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PART THREE

MODERN PERIOD

THE COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE

image

1

HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION

The landing of Vascoda Gama a daring Portuguese sailor in Calicut port on the west

coast of India on May 17, 1498 marked a turning point in the history of India to it’s

relation with the West. Not that the Westerners, then the inhabitants of Europe, did not

have relations with the Orient so long, but that it was not so much a site of frequent

visitation as did the landing establish in the late years of the 15th Century. Evidences

are there that the early Christians from Jerusalem and the nearby areas in the

Mediterranean visited Western India from the second century of the Christian Era, but

the references are so scanty that it is almost impossible to delineate a clear picture of

the relationship. The visitations must have been religious in nature, but it is not known

whether the visitors were able to make a regular connecting link with the known

Christian World. The relationship can be traced even before the Christian Era through

the discovery of the Hellenistic art objects in the Western region of India and

Afghanistan through the Hellenistic, and also the known initiators of this art- the

Macedonian Greeks who after the conquest of Western Asia to the Jheelam in the

Punjab established satrapies in this region. Recent archaeological discoveries in the

Wari-Bateshwar of Narsingdi in Dhaka, the excavators suggest, give hints that the

Greco-Romans had relations also with this far distant area of India. The Gangaridae

of the Greek historians also suggest that they knew of a powerful eastern Indian state

engulfing the lower region of the Ganges. However at this stage of knowledge nothing

is certain. The adventuring nature of the Greeks and the Romans make us believe that

the relationship of whatever nature be it were perhaps there.

What prompted Vascoda Gama to come to India on the contrary is certain and

historical. From the writings of the early Arabic historians it is clear that Western India

had commercial relations with the west through the ports of Antioch and Edessa. The

merchandise mostly spices and aromatics was channelled through the Arabian Sea and

the Persian gulf to those ports in the Mediterranean whence these were carried through

Venice, Genoa and from the Italian coast to Lisbon and Amsterdam for a wider

disbursement. The occupation of Constantinople in the eastern Mediterranean from

the middle of the 15th century by the Ottomans and their bitter relationship with the West closed that commerce for the future, and the Western seafaring nations,

(left) Curzon Hall Courtesy Banglapedia

1

HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION

The landing of Vascoda Gama a daring Portuguese sailor in Calicut port on the west

coast of India on May 17, 1498 marked a turning point in the history of India to it’s

relation with the West. Not that the Westerners, then the inhabitants of Europe, did not

have relations with the Orient so long, but that it was not so much a site of frequent

visitation as did the landing establish in the late years of the 15th Century. Evidences

are there that the early Christians from Jerusalem and the nearby areas in the

Mediterranean visited Western India from the second century of the Christian Era, but

the references are so scanty that it is almost impossible to delineate a clear picture of

the relationship. The visitations must have been religious in nature, but it is not known

whether the visitors were able to make a regular connecting link with the known

Christian World. The relationship can be traced even before the Christian Era through

the discovery of the Hellenistic art objects in the Western region of India and

Afghanistan through the Hellenistic, and also the known initiators of this art- the

Macedonian Greeks who after the conquest of Western Asia to the Jheelam in the

Punjab established satrapies in this region. Recent archaeological discoveries in the

Wari-Bateshwar of Narsingdi in Dhaka, the excavators suggest, give hints that the

Greco-Romans had relations also with this far distant area of India. The Gangaridae

of the Greek historians also suggest that they knew of a powerful eastern Indian state

engulfing the lower region of the Ganges. However at this stage of knowledge nothing

is certain. The adventuring nature of the Greeks and the Romans make us believe that

the relationship of whatever nature be it were perhaps there.

What prompted Vascoda Gama to come to India on the contrary is certain and

historical. From the writings of the early Arabic historians it is clear that Western India

had commercial relations with the west through the ports of Antioch and Edessa. The

merchandise mostly spices and aromatics was channelled through the Arabian Sea and

the Persian gulf to those ports in the Mediterranean whence these were carried through

Venice, Genoa and from the Italian coast to Lisbon and Amsterdam for a wider

disbursement. The occupation of Constantinople in the eastern Mediterranean from

the middle of the 15th century by the Ottomans and their bitter relationship with the West closed that commerce for the future, and the Western seafaring nations,

