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3.1 Secular Buildings

Secular buildings of this period are more in number than those of the previous periods. In fact the Colonial architecture is characterised by these structure-types. In indigenous religious architecture, the traditional types are followed with however some European insertions in columns and arch designs. It was in the secular buildings in both public and private types that the general character of European architecture is mostly reflected. This reflection is noticed not only in component architectural elements, but also in general planning and design. Indigenous elements however were not forgotten. It was this combination that made the Colonial architecture a new type both grandiose and diverse. In the absence of research not all architectural types of the period could be accommodated here. Only those examples of which we have some general knowledge are given for readers’ consideration.

3.1.1 Kuthis

The word kuthi although is generally applied to the residence of a factor engaged in silk and indigo trade from 18th century, it’s use must have been there in vernacular language from the beginning of the European trade in the 17th century. It seems that the word was originally applied to the factory in general consisting of the residence of the factor, attached ware-houses, production centres, but later on limited to a single house, occasionally two storeyed having all the facilities within it. The word it seems had at the beginning a special connotation of being the residence of a saheb (a white European factor) but subsequently extended to all white administrative officers’ residence- bungalows, and as a corollary to the garden-houses of the local zamindars also. The residence of the Naib Nazim Jasarat Khan at Dhaka, now marked by the Nimtali Gate, was also known as Nimtali Kuthi. The 19th and early 20th century District Magistrate’s bungalows in red colour and quite a few of the zamindar’s bagan-baris are shill appellated by people in the same way. The kuthis are thus both a power-based residence and also a pleasure house. In local literature the kuthis of the Neelkar Sahebs and their oppressive role on the poor agriculturists found a strong anti-British sentiments, and this eventually became a potent factor in the expression of the Nationalist movement.


Of the Portuguese, Dutch and the French kuthis very little remain today, and even those which survive were built after the East India Company’s occupation and later used by the British factors. In Bengal it may be conceived that a large number of kuthis must have been built on the banks of the sea-connected rivers and their tributaries, but only a few survived on the date of the ‘Great Divide’. The number is still less in the present day, and only a few of those Indigo-Kuthis of which some descriptions are available is given below.

Early History

The development of the indigo plantation (Indigofera Tinctoria) in Bengal was introduced by the Europeans in about 1795 and by the end of the 19th century the process was completely stopped. Widespread indignation leading to the revolt in 1858 resulted in it’s abandon. Indigo plantations were prevalent in India and Bengal much earlier, but during the British period the plant and the knowledge of it’s manufacturing process was introduced from America by a Frence merchant named Louis Bonnaud. He established two Indigo kuthis at Taldanga and Gondolpara near Chandernagar in 1777, and later built more indigo factories in Maldah and Jessore. He was the first European indigo planter in India. In 1795 Mr. Bond established the first indigo factory at Rupdia in Jessore, the ruins of which are still traceable on the bank of the river Bhairab. Subsequently Mr. Tuft, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Anderson established their

Dhaka: Nimtali Kuthi

factories at Mohammad Shahi, Barandi and Nilganj in Jessore and at Daulatpur in the Khulna District and gradually the business spread to other districts of Bengal.

Still later a number of planters combined to from large ‘Concerns’ or ‘Houses’ in different parts of the country within which many factories were located. Some of the most flourishing concerns were: The Mollahati Concern which was the headquarters of the Bengal Indigo Company was situated about six miles from Banagram on the Ichamati river and under this concern there were seventeen kuthis. The oppression of the owners of the Mollahati Concern was the inspiration for the writing of the famous Bengali drama Neel-Darpan by Dinbandhu Mitra. The Kathgara Concern which was situated north of Mollahati on the bank of the Kobadak River contained six kuthis, the remains of which are still visible. The Hazrapur Concern which was situated between Magura and Jhenaidah contained fourteen kuthis. The Sinduria Concern which was in the Chuadanga subdivision of Nudia District controlled fourteen kuthis within it’s jurisdiction. Similarly the Joradaha Concern, the Khargara Concern, the Mohishakunda Concern, the Nahata Concern, the Srikol-Nahata Concern, the Srikhandi, Haripur and Nishchintapur Concerns, the Ramnagar Concern and the Madandhari Concern in Jessore District each had a number of kuthis under them. The Babukhali Concern in Jessore on the banks of the Madhukhali river is still standing but in a ruinous condition. In the Rajshahi region alone more than one hundred and fiftytwo Indigo kuthis were in operation with their headquarters at Sardah. Many of these which had been located picturesquely on riverbanks have been engulfed by erosion in high flood, and the others are now in ruins.

