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Calcutta Chronicle -Jorasanko
Arpan Debnath
2021-12-22 13:51:40



Long ago, when Calcutta was little more than a trading outpost of the British, two channels from River Hooghly flowing between the dihis of Sutanuti, Kalikata and Gobindapur marked the geographical boundaries. The creek between Sutanuti and Kalikata flowed through Pathuriaghata, Jorasanko, Thanthane, to Sealdah and Beleghata and finally to the Salt Lakes. The creek between Kalikata and Gobindapur flowed from Chandpal Ghat to the present day Creek Row till Moulali. The presence of twin wooden bridges across the first one (Elliot Creek) led to the name 'Jorasanko'. The neighbourhood featured in the earliest list of 31 police stations prepared in 1785.

              Most of the land in this area had belonged to the Seth and Bysacks. Neelmoni Tagore who left his ancestral house at Pathuriaghata to settle at Jorasanko was gifted this plot by Baisnab Charan Seth or Baisnab Das Seth of Jorabagan. Well-known for his integrity, Baisnab Charan used to supply the holy water of the River Ganges to the temples of Somnath and Dwarka. The pots filled with the sacred water bore his personal seal since his was considered to be a trustworthy name in business. Since Baishnab Charan was a non-Brahmin, a shudra by caste, Neelmoni could not accept the plot of land when he left his ancestral house at Pathuriaghata in 1784 with wife Lalita, three sons and daughter, Kamalmoni. The plot was then gifted to his household deity, Laxmi –Janardan. His brother Darpanarayan continued to live at Pathuriaghata. 

              There were other well-known families living in the same neighbourhood.  Kaliprasanna Singha's house and garden were located just east of Thakurbari at Jorasanko, popularly known as Singhi-r bagan. Ram Chandra Dutta of Hathkhola had initially settled in Jorasanko on Chitpore Road after shifting residence from Gobindapur following the Company's directive. But since the Pilgrim's Road was frequented by marching British soldiers during the Nawab's attack on Calcutta, he preferred to shift to Hathkhola near Nimtala Ghat. There was also the Roys of Posta; Ramchandra Roy, a merchant prince and descendent of Sukhomoy Roy constructed the majestic looking Jorasanko Rajbari, only a stone’s throw from the house of profligate Haren Sil which is now Lohia Matri Seva Sadan. It was home to the Pals (Krishnadas Pal) and the families of Diwan Baranasi Ghosh-son-in-law of Santiram Singha and Chandramohan Chatterji. 

              The Tagore family was however, the most famous and influential and every element in the rise, the predominance, the lustre and the aspirations of Calcutta is said to be embodied in the fortunes of this family. It was the first to move to Sutanuti to make way for the new fort with suitable compensation, first to do business with Europeans - Carr; first to crack the Indian Civil Service, first to break the barriers of purdah; of course first to be awarded Nobel Prize among Indians. 

              The fortunes of Tagore family however rose with Dwarakanath; once a conservative Hindu Brahmin, as his business grew- following his proximity to the sahibs-he changed his lifestyle but inside the female quarters conservatism continued. His wife, Digambari a deeply religious woman did not appreciate Dwarakanath's  free mixing, free flowing alcohol and meat-eating-ways and so he constructed his baithakkhana, popularly known as house number 5, to live his own life. Babudom made a firm entry to the quiet streets of Jorasanko with sparkling fountains, coloured tiles, beautiful gardens, dazzling chandeliers and western furniture keeping with his luxurious lifestyle. His housewarming party was an interesting item for the newspapers with feast, dances and European bands coupled with traditional swongs. It was built in 1823 while he was the dewan of the Company. It had a separate bawarchikhana for cooking meat. Following his death, the widow of his son Girindranath, Jogamaya, shifted to this house with the deity, Laxmi-Janardan and her children after Debendranath chose to become a Brahmo. This family acted as the bridge between the Pathuriaghata branch and Debendranath's heirs since they were Hindus but intellectually and culturally closer to the denizens of house number 6 or Maharshi Bhawan. Art and culture flourished in Dwarkanath's baithakkhana under Tagore's two talented nephews, Gaganendranath and Abanindranath. Unfortunately, this beautiful house fell prey to the demolition axe. 

              Despite Dwarkanath's Western lifestyle Jorasanko wore a rustic look like the rest of Calcutta till the turn of the century. Rabindranath Tagore sketched a fine picture of the surroundings of his childhood in Jeevan Smriti “At a distance at the edge of our garden one could see the pond through the row of coconut trees. The gayalani who supplied us milk had her cattle shed beside the pond.” Later Tagore's nephew Khitindranath also recorded the gradual urbanisation of Jorasanko. “The huge pond in Singhabagan, located beside our house belonged to Kaliprasanna Singha but later came to be owned by Pandit Sundarlal Mishra. “But the garden has made way for slums. The pond was located exactly east of Rajendra Mullick Street. It was just two steps away from the door in our backyard. But it was later filled up by the municipality,” wrote Khitindranath. There were quite a few addas of the Oriya palanquin bearers and the lane often reverberated with their cries.

              The Thakurbari also had a pond within the premises. Sitting at the window, a young Rabindranath Tagore spent hours watching the banyan tree on its eastern side. Row of coconut trees on its southern flank and the going-ons by the pond. “In morning the neighbours would come to bathe in the pond. I knew the timings and was familiar with the habits and idiosyncrasies of each one while bathing. In the afternoon the ghat would be desolate with only the ducks and swans looking for food and preening their feathers,” wrote Tagore. The small ducts by the roads would bring in water from the River Hooghly during high tide, which would fill up the pond. But soon afterwards it was filled up with rubbish. A desolate Tagore wrote that the vanishing reflection of the verdant greens also wiped out the rustic look of the neighbourhood. Incidentally, Debendranath Tagore had founded Tattwaranjani Sabha by this pond which was later renamed as Tattwabodhoni Sabha. In his reminiscences he mentions that there was a small structure beside the pond where they had met to form the new association. Jorasanko thus became the cradle of the Bengali Renaissance, as attested by institutions like the Adi Brahmo Samaj, the Jorasanko Bharati Natya Samaj, the Kalikata Haribhakti Pradayini Sabha, Minerva Library and Oriental Seminary.   

              In the latter half of 19th century, a number of roads were constructed in Jorasanko area by demolishing several bustees including Chorbagan Street, Sarkar Lane, Singhee Lane located between Baranasi Ghosh Street and Muktaram Babu Street. Jorasanko was home to Mathaghasha Gully where various spices and perfumeries for hair care were sold. According to Mahendranath Dutta since there were no soaps or shampoos in those days, women washed their hair on special occasions using various perfumeries. Flour and fresh cream were used as scrubbers as these left the skin smooth and soft.

              Today, Jorasanko is one of the most congested areas with a large non-Bengali population. 


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