(left) Curzon Hall Courtesy Banglapedia

image

1

HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION

The landing of Vascoda Gama a daring Portuguese sailor in Calicut port on the west

coast of India on May 17, 1498 marked a turning point in the history of India to it’s

relation with the West. Not that the Westerners, then the inhabitants of Europe, did not

have relations with the Orient so long, but that it was not so much a site of frequent

visitation as did the landing establish in the late years of the 15th Century. Evidences

are there that the early Christians from Jerusalem and the nearby areas in the

Mediterranean visited Western India from the second century of the Christian Era, but

the references are so scanty that it is almost impossible to delineate a clear picture of

the relationship. The visitations must have been religious in nature, but it is not known

whether the visitors were able to make a regular connecting link with the known

Christian World. The relationship can be traced even before the Christian Era through

the discovery of the Hellenistic art objects in the Western region of India and

Afghanistan through the Hellenistic, and also the known initiators of this art- the

Macedonian Greeks who after the conquest of Western Asia to the Jheelam in the

Punjab established satrapies in this region. Recent archaeological discoveries in the

Wari-Bateshwar of Narsingdi in Dhaka, the excavators suggest, give hints that the

Greco-Romans had relations also with this far distant area of India. The Gangaridae

of the Greek historians also suggest that they knew of a powerful eastern Indian state

engulfing the lower region of the Ganges. However at this stage of knowledge nothing

is certain. The adventuring nature of the Greeks and the Romans make us believe that

the relationship of whatever nature be it were perhaps there.

What prompted Vascoda Gama to come to India on the contrary is certain and

historical. From the writings of the early Arabic historians it is clear that Western India

had commercial relations with the west through the ports of Antioch and Edessa. The

merchandise mostly spices and aromatics was channelled through the Arabian Sea and

the Persian gulf to those ports in the Mediterranean whence these were carried through

Venice, Genoa and from the Italian coast to Lisbon and Amsterdam for a wider

disbursement. The occupation of Constantinople in the eastern Mediterranean from

the middle of the 15th century by the Ottomans and their bitter relationship with the West closed that commerce for the future, and the Western seafaring nations,

(left) Curzon Hall Courtesy Banglapedia


particularly Portugal, Spain and Italy (which had limited aims within the Mediterranean) became desperate to cope with the situation. The alternative was to find other routes to India and the Indies- the land of the spices, the essential ingredients for cooking meat. By nature the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Hollanders, the British and the Scandinavians were nations of sailors in high seas. Sailing was a part of life. Catching of Herring in the Atlantic, and it’s trade was a necessity for livelihood. They were the builders of ships, both fast moving and storage capacity. The appearance of Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), a Portuguese Royal, whose passion in life was seafaring, ushered a new era for European daring ventures. He established a royal naval college in Lisbon, and the products of this college and their successors later became masters of the situation exploring sea routes via African coasts and those of South America. In no time the Portuguese and the Spaniards took to the sea, and with the division of the trading world into two halves through a papal bull confirming the treaty of Tordesillas (1494) defining the line of control across the Atlantic north-south about 376 leagues west of the Cape Verde on the African West coast put them into a state of intense competition.

The Portuguese in the treaty were given the eastern half and the Spaniards western

half. The Portuguese at the beginning made several ventures, but could not come beyond Zanzibar to cross the Indian Ocean. Thus when in 1498 Vascoda Gama made the successful expedition the possibilities became enormous. The gate of the eastern horizon was open, and the Portuguese and their main rivals the Dutch, the English and the French started to pour in engaging themselves into a competitive world for lucrative commerce. The Portuguese had limited aims to trade in entrepot system with permission, and proselyting local people ‘in the right path of God’ wherever possible. But the Dutch, the English and the French (who came only by way of competition through the initiative of Colbert, the great financier and minister of Louix XIV) from the beginning had wider vision including political. They wanted to have diplomatic relations with the central authority in Agra or Delhi and establish permanent settlements throughout the western and eastern coasts of India. The Portuguese had limited successes in the western coast from Calicut and Cochin gradually to Goa, Daman and Dieu, but were driven out by the Mughals from their eastern settlements in the coastal regions by the middle of the 17th century because of their arrogance and fraud reducing them to pirates and harmads (a nickname pointing to their banditry). Their religious zeal, however, made them successful in establishing some monastic establishments in Hughli and Dhaka and also founding some individual churches in the latter’s suburbs at Tongi (1663) and Tejgaon, still survive in a renovated condition.

