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How Kolkata’s twin city got the name Howrah!

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Renowned folk art author, archaeologist and historian, Tarapada Santra had a favourite take on the history of Rarh Bengal. He believed names of many villages end with ‘Ara’ meaning a dwelling place or area. Accordingly, those who settled in Howrah, probably belonged to the Hari (Dalit class) class or their surname was ‘Hanri.’ Hence the locality was named Harira. It was later distorted to Hairiya, Hairya and finally to Howrah.

There are many opinions about the origin of the name ‘Howrah’ and how it became the identity of a district. According to LLS O’Maley and Monmohan Chakraborty, editors of Howrah Gazeteer, the name ‘Howrah’ probably came from the word Habor. In East Bengal, the word haor means a fluvial swampy lake where water, mud and organic debris accumulate. But the word is not common in the dialect of the people of western part of Bengal.

In the book Howrah Civic Companion, J. Banerjee mentions the word ‘Howrah’ has most definitely originated from Harira. Harira comes from Haroa or Hoar or Haiyar or Shayar, which means sea. In ancient times, this area was situated on the banks of the sea (Bay of Bengal). In Odiya language as well, Habora means a depression where water, mud and organic debris accumulate. In the first volume of Howrah Shaharer Itibrittya, author Asit Kumar Bandopadhyay says, in the 19th and early 20th century, elderly citizens referred to the place as Habra from which the district was named. There are others who say Howrah’s original name was Hariyara which came from two words: Hari and Ara. Ara in colloquial language of the region means a high bank of a river and hari is referred to the Dalit or Untouchable class of people who probably settled on the high banks and hence the place came to be known as Hariyara, then Habra and finally the present name, Howrah. However, Bandopadhyay categorically says no concrete evidence has been found so far to lay claim to this interpretation.

In the 16th century, poet Mukundaram mentions a place called Harira in his Chandi-Mangal Kavya, which was thus named because of the presence of a large number of Harira trees there. Perhaps it was later changed to Howrah. On March 1, 1843, the Calcutta Gazette put its official dictate in black and white when the name Howrah was printed in the gazette. After this, on Tuesday, August 15, 1854, Howrah was officially declared the terminal railway station of the newly-inaugurated train service. From then on, Howrah’s name was officially finalized.Booklets published at that time from Sreerampur (Hooghly district) with details of railway fares, timings and other advertisements also mentioned ‘Howrah’ clearly in English as the accepted name of the place