Bengalis in Lucknow: a fine example of composite culture
Volume: 13, No: 09 ; September-2019
Awadh is often known as the land of Nawabs, however, this land has always wholeheartedly embraced every culture which touched this land to converge into a wonderful – Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (a term used to denote peaceful fusion of cultures in Awadh, a composite culture).
Lucknow is one ancient and historical city, which found its true glory in 1775 when Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula shifted his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow. The reign of the fourth Nawab is also known as the Golden Period of Awadh as it not only made Lucknow the capital, but also became a melting pot of different cultures and art in all its forms. From then, Lucknow started to flourish and see entry of various poets, artists and artisans from all parts of the country taking shelter here under the patronage of Nawabs. It was under the rule of the Nawabs that the Bengali community too entered Lucknow for the first time.
Arrival of Bengali Astronomers & Astrologers :
Next to the famous La Martiniere Girls College in Lucknow, stands tall, another historical marvel – Tara Wali Kothi, presently serving as a regional office of the State Bank of India. This was made by the eighth Nawab of Awadh, Nasir-ud-Din Haider during his reign, due to his deep interest in astronomy and astrology. He procured several astronomical instruments from Greenwich in England and created an observatory here, calling it Tara Wali Kothi or the Star House. It is said that to look after this observatory and study the stars, Nawab invited some experts from Bengal and they are said to be the first ever Bengalis to have step on the soil of Awadh. These experts were namely – Chandrashekhar Mitra, Durga Charan Bandhopadhyaya, Kali Charan Chattopadhyaya and Madho Das.
Kali Charan, fondly known as Kali Charan Babu was the chief astrologer, and it was he who started Kali Puja, worshipping of the Hindu Goddess Kali (Goddess of death, time, and doomsday) for the first time in the city of Lucknow. He also introduced Lucknow to a significant and inseparable part of Bengali culture –Durga Puja, worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga – the Goddess of power and women empowerment by ensuring its regular observance. Gradually, the Lucknowites started taking part in these religious activities.
During the times of the last Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, the operations of observatory came to an end. At that time, General James Outram was the resident and Kali Charan Babu was appointed as a cashier. He had a good rapport with General Outram. Kali Charan Babu was revered by the people of Lucknow as a highly religious man. However, during the 1857 revolt, the people of Lucknow got angry with Kali Charan Babu as he was working for the British and was among their trusted people. Therefore, the people believed he was involved in every planning and plotting done by the British against the Indians. People’s outrage could be gauged by the fact that prize money of Rupees 5000 was declared to be given to anyone who killed Kali Charan Babu. Henceforth, in order to save his life, Kali Babu was underground for quite long.
After the uprising of 1857-58, when the British took control of Awadh, Kali Babu resurfaced. However, he denied working for them again and instead asked for their permission to organize Durga Puja in the Residency complex. The British Government granted the permission and hence the Durga Puja was organised with much pomp and show within the compound of Lucknow Residency.
This Durga Puja held in Lucknow Residency is a notable incident in various aspects. In this Puja, the idol of Goddess Durga could not be established due to inconvenient transportation at that time. And instead, a Goddess Durga painting made by foreign artists was placed for prayers. Kali Charan Babu himself served as the priest in the puja and 101 cannon shells were fired in celebration. The Zamindars, Taluqdars and British officers, all were invited in the festivities.
This incident was quite strange and flabbergasting for the people of Lucknow as the British Government who were otherwise discriminating and oppressive toward the Indians, granted the wish of a Bengali Indian by allowing Durga Puja to be performed in Residency, and not only that, they themselves took part in it.
It is tough to say what effect this incident had on the mindset of Lucknow’s people about Kali Charan Babu’s loyalty toward his motherland; however, the durga puja held in Residency did make people of Lucknow realize that Bengali community is soon inching toward becoming one of the prominent classes in the city.
Dakhshinaranjan Mukhopadhyaya was the first Bengali to become taluqdar. He was rewarded with Shankarpur Taluqa in 1859 for helping the British during the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’, as the British dubbed it. This estate was actually confiscated from Raja Madhodas due to his support to the revolutionaries during the uprising. Later in 1871, Dakhshinaranjan Mukhopadhyaya was honored with the title of ‘Raja’ by the then Viceroy, Lord Mayo. Among the first few very important Bengali noblemen who came to Lucknow, Dakshniranjan Babu as he was fondly called, contributed immensely in the field of education in Lucknow.
After Awadh was annexed and came under the full authority of the British, new avenues were opened for various occupations. Being well versed in English the Bengalis took full advantage of it and many migrated from Calcutta and settled in Lucknow. They entered in good numbers in various domains – education, health, judiciary, municipal services and similar professions, even a few businesses.
Inception of the Kali Bari:
The Kali Bari which is still in existence was established in 1864 by Dakshniranjan Babu. Kali Bari is not just a center for religious functions and prayers but had also been an important epicenter for various activities which had major impact on the social, cultural, and educational fabric of the city.