The Dutch and the English were good friends at home settling differences in London and Amsterdam through mutual consultations, but were often bitter enemies in the sea destroying rival fleets whenever opportunity came. The trading system being ‘monopoly’, only the survivor had the right to prevail. The English had an advantage over the Dutch in relation to their diplomatic excellences. In 1609 Captain Hawkings and in 1615 Sir Thomas Roe through their embassies at the court of Empeor Jahangir


obtained significant commercial privileges despite Portuguese resistance in the western coast. Surat was their centre. In 1668 an important advance was made by the transfer of Bombay to East India Company by Charles who got it from Portugal as a part of the dowry of his wife Catherine of Braganza. By 1687 Bombay superceded Surat as the chief settlement on the west coast. In Bengal in the meantime factories were established at Haripur and Balassore in 1633. But expansive activities in right earnest began only after the founding of Madras. In 1639 Francis Day obtained lease of Madras from the ruler of Chandragiri, a representative of the ruined Vijoynagar empire, thereby founding a fortified factory the Fort St. George which became the headquarters of the English company in the east coast. Job Charnock, ‘the Honorable East India Company’s chief Agent in Bengal’ established a factory at Sutanuti overriding the decision of the company’s headquarters which had Chittagong as their preference. Arguing that Sutanuti is strategically more important because of it’s location being protected by the river on the west, marshy land on the east, and better land connection with nearby Bihar and Orissa, Charnock eventually prevailed over Madras by securing a firman from Subahdar Ibrahim Khan, the successor of Shayesta Khan exempting all tolls except for a return of Rs. 3000/- a year.

In 1698 Charles Eyre, Charnock’s son-in-law, after his father-in-law’s death in 1693, acquired the zamindari of the three villages of Sutanuti, Kalikata and Govindapur (eventually a combination name ‘Calcutta’ spreading an area of three miles north-south length and a quater mile east-west) from the previous proprietors, a Majumdar family. The stage was already set by the foundation of the Fort William in 1696, and the acquisition finally prepared the road map for the future not only of Bengal but also the whole of Indian Sub-continent. Farrukh Siyar’s firman of 1716 extended the privileges, and in fact became the ‘Magna Carta of the Company’. It freed the company of all duties except the payment of Rs. 3000/-, and allowed to rent additional territory around Calcutta. Company’s position was thus secured; trade prospered, and eventually led it to involve itself in politics defying the power of the nawab. Sirajuddoula the young nawab watched the situation for sometime, but realising that a conspiracy being hatched by the Company with the help of the local baniyas challenged their authority leading to the battle of Laldighi (June 18, 1756) and Palashi (June 23, 1757) the first a victory for Sirajuddoula and the second a total defeat. Palashi decided the fate of Bengal and the ascendancy of the company and the subsequent British rule for the next two hundred years. The Dutch and the French campaigns having experiences with the English surrendered their companies to the latter in 1781 and 1838 respectively and opted for their rule in Indonesia and Indo-China distributively. The Spaniards had different routes through the Straight of Magellan in South America, and settled themselves in Philipines, comparatively a peaceful place.

By the time the English East India Company settled themselves in Bengal with their centre at Calcutta the Western influence was already felt in the life and culture of the local people. Kuthis, an inevitable part of the factori-trade, were built throughout the coastal regions with Western and local features, gifts of luxury items including glass


wares and Muslins were exchanged, agricultural products from South America entered in, and comparative vocabularies were made known. In Bengal throughout the coastal regions of Bhagirathi, Padma and Buriganga kuthis were built by the combatants at first temporarily, and later an with the neel cultivation from the 18th century by the English permanently. Quite a few of the kuthis still survive, and point to the architectural character of the time. Along with the kuthis were also built churches and cemeteries, and these together have become the first architectural monuments of Western culture built in a new environment. The establishment of the English East India Company’s political rule in Bengal after Palashi, and the grabing of the financial power by the grant of the diwani in 1765 led to the necessity of more building activity, the permanent visible feature of the new order. The building of the second Fort William in 17571, the shifting of the capital from Murshidabad to Calcutta in 1773, the construction of the first Governor-General ‘Hasting’s House’ in 1777 and the spreading of the administrative functions with structural support hastened the process.2 The native working personnel mostly as middlemen for the Company under such titles as diwan, banian, wakil and mutsuddi- the rising moneyed class of ‘great houses’, quite a few of whom were personal friends of Hastings followed suit. There ware however a difference between the areas the natives located in the north within ‘Black Line’, and the whites in the south in ‘White Line’. Needless to say that there was a marked difference between these building activities, the White area being predominantly official and elite. The building activity, however, remained more or less stationed in Calcutta till 1793 when the promulgation of the Permanent Settlement with the appointment of local revenue agents pushed it outside the capital in different administrative centres, later on termed as ‘districts’. The revenue agents generally known with the honorific title of zamindar, the owner of zamin (land), were given land lease after 1765 temporarily, but with the permanency in the system the collectors felt themselves secured to move their collective establishments in districts with a zamindarbari (house of zaminder) in the centre surrounded by other auxiliary structures of both secular and religious nature. These zamindarbaries built in an assimilating feature of both European (obviously in conformity with the taste of the rulers in Calcutta) and local historical tradition became with the passage of time some of the best examples of Indo-European or what we now term as ‘Colonial Architecture’. The assimilating character of the monuments satisfied both the master and the ryots (the local people) alike and gave it a distinction of prestige and power, vindication of subjugation and despotism in the same breathe. With the taking over of the power by the British Raj after the revolt of 1857, the zamindars were taken nearer to the Raj with the granting of more honorific titles of Maharaja, Raja, etc begun from the time of Hastings to the Hindu Iadlords, and Nawab, Khan Bahadur etc to their Muslim counterparts. Many of

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1. The first Fort William was founded in 1696 but was greatly damaged by the invasion of Sirajuddula and the battle of Laldighi. The fort was then evacuated and abandoned.

