hugli river of cultures


Global and Local Digital Research

The Boys with a Red Camera: Global and Local Digital Research

Ian Magedera

If you ever see a two guys whizzing around Chandannagar in a Toto, descending from time to time to photograph domestic and public heritage sites with a red camera, do please give them a wave. They are Mayukh Sengupta and Indrajit Mondal, two founder members of the project’s GPS-enabled heritage photography team. Guided by Ramanuj Konar and using the unique archive of images of the city’s recent past gifted to the project by Mr Patit Paban Haldar, this team has been assembling material for the project’s free Augmented Reality App. This will allow any location-enabled smartphone user in Chandannagar to point their camera at important houses and monuments and to see, superimposed on the actual real-time image a historical image is taken from the same angle of that place, ten, twenty and maybe a hundred and twenty years ago. A description can also be uploaded and directions to the place from where the user is to the place of interest. This technology, developed by Martin Winchester at the University of Liverpool in conjunction with Iain Jackson (both part of the Hugli River of Cultures project and the University of Liverpool) has already run as Timescape Kolkata and in Hyderabad. Discussions are ongoing in 2020 about how to bring this AR App to a larger number of people.

Urban Fieldwork in Chandannagar: the French Presence

Urban Fieldwork in Chandannagar: On the French Presence Passing beyond the Horizon of Living Memory

Ian Magedera

How does the French presence manifest itself in Chandannagar in 2018, given that a vast number of the citizens who voted in the 1949 referendum are no longer living? Although this is not a research in sociolinguistics, the language question needs to be covered. What is the state of the French language as part of the French presence?

According to Fishman’s now-classic Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (1991), French in Chandannagar would appear to have reached the final level of decline – level 8 – which indicates a status in which ‘the only remaining speakers of a language are members of the grandparent generation’. This, however, is not the whole story, as French is being learned outside the family at the Indo-French Institute and in a handful of schools in Chandannagar. Lewis and Simons extended Fishman’s scale from 8 to 11 levels in 2010 and there is now a choice series of adjectives to describe the final stages to language death. 7 – ‘shifting’ – the child-bearing generation knows the language, but none are transmitting it to their children (this is the case in Chandannagar because it is extremely rare that two individuals with at least a functional knowledge of French marry each other, such is the low number of those learning French as a proportion of the general population of the city. Lewis and Simons rename Fishman’s 8 as 8a – ‘moribund’ – and map it onto the UNESCO scale point of the language being ‘severely endangered’. Then there is 8b – ‘nearly extinct’ – ‘the only remaining speakers of the language are members of the grandparent generation or older who have little opportunity to use the language’; this is critically endangered for UNESCO. Despite the young learners in Chanderngore, this level does seem to be active in Chandernagore, because there is, to my knowledge, no public forum in which speakers of French can interact. The grandparent age fluent speakers of French are frequently former teachers of French who, since retirement have little opportunity to use their language skills, apart from private tuition in a few cases. This leads us to the interesting final stage before the silence of language extinction, Lewis and Simons’s level 9 – ‘dormant’ – ‘the language serves as a reminder of heritage identity for an ethnic community. No one has more than symbolic proficiency’.

For UNESCO, languages that have meshed with heritage at the symbolic level are ‘extinct’. While this may be true in a functional sense and the shining example of individual effort among students belie this, it is actually possible to say that functional dormancy can have a whole series of real-world effects. The first is that there is no significant self-identifying community of French nationals in Chandannagar, so language can be decoupled from nationhood there. Everyone and no one can feel a connection with French heritage. This is found in what sociolinguistics call the linguistic landscape such as the presence of single markers of French words, not grammatically structured French language, but French words in the names of businesses such as the Hotel de Chandernagor bar and the La Medecine and New La Medecine pharmacies. Most of the interviews that me, Antara Mukherjee and Souptik Choudhury conducted with very elderly people were done in Bengali, there were memories of interactions with French people, but those people who had those interactions did not have them first hand and they are impressions.

One common element is the positive emotional charge associated with the French in the final period of the freedom struggle. There is a black and white portrayal among many people that the French were enlightened, humble, and modest, whereas the British were none of those things. The newspaper reports on the last French administrator, Georges Tailleur, also adopt the same tone: ‘The Hindus, the Muslims, and Christians living in Chandernagore all looked upon him as their friend and well-wisher. […] On the last ‘Saraswati Puja’ day bands of young students were seen shouting to him “Bonsoir, Monsieur” as they passed with the image of goddess Saraswati for immersion along the strand in front of the residence of Tailleur (1979, 132). Clearly Bengalis had forgotten the realities of French control, the 50% tax on certain Bengali products, and the 300% profit that Dupleix made on rice shipped through Chandannagar from Patna to the Deccan. The French presence had already passed into malleable memory. In 2018, a FIFA World Cup year, the accurate memory of the French flag even the accurate memory of the blue white and red French flag is fading among the citizens of Chandannagar. The tricolour is being rotated clockwise and anticlockwise through 90 degrees to form correct or incorrect versions of the flag of the Netherlands, as was wryly noted by many French commentators in Europe upon seeing footage of the World Cup Final parties held in Hugli and Chandannagar in 2018. This flag inversion would never have happened in Puducherry/Pondicherry because of the presence of key French institutions such as the French senior school, the lycee francais, the Alliance franchise, and the Ecolefrancaise en extreme orient among others such as the French consulate. No single party whether in West Bengal or in Europe is to blame for this, but this is the result of the historical situation of Chandannagar as an outpost since its foundation in the late 1600s and the nature of its disengagement from France by referendum before the other trading posts and its integration into the state of West Bengal, rather than becoming a Union Territory. This increased malleability of memory offers a crucial impact opportunity for our project’s research because our documentation of transcribed interviews and photographs and documents are being cross-referenced against the final living memories of individuals who had contact with the French to make new grounded narratives. These, in turn, can then be used in historically anchored, fact-checked sustainable heritage tourism in the form of heritage walks led by local guides and also in the organisation of heritage days. The first is a potential spin-off and the second a planned output of the Hugli River of Cultures Project. These memories underpinning documentation and guiding research will be the documented recollections of individuals, but also the commemoration of now-deceased key individuals with a connection to the French heritage. This commemoration of the memory of the French presence and finds its expression in a photostory celebrating the life of Clovis Albert Galopin, also known as Naru Gopal Da (1934-2017) produced by Subrata Roy Choudhury, Antara Mukherjee, Tagirem Gallego Garcia, and Ian Magedera.

