscripts. Prasanna Kumar Tagore built a huge mansion in “Natehata” and named it “Palace”. People used to call it “Tagore Palace”. What was once “Naptehata” is now Prasanna Kumar Tagore Street, “Tagore Palace” occupies house numbers 13,13A and 13B of this street. The more prominent house is “Tagore Castle” at 26, Prasanna Kumar Tagore Street.

Gnandramohan Tagore (1826-1890), son of Prasanna Kumar Tagore, converted to Christianity and married Kamalmoni daughter of Reverent Krishnamohan Banerjee. He was disowned by his father and disinherited. He went to England and qualified for the bar from Lincoln’s Inn. He became the first Indian to become a barrister. For some time he taught Hindu Law and Bengali at the University of London. Harakumar’s two sons, Jotindramohan Tagore (1831-1908) and Sourindramohan Tagore (1840-1914), were leading men in the world of theatre and music. Jatindramohan contributed substantially to the development of theatre in Kolkata and was himself a keen actor. He inspired Michael Madhusudan Dutta to write “Tilottamasambhab Kabya” and published it at his cost. In 1865, he established the “Banganatyalaya” at Pathuriaghata. He was keen in music also and patronized musicians. With his active support one of them, Kshetra Mohan Goswami, introduced the concept of orchestra in to Indian music for the first time in this country. He was president of the British Indian Association and was the first Indian to be member of the Royal Photographic Society.  Sourindramohan earned a doctorate in music from the university of Pennsylvania in 1875 and was the author of an “Universal History of Music”(1896).

Source :   1. Uma Das Gupta, “Tagore family” , Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.             
                 2. S. N. Mukherjee, “ Calcutta : Miths and History”
                 3. Sivanath Sastri “ Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Banga Samaj.”
                 4. Debashis Bandopadhyay “Bonedi Kolkatar Gharbari”       
                 5. Nitish Sengupta “ History of Bengali-speaking People.”
                 6. The Living City, Vol-1. Edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri.
                 7. Debashis Bandopadhyay “Bonedi Kolkatar Gharbari”   
                 5.”Architectural and urban construction” Edited by Santosh Ghosh.

  Research  -Santanu Roy.
   Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.