The Cemetery at Park Street in Calcutta where Memories of the Raj Thrive
An Unforgettable Relic
The British came to India under the guise of the East India Company and soon by a series of Machiavellian steps took control of an entire sub-continent. After Robert Clive won the Battle of Plassey in 1757, it was the Raj (a euphuism for British rule) all the way. At that time the British made Calcutta their capital and it continued till 1911 when they shifted the capital to Delhi.
The city of Kolkata (Calcutta) thus literally breaths history. Every street, road, and monument from the National Museum to the Howrah Bridge and the tram cars are a relic of the British days. The city was modeled on London and for long was known as the second city of the British Empire after London. The Governor General sat at writers building and governed the entire sub-continent from here.
Many Englishmen served and died in Calcutta and their mortal remains were interred in the cemeteries of the city. One of the most famous is the cemetery at Park Street in the heart of Calcutta. This cemetery is looked after by the Archeological Survey of India ( ASI), another British creation.
The cemetery is hidden from the main Park Street which is the entertainment district of Calcutta with a string of bars and restaurants. The cemetery stands behind an imposing wrought iron gate. There are not many visitors. The cemetery is in disuse since 1790. This is a good 225 years back, yet its well maintained and for history lovers a treasure house of great information. Known as the Park Street Cemetery it's a site worth visiting for a tourist. In just 30 minutes you will glean more about the history of Calcutta and the Raj than any book.
Every sinew of the cemetery breathes history and men of the Raj who distinguished themselves find a place here. There is, however, a subtle difference from a normal cemetery and one fact that stands out is that it is a non- Christian cemetery. This makes the entire monument a different place to visit. In other words, it is an exciting place
What is a Non-Christian cemetery ?
A non-Christian cemetery means that it houses the remains of men who had renounced Christianity. Many of the incumbents buried in this cemetery had converted or believed in Hinduism. Records indicate that the cemetery was opened in 1767 and many eminent Indophiles are having a resting place here. They were buried here against the wishes of the Church and as such, it is a non-Church cemetery. Most of the Englishmen buried in this cemetery had adopted Hinduism and thus there is no church on the premises.
. There is a placard at the entrance of the cemetery that says that the cemetery was closed in 1790, but perhaps this is not true and there are other records that show that the cemetery was in operation right up to the early 19th century.
People Buried in the Cemetery
Sir Charles Hindoo
Visiting the cemetery is an absolute delight. One of the most prominent men who has his tomb here is Sir Charles Hindoo. His full name was f Major-General Charles Hindoo Stuart. (1758–1828). He was a general of the East India Company army and served with distinction. He converted to Hinduism and his tomb is an architectural delight. It is modeled on a Hindu temple and has intricate carvings of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
Charles Stuart accepted Hindu customs and like a true Brahman bathed every day in the Ganges. He enjoined women of his house to wear the sari and adopted all customs associated with orthodox Hinduism. He adopted the surname Hindoo, which is engraved on his tomb.
Other Famous Englishmen buried here
The cemetery has a string of famous names that adorn it. To start with there is the tomb of Sir William Jones (1746-94). He spent his entire life in India after coming from England at a young age and has left behind some monumental works. He was the first man to translate the Manusmiriti (Laws of Manu) from Sanskrit. It was William Jones who opened the treasures of Hinduism to the world. The fact that he mastered Sanskrit is no mean achievement.
Most of the graves are of soldiers and only a few are of others. You can see the tombs of Colonel Robert Kud the botanist, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831) teacher and poet and a few ladies as well. Many other Generals and Colonels stud this cemetery, but the common thread is that all accepted Hinduism as their religion.
One of the tombs is of Elizabeth Barwell. She was an English lady who converted to Hinduism. She has a large tomb, which is shaped like a pyramid. She died in 1779. Her tomb is the largest in the cemetery. She was a woman of great beauty and coveted by many including the local Rajah.
A Relic of the Raj
The cemetery shows that many Englishmen who came to India fell in love with India and its culture. Many converted to Hinduism as they felt that it gave them greater insight into the cosmic dance of life and death. The cemetery is a relic of the Raj and a visit to Kolkata will never be complete without a visit to this lovely place and old world charm.
The cemetery is open 6 days in a week, except Sunday. The Cemetery is looked after by the ASI, but it does require a facelift. There is no entrance charge and one can spend hours moving around the cemetery and imbibing the glorious history of that period. It's a pity that this cemetery is not so well known in the west. There is no doubt that the cemetery is a treasure of the greatest value and I hope the ASI spends some more money and brings the monument into proper shape.
The cemetery shows that there is much more that happened during the Raj beside imperialism. It's a wonderful place to spend a morning and then one can hop over to Flury's or Magnolia for some sandwiches and cold beer. It will be a great way to spend a day.
The cemetery remains out of the circle of tourist beats and only the ones who are intrepid and with a thrill for adventure visit this place. But sadly the entire historical monument is not being looked after. Weeds and grass are growing all over and the tombs are not being looked after. I wonder a place of such historical importance is neglected by the ASI and the Government of Bengal. Who will set the record straight?
The British left India in 1947. Calcutta lost its old glory and became a provincial capital of the state of Bengal. One of the reasons for the neglect in the maintenance of the cemetery perhaps has something to do with the mindset of the Bengal government dominated by leftists. For long they felt the Raj was àn anachronism. I was told by an official of the ASI that funds for maintenance of the monument were not been sanctioned but there is apathy also among the top officials of the ASI in maintaining this beautiful relic of the Raj. The people must realise that the Raj is a factor in history of India and learning something good about it is not a bad thing. The Leftists have now been defeated and a new party(TMC) has won. One hopes that the cemetery will now be given a face lift and made a part of the tourist circuit of Calcutta city