TAILLEUR, Georges, Chandernagor ou Le Lit de Dupleix, Montpellier: AfricaNostra, 1979, p. 132

Fieldwork on Cultural Heritage

Perceptions of Cultural Heritage in Chandannagar

Helle Jorgensen

Heritage is often understood from the monument-centric perspective of officially recognised and legally protected buildings and structures which may, and may not, connect with the intimate histories, memories, practices, and identities of the people who populate a place and make it come alive.

The questions which present themselves with even greater force in the context of Chandannagar as a place with complex cross-cultural histories and relations are:
– How is the concept of heritage understood?
– Who is deemed to have the authority to determine what constitutes the heritage of the city?
– How, if at all, do intimate and officially recognised heritage values and histories connect
– To what extent are heritage values and assets experienced by the residents of the city as sustainable and viable?

This fieldwork investigated how the residents of Chandannagar relate to the heritage of the city, how the intimately valued and remembered buildings and social spaces tie in with the larger urban landscape, and which aspects of the city’s cross-cultural history and changing urban environment make an impact on daily lives and memories. In Chandannagar multiple layers of history impact on how the urban environment is experienced and valued, ranging from deeper histories of trade and movement in and beyond West Bengal to histories of interaction with the many European colonial powers that were settled along the Hughli River, as well as the subsequent fight for independence, and the more recent histories of urban growth and change in which the closeness to the megacity of Kolkata make a growing imprint on the development of Chandannagar. In this context understanding multiple and, at times, competing voices become essential to understand what might be experienced as heritage in Chandernagore and how it is valued.

Interviews for the project have been supported by the research assistants Souptik Choudhury and Archita Chatterjee as well as by lead honorary researcher Antara Mukherjee and Neline Mondal .

Serampore Case Study

South Gate, Vheto, Danish Governor’s House and the North Gate

Souptik Choudhury

On July 6, 2019, the members of Hugli River of Cultures were invited to Serampore by Dr. Brente Wolff, the Project Head of The Serampore Initiative as well as the curator of the National Museum of Denmark for a case study of the renovation and restoration of the Danish monuments jointly conducted by the National Museum of Denmark and West Bengal Heritage Commission.
First, we went into the Danish Governor’s House compound entering the South Gate, which was constructed in 1800 and was also known as the guardhouse as the adjoining two rooms were used by the guards for accommodation. When the Serampore railway station was built, the entire trade route was shifted from the riverside to the railway tracks making this gate lose its importance. As a result, the unused gate fell into ruins. Now it has been restored by the Serampore Initiative project with collaboration with the West Bengal Heritage Commission.
Around 1.45 PM, we, the project members of Hugli River of Culturesgathered at the recently renovated restaurant Vheto, which was previously known as the Red House for its big red pillars. It had been the registry office under the Danish and British rule. Members of HRC had a meet and greet session inside the nostalgic ambiance of the restaurant with members of SHRI (Shrirampur Heritage Restoration Initiative, a local citizen-led body.)
After having a delicious meal of Bengali dishes at Vheto, we visited the Danish Governor’s house next. Built in 1771, this majestic building was used by the Danish, British and Indian government till the 1990’s. After that, the building was abandoned and it gradually started getting decayed. The restoration of the Governor’s house was started in November 2008 by West Bengal Heritage Commission, under the execution of Serampore Municipality. The unplanned false partition inside the building collapsed roofs, broken floors, decayed wooden doors, and windows made the renovation pretty challenging in the beginning. But as West Bengal Heritage Commission decided, the renovation was conducted using conventional construction materials like lime, Surki (finely powdered burnt clay), Molasses, Khayer, etc. Expert masons of Murshidabad, who were acquainted with this conventional process, had been appointed for the restoration. The old Burma teaks have been recycled to rebuild the doors and windows. At present, the wooden staircase, antique lantern-like lights hanging from the ceilings, the white and yellow colour schemes and the preserved old lime and brick wall can transcend one back to the glorious
past of the bygone days.

Jute Bustees

Souptik Choudhury

After visiting Serampore College, our last destination was the Jute Bustees (slums) of Serampore, near the Ganges River. The second jute mill of India was opened at Serampore in 1866 (the first one was established in Rishra, in the year 1955). Six more jute mills were established in and around Serampore between 1866 and 1915. Apart from the jute mills, many other subsidiary factories were set up in Serampore. The prospect of new employment in those new factories and mills attracted many landless labours of Bihar, Odissa, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh etc and those labours chose Serampore as their new living place. This rush of migrated habitants increased the population of Serampore and the local landlords and mill owners made living arrangements for these labours around the factories and mills. Due to this immigration, the population of Serampore reached 44,451 from 24,440 between 1872 and 1901 (Ray 2004, p. 18). According to the 2001 Census of India, this no had reached to 197,857.
Since the establishment, the bustees were unplanned, overcrowded and unhygienic. Till now, they lack sewage and the sanitary system as well as a proper supply of drinking water. Although the other industries of Serampore are doing comparatively well, the glorious past of the jute industry has now faded, which has affected the livelihood of the labours of the jute mills, forcing them to search for other employments. They continue to live in shanty rooms, sharing the roadside water tap and common latrines. Due to unstable income, education is not much sought after here, making the population widely illiterate. According to the demographic analysis of the population of the Draft Development Plan (DDP) for Serampore, some wards have a high migrated population, nearly 67.3%. The lower incomed population of these Jute Bustees is a challenge for the urban development plan as new employment opportunities and better living standards are required by the inhabitants here. As the jute mills were an inseparable part of the glorious past of Serampore, these Jute Bustees also deserve special attention and proper development from the urban planners and conservationists.

