Relics of Calcutta’s History

The onset of autumn signifies the homecoming of the Goddess Durga with her four children. And as the Sanskrit chants fill up the thakur dalaan of Barisha Aachala and the priest uses the pancha pradeep with rhythmic dexterity to offer prayers to the Maa Durga, one is pleasantly led back in time to remember the historic moment when the first Durga pujo in Bengal was held at this very place in 1610.


In the 10th Century, five great Sanskrit scholars of India by the names of Sriharsha, Bhattanarayan, Dakshya, Vedagarva and Chandha came to Bengal to improve the social condition and cultivate the Vedic customs, at the imperial orders from Kanauj. Their descendants later assumed titles of Gangopadhayay, Bandopadhyay, Chattopadhayay and Mukhopadhyay.

Sabarna gotriya Vedagarva, the son of Maharshi Shaubhari Upadhyay, is acknowledged as the founder of the Gangopadhyay (Ganguly) family of Bengal. The 21st descendant of this family Jiya Gangopadhyay (1535 – 1620) was a versatile Sanskrit scholar with gifted talents over the Nyay School of Philosophy. He was a Vidya Bachaspati and it was under his able leadership that Halisahar emerged as a leading center of classical education.

Jiya was married to a noble lady of extraordinary charming beauty named Padmabati. Their hard penance at Kalighat and discovery of the earthly remains of Satis mortal body earned them a child. But soon after the birth of the child on the day Kojagari Lakshmi pujo in 1570, Padmabati passed away. The son was named Lakshmikanta. Highly grieved at the demise of his wife, Jiya renounced worldly life. He entrusted Atmaram Brahmachari, the priest of Kalighat and a nurse with the duty of upbringing the infant.

Jiya took up the life of an ascetic. After touring many holy places, Jiya ultimately settled at Varanasi, where later he consecrated Man Singh the Mughal General as his chief disciple. In the mean time Lakshmikanta grew up to be a tough warrior and a versatile scholar of Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic languages. He joined the administration at Jessore and proved himself to be the most trustworthy and able official of Pratapaditya.

But when Pratapaditya became corrupted and after murdering his uncle Basanta Rai declared himself as an independent ruler of Bengal, Lakshmikanta denounced the royal service and returned back to Kalighat to lead a religious life. In 1608, Man Singh raided Bengal and defeated Pratapaditya. He then came to Kalighat to meet his Guru’s son Lakshmikanta.

Lakshmikanta Gangopadhyay was granted jaigirdari of large areas (nine parganas) in and around Dihi Kolikata by Man Singh as gurudakshina. He was also conferred the titles of “Roy” and “Choudhury”. Henceforth, his descendants came to be known as members of Sabarna Roy Choudhury family.

It is worthy to mention at this juncture that there was no one by the name Sabarna Roy Choudhury in the line of descendancy of Vedagarva till the present generation. There is a misconception among some that there actually existed one such person by the name. All of the descendants of Vedagarva are essentially Gangopadhyay Brahmins. Those who received separate titles started using them neglecting the aboriginal one. The descendants of Laksmikanta’s two eldest sons Ram and Gauri now carry the title of Roy Choudhury and are mainly settled at Barisha, Halisahar, Nimta, Birati, Kheput and Uttarpara. Many are also scattered in other parts of the globe. Thus the family is called as the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family depicting the Saborno gotra and the Zamindari titles coined together.

It should be remembered that much of the land thus bestowed upon Lakshmikanta was uninhabited jungle and unculturable wasteland. Lakshmikanta converted the whole of the area by his own indomitable energy, unflagging industry and unrivalled sagacity into habitable and culturable land and fetched thousands of people belonging to different caste, creed and profession to settle there upon. He also made the place well known to the world for its cottage industries and cultural heritage.

He built this Aatchala based on the Bengal School of Architecture and started the first Durga pujo of Bengal in this very place in the year 1610. Since then, Durga pujo is being celebrated here every year and in 2010 the pujo completed its 400th year. The name “Aatchala” is referred to the entire premises where the pujo is held and not just the eight pillars. In fact, as oppose to popular belief there are 10 pillars inside the premises and a thakur dalaan where the Durga pujo is held.

In the year 1690, Job Charnock landed at Sutanuti and settled there as a tenant of the zamindars. According to Devarshi Roy Choudhury, Joint Secretary and Spokesperson, Sabarna Roy Choudhury Paribar Parishad, a death warrant was issued from Murshidabad in the name of Job Charnock for engaging in immoral activities and therefore he had fled from Murshidabad and arrived here to save his life. It is also alleged by Roy Choudhury that at the time of arrival Job Charnock was suffering from syphilis and succumbed to this deadly disease three years later on January 10, 1693. Owing to his failing health condition his stay had been fairly uneventful.

In the year 1698, Job Charnock’s son-in-law Charles Eyre had approached the then zamindar Vidyadhar Roy Choudhury with the proposal to buy Sutanuti (formerly known as Sutaluta since cotton threads was coiled and stored there), Govindapur and Kolikata because he realised that this place had the potential to develop into a popular centre of international trade and commerce. By that time the Armenians and Portuguese were already doing business here.  Vidyadhar turned down Eyre’s proposal and said that he could also do trade from here against a payment of tax similar to the Armenians and Portuguese.

Charles Eyre was one of them to take no for an answer and he fetched a firmaan from the Arungazeb’s court which asked Vidyadhar Roy Choudhury to rent the three villages of Sutanuti, Govindapur and Kolikata to the British. But the then Governor Azim-us-maan advised Vidyadhar to make the transfer of the three villages of Kolikata, Sutanuti and Govindapur to the British but through an invalid dalil.  This dalil was signed by two minors and was executed at Barisha Aatchala on November 10, 1698. According to the agreement, the British East India Company agreed to pay Rs. 1300 as annual rent, which the British had continued to pay till 1757. The Roy Choudhurys have also fetched a copy of that dalil from the British Museum.

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