Friday, 16 December 2016


Any tourist visiting Patna has been directed by Guide Book or his / her local contact to visit Golghar at Fraser Road. Fraser Road is a busy connection in between Patna Central Railway Station and the lungs of Patna, Gandhi Maidan. The name suggests it is a round storage house of food grains (abbreviation of Gola Ghar).  

For centuries, its feature has mesmerized visitor for its huge scale & unique shape.

On a cloudy July morning when we were in front of this structure, we found the restoration work of this century old structure is under implementation, the access staircases of the structures are prohibited for any visitor.

It is a huge Brick Made dome having internal width of 125 m at bottom, and a total height of 29 m. The thickness of wall at base is 3.6 m. This masonry structure does not have any concrete beam column frame.  It has a small door at the bottom & one circular opening at the top of the dome. This top opening can be approached by two spiral staircases (145 steps each) erected on the outside surface of the main structure.


At first instance, it seems to be a futuristic structure right from a Hollywood script of a science-fiction movie. The oldness of the structure is quite evident by naked eye.

Bishop Heber (visit to Patna in 1824) mentioned the structure in Biblical term “the old prints of Tower of Babel”.In 1844 Fanny Park while describing Patna touched about this very structure. Bholanath Chunder elaborated this Golghar in his“Travel of a Hindu”(Published- 1869).

Was the designer inspired from the shape of beehive? Was it a replica of old Buddhist Stupa? Was it a mammoth scaling of the private golas of Bengal-farmers (inhabitant of sube Bangla of Moghul era, modern-day West Bengal, Bihar, Bangladesh & Orissa)? When was it built?

All of those questions may be answered from the two plaques inserted on the wall of this huge dome, one in Persian (?) & the other one was in English.

The English stone engrave run like this:
No. I
In the part of a General Plan
Ordered by the Governor General and Council
20th of January 1784
For the perpetual prevention of Famine
In these province
Was erected by Captain John Garstin Engineer
Completed on the 20th of July 1786
First filled & publicly closed by--------

The nascent British Administration of India assigned Captain John Garstin to erect itas the very first Government Granary in 1784. Garstin designed & implemented this unique granary as a preventative measure to in famous famines of Gangetic-delta within British Territory in 1786.

This young captain of Bengal Engineers of British Military subsequently became Major General & Chief Engineer of British India.Major General Garstin’s signature master-piece till standing in Calcutta is the Town Hall of the city (opened in 1813). John Garstin never went back to Europe. Kolkata’s South Park Street Cemetery remained his last resting place.

JOHN GARSTIN (1756-1820)
Courtesy British Library

Since 1760, a big grain market was developed at Marufgunge, at eastern outskirts of the walled Patna City (Azimabad) with active participation of British East India Company personnel and local merchants.  Similarly another market Bakergunge was developed in the western outskirt of the city’s wall with European co-operation. Almost 6 miles from this western boundary, at Bankipur the European town was developed by the British administration at the beautiful river bank. Among the features of this British Patna,Golghar was located in such a way that from the river transport the first glimpse to the European quarter of Patna used to be frozen on it. On the other-hand, from the top of this tallest structure of the-then city, a bird’s eye view of the old Azimabad & New Patna with eternal Ganga unfolded in front of viewer’s eyes. This was a structure with difference, contrasting to the entire skyline of a mart-city comprising of a small broken fort, one abandoned European factory, some mosque minarets, one modest catholic church,age old Punjabi shrine, old Islamic mansions with wooden roofs& numerous mud huts.

Courtesy Bihar & Orissa District Gazetteers by L S SO’malley

The structure was an advertisement of power, authority & assurance. It might be treated as a racial supremacy of the ruler to a city which had seen lot of bloodbath for almost half a century prior to the construction of Golghar (Maratha invasion, rebellion of Afgan army, Mughal attack, Anglo Mohammedan conflict, British search for French fugitives& uprising of neighboring states).

The earlier referred travelogue writers always asked about the utility of this structure. Heber &Chunder tried to explain their respective views, whereas Fanny Park coolly referred it as a guard house. Emily Eden in 1837 without candidness expressed “it is useless”.