The Goswami Rajbari

Reshma Khatoon

On July 6, 2019, an interesting heritage event was organised by the members of Hugli River of Cultures and Dr. Bente Wolff, the Project Head of the Serampore Initiative and the Curator of National Museum in Denmark. The field trip started with a sumptuous lunch at Vheto, a Bengali restaurant situated near Serampore court compound. Then our journey began. We visited Governor’s House, St. Olav’s Church, the Goswami Rajbari, the beautifully restored Denmark Tavern, the famous Serampore College, and the surrounding areas of the old jute mill. Among these historically rich and culturally vibrant sites, the splendid architectural work of the Goswami Rajbari fascinated me the most. The history of the Danish, the British, and other Europeans in Serampore was closely intertwined with the history of the wealthy and influential Goswami family. The Goswamis of Serampore traces their descent from one of the five Brahmins whom Adisur-King of Gour (now Bengal) had brought to and settled in his dominion with gifts of land and annuities for purposes of propagation of knowledge, the performance of religious rites and for enlightenment and advice in matters of administration. The Gosmamis first migrated from Patuli (a village on the Bhagirathi near the Police Station of Purbasthali of Kalna subdivision, Burdwan District) and settled in Serampore. The grand house was built by Raghuram, the great-great-grandfather of Kanai Lal Goswami probably in the years 1815-1820. The Goswami Rajbari, a palace with more than a hundred rooms, “Naatmandir” which is a covered courtyard, measuring 120 feet by 30 feet, 24 Corinthian columns, and the floor is covered with chunar stone. There is an altar on the marbled Thakur Dalan where the family deities comprising of Radhamadhav Jiu, Radhika, and Gopalji reside. This grand building has undergone changes through the passage of time by the way of addition/alteration undertaken from time to time, by successive generations and preserves the bitter/sweet memories of Bengali Brahmin Zamindar family. Even in this contemporary period the architectural beauty of this Rajbaricaptures the attention of the Bengali filmmakers so effectively that they use it as a setting in their movies. In 2012, a bulk of the film named Bhooter Bhabishyat was shot at this Rajbariwhich not only served the purpose of the movie but also attains a museum-like status. Today, a portion of the building is used by the Government for charitable causes. Thus, the trip has been able to create awareness among us regarding the relevance of these heritage sites and palatial houses.

The Denmark Tavern: A Riverside Heritage Café and Lodge

Oishi Biswas

The Danish Tavern was established in 1786 in what was then Fredricksnagore. In this building in 1786, the British innkeeper James Parr opened “The Denmark Tavern and Hostel”. An advertisement in the Calcutta Gazette announced that “Gentleman passing up and down the river may be accommodated with breakfast, dinner, supper, and lodging, also liquors sold by the single dozen and a good billiard table and coffee room with newspaper.”
The new tavern soon became a well-known attraction for European citizens and travellers. It was conveniently located at Serampore’s elegant promenade that stretched along the Hooghly River. During the evenings, Europeans enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere at the riverside where they came for a walk in their finest clothes.
Famous English missionaries Carey, Marsman, and Ward and others found a safe haven here upon their arrival on October 13, 1799, when they were put up in the Hotel. They first set foot on the wall that Sunday morning at Nishan Ghat at sunrise and knelt down to thank God for their safe arrival. After meeting Governor Ole Bie, who gave them refugee status for they were not welcome by the British. They found cheaper accommodation elsewhere in the town. It was “Captain Wickes…procured boats for their luggage, in which they embarked under the guidance of his sirkar, who spoke a little English, and on Sunday morning, the 13th October, they found themselves opposite the neat little hotel at Serampore. Mr. Marshman immediately went on shore, and falling on his knees, blessed God for having brought them in safely across the ocean, and landed them on the soil of India” as told by his son John Clark Marshman, who was 5 years old at the time, in his ‘The Life and Times of Carey, Marshman, and Ward’, Vol I, p. 111.
Daniel Brunsdon experienced the culture shock of the unexpected kind: “We arrived at Myer’s tavern, Serampore early on Lord’s day morning. We found the innkeeper a civil man. Here again, we found it impossible to have a divine service. The hardened state of the inhabitants of this town is truly astonishing. Openly play Billiards is common on this day, as to go to church in England.” The name Myerr (which is the hand of the Editor of the Periodical Accounts, after reading Brunsdon’s letter to Sutcliffe) could be associated with the famous Hotel Myer’s at Lal Bazar, Calcutta.

Conservation: From Ruins to Rebirth

In 2015 this building lay in ruins and the original name and function had been forgotten. A search in archives and museums revealed that the crumbling structure had once housed the famous inn called “The Denmark Tavern and Hotel”. In this continuing effort to preserve and revive Serampore’s heritage, the Tavern is a focal point located at the historic axis from Nishan Ghat to the old Danish Main Gate and Government House.
The restoration was initiated by the National Museum of Denmark in partnership with the Danish association Realdania and in close cooperation with the Government of West Bengal who owns the building. Serampore Police Lines who stayed here moved out to let the Tavern return to its original function as a café and lodge.
A specialized team of craftsmen from West Bengal accomplished the difficult restoration work using traditional materials and old craft techniques. Some new elements have been added to make the building useful as a modern café, for example, the steel staircase and the balcony in the central room. There is running an eatery at a heritage structure. They serve Indian, Chinese, Bengali, and tandoor dishes. There are some signature Danish dishes on their menu, too, like Danish style chicken sausage, Danish roast chicken, and Danish pastry with vanilla ice cream. There are six rooms – four on the first floor and two on the ground floor – which have been well furnished.
West Bengal Tourism Department Corporation Ltd. has furnished the Tavern and manages the café and lodge through a lease to a private operator. The restaurant is now managed by the Park Group.
On the 28th of February 2018, the Denmark Tavern was inaugurated by Shri Indranil Sen, Honorable Minister of State for Tourism and Information and Cultural Affairs, in presence of the Ambassadors of Denmark. Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

Acknowledgements :
• Mr. Peter de Vries.
• Dr. Ian Magedera, Assistant Professor, University of Liverpool, UK.
• Mrs. Bente Wolff, Curator, National Museum of Denmark.

