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On World Heritage Day, romancing the historical ghats of Kolkata

18 April, 2020 22:15:10
Home / On World Heritage Day, romancing the historical ghats of Kolkata
On World Heritage Day, romancing the historical ghats of Kolkata

If tourists have always romanticized the divine ghats of Varanasi, there are those who have turned a blind eye to the ghats of Kolkata. They are steeped in history as much as the ghats of Varanasi, built by various zamindars centuries ago as private bathing areas for their female members of the family. Some were even built for social reasons, for festive purposes.

 Mayer Ghat

Most of the ghats still exist between Baghbazar Canal in the north and Chandpal Ghat in the south. Many of the ancient ghats have even vanished, broken or turned dilapidated with the passage of time. Those who were entrusted with the job to maintain the ghats were either negligent or could not save the ghats from nature’s fury. Many ghats were discarded when they were beyond repair or lost their importance and newer ones were came up in their place. Some ghats have even been renamed like Raghu Mitra Ghat at Baghbazar has changed names to Annapurna Ghat. 

Ahiritola Ghat

Not all ghats were constructed for the sole purpose of bathing. Some were constructed close to cremation grounds to facilitate cremation rites and rituals like Kashipur, Kashi Mitra Ghat and Nimtala Ghat. Some were constructed by the rich, elite class for bathing. There are unisex ghats where both males and females can bathe at the same time and yet there are some ghats earmarked for males and females separately. In Nimtola, for instance, Girish Chandra Basu Ghat is for females only and Radhamadhab Bandopadhyay Ghat is for males. Some ghats were constructed by rich businessmen for commercial purposes. These merchants utilized waterways   extensively for trading and used the ghats to load and unload their goods from ships and boats. Some of the famous businessmen who had their private ghats constructed for this purpose include Madanmohan Dutta, Shobharam Basak, Baishnab Charan Seth, Kashinath Babu and Hujurimal. Ghats were constructed not only by native traders but British businessmen too, spent money to build ghats and expand their business. Some of these ghats built by British traders include Ross Bibir Ghat, Jackson Ghat, Foreman Ghat, Blyth Ghat and Smith Ghat. 

Nimtola Ghat

And some were used by the poor fishermen or Majhis. They were called ‘Ghat Majhi’. They stayed on the ghats and did not drive boats. Ghatmajhis were in charge of all business transactions at the ghat. They arranged for steamers, houseboats, ferry boats, dinghy boats, pontoon boats, deck boats etc according to requirements and supplied labourers for loading and unloading goods from ships. They provided boats and helmsmen for passengers to cross the river. They charged money from clients according to the services they provided. Many Ghatmajhi amassed huge wealth from this venture. There is a lane in Khidderpore that still bears the name of a Ghatmajhi: Nazir Mohammad Ghatmajhi Lane, at present, the shortened form of the name, Nazir Lane, is used.

Zenana Ghat

River Hooghly once upon a time was so deep in the eastern flank of Calcutta that the entire stretch, from the mouth of Adi Ganga to Shovabazar Ghat in the north would be inundated. A considerable number of dockyards were constructed in this tract for ship repairing between the present Hastings Street and Armenian Street on Strand Road. The front part of the dockyards faced the Strand Road with their backside on Clive Street. From 1808, the water level of Ganga began decreasing. When the Lottery Committee was set up in 1817 to collect funds through pubic lotteries for planning and construction of the town’s houses, roads, offices for the various departments of the government, water had receded from Strand Road. After six years, construction of the Strand Road began from Chandpal Ghat in the west to Rathtola Ghat in the east. And once roadwork began in the northern part of the city, one by one, all the dockyards in this area shut down permanently. 

Babu Ghat

If you have come across the remnants of the famous Jessop Company Factory in erstwhile British era while coming out of the second Hooghly exit of Howrah Station, you will realise the factory had to change its entrance that faced the Strand Road towards Clive Street. By 1826, within three years of the road construction, eight major dockyard owners shut their business and relocated to the west bank of Ganga, between Ghusuri and Shibpur. New dockyards and engineering firms came up in the western side of the river in Howrah. Ganga continued to recede further west for many years, long after construction of Strand Road was completed. That’s how another Strand Road was built further west to the original Strand Road. It was named Strand Bank Road to differentiate it from the original road. 

Today, The Port Commissioner of Calcutta is in charge of maintenance of 42 ghats on either side of Ganga, out of which 15 ghats are maintained by funds provided by the founders of these ghats. Funds for the upkeep of the rest of the ghats are borne by the Port Commission. Hope this neglected heritage of Kolkata will be saved and its history protected in the days to come. 

Story Tag:
  • Ghats of Kolkata

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