This suggested, though the Granary was built; this was never utilized up to its designed level. We found two common explanations. First, the mammoth volume of the granary was too small in comparison with the one day consumption of famine stricken population of nearby locality. Second, the opening of the only door of the granary was inward hence if the granary was packed up to extreme capacity the grain would be in ever-locked position.

Courtesy Stone of Empire: the Buildings of the Raj – Jan Morris & Simon Winchester

Both these causes appeared to be without substance. The basic design capacity of 1784 could not cater the single day consumption of nearby locals – a remote possibility, even if accepted, why it was even not used up to its actual capacity as a mean of exigency, as the first British Cantonment was several miles away (Dinapur cantonment was established prior to Barrackpore cantonment!). Secondly, the changing of the opening direction of the door was not so difficult proposition for an engineer of Garstin’s class.


But it was evident by the Garstin’s plaque that the date of filling & first public closure had never happened.There had to be concrete cause for this unfinished business of this Granary.

While searching through internet we got an important document of eminent historian Ms. Kumkum Chatterjee (Merchants, Politics and Society in Early Modern India: Bihar 1733-1820). Her painstaking research on eighteenth century Bihar took us to the period of construction of this Golghar. It was an era when earliest British administration was focusing more towards governance of its Indian territory. The basic mercantile persuasion of British East India Company (as a monopolistic trading conglomerate, oppressive revenue collector & private business ventures of its employees) was becoming a past.


A Department of Grain was conceived. Intention was - to collect grain at lowest market rate when it was plentiful, stocked it in huge Government granaries across British India, distribution in control rate during the time of famine to Indian subjects. A structured disaster management proposal & its implementation- “Grand Plan” as mentioned in the Garstin’s engrave. Implementation of “No.I” related to this Grand Plan went smoothly. The crisis aroused on its operation.

When on completion of Patna Golghar, the British District Collectors were desperately trying to procure grain in lowest market rate, curtail of local suppliers prevented that scheme. The nexus of merchant & mediators was too strong for the nascent Government system. The rate asked against grain supply increased in exponential series at marts after marts. Stream of letters flowed from residencies to Calcutta;subject was- failure to find a suitable vendor for supplying grain to Government granary with a proper rate.

Golghar at Bankipur, near Patna, 1814-15
Courtesy British Library

The “No.1” of the Grand Plant never got operative to its full capacity, hence, the No.2 structure of the Grand Plan never saw the day’s light. Almost 230 years ago a move of first hand Government trading & passing the benefit to the consumer directly like todays e-commerce portal failed.

But the structure remained. The huge hollow space of inside produced echo against the faintest sound, it became a prized spot for visiting tourist. Subsequently the robust structure embalmed as the face of modern Patna.

Even today, when we found the official document in internet for “Proposed River Front Development in Patna” its proposal commenced with the above sketch of Golghar.

Ironically with the search “Captain John Garstin” we can land up in internet to Golghar, Patna. Whereas “Garstin Place” in Kolkata invariably took the searcher to the stories of haunted house at No.1, Garstin Place, the original office of All India Radio, Kolkata.

Though Garstin was never been able to engrave the date after “First filled & publicly closed” on Golghar wall, the structure remained faithful to its designer & executioner till date.


When we were leaving Golghar, one advertisement caught in to our eyes.It was about evening Laser Show at Golghar Premises.

John Garstin’s one of the most serious endeavor on Indian soil is  no more be treated as a venue for morning-walkers only, it also becomes an entertainment zone for the Patna City in week-ends of twenty first century India.

The Granary which never been publicly closed, is well taken care for public viewing by the independent Indian Government. 

  Research - Abhijnan Basu.
  Picture Courtesy - Abhijnan Basu & Santanu Roy.