Hugli Heritage Audit

Hugli Heritage Audit

Ian Magedera


What are the most successful heritage projects in West Bengal from around 2008 to 2018? This audit springs from that simple question, as put to the participants of the April 2018 Round Table for divisional and municipal urban planners held at the British Council, Kolkata under the auspices of the Hugli River of Cultures Project (referred to henceforth as ‘the Project’).
The Project is funded by the UK’s Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy’s Newton Fund with additional funding from the Indian Council for Historical Research. The money supporting this project from 2018 to 2020 is delivered under the Global Challenges Research Fund in the stream Cultural Heritage and Rapid Urban Change and administered by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. Within that stream, the Project is classed under the ‘Questioning Centre and Periphery’ thematic area. A non-metropolitan focus is a hallmark of the project, and, as a direct consequence of this, this audit will concentrate on sites in West Bengal outside the core of the megacity of Kolkata. It will deliberately, therefore, bracket out world-class heritage sites such as the Victoria Memorial and its Hall and Museum. While it is true that Kolkata, via its nomination of its Durga Puja for UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage, is the central focus of the vast majority of the heritage studies, architecture and built environment academic scholarship (see bibliography) as well as much significant campaigning and public debate about the loss of heritage as reported online and in print media, the five cities bordering the Hugli River, Bandel, Chinsurah, Chandernagore, Serampore and Barrackpore and their population of 5.52 million people (Census of India 2011), should themselves form an appreciable counterweight to Kolkata in the heritage discourse of West Bengal (Zeeshan Javed, ‘India nominates Durga Puja for UNESCO Tag’, Times of India, 2 April 2019.
As Indrajit Mondal and others have pointed out, however, the heritage capital of these five cities have been neglected in favour of the ‘hill station architecture’ and mountain railways of Darjeeling in the northern part of the state and, to a lesser extent environmental ‘tourism in the Sundarbans’ to the south (Indrajit Mondal, ‘Heritage Site Conservation and Further Prospect on Tourism with special reference to French heritage sites of Chandannagore, West Bengal, India’, unpublished MA dissertation in the Department of Geography, Rabindra Bharati University, p. 23). While not wanting to undervalue the heritage riches of Darjeeling for example, the present audit highlights the imbalance between Kolkata, Darjeeling and the Sundarbans on one side and the Hugli five cities on the other, which have not yet been the subject of co-ordinated heritage initiatives (The Darjeeling Hill Railway joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites with the Nilgiri and Kalka Simla Railways in 1999). The reason for this side-lining could well be the proximity of these five cities to Kolkata and the unfortunate fact that, although they share a five faceted Portuguese, Dutch, French, Danish and British European heritage, unique in the world, these settlements are not considered as a unit in heritage terms, although the UK historian of heritage Philip Davies suggested in 2015 that ‘the Hugli isn’t just an Indian river but belongs to the world’ (The Times of India, ‘Historian tips for Hooghly heritage’, 5 October 2015). The proximity of the Hugli five cities to Kolkata and the good transport connections between them should actually be seen as a great positive attribute in the development of sustainable heritage tourism in this area.
Both the concentration on Darjeeling and the comparative neglect of the Hugli five cities area is a legacy of how in 1947 and beyond independent India understandably sought to take over existing urban infrastructure which was fully developed by the British in 1947, rather than by realising the potential of a mixed Indian and European heritage landscapes by the Hugli that were more invisible because the built environment legacy of diverse non-British European colonisers such as Portugal, the Netherlands (Holland), France and Denmark was less visible, discontinuous and more miscegenated with Indian traditions than was the case in Darjeeling for example. Put simply, the pre-eminence of Darjeeling reflects a case of selecting only the low hanging fruit. Nearly three-quarters of a century after independence, twenty years after the Darjeeling Hill Railway joined the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List and in the same year that Kolkata’s Durga Puja was nominated for the Intangible Cultural Heritage List, the time has now come to construct the narrative of a riverine connected urban landscape which has the potential to show the interaction between European and Indian cultures over 400 years since the Portuguese traders established a presence in 1579. There are small signs of progress such as the ten settlement Hugli focus of the Silk River Project which saw 10 metre decorated scrolls representing some of the five Hugli cities journey to the Thames (The locations represented by scrolls are: Botanic Gardents, Shibpur, Burrabazar, Barrackpore/Serampore, Murshidabad, Chandernagore, Jorasanko, Howrah, Kidderpore, Batanagar, and Krishnanagar). Yet the cultural hegemony of Kolkata was asserted once again in the predominance of Durga and Kolkata in West Bengal’s official contribution to the Totally Thames Festival. Once again, there should be no criticism of Durga or Kolkata, but a realisation that West Bengal and the River Hugli has strength in-depth (and length upstream).
The large-scale, systematic, and scientific valorisation of both intangible (Jagadhatri Puja) and built heritage (mainly domestic with some public via cultural landscapes) in the Hugli five cities area is the prime aim of the Project. This task, however, is to be pursued in the Hugli Heritage Management Strategy only when the best practice from both other parts in India (via INTACH Pondicherry / Puducherry) and other heritage sites in West Bengal have been audited. This is the rationale for this audit.

Scope and Methodology

As mentioned above this audit will focus on heritage sites outside Kolkata, as the respondents and contributors to the Round Table were mainly planners, the initial content was primarily based around built structures. This will be supplemented, however, using an understanding of heritage as cultural landscape following UNESCO’s ‘adoption of the 2005 Vienna Memorandum on historic urban landscapes at a general session at the organisation’s headquarters in Paris in 2011’. According to this framework, buildings are seen as ensembles used by visitors and residents and as part of the natural landscape beside, around, above, between and under them (Aysegul Tanriverdi Kaya, ‘Cultural Landscapes as Heritage: A landscape-based Approach to Conservation’in Recep Efe, Isa Cürebal, Abdalla Gad, Brigitta Toth (eds), Environmental Sustainability and Landscape Management (Sofia: St. Kliment Ohridski University Press, 2016), pp.205-222, p. 214). As a logical consequence of this, heritage management practices are included here.
Although heritage tourism initiatives that draw their rationale from the Hugli River are considered below, it remains beyond the scope of this audit to evaluate larger scale ritual practices that cover large areas and long distances via uncertain routes. One such ritual is the annual 43-kilometre pilgrimage from Kolkata to the Marian shrine in Bandel Basilica that takes place since 1954 on the anniversary of Christ’s Baptism in the second week of January. The same applies to more diverse and even larger scale ritual such as the Chaitra (Spring) and Sraban (Monsoon) season rituals where people carry Ganges water barefoot to bathe the Lord Shiva idol at the Tarakeshwar Temple (I am grateful to Antara Mukherjee for responding to my enquiry in this matter). The Jagadhatri and Durga Pujas of Chandannagar and Kolkata (among other places) are also outside the scope of this audit (though Jagadhatri is part of the Project). Due to the particular challenges and early stage of sustainable heritage development in Hugli addressed in the aims of the Hugli Heritage Management Strategy, this audit will give precedence to heritage properties that are well maintained with input from civil society groups and/or commercial ventures. Sustainability, community engagement, and a positive contribution to the economy are the prime criteria that define a successful heritage site.
Although they are all well-informed professionals in the field, due to the limited size of the twenty-person sample, this audit cannot be considered exhaustive. Furthermore, it will be put at the service of the Hugli Heritage Management Strategy responding to the particular circumstances of the five Hugli cities in their current state of underdevelopment as far as co-ordination in policy and joined-up sustainable heritage tourism is concerned, and therefore, the audit will be presented in order of their relevance for the Hugli five cities with the most relevant sites coming first.

