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When the Greeks came to try their luck in Kolkata! Where can you still find them?

28 September, 2020 11:49:42
Home / When the Greeks came to try their luck in Kolkata! Where can you still find them?
When the Greeks came to try their luck in Kolkata! Where can you still find them?

It seems everyone from every part of the world comes to Bengal to try their luck and flourish their business. Can you imagine even the Greeks from faraway lands of Greece and Cyprus had also come to Bengal as merchants as early as the beginning of the 17th century! This is substantiated by the discovery of two Greek tombstones, dated 1713 and 1728, and preserved in the aisles of the Catholic Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Rosary in Murgihatta of Kolkata. Even today you will get to know how people from this island country once made our city their base and every time you go on a foreign trip to Greece, you will realise the Greeks themselves admired the City of Joy.

Coloured aquatint by James Baillie Fraser, Plate No.17 from ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’

Many Greek families migrated to Bengal, mainly from the rich commercial Greek cities of Adrianoupolis and Philippoupolis, when their properties were destroyed during the Turkish-Russian War of 1774. Another steady stream of immigrants arrived in the Eastern ports of India on the ships which carried British colonialists from the Ionian Islands as well as from Greek cities in Cappadocia and Aegean Islands. In the beginning of the 19th century the Greek community in Bengal comprised of about 120 families. Kolkata had a sizeable Greek community, mostly a close-knit clan of noble families from Chios, pursuing trade with the British.

Amidst the chaos and din of Kalighat tram depot even today one gets to see the imposing building of the Orthodox Greek Church of Kolkata with majestic Doric columns. Like most Europeans, the Greeks came to Kolkata to try their fortunes here and made the city their second home. They flourished in the business of jute and spices. But most of them left after India’s Independence. During their stay in Kolkata, the prosperous mercantile community constructed the church, one of the most well-maintained buildings in the city. The first Greek Orthodox Church of Kolkata came up in 1752, but it was soon abandoned. During the time of Warren Hastings, the second Greek Orthodox Church came up in Amratala area and was opened to public in 1781. In 1924, during the reign of King Geroge V, Greeks shifted their church for the second time close to Kalighat. The foundation stone of the church was laid on November 3, 1924 and the first prayer was held on November 19, 1925. This is the very church that still exists.

At present, the church is maintained by the Greek Embassy in Delhi. The Greek Church was shut down in 1960, after Archimandrite Athanassios Alexiou had blessed the last Greek immigrant, who left for a new permanent residence in Greece and England. Nine years later, Father Kallistratos Adamou came from Australia on a two-year agreement to re-open the church. He arrived in October 1969, when only two Greek men and their families lived in Kolkata. 

The entrance of Greek Cemetery

However, the Kolkata port received about 50 Greek ships every month and some of their sailors would visit and assist him in his work in the church. Efforts at revival came to a stop in 1972 and the church was shut down. Father Ignatios Pavlos Sennis, a Greek monk from the monastery of Stavronikita on Mount Athos, was appointed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to take over the management of the Greek Orthodox Church in Kolkata in the 1990s.

Story Tag:
  • Kolkata, History, Greek community

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