Baghbazar Street: By the City’s Oldest Neighbourhood

Joydip Sur

Baghbazar Street, stretching from Rabindra Sarani in the west till Bidhan Sarani in the east is one of the oldest roads of the city. It commences from Raghu Mitra’s Ghat, named after the son of Govindaram, the black Zemindar of Calcutta.

The street which was in existence even at a time when Robert Clive was only a writer in the service of the East India Company owed its name to the adjoining Perrin’s Garden- the favourite haunt of the Company’s servants before the attack on Calcutta by Nawab’s forces.

Originally the street began its course from Old Powder Mill Ghat. C R William in an article titled Buzar by Perrins published in The Fort William Consultation on March 29, 1731, commented that “There being a proper place for a buzar near Perrin’s Garden, and as we are informed will bring in a good revenue to the Honourable Company, if a road and ditches were made to it, agreed that the Jemidar do make them.”

The name “Baag Buzar” first appeared in reference of its being farmed out in 1749. J. Z. Holwell too, mentions ‘Baghbazar’ in his account of Calcutta in 1752. The map of Calcutta, in the year of the Battle of Plassey (1757), shows this street lined with trees on both the sides. Wood’s map of Calcutta (1784) mentions Baghbazar as about a quarter of a mile long. Upjohn’s map (1794) shows Old Powder Mill Bazar Road where Baghbazar originally commenced from. The name Baghbazar Street came into existence after 1794.

As Kalikata became settled, Sutanuti was gradually abandoned by the English as a place of residence. There remained, near its northernmost corner, Perrin’s Garden, the pleasure resort, where once it was the height of gentility for the British East India Company’s covenanted servants to take their ladies for an evening stroll or moonlight fete. Captain Perrin was the owner of several ships. His garden which started from the present Haralal Mitra Street on the east and terminated at Chitpur Road (present day Rabindra Sarani) near the River Hooghly on the west, was sold to the Company in 1749. The Company retained ownership of the garden till 1752 and then sold the property to J. Z. Holwell for a sum of 2,500 rupees. Perrin’s Point was at the north-western apex of his garden. Col. C. F. Scott started manufacturing gun powder at the gardens in 1754. The bazaar was situated on a part of the parcel of land which Purnachandra De owned as was stated in the Calcutta Municipal Gazette of December 25, 1926.

A “Redoubt” to protect Calcutta was built in 1855 and a year later a small garrison of 60 European and native soldiers led by Ensign Piccard repulsed the attack by the Nawab’s forces.

Baghbazar Para
Baghbazar has also been mentioned in several works of literature. One among them is Alaler Gharer Dulal (The Rich Man’s Spoilt Child) written by Peary Chand Mitra in 1857 which has an interesting piece of conversation being exchanged among few women centred on Baghbazar, possibly when they went for a bath in the River Hooghly. A rough translation of the excerpt would read as follows:

“Some are speaking of their oppressive sisters-in-law, some are cursing their tyrannical mothers-in-law, some are tired of life because of the kicks they receive from their daughters-in-law, particularly when their sons are too timid to intervene; some complain of the intolerable behaviour of the wives of their husband’s brothers and some say how keen they are to get their ten-year-old sons married.”

as well as illustrious individuals among who was Nagendranath Basu who edited 22 volumes Biswakosh, the Bengali encyclopedia. He lived at 8 Kantapukur Bylane in Baghbazar. Calcutta Municipal Corporation later renamed it as Biswakosh Lane. It is interesting to note that this is possibly the only road in the world named after a book. Mohanchand Basu, also lived in Bagbazar in the 19th century and was a disciple of Nidhu Babu, who introduced toppa songs. Bhola Maira, the renowned kaviyal (verse-contestant) had a sweet-meat shop on Bagbazar Street. So did Nabin Moira, inventor of rasogolla.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa often stayed at the house of his householder devotee, Balaram Bose situated in the same neighbourhood. A little away was the family residence of noted playwright, Girish Chandra Ghosh and so was the home of Maa Sarada. Sister Nivedita also chose to open her school in Bagbazar. The office of the publication, Udbodhan founded by Swami Vivekananda is also located at Bagbazar.

The two auditoriums which are located side by side on Bagbazar Street – Girish Mancha and the auditorium of Paschim Banga Jatra Akademi – still bears testimony to love of the local people for culture. Baghbazar Sarbojanin Durga Puja continues to a major crowd puller with its deity of traditional design and innovative decoration.