Serampore Heritage Precinct

This cruciform area covering about a hectare includes the Danish Tavern on the banks of the Hugli River, heading away from the river at a right angle the visitor can walk 200 metres through the gate and into the Governor’s house compound; perpendicular to this axis on which these structures lie is St Olaf’s Church. This x y axis dominates the structure of the settlement of trading post and was not significantly altered by the British when the Danes sold them Serampore (then called Frederiksnagore in 1845, it having been in Danish hands since 1755). While there is a number of heritage structures in the settlement, the most significant among them being Goswami Bari and Dey Bari, the Danish Heritage Precinct and the co-ordinated way in which the State government, the municipality, and the Danish government have all worked together over nearly two decades has been exemplary for West Bengal. The quality of the restoration, carried out by skilled stonemasons from Murshidabad under the supervision of professional conservation architects from Kolkata has been a great success and could be a model for Bandel, Chuchura, Chandannagar, and Barrackpur. It is important to note that although this brief account has highlighted the Danish buildings because of the financial support of the Danish Bestseller Foundation and the National Museum of Denmark, the renovation and restoration work has not been limited to Danish buildings. This is illustrated in the way that the former Land Registry Building a less prestigious British-era building has undergone adaptive reuse and been transformed into the ‘Vheto’ restaurant (I am grateful to Peter de Vries for responding to my enquiry in this matter).

Patal Bari and the Core of Chandannagar’s Potential Heritage Precinct

This ‘underground house’ is a unique building on account of its historical associations with Rabindranath Tagore, paired with its riverine building technology that boasts climate control by allowing the ingress of water into the basement during the hot rainy season. This property is also unique for three further reasons: it is private ownership, it has been renovated in a historical faithful manner and it is in a location that is both in the centre of the urban area and right beside the Hugli River. The property is opened at the discretion of the Khan family and yet there is no published procedure for gaining access. It is of profound importance that this building is preserved and maintained, but regrettable that access is so limited. Patal Bari is at the southernmost limit of a potential heritage precinct that is a counterpart to the cruciform axes of Srirampur. Chandannagar’s intersection is the inverse of Srirampur’s because the majority of the heritage structures are on the long x-axis along the Strand. From South to North they are Patal Bari, St Joseph’s Convent School, Institut de Chandernagor (also known as the so-called Dupleix palace); it is at this point that the y-axis intersects the x-axis. Along with this, there is Jora Ghat, an ornamental canopy forming an entrance arch to the settlement from the former landing stage just by the river and Eglise du Sacré cœur/ Sacred Heart Church two hundred metres from the shore (approximately the same distance that the Governor’s house is from the Danish Tavern in Srirampur). Returning to the x-axis and moving north, we have Chandernagore College and Rabindra Bhavan. These seven structures are potential heritage core for Chandannagar, however, the challenges are numerous, not least because there are as many stakeholder organisations involved as there are sites: the Roman Catholic Church in India, the Archaeological Survey of India, The Ministry of Education, the Chandernagore Municipal Corporation, the West Bengal Education Service, the West Bengal State government and the Khan family. To make this heritage precinct a reality, an overarching coordinating entity, trust and a masterplan would be necessary with agreements between federal, state, municipal and private actors.
As stated above, Patal Bari’s climate control system is unique and still functional, however, the use of river water for climate control in buildings also appears to have been a feature of other buildings on Chandannagar’s riverside Strand. There is a folk memory among senior staff at Chandernagore College such as Professor Basabi Pal, about 350 metres north of Patal Bari, that there was a pipe that allowed river water to ingress to the parts of the basement of the college to cool the building during the hot season. It would appear that this system is either no longer functioning or that it has been intentionally disabled during maintenance works.

Itachuna Rajbari

Located 8.6 kilometres from Pandua and 3.3 kilometres from Khanyan station served by the Sealdah-Bardhaman and Howrah-Burdwan (Main) local trains, this one hectare, eighteenth-century, the palatial compound in rural West Bengal is one of the very few privately owned functioning heritage enterprises in the state. As well as being used as a location for feature films such as Lootera (2013), caters both to the wedding and conference trade and for overnight stays and, crucially, it has a functioning dalaan devotional space at its centre with regular ceremonies. It is different from the vast majority of the owner-managed and runs heritage properties in India in that it is managed and staffed by a dedicated team of salaried professional staff as the commercial enterprise: ‘Mylestones and Journeys’ [sic]. It is further marked out by its significant and sophisticated web presence and a business model that privileges, not only a visit, but superior quality catering and/or an overnight stay in a period setting to maximise revenue. The offering is therefore in the luxury bracket for the vast majority of Indians, but, as a consequence, it attracts people travelling from overseas and from out of state. Finally, Itachuna Raj Bari offers high-end souvenirs such as coasters, handicrafts, jewellery and greeting cards for sale (all made by local villagers). Though this is standard practice in heritage properties across the world, this entrepreneurial innovation is rare in West Bengal outside Kolkata.
The initiative to start and build this enterprise has its origins with a key single member in the ancestral family who owns the palace, this individual gained commercial expertise in the US and then built up this hospitality enterprise in the former family seat. Although the family do have apartments in Itachuna, they generally reside in Kolkata or abroad. Full disclosure: the Project visited Itachuna as paying guests in 2018. The Project team found the place well-maintained and well-run by professional staff, senior members had good knowledge of English. Team members found the views across the green and prosperous agricultural land from the roof with the rituals ringing out below was very impressive as the evening drew in. It is clear that a great deal of thought has been given to the delivery of the food and beverage offering that had elements of luxury built into it. It is clear that the venue positions itself as giving day visitors and overnight guests a taste of the luxury enjoyed by the Rajbari’s Maratha owners since Shri Safalllya Narayan Kundu began its construction in 1766. The majority of feedback found on standard visitor websites generally rate Itachuna Rajbari as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very Good’.
As an architectural form, the Rajbari is a crucial form for the state of West Bengal, reaching from Cooch Behar in the north, Murshidabad in the centre, to Kolkata in the South. As Joanne Taylor and Jon Lang note at the start of their study of the remarkable collection of ‘Great Houses’ in North Kolkata, ‘[u]ntil recently the Great Houses were referred to only in passing in books on the architecture of India and even then attention was usually drawn only to one example: the Mullick mansion (1835) better known as the Marble Palace. The houses of the wealthy Indian elite […] could not be held in as high esteem as those buildings that followed a single, unified design paradigm. In addition, the families who owned them […] galled Indian nationalist sentiment […] their mansions were and remain symbols of their owners’ earlier elite position in Calcutta’s indigenous, colonial society. Both the people and their buildings are considered by many to be best forgotten’ (p. 10). It is this ambivalent position which has lead to so many palatial homes to be in such a degraded material condition in Hugli and in Kolkata. And yet, as Aishwarya Tipnis et al. note in 2012, the selective purveying of a luxury ‘Live like a zamindar for one night’ (Identification of Shared Cultural Heritage: French Heritage in India Chandernagore(New Delhi: ATA, 2012), p. 78) experience is a way of monetising heritage in a sustainable way and generating funds for conservation. Itachuna Rajbari has been achieving this since 2012.