2. Warren Hastings (1774-85) with his building-zeal has been described as ‘an avid real-estate developer’ and his fifth successor, the Marquis Wellesley (1798-1805) the planer of the city of Calcutta. The building of modern Calcutta in fact started from these two great building patrons, later on pushed forward by Earl of Dalhousie (1848-56), remembered even today by the name of ‘Dalhousi Square’ in the city centre.


the known palaces of these dignitaries stand today (most of them ruinous or encroached upon) to speak of the grandeur and life-style of the erectors. The erection of the Victoria Memorial Hall (1906-21) in the city centre of Calcutta to commemorate the long reign of Queen Victoria ‘the Empress of India’, by the desire of Lord Curzon and the planning and supervision of Sir William Emerson, the president of the Royal Academy of British Architects, heightened the spirit of Colonial Architecture. What was Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece in London the St Paul’s Cuthedral, was Emerson’s commemorative structure in Calcutta, the capital of the British Colonial Empire in India. The creation of the New Province of East Bengal and Assam in 1905 to solve, according to the British, the administrative problem of the vast province of Bengal, but to the local ‘to divide and rule’, gave a further stimulus to Colonial architecture in the eastern region. Dhaka, the capital of the New Province, became the focal point with the building of the Government House, the Curzon Hall and the Secretariat Building– presently the Supreme Court Bhavan, the Science Complex of Dhaka University and the Medical College respectively. Needless to say that the spirit behind all these projects was Lord Curzon, one of the greatest of the British Governor-Generals and a die-hard imperialist, whose ambition was to give his rule a permanency not only in administrative matters but also to create something new in architecture as a symbol of conciliation but also to vindicate British supremacy. Hence was the creation of Victorial Memorial in the ‘Colonial Capital’, and of ‘Curzon’s Dhaka’ in the New Province. The stimulus encouraged further the local patrons to build with government subsidies such monuments as Salimullah Muslim Hall and Fazlul Huq Hall as dormitories to emulate the Oxford and Cambridge University institutions where both teachers and students are residents in close co-operation to promote learning and culture. Dhaka University thus became ‘Oxford of the East’, perhaps an enthusiastic and hopeful term which satisfied the ego of the East Bengal intellectuals in the context of the partition of Bengal. The Ahsan Manzil (1872), the residence of the Dhaka Nawabs, erected a little earlier on the bank of the river Buriganga is one of the last of the great structures in Colonial style. It should perhaps be noted here that the monuments of Dhaka, stilted more towards Mughalization than those in Calcutta, speak for the last flickering of the great architectural achievements of the Colonial time to die it’s natural death with the ‘Great Divide’ in 1947, and the emergence of independent Bangladesh in 1971. Henceforward there is no Colonial architecture. But there is no indigenous or local architecture either, although some monuments have been created in Bangladesh, as for example the Shahid Minar and the National Monument betraying strong emotional significance to vindicate the spirit of independence. With the globalization order the architecture is now internationalized. Handicraftmanship is now gone, and in it’s place a mechanized architecture has come to the fore, now mostly functional and with much care for space, but with a new sense of aesthecism. The environment is now compromising and the taste different. And in such an acceptable condition that a new international architecture with new material and technique will emerge is an inevitable and a natural conclusion.


 

The Colonial ArchitectureHistorical IntroductionGeneral Character of MonumentsExamples of Some Structure–TypesSecular BuildingsKuthisPalaces of ZamindarsShankhanidhi Houses in DhakaSome Colonial Schools in DhakaColonial Monuments in ChittagongReligious BuildingsMosquesImambarasTemplesThe ChurchesChristian Cemetery at Wari, DhakaConcluding RemarksBibliographyThe Contemporary ArchitectureArchitecture of Pakistan TimeBangladesh ScenarioConcluding RemarksBibliography

[[ Other sections:  || Archaeology|| Architecture||  Arts and Crafts||  Cultural history||  || Folklore||  || Indigenous||  || Language & Literature||  || Living traditions||  || State & Culture  ]]