Apart from these large concerns, the local zamindars and talukdars were engaged in

this trade by establishing many indigo factories in different parts of the country. Very often the owners of these factories advanced loans to the farmers for the plantation of indigo on their own lands under written contract for a period of one to ten years. It was such a profitable trade that a large number of labourers had to be imported from outside to work in the factory. In the Mollahati Concern about six hundred labourers used to work daily. After some time it was found that, although the trade was extremely lucrative to the planters, it was not at all profitable to the peasants, for which reason the later were not willing to continue it’s cultivation. The result was a cultivation under duress by various types of oppression and torture on the peasants by the planters. The planters felt encouraged to force the farmers to cultivate indigo, as sometimes the planters were also engaged by the government to act as honorary magistrate. There were instances when angry planters often committed murder and burnt whole villages for which a proverb became current in Bengal that ‘no indigo box was dispatched to England without being smeared in human blood’. The situation became increasingly inflammable, and sporadic clashes between the factory workers and the peasants throughout the country became a daily occurrence. As a result the Bengal Government appointed in 1860 a five-member ‘Indigo Commission’ with W.S. Seton-Karr as it’s president. The commission, after careful enquiry and hearing of

numerous witnesses, submitted their report which largely admitted the unjust coercion and forcible engagement of farmers by the planters in this unpopular trade in such unequivocally strong terms as, ‘The whole system is vicious in theory, injurious in practice and radically unsound’ (I.C. Report 5). During the two years of the Indigo Revolt (1859-60) there was no indigo plantation in the country. With the issue of a government decree, following the commission’s report that the cultivation of indigo was absolutely voluntary for the farmers, it’s cultivation in the country, against the hatred of the peasants, steadily declined and in 1895 it totally went out of practice.

Amongst the numerous European Indigo kuthis, erected throughout the country in the later part of the 18th century, a summary description of a few surviving examples in Bangladesh will convey a general idea. The kuthis were usually simple buildings with practically no or little architectural significance and were occasionally two storeys high and provided with defensive arrangements. The most important character of the kuthis are their rounded columus fronting the verandah in Palladian manner, and their ceiling supported by wooden rafters and iron beams.

Surviving Examples in Bangladesh

Mollahati Baro-Kuthis, Jessore. The Mollahati Baro-Kuthis in Jessore, erected before 1860 appears to have been an extensive establishment as portrayed by Mr. Grant in his Rural Life in Bengal. Within a vast fenced off area, besides the magnificent main two-storeyed mansion, there was a large kitchen block, a stable, a bird-house, a school, a hospital barrack and outhouses for an army of domestic servants and mercenary ‘paiks’ as well as a charming fruit and flower garden, in which a herd of deer roamed freely. It’s ruins are still visible today. The kuthis proper, erected on a high sub-structure of arches, was a two-storeyed edifice with a broad verandah in front, which was supported by a series of handsome Doric columns. The parapet, surmounting the whole, was broken in the centre by a triangular pediment. A broad staircase with balustrades led up to the floor above.

The Indigo Kuthis of Chaugacha, Khalispur, Kathgara in Khulna and the Babukhali Kuthis on the Madhumati River, described by Westland are still surviving in their renovated condition.

Baro-Kuthi, Rajshahi Town. The eerie remains of the virtually unaltered Boro- Kuhti at Rajshahi, dangerously poised on the steep northern bank of the turbulent Padma, which threatens annually to engulf it during high flood, is located at the south eastern corner of the Rajshahi Government College. Popularly believed to be scene of countless crimes, confinement, torture and murder during the early British rule, this plain but massive two-storeyed brick building was constructed by the Dutch silk traders in the early 19th century. It has about twelve rooms of varying dimensions, divided between two storeys of which the ground floor rooms are comparatively unventilated and dark. These were probably used as a prison and for storage of silk goods. The bastion-like octagonal towers on either side, liberally provided with

embrasures for musketry, boldly break the otherwise monotonous appearance of the building. There were also facilities for mounting light calibre cannons on the roof in order to guard the occupants from a riverside attack. The Dutch, in fact, used it as a fortress in times of emergency. A number of cannons mounted on and around the building were removed to other places by the British when the kuthis was occupied by the East India Company in 1833. After 1835, Messrs. Robert Watson and Company used the building for their infamous indigo and silk trade which caused widespread resentment in the country because of their illegal employment of forced labour and of their extortion and torture of local farmers. Three of the old cannons are still preserved in the Rajshahi police lines. Baro-Kuthis was later used by the British as a fortified headquarters for the area during the great Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

It was damaged during the devastating earthquake of 1897, but it was repaired by the

local administration and, till lately, was used as an office by the Rajshahi University. It now houses the club facilities of class four employees of the same institution.