Hindu Temple Complexes in Antpur, Dakshineswar, Bansberia, Bankura, Tarakeswar, Bishnupur, Sukharia, Azimganj and Belur Math

As is patently obvious from the number of sites listed above, from their antiquity and from the federal, State and civil society groupings that are mobilised for their preservation and day-to-day running, sacred Hindu temple heritage sites, taken together, are in a class of their own in West Bengal. Their value comes from the aesthetic quality of their curved roof shapes (many in terracotta) and external decoration and, in many cases from their good state of preservation and numbers of people at all levels of society who are engaged in their upkeep. Many of them are sites scheduled as monuments by the Archaeological Survey of India, as such they will have a sign informing the public of this fact. More often than not the supervisory staff employed to guard the site do not have the capacity to enhance it as a visitor attraction for the large numbers of visitors who could be attracted to these sites. This ‘lone watchman’ phenomenon leads us to foreground another temple complex site.
The Lahiri Baba’s Mandir and Ashram at Rajhat near Bandel are also significant from a heritage management point of view. This is because these types of temple complexes are in private ownership and attract no state subsidy or control. These sites are fleet-of-foot and have been able to use private capital and visitor generated income to renovate older structures with integrated decorative pools and coloured LED light strips on the upper building structure of the main temple that exudes a modern aesthetic. Clearly, there what was there might have had the potential to be ASI scheduled, but it has been renovated away under concrete and white plaster. While there are categorical objections to be made about the integrity of this approach, the resulting complex and the way that it is run clearly appeals to large numbers of younger middle-class Indians who patronise the temple and its facilities such as its well maintained extensive flower-filled gardens, its shop and on-site guest house. One of the most frequent comments about the site on social media is that it is ‘clean and clear’. The perimeter is fenced, there is a gated access point so that visitor flow can be regulated and there is staff to direct visitors and to clean and maintain the site. The modern feel of this place and its smooth white plaster aesthetic with multiple shrines linked by block paving and signage has little of the architectural pedigree of the sites mentioned above, but it has been consciously created in order to focus on the quality of the visitor experience and to act as a calming spiritual haven within a controlled environment.
Clearly, the lessons from this spiritual visitor attraction would have to be adapted in targeted precincts in the five Hugli cities which must remain a thoroughfare and transit route and an open public spaces, but the lessons from the Lahiri Baba’s Mandir is that the focus must be in on the wellbeing of the individual on foot: cleanliness needs to be increased (all report published thus far mention that first), but there a raft of measures that must consider and plan for the full sensory experience of the individual moving around the precinct on foot. This can include noise abatement measures, shade, planting, clear pathways, boundary markers and staff providing advice and guidance and actively addressing any agreed public order bylaws agreed at a municipal level. It is clear from the entry sign at the Mandir that entry is subject to agreeing to a covenant on behaviour and respect for others. In the case of Chandannagar’s Strand, a key example could be taken from Pondicherry’s Promenade, the one place in India that most closely resembles it. Between the hours of 6 pm and 6 am each day the promenade is entirely traffic-free and this doubles vastly increases the well-being benefit to the population.
Stepping back from this individual case and from Chandannagar, it is important to consider the structural differences between the temple complexes in the title of this section and the Hugli five cities. Immediately differences become clear the temple complexes mentioned above large scale, generally covering a large area and comprising several structures. They are generally found outside the directly riverside environment further inland (with Azimganj being the closest to the Hugli) and while many important individual Hindu temples are found within the urban areas of Bandel, Chinsurah, Chandannagar, Srirampur, and Barackpur such as the Nandadulal and Nilkantheswari Temples in Chandannagar and the Jagannath Temple in Srirampur. These and several other temples are profoundly important for local devotional practice and for local history, but all are undoubtedly on a smaller scale than the complexes mentioned at the head of this section. An essential additional factor when considering both the unique nature of the five cities and why they have been comparatively neglected in heritage terms up to this point is that lack of a large scale national and international scale Hindu temple complex, allied to the fact that the devotional structures of national importance because of their scale and age are part of the Christian and Moslem faiths. They are the Sacred Heart Church already mentioned, Bandel Basilica, St John the Baptist Armenian Church in Chinsurah, and the Imambara in Hooghly. The reason for the siting of these buildings in these settlements was because of their mixed populations which themselves were a result of these areas being open to Europe and to other parts of the world via the Hugli River via trade and conquest for at least five hundred years. The concentration and scale of these devotional structures and their solid functioning condition is another marker of the unique status of the five Hugli cities in West Bengal, in India and in the world.