Monday, 21 November 2016


There is lot of controversies on the significance of name ‘Birbhum’, but the most popular of them is the land (bhum) of Brave people (Bir). Certainly after hearing that one will be curious to find evidences from history in support of that explanation. We do not know whether Birbhum got his name from the gallantry of the kings but their opulence made them significant in the history of Birbhum. Hetampur Raj was one of them and the terracotta temples are built under their kingship left interesting spots.
Hetampur gets its name from a local zamindar Hetam Khan and the Hetampur raj arose from an unskilled worker of Bankura District to the most powerful family of Birbhum. Radhanath Chakraborty was the first prominent name of Hetampur Royal family who subdued the former Gomastas and Iajardars. By the end of 18th century more lands of Birbhum were taken by them. Even they declared themselves as independent kings and refused to pay tax to Nawab of Murshidabad anymore. Such influence was carried out by this family even after Radhanath Chakraborty.
Both Hetampur royal palace and nearby terracotta temples are the reflections of their opulence. The royal palace has a big red gateway. This gateway has interesting female figures on the top of it. Such figures are very rare with respect to other structures of Birbhum as it this is prone to Roman classical style. It would not be wrong to say that such Roman classical style was transmitted to this region through Victorian architecture. This indicates their relation with British culture and the implication of that style in various parts of royal palace and terracotta temples signify their association with British administration.

When we visited Hetampur before we went to see royal palace we were stuck by the art and architecture of a Shiva temple which was there on our way to the royal palace. We were surprised not because the art was amazing but it was peculiar. Depiction of English man and women, insignia of company royal house, representation of Victorian erotic sense are very unusual in case of Bengal terracotta temple.

Unlike the other terracotta temples this temple bore mostly European figures. Though there are figures like Mahisashurmardini Durga, but such figure is rare particularly in this temple. The image of court of arms of British East India Company, male figure with hat, coat and trouser, a lady dressed in gowns are demonstrating the British influence upon the royal family. This is beyond doubt that such representation of British culture and power did not have any influence on rural society.

Though it is hard to tell whether presence of English women were irregular in this area at the time when this temple was constructed but it would not be wrong to say that those memsahibs were not very irregular in the rural landscape of Colonial India. Many of them came here to live with their male counterparts in the bungalows and residences. Representation of the late Victorian women is clear on the temple walls. 

On the other hand we have female figure as a companion of English male figure. Story which evolves around this illustration is rather a story of a sexual relation. This sexual relation evolves around a native women and an English man. It would not be wrong to say that this native woman is a prostitute who was a matter of concern from British army barracks to the board of control of Company. By addressing that history terracotta art did a first-class job. So it can be said that art on this temple is rather a portrayal of colonial life in India rather than rural cults and myths.  
Unlike other places of Birbhum Hetampur does not have much treasure in its box. Those, which are alive, are not in a better position except some of them. One of them is Dewanji temple which is situated close to the previous one. This is a traditional Deul structure and it has figures of musicians playing the instruments like khol and blowing horn. God and Goddess are the most common figures of this temple. Apart from that we have various other figures like musicians, maids, dancers. Both Vishnu and Krishna are depicted in this temple. Vishnu is seen with Lakshmi and Krishna is accompanied by gopis and Radha. Probably this temple was dedicated to Vishnu or Krishna.
1.     Temple Terracottas of Birbhum, Mukul Dey.
2.     Mukul Dey archives. Chitralekha
3.     The Economic life of Bengal district 1770-1857, Dr. Ranjan Kumar Gupta, 1984.
4.     West Bengal District Gazetteers : Birbhum by L.S.S. O’Malley & Durgadas Majumder (1973).
5.     “Birbhum Bibaran” by Mahima Ranjan Chakraborty .

       Research - Santanu Roy.
       Picture Courtesy - Sritam Mukherjee.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016


When we talk about tangible heritage of our country we tend to discuss the engineering marvels of those structures, but what lies beneath such discussion is the story of those who made that possible. In Bengal, Terracotta artisans created many marvelous works which amaze us even today. The word ‘Terracotta’ may remind you of the temples of Bishnupur but in Birbhum we get  a different flavor of it. 