Kuthis at Sardah, Rajshahi. There are two fairly well preserved kuthis or residential bungalows of the European indigo/silk planters within the extensive campus of the Sardah Police Training Academy. Sardah is about twenty kilometers east of the Rajshahi town in Charghat Police Station, approached through a five-mile stretch of feeder road which branches off from the main highway between Rajshahi and Natore, near Banesvar Bazar. Occupying an area of about 143 acres of land on the picturesque northern bank of the Padma River, the academy was established in 1912.

The present officer’s mess is housed in the ‘Baro-Kuthi’ and the principal’s residence is accommodated in the ‘Chhota-Kuthi’. Originally these two kuthis were built in 1781 by the Dutch East India Company for their indigo factories. When the British East India Company acquired these in 1835 from the Dutch, these establishments became the ‘sadar’ or principal headquarters of 152 Indigo kuthis of Rajshahi region from which it is believed, the name ‘Sardah’ was derived. The present stables were the sites of their indigo factory which later was transformed into a silk factory. Still later the whole establishment came under the Midnapur zamindari and was used as a kutchery. Major H. Chammey, who was appointed as the first principal of this Police Training College, selected this beautiful place for it’s fascinating river front and persuaded the government to acquire the site from the Midnapur estate at a total cost of Rs. 25,000. The whole area then was a happy hunting ground of wild animals, due to long neglect, and therefore, had to be gradually cleared of the heavy forest cover. It is said that Ishaque Sikari alone killed 111 tigers and leopards. Locally this forest tract was then known as ‘Sher-dah’ meaning the ‘habitat of tigers’ from which it is also believed that the present name ‘Sardah’ might have been originated. Both the kuthis are somewhat similar in plan and elevation and contain nine apartments each.

The Baro Kuthi is an unpretentious single storeyed building with 31m facade looking south towards the river. It is reached up a broad staircase in the semi-circular projection of the front verandah. The flat roof of the front verandah, which is lower

than the main block, is supported on six sets of paired Doric columns but at the two ends there are sets of four grouped columns. Of the three large east–west oriented halls behind the verandah, each measuring about 9.15m 6.1m, the 7.6m high lofty ceiling of the central hall has a glazed rectangular clerestory window. These three halls are flanked symmetrically by comparatively smaller apartments at each end.

The Chhota Kuthi also is similar in plan and elevation and has about 31m frontage

overlooking the river and is about 15.5m wide. Here also the central block is higher than the front verandah and is provided with a clerestory window. The 4.5m wide front verandah, carried on eight pairs of Doric columns and the corners being supported on sets of four, is approached up a broad central staircase. The whole appearance of the building is simple but attractive.

Motihar Kuthi. This single storeyed oblong building is situated about seven kilometers east of Rajshahi town within the university campus and close to it’s main gate. In general appearance it is similar to the kuthis at Sardah and seems to have been built about the same time. The building facing south consists of six apartments— three east-west oriented halls behind the southern verandah, and three more spacious apartments at the back. The central hall, which is about 4.5m high, has a clerestory window above. The front verandahs are carried on four round simple columns each, whereas a set of triple columns have been used at the corners. It is now used as the BNCC of the Rajshahi University. The building has supporting structures on it’s north and west which appear to have been kitchen, warehouses and the like, now used by the University as godowns.

Kajla Kuthi. At a short distance from the Motihar Kuthi, there is another smaller ruined kuthi at Kajla, opposite the university on the south which has now been largely renovated and extended by a private resident. The building, a simple oblong structure of about 15.5m 12.2m, is perched on a 3.3m high mound on the eastern bank of an extensive but ruined tank. Originally the main entrance was from the east, approached up by a broad flight of steps. The verandah with their rounded columns on the northwest sides are now gone, but is easily traceable from the foundation remains. The tank probably was excavated at a later date when the tributary river connecting with the Ganges on the south was dried up. A bridge was said to have been there on the south side of the kuthi connecting the east-west hinterland but now vanished. It is likely that the Matihar Kuthi and the Kajla Kuthi were at one time connected by the tributary.

Neel Kuthi. It was built by the English East India Company probably sometime at the begining for the indigo trade and management. The building is located further north of Panam in Sonargaon, Dhaka across the Mughal Bridge on Dulalpur road. Neel Kuthi is a large isolated structure built at a safe distance from the prevailing neighbourhood of locals. The building starts right from the edge of the road separated by a high plinth. It has a flat front facade with regular arched recesses for window and door openings. In layout design it follows the courtyard typology of the palaces of Panam Group narrated in next chapter. The courtyard perhaps was used for packaging

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