Clive House, otherwise known as Barokothi is located at 91, Rastraguru Avenue, Dumdum (under South Dumdum Municipality) and may be considered as one of the oldest buildings of Kolkata, erected before the seizure of Kolkata by Siraj-ud-daullah, it has also known as “Dumdum House”. Standing on an artificial (?) mound surrounded by a moat.
The history and origin of the building is obscure yet it is presumed to be a Portuguese or Dutch factory or go down of cotton or salt peter. It is also presumed that the building of the late Mughal period was sometimes owned by Nawab Alivardi Khan and his grandson Siraj-ud-daullah and later on passed to the hands of Lord Clive who used its country seat (1757-60). Some historians are even of the opinion that a historical treaty between the Europeans and the Nawab of Bengal was signed in that very building. (Reported to have been a gift of MirJaffer to Robert Clive).During the later part of 18th century, it became a hub for the Europeans.
According to the British civil servant Lewis O’Malley, writing in 1911, “the name Dumdum is a corruption of Dumduma, meaning a raised mound or battery. It appears to have first applied to an old house standing on a raised mound.” He quotes R.C. Sterndale, writing in 1891, that “Dumdum House is a building of some historic interest. It is probably one of the oldest existing buildings in Bengal as it was in existence, though not its present forms, before 1756. But the first mention of the house occurs in Robert Orme’s “History of the war in Bengal” (first published in 1798). “Orme” states that when Clive marched through the Nawab,s camp at Sealdah on the morning of 8th February 1757, in a dense fog, he crossed the Dumdum road. “The road leads to Dumdum, an old building stationed on mound”.
O’Malley continues “The buildings appears to have been originally a one storied brick house, so constructed as to secure a flank fire along each face with underground chambers or cellars. The walls were of great thickness for four to eight feet. No authentic account of the origin of this building can be found but it was probably a Dutch or Portuguese (artillery?) factory… Sometimes after the battle of Plassey, Lord Clive made the building his country house alternating the lower storey so as to destroy its character as a defense position and building a fine upper storey: the grounds were also laid out with great expense and taste in the prevailing formal Dutch style…. From its elevated position and the massiveness of its structure, the old house would still be capable of a stout defense against anything but artillery.”
The common people in that area tell another story. Probably Clive cleaned his guns and tested them. The Dham-dham sound generated from testing of guns got established as “Dum Dum” and was accepted as name of the area. This building become the centre of some rather unlikely attention in 1997 when the suggestion was made that it should be restored as part of the 50th anniversary of Indian independence from Britain. This sparked an understandably contrary view from many Indians who thought India had more pressing priorities than to restore the house of a man who did more than anyone else to establish colonial rule in the first place.
Nonetheless the house enjoyed a few years of celebrity, a highlight of which was a programme shown on BBC television in 2002. Their investigation concluded that the house, far from being a Dutch or Portuguese factory, had been the hunting lodge of an Indian prince dating back to the 16th & 17th.Centuries. Having placed this evidence before the Bengali authorities there was some optimism that restoration work would begin.
And some work did begin. Soumitra Das, “The Telegraph” journalist, wrote in 2006 that “The deep rooted trees were removed and the huge mass of debris on the southern side was cleared. After removing the debris blocking the northern side, a semi-circular stairway leading to the arched opening was discovered. The pillared verandah in a precarious state was consolidated. Some stairways were restored but the main staircase on the north western side remains untouched.” Fifteen years later there has been little further progress, except that the Bangladeshi families which lived inside the house have moved out following the collapse of a roof.
Job Charnock is credited with having founded Calcutta, now Kolkata, in 1690. But excavations conducted recently by Archaeological survey of India (ASI) in Dumdum, near the location of Kolkata Airport, indicate that an advance urban civilization flourished in the region long before the chief of the East India Company got there. According to informed ASI sources, seals, semi-precious stones and terracotta and stone figurines unearthed from the site belong to the Sunga-Kusana period. “ It is fascinating that where Kolkata now stands such an ancient civilization existed”. Bimal Bandhopadhyay, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Kolkata told Frontline.
The excavations took place in three phases-between June and July 2001, from December 2001 to May 2002, and finally from November 2002. Acting on a proposal in 2001 for the protection and preservation of the house in which Robert Clive lived, the ASI surveyed the surrounding areas. “The Clive House is situated on a mound. It is perhaps a Dutch or Portuguese habitation before occupied it and had it renovated into a doubled storied structure, “Bandhopadhyay said.
During the survey, the ASI team found ruins of ancient pottery and brick. Shortly after the surface finds were made, excavations recommenced in June 2001. “The initial excavations, which were done on a 10x10 meters single trench in a horizontal method yielded fascination results. We discovered terracotta figurines, semiprecious stones, coins belonging to the eighth century A.D. and even earlier,” Bandhopadhyay said. Subsequently, a floor made of lime and brick jelly, covering the length of almost an entire trench, a hearth, and around it a a lot of tortoise shells and fish scales were found.
“ This has lead us to believe that the people of the region were probably non-vegetarians in their diet.” Also judging from the materials found, including art objects, punch-marked coins, and seals, he said, it was obviously a very advanced, prosperous civilization, and people were skilled craftsmen. “ This may very well have been a busy trading centre.” One of the most interesting finds was a seal on which, in Nagari script, was written “Samapasasya”. This language was prevalent in eastern India in the 8th century A.D. The inscription, as deciphered by the scholar and historian B.N.Mukherjee, means “belonging to Samapasa”.
Encouraged by these discoveries, the ASI embarked on an excavation project on a larger scale from 2001. “We found Sunga terracotta’s, pot shards, beads, crystals, punch-marked and cast copper coins, and semi-precious stones like agate, jasper and lapis Lazuli. The pot shards, including greyware, blackware, redware, all in fine fabric, stylistically date basck to around the second century B.C. “These items once again indicate that this region was probably a prosperous business centre,” Bandhopadhyay said.
The findings are all set to revolutionize the history of South Bengal. They reveal remnants of a civilization over 2000 years old. History will have to be rewritten because nobody knew this area had a flourishing civilization so long back.
Sources: 1. “Calcutta Old and New” by H.E.A Cotton.
2. “Clive in India” by Mark Bence-Jones.
3. “Two faces of Clive House in Dumdum” by Soumitra Das , The Telegraph, 24th January,2006.
4. “A history of Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan “by Robert Orme.
5. “Bengal District Gazetters-24 Parganas” Lewis Sydney Steward O’Malley.
6. “Bishop Heber in India” by M.A. Laird.
7. “Vivat Heritage” Clive of India’s house at Dum Dum. “Lucifers Voice” under “Heritage Hassles.”
8. “Frontline” Vol-20, Issue -03, Feb 01-14, 2003. Written by Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay.
9. “Old House on the Hill” The Teleghaph, May 23, 2003.
10. “The Times of India”. Nov 23, 2001. By Archita Bhatta & Sept 23, 2014 by K. Bandyopadhyay.
11. “A remarkable Edifice now in ruins” The Tribune, Saturday, Sept.9, 2000.
12. “Dumdum Story” Thursday. April 7,2016, Ordnance Factory DumDum. (Ordnancedumdum.nic.in)
13. “Sabarna Prithithivi” , “Kolkata Mystery” by Devarshi Roychoudhury.
14. ASI (Kolkata Circle)
15. “Custodians of the past” -150 years of ASI.
Research -Santanu Roy.
Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.
Research -Santanu Roy.
Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.