Birbhum is the treasure box of Bengal terracotta. Terracotta temples are scattered through the landscape of Hetampur, Surul, Ilambazar, Ghurisa etc. These terracotta temples not only represent the prosperity of Zamindars but there are rural customs and folk culture depicted on the walls of those temples. Surely Folk arts and handicrafts occupied a conspicuous position in our rural life in bygone days. The moribund days of flourishing terracotta craftsmanship are no more. Terracotta craft formed a prominent part of social and cultural life of medieval and Early modern Bengal. Apart from the connoisseur Landlords of Bengal, Vaishnavite movement had much to influence this art. 

Indeed prosperity gives enough room for the emergence of such art. The temples of Bishnupur and Birbhum are the expression of such prosperity. It is very evident from the way they were built. In Bishnupur political achievement of Malla Kings was merged with Vaishnavite culture while Birbhum saw economic prosperity along with culture of education in traditional philosophy and script. 


Most of the temples of Birbhum appeared in medieval period, but such per iodization is not beyond debate. But what is beyond doubt is that these are old enough and probably the oldest one lives in Ghurisha, a village of Ilambazar police station. It is situated 7 K.M. west of Ilambazar. It has ruins of old time brick build houses and several hundreds of tanks speaking of its past glory. Ghurisha was one of the renowned places of learning philosophy and scripts in Birbhum. 

Thus the Pundits (learned person) of Ghurisha became the forerunners of temple inauguration. Raghuttam Acharya, one of the leading pundits of Ghurisha from 17th century, inaugurated Raghunathji temple which is probably the oldest terracotta temple in this region. The Raghunathji temple was built near about A.D. 1633 and this is a Charchala (char=Four) temple. Though we find the name of the inaugurator but one will fail to find any of the names of artisans. There are different figures depicted on the wall. Some of them bear indication of female cults from hindu myth; even a Chhinnomasta figurine (other name of Kali) can be found which is rare with respect to other figures from other temples. It is not feasible to recognize all the figures as many of them are perishing. Even from different parts terracotta plaques have disappeared. It is said that a gold image of Rama was removed from the temple to protect it from Maratha raiders (bargies) between 1742 and 1751.

The area was thoroughly observed by Benoy Ghosh, an eminent scholar, many years ago and what he found was so alarming. Rammoy Panchotirtha, A descendant of Raghuttam Acharya, who built that Raghunathji Temple explode his grief for the abandonment of those structures. What that man showed to our culture was his ultimate wish to protect our moribund past. He took the decaying stone inscription, on which the date of foundation was erected, and put it on the wall of his residence. He did it for the survival of a culture.

There is another temple in the vicinity of Raghunathji Temple which is a Navaratna Mandir. It was founded by Kshetramohan (or Nath) Dutta who was a Gandha-banik by caste. He made lot money after dealing with the Europian Marchants who lived in Illambazar. It shows us the social mobility in Bengal of that period. Spectacular work of terracotta can be seen here. Though some protions of this temple seems different from other parts but when we get to see figures like Tirpura-Vairabi, Tara, Saraswati and Ganesha on the lap of Durga we are startled with the representation. 

When we visited this temple some local folk came up to us told that they did many things to preserve this temple but they were curious to talk with us. They might have thought that what they were unable to do would be feasible for us.

There is many more Raghunathji Temple through out Bengal. The days of Raghuttam Acharya are gone but what exists is the shadow of a culture. Thus it is our responsibility to prolong that shadow in the memory of those who evolved that culture and those who successfully built it. What you say ?

1.    Poschimbonger Sanskriti (part I), Benoy Ghosh, Prakash Bhaban, Kolkata ,2014.
2.    Social Mobility in Bengal, Hiteshranjan Sanyal, Papyrus, 1981.
3.    Temple Terracottas of Birbhum, Mukul Dey.
4.    West Bengal District Gazetteers: Birbhum by L.S.S. O’Malley. And by Durgadas Majumder.(1973).
5.    Temple Terracottas of Bengal/ Mukul Dey Archives.

Research & Picture Courtesy - Sritam Mukherjee.