The Black Pagoda - Legend of the Lost
01-12-2018    75 times
Black Pagoda

The nine-turreted Nabaratna temple of the Hindu Goddess Kali, built in 1731 on the Chitpore Road (now known as Rabindra Sarani), just north of Kumartuli, was called the Black Pagoda by the Europeans. It is said that he highest turret of the temple rose to the height of about 165 feet, higher than the Ochterlony Monument (Sahid Minar) and was the highest building in Calcutta in the 18th century.

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During the early days of the East India Company’s dominance, Calcutta was broadly divided into two sections. The European quarters around the Tank Square (Dalhousie Square, alias BBD Bag) was known as the White Town, while the present North Calcutta, inhabited by the locals, was called the Black Town. The majestic Nabaratna temple was built in the Black Town by Gobindram Mitter (1720-56), a wealthy Hindu landlord, who was one of the earliest Indian officials, a deputy collector, under the British rule. He was known to the British as the first Black Zaminder.

The White Town of Calcutta
The White Town of Calcutta

In those days, the rich locals used to construct palatial buildings for their residences, as well as temples, to exhibit their pomp and grandeur. Keeping with the practice, Gobindaram also commissioned his grand brick-built Kali temple complex around 1725, which was completed in 1730-31, with its 165 feet tall spire. Since the spire of the temple was visible from far away, the incoming ships used it as their navigational reference point and as the temple was built by a Black Zamindar, it was entered in the shipping log books as the ‘Black Pagoda’. Gradually, the temple became famous in that name in the contemporary and later English literature on Calcutta.

The Black Town of Calcutta. Solvyns, Les Hindous
The Black Town of Calcutta. Solvyns, Les Hindous

In fact, initially it was a big temple complex, consisting of a big Pancharatna temple, flanked on both sides by Nabaratna temples. The old temple was dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of destruction and one of the trinity gods, while the other two were meant for Vishnu and Brahma. Gobindaram also built a nine-turreted or Nabaratna temple of Goddess Kali on the banks of the Ganges.

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Unfortunately, the glory of the Black Pagoda did not last for long. Probably, it was not constructed according to the manual and had some structural weaknesses. It is believed that temple suffered major damages in the deadly cyclone and an earthquake on the same day in 1737. Consequently, the tall spire of the temple collapsed and was never repaired. By 1813, the huge weather-worn Pancharatna temple was completely destroyed due to negligence and non maintenance. Unfortunately, nobody took any initiative or drive to repair or renovate the temple complex.

The Black Pagoda, on the Chitpore Road
The Black Pagoda, on the Chitpore Road

The rate of the temple’s gradual deterioration can be seen from three 18th-19th century paintings. From the 1787 painting ‘Hindu Pagoda and House’ by Thomas Daniel, one can find a ‘dalan’ or building with three arches topped by a small pediment. A Dochala temple is also added in the painting. Another temple constructed in Nabaratna style, about half the size of the main temple, can also be seen within the complex. However, in the 1829 painting titled, ‘Chitpore Road and the Black Pagoda’ by Thomas Princep and in the 1830 painting ‘Hindu Mut in the Chitpore Bazar’ by Charles D’Oyly, the temple is shown in dilapidated condition.

Tutorial at home
Tutorial at home

Even today, one can find a residual portion of the ancient majestic temple in the Kumartuli area. Though it has received a recent facelift, the original building has been lost forever.

The present state of the Black Pagoda
The present state of the Black Pagoda
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    Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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