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Gorosthaney Shabdhan! Talking to the graves at the oldest non-church cemetery of the world

29 December, 2019 04:23:25
Gorosthaney Shabdhan! Talking to the graves at the oldest non-church cemetery of the world

Gorosthaney Shabdhan! South Park Street Cemetery of Kolkata is often related to this Sandip Ray Feluda movie that was primarily shot at one of the oldest graveyards of British India that still hold on to various tales. This cemetery was one of the earliest non-church cemeteries in the world, and probably the largest Christian cemetery outside Europe and America in the 19th century. Opened in 1767 on what was previously a marshy area, the cemetery was in use until about 1830 and is now a heritage site, protected by ASI. The cemetery was opened to relieve the pressure on the old burial ground in the heart of the city. Park Street then was a marshy land far away from the residential quarters. Infact some say even tigers roamed in the area. 

Tomb of Romance


Only tomb in the cemetery with weeping angels

Hence the British thought of building a cemetery here primarily for innumerable sailors, traders and Easy India Company officials who used to die due to various tropical illnesses that they contracted once they reached Kolkata. Most of the tombs of South Park Street cemetery are hence very tall and huge, probably to keep away the germs of the infected bodies from spreading. By 1785 AD, the burial ground was extended on the northern side of Park Street and by 1840 a vast new cemetery was opened to the east of the Lower Circular Road. A marble plaque at the gate reads ‘South Park Street, Opened:1767, Closed:1790.’ 

Tallest grave of South Park Street Cemetery

One of the graves is that of Elizabeth Barwell (who died in 1779) and had come to Kolkata in search of a husband. She was famous for her beauty and was led by many young men to parties, where she was introduced to many more. Some of the well-known people of colonial India including Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, the European who played a big role in Bengal Renaissance and Young Bengal movements, that of High Court judge Elijah Impey and Indologist Sir William Jones who was founder of the Asiatic Society. 

Tomb of Derozio, founder of Young Bengal


But the tomb that probably attracts attention is that of Major-General Charles Stuart (1758–1828), who was an Army officer and popularly known as ‘Hindoo Stuart.’ This was primarily because he became a follower of Hindu customs and rituals, so much so that every morning he used to go to the Ganges for a holy dip in bare feet. He wished to be cremated, but being an Army officer he was buried, but his last wish was kept. His tomb was made in the form of a temple, many of whose artefacts have been stolen over the years, leaving behind just a few Buddhist and Hindu sculptures on the structure.

Grave of Charles Stuart also known as Hindu Stuart for his love for Hinduism.This grave has Buddhist and Temple architecture

The memorials are almost all architecturally imposing and replete with classical details and sculptures. Among the interesting professions mentioned in the epitaphs are: breeder of cattle, jail-keeper, silversmith, schoolteacher, architect, translator, livery, printer, head tide-waiter, park superintendent, cooper, postmaster and surgeon. The oldest grave is Grave 363 that contains only the following epitaph, possibly indicating that the person wished to remain anonymous: ‘A virtuous mother (died 1825).’ The oldest grave in this graveyard is that of Ms S.Pearson.(1768) 

Largest grave of the cemetery


Tomb of Colesworthey Grant, the first Animal Rights Activist of Kolkata

Most of the tombs are a mix of Gothic and Indo-Saracenic style. Among the Indo-Saracenic tombs is a unique and composite brick structure built in the ‘panchyatana’ manner, with a central dome flanked by miniature replicas on four sides. Once you walk down the eerie path of the cemetery with towering tombs, some sky high, you also remember the former North Park Street Cemetery which is now the site of the Assembly of God Church School.

Only tomb with an urn on top

Photo Credit : Saheli Mitra

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