In those days, Durga Puja was also organized and celebrated in the same premises along with the cultural programmes including the Bengali plays and dance recitals. These performances attracted a lot of non-Bengali population too and raised interest among the people of Lucknow to know and learn more about Bengali culture and society. This actually created a bright turf for Lucknow theatre groups and cultural society.
The Bengali club:
Lucknow is well known for its blended and welcoming culture – The Bengali Club took shape in the year 1914 and since then, has managed to keep alive the Bengali traditions in the city. Durga Puja celebration held in the Bengali Club till date is the oldest ongoing Durga Puja in Lucknow, being held since the time of the British rule.
The concept of the Bengali Club dates back to the year 1901. It was the year when Atul Krishna Sinha, an employee of the Indian Railways Engineering Department, came to Lucknow. It was he who coined the concept of an exclusive center for Bengali Performing arts and games. Soon, Atul and his friend established the association of Bengalis and naming it Bengali Club.
Since its inception, there have been many dignitaries that have visited the Club, but the Club itself takes pride in the visit of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on 20th November, 1938.
Durga Puja celebration is another very important aspect of Bengali community which has gradually taken over the entire city by its festivities and colours. The decorated pandals (celebration tents), shops, eating joints and lively idols of Goddess Durga’s incarnation Mahishasurmardini draw massive crowds to these venues. Irrespective of cast, creed, community and religion it has become a house hold practice to visit Durga Pooja pandals, offer pooja and participate in rituals with great fervour and devotion during the festival.
The Bari houses Mahakali Pathshala (school) which has grown into two separate educational institutions – Boys’ Anglo-Bengali Inter College, Sundar Bagh and Hiramati Girls’ School that finally to become A.P Sen PG College, named after a renowned Barrister, A.P.Sen.
Some notable Bengalis who gave Lucknow some prestigious institutions
Barrister AP Sen stepped on the Lucknow’s soil in 1902 and gained popularity and people’s trust as a social worker and politician in a very short span of time. An ardent music lover, singer, composer and lyricist, A.P. Sen got so impressed with the culture of Lucknow that he gradually imbibed it in his own personality.
The founder of the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) was also a Bengali scientist – Vishnuprasad Mukherji. Whereas another Bengali, Sunil Kumar Dutt played an important role in the establishment of Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP).
Historically, the most significant period for the Bengali Community in Lucknow was the first half of the 20th century, when various kinds of activities took place. Lucknow and Bengali community here was inseparable by now and both adapted to each other with flavours of each in their traditions and customs, especially when in Lucknow. The Bengalis who came to this land were well aware of their own cultural identity as well as their responsibilities toward Lucknow’s own fabric and its people. Thus, they mingled well with the Lucknawi values and emerged as an integral part of Lucknow’s heritage and culture.
Ram Krishna Math
Lucknow is home to another landmark creation with a Bengali connection, Ramakrishna Math – a monastic organization named after & inspired by Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836 – 1886), a 19th-century saint from Bengal. It houses a temple containing idols of Saint Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Holy mother Sarada Devi. The temple is built in marble and to add an element of contrast, a style innovated by the Mughals, (using red sandstone along with marble) has been adopted in this temple. You will find murals of mythological figures such as the Shankha (conchshell), Chakra (disc), Padma (lotus), Trishul (Trident), Damaru (drum), Vajra (Thunderbolt) and Hansas (swans) painted with red cement.
The temple stands out as a unique combination of various styles of architecture. Besides the Mughal and Jain architecture, it includes those imbibed by the Chandellas, Chalukyas, and Pallavas of South India.
Durga Puja at Ramkrishna Math is a notable event and is held in all its grandeur. People from far and wide come to attend the Durga Puja irrespective of caste, creed, and religion.
During the Durga Puja days, a special puja is held here where a young girl is personified as Goddess Durga and is worshipped and treated in the same manner. The motto of the Ramakrishna Math is: “For one’s own salvation, and for the welfare of the world”.
Vivekananda Polyclinic and Institute of Medical Sciences Centre is yet another organisation named and inspired by the great monk and a social reformer Swami Vivekananda who was born in Bengal.
The institution is centred on the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, ‘service to Jiva is service to Shiva’, which implies spiritually dedicated service to humanity with utmost reverence, is the worship of God. Since its humble beginning, the Polyclinic has now grown into a renowned 350-bed multi-specialty hospital, standing prominently, in the heart of the City of Lucknow focusing on service to socio-economically weaker sections and people with limited means. It also enables charity services to deserving persons from lower socio-economic strata.
Bengalis were welcomed on this soil with utmost warmth and have been a part and parcel of Lucknow’s composite culture. As is evident from the fact that now one can’t think of a Lucknow without Durga Pooja celebrations, Saraswati Pooja and authentic Bengali sweets!
Now, of course, a substantial population of Bengalis is scattered all around Lucknow, however, Model House area is known to reside most of the Bengalis in the city.
The Durga Puja season has started and now there’ll be magnificent pandals coming up all over the city. Tornos arranges a special Pandal hopping tours taking guests to most prominent Puja Pandals and tracing the Bengali history in Awadh.