Kharagpur and Santiniketan: Integrated Educational and Heritage Sites

IIT KGP Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur needs no introduction as the first for four pioneer higher technical institutions that were planned in 1946 by a committee set up by Sir Jogendra Singh and continued by Sri N. R. Sarkar. These aimed to emulate US centres of undergraduate and postgraduate research and learning in the vein of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology founded in 1861. The site and buildings of this institution were constructed by the British in sometime between 1915 and 1923 as a district headquarters that was never used; however, they would be remembered as the site of an eponymous colonial-era detention camp at which two detainees, Santosh Kumar Mitra and Tarakeswar Sengupta, were killed in an unprovoked shooting by police in 1931. It is this act, rather than the architectural quality of the building that gives the site meaning. Addressing the 1956 IIT KGP convocation Jawaharlal Nehru dwelt upon the symbolism of the choice of this place as part of the national narrative of transformation: ‘[h]ere in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands the fine monument of India, representing India’s urges, India’s future in the making. This picture seems to be symbolic of the changes that are coming to India’. While the narrative is key it is important to consider it like that, although it is factually possible to say that the first academic building of IIT KGP was a former detention centre, it was not its primary, nor was it the last use before it became an education institution. It was a US Air Force base from 1942 to 1945. The building was a ready-made edifice of sufficient scale surrounded by enough unbuilt land to warrant the siting of a key institution in post-Independence India. It was clear from the start that the institution would be far greater in scope than its former point of origin. A new main building was already under construction when Nehru spoke the words above.
In an ongoing process of adaptive reuse, the former district headquarters and detention camp was renamed Shaheed Bhawan and was partially converted in 1990 to be the Nehru Museum of Science and Technology with indoor and outdoor exhibits for school-age children and above. As a consequence, the challenge for the campus and for the building in terms of heritage management is one of accessibility. The narrative of this building belongs to the nation and yet is found at the heart of an elite educational institution with highly controlled admissions policy. The building aims to teach and reteach every day a lesson about national rebirth, but the buildings around it cannot be open in the same way to the same demographic who will come to visit the Hijli Jail-Shaheed Bhawan-Nehru Museum of Science and Technology and so, from a heritage point of view, routes and staff guiding and regulating access becomes an issue. The wider campus is familiar with these issues in relation to pedestrian and vehicular access, the construction of a perimeter wall in 2005 and access to the Rural Development Centre.
In a positive sense though, despite access issues, maintenance costs, IIT KGP has a heritage building at its very core and this is an anchor point in the narrative of the nation. Returning to the Hugli five cities context, one of the key ways in which a heritage building or site can be preserved from haphazard development and erasure is by donating it to educational use. This has been the case with the riverside frontage of Hooghly Mohsin College between Bandel and Chinsurah (I am grateful for the input of Neline Mondal in this enquiry). At present, the establishment is not regulating the access and giving visitors a better experience by allowing them guided internal access to the site at suitable times of the day when there is not a conflict with the primary purpose of the building as an educational establishment. The opposite applies in the case of the Chapel of St Joseph’s Convent School which is not readily accessible to the public. Clearly given the young age of the children there and the fact that it is a devotional space access must be controlled, but once again heritage management needs to proceed by consensus.

Konnagar, Debanandapur, and Howrah: In the Footsteps of Eminent Persons

Konnagar, approximately 21 kilometres by road from Kolkata along the western bank of the Hugli is one of the few municipalities where there is a great deal of political commitment to develop heritage. Those responsible for it in the municipal administration are proceeding in a careful and systematic manner by acquiring heritage structures such as Baganbari, the riverside villa of the painter Abanindranath Tagore (the nephew of Rabindranath). The purchase of sites at market rates is a considerable investment by the municipality, but it gives it the freedom to be the major stakeholder in the development and subsequent use of the site. Although the development of the site has not started yet, in order to be more than a haven by the Ganga that is of benefit to the local community, there is co-ordination necessary to realise the heritage value of this property in terms of the history of art institutions in India. The marketing of the property needs to be considered as more than a one-off and associations be made between it and other Tagore family properties in Kolkata and in Santiniketan.
This potential for thematisation can be seen in the way that both the birthplace and the hub of the independent-related activism of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay in Debanandapur and Howrah are heritage sites, though they are not officially linked to each other and to the sites of others active in the struggle for freedom in India. Returning to the Hugli five cities, the associations between the Chandannagar and both Aurobindo Ghosh (Sri Aurobindo) and Rash Bihari Bose need developing as part of Freedom Struggle related sustainable tourism in conjunction with itineraries which include the pathways of Sister Nivedita and including less prominent (though no less eminent) figures with a connection to Chandannagar such as Radhanath Sikdar.

Farakka, Durgapur, Randiha & Jubilee and the Howrah Bridges: Out-of-Bounds Industrial and Transport Heritage

Even more than the Victoria Memorial, with its handsome standard dome shape, it is the steel latticework of the main span of Howrah Bridge that features as the ‘Eiffel Tower’ style icon of Kolkata in online branding of many heritage businesses based in the city. It is somewhat of a paradox, therefore, that photography is banned on the bridge and in its immediate vicinity. Given the reduced opportunities to perpetuate photographic images of the structure, the visual persistence of this landmark that opened in 1943 is all the more remarkable. When will there be a modern building in Kolkata striking enough to replace it in the imagination? The attraction of key industrial and transport infrastructure channelled in a very controlled way in cities such as Vienna and Sydney. In the first visitors could sign up for an official tour lead by city sewerage workers of the city’s MA 30 who would visit the locations shown in the 1949 film starring Orson Welles (now the tour is run by full-time professional guides from the Third Man Museum. In Australia thrill-seeking tourists can book a tour in which they walk in harnesses over the top of the upper curved span of the bridge. This tour is consistently rated as one of the best experiences In Australia. Durgapur Barrage has a well-liked park and picnic area close by, but the national security logic prevalent in India and the sensitivity relating to any industrial or transport infrastructure means that such initiatives are currently impossible in West Bengal and in India, despite the precautions that the Austrian and the Australians take in terms of visitor registration, induction briefings, safety equipment, and visitors not being allowed to carry anything with them on their bridge walk.
In the Hugli five cities area, the Jubilee Bridge is probably the most impressive location, but the logic of safety and culture of control renders inaccessible for the foreseeable future. This is only going to increase in the future because the federal government has declared the Hugli as NW1, National Waterway number one. The first container ship from Kolkata to Varanasi completed the passage in November 2018. It was welcomed at its destination port by the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is, however, the river Hugli itself is the huge undiscovered resource in West Bengal. In a way equal to the perspective change associated with high mountains, the river offers Bengalis and other precious vistas of the urban landscape with a separation through the relatively depopulated space of the river. Where else can one gain the space to view one’s cities and the riverscape between them? The current ferries across the Hugli are a prime transport location which give people a glimpse of their own urban area for a very nominal fee. The river can be crossed in a smoother experience such as that from Chandannagar’s Rani Ghat to Jagaddal and the rather hair-raising boarding of the ferry at the unstable bamboo Ballavpur jetty in Serampore (now closed). The most spectacular views are those gained by along the river; they were enjoyed by the European and few Indian traders and fisherfolk since at least the sixteenth century and in limited numbers in the present, but those are not afforded to large numbers of Indians from this locality, particularly for leisure purposes and so that they get a better appreciation of the heritage riches that exist so close to their homes. It cannot be correct that the only tourists on the river are non-Bengalis. This situation is explored in the next section.

Current Functioning Multi-Site Transverse Heritage Initiatives that Use the River Hugli as a Conduit of Culture

The analysis begins with initiatives whose longevity and external tourist industry accreditation and awards suggest excellence and profitability. Following those speculative initiatives involving rivercraft funded by the West Bengal state government are discussed.
Martin Randall Travel is a UK-based cultural tour operator founded in 1988. The company specialises in a small group organised travel led by specialist academic lecturers; in 2018 they ran over three hundred different tours in over fifty different countries covering music, architecture, and history. This British company is discussed here although it is only a purchaser in India because it illustrates a proof of concept as far as the Project’s aim of travelling along the river and using the Hugli as a conduit of culture. Once a year, in November, Martin Randall run the Bengal by River tour, billed as ‘Calcutta and a week’s cruise along the Hooghly’. An ‘exclusively chartered cruiser’ is used to travel from Kolkata, all the way upriver to Murshidabad and Gaur most probably taking in the Jagadhatri Puja from the river around Chandannagar. The total cost of the twelve-day stay not including flights is Rs 478,660.
The West Bengal State government has invested in cruise boats that sleep around thirty plus people, but these boats depart from Kolkata and not from the Hugli five cities. These long-distance residential boats sometimes moor in the centre of the river outside Chandannagar for a night and the tourist come ashore for a few hours via small boats from the Rani Ghat ferry terminal. Since 2019 West Bengal Tourism runs a classic houseboat that then be hired in Kolkata for corporate events for up to thirty people. There is also a West Bengal Tourism owned boat which can be hired from Chandannagar. The issue with the first is accessibility, with the second it is capacity and starting point and the issue with the third is lack of a regular, hop-on, hop-off service. These services are also supplemented by the hire of private vessels from Kolkata such as those run by Vivada Cruises, however, the situation with these providers is identical.
In Melaka Malaysia, the establishment of a regular heritage cruise on a thirty-minute defined circuit has been the catalyst for grassroots urban regeneration on the riverfront because the boat stops to allow people to hop on and hop off and engage in commercial activity at the various places. In 2017-18, there were 1.03 million visitor journeys. Night cruises complete the heritage circuit which includes bridges and other structures from the 1500s and Portuguese rule to Malaysian high-tech modernity of 2008.

Preliminary Concluding Remarks

In terms of periodisation, it is clear that limiting the time frame of the original question to 2008 was an arbitrary figure, despite the size and population of West Bengal, development in the field of heritage, tend to be extremely slow because of the conflicting influences of different stakeholder whenever a change in land use is mooted. States such a Gujarat suggest that this is not a pan-Indian phenomenon or attributable to stasis within the judiciary for example. The need to build consensus and the existence of checks and balances and the residual power of people’s protest means that, as in the case of Hijli and IIT Kharagpur, it is necessary to go further back than 1947 to see the roots of the current situation in heritage management in West Bengal.

Selected Additional Recommendations

1. Owner-custodian collectives
These could be chaired by project members in an unpaid role acting initially in a liaison (resource person) role, but eventually, these collectives could become self-governing associations or societies, before establishing their trading arm. This trading arm could establish a table of materials, materials purchasing consortia as well as overseeing interactions with the municipal authorities and the marketing platforms for homestay activities. The development of these collectives will give the thousands of private owners who live close to the future heritage precincts more of a unified voice. In this way, tourists and other visitors will be able to stay overnight closer to places of interest and amenities, and the pressure to build new concrete block hotels and guesthouses might be mitigated in favour of the authentic experience of staying with a local family a heritage building.

2. Branding and classification
That West Bengal Heritage Commission develops a branding and classification strategy to categorise different heritage sites and rate their offering and facilities. It is suggested that these categories map onto definitions in international English in order to be easily interpretable by overseas travellers but also retaining transcriptions of the original Bengali terms to keep the untranslatable authenticity of the sites. Suggestions could include:
Spiritual Tourism: Mandir/Chola,
Rural Palatial Homes or Rajbari
Urban sacred celebratory procession/ Puja
Multi-site pilgrimage
These categories would be indicated with icons which identified generic forms such as terracotta columned arched roofs for the Spiritual Tourism: Mandir-Chola category.


Chandernagore mon amour

Antara Mukherjee (Ed.) Chandernagore mon amour: the Citadel of the Moon (Liverpool: Liverpool University, 2018), 259 pp.

This bilingual English/Bengali collection of essays by project members and invited specialists provides new interpretations of Chandernagore’s tangible built heritage, and its intangible cultural heritage from pre-colonial, through colonial and onto post-colonial times. The book is richly illustrated with original colour and black & white photographs and contains a timeline and links to digital resources such as photostories.


Pritimoy Das (Dir.) Reverberations: Voices from the Riverfront (Liverpool University, 2019), 34mins < >

A documentary about the impact of the Hugli River of Cultures project on the local residents and the people who came in contact with the project. It’s about what they think about the heritage of the riverfront towns, about what they think about our work, about the reverbs that need to be heard…


Pinaki De (Dir.) Samayita: The Healer (Liverpool University, 2020), 50mins

A docudrama on Jagadhatri Puja, the biggest festival of Chandernagore, involving multiple aspects of intangible cultural heritage. The inaugural screening of this docudrama was held on 23 January 2020 at the Danish Governor’s House in Serampore on the occasion of the Second Hugli Heritage Day. The docudrama is now archived at Liverpool University and will soon be made open for global access.