Located in the proximity to the majestic structure of Prinsep Ghat at the southern end of the Maidan and situated on Napier Road in Hastings area, the Lascar War Memorial Monument was built by the Shipping and Mercantile Companies and was dedicated to the memory of the 896 Lascars of undivided Bengal and Assam, who fought and died for the British Navy during the First World War of 1914-1918.
ln the month of May 1920 a memorial was conceived to be built on the banks of the River Hooghly in Calcutta in the memory of the lndian seamen, known as Lascars, who had died at sea, serving on merchant ships during WW I. Further, it was also decided that the proposed memorial column or obelisk would be build in lndo- Mogul style near the River Hoogly, so that it would be visible to the ships sailing along river Hooghly. Consequently, the southern end of the Maidan was selected as the site for the memorial to be known as Lascar War Memorial.
The term ‘Lascar’ is probably originated from the Persian word ‘Lashkar’, meaning military camp or army, or from ‘al-askar’, the Arabic word for a guard or soldier. It was adapted to ‘lascarim’ by the Portuguese, meaning an Asian militiaman or seaman. However, from the 16th century until the beginning of the 20th century, sailors or militiamen from the Indian Subcontinent employed on European ships were generally termed as lascars. Usually they were engaged at the wheel or on the deck of the merchant ships under Lascar agreement, which empowered the ship owners to transfer the Lascars from one ship to another and retain them in the service up to three years
Built in Indo-Mughal style the Lascar Memorial was designed by William Ingram Keir, who bagged the winner’s award of Rs 500/, in an international contest arranged in 1920, for the design of the proposed Memorial. He was also the designer of the Bengal Engineering and Science University in Shibpur and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.
Apart from that, when the graceful St. Paul’s Cathedral was badly damaged in a distressing earthquake in 1934, he was amply credited for successfully replacing the spire. Nevertheless, after the completion of the construction, the 100 feet tall Lascar Monument, second after the 157 feet high Ochterlony Monument, was ceremonially unveiled on 6 February 1924 by Lord Lytton, the then Governor of Bengal.
The Lascar Memorial is a dignified four-sided column with projected galley on each side. Its top consists of four short minarets, complete with a large gilt central dome. Beneath the projected balcony, the façade is ornamented with wavy lines, symbolizing the waves of the sea. The north side of the base of the Memorial contains a massive doorway, which leads to the interior section, containing three plaques, just below the inscription ‘Lascar Memorial.’ While the first plaque is related to the unveiling of the memorial by Lord Lytton, the second plaque contains the details about the erection of the memorial by the shipping and mercantile community of India to commemorate the 896 seamen of Bengal, Assam and upper India, who fought and died in the great war of 1914-1918.The third smaller plaque tells the story about the renovation and the lighting arrangement of the Lascar War Memorial in 1994.
The existence of the Laskar Monument was probably forgotten after independence. For nearly half a century, it was sadly neglected and cruelly ignored. Gradually, without proper maintenance, it became shabby and shoddy, overgrown with unwanted wild vegetation. At last, a fine morning in 1994 brought light to the forgotten memorial, when during his morning walk Commodore BK Mohanti became surprised to spot the desolate and gorgeous structure. He took the initiative and after passing through thousand hurdles of official paraphernalia, the battered structure was renovated and arrangements of lightning of the memorial were completed in December 1994. Finally, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of INS Netaji Subhas, A L Dias, the then Governor of West Bengal switched on the illumination on the 7th day of December 1994 and the memorial was adopted by the Indian Navy.
The Memorial is now maintained by Indian Navy and every year the National Navy Day of India is celebrated in the venue. Though a restricted place, it is opened for the public every day from 5 to 7 in the evening. The Memorial looks like a memorable dream in the evening, when it gleams in the colourful lights.