Tuesday, April 2, 2019

B: Burrabazar #A2ZChallenge

Burra Bazar. Let’s start with the old heart of the city, Burra Bazar. A long time ago, in the 15thcentury BC, long before Job Charnok came by on a sailing boat and “discovered” Calcutta, a family escaped Gujarat with their family deity and travelled to the banks of the river Hoogly and set up their home in Saptagram. They were the Shresthis and they were businessmen engaged primarily in trading of cotton. Those days Saptagram was a prosperous trading port and dominated by Portuguese merchants. After the arrival of the East India Company, the name was anglicized to “Sheth” and later to “Sett”. Yes, those were my ancestors, I come from the Sett family in Burra Bazar which literally means “big market”. 
Taking the name of their household deity, the Setts set up residence in Gobindapur (present day Dalhousie Square) and it is said that they owned the Lal Dighi. Those days Gobindapur was a dense marshy jungle and the Setts cleared the area and build their mansions there. Due to gradual silting of the river, Saptagram lost its importance and the Setts moved their business to Betor in Howrah. With the advent of the British, Dutch and other European traders, Betor became a major trading centre and the Setts became major players. 
At the end of the 17thcentury, Job Charnok arrived from Patna and established a trading post. When the British wanted to build a fort in Calcutta to protect their business interests, the inhabitants of Gobindopur were asked to move further north into Sutanati. The fort was then approximately where the present day G.P.O. stands. The (in)famous Black Hole of Calcutta incident occurred nowhere near the present-day Fort William but in the Dalhousie area, but that’s