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 Rammohan 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.
Research -Santanu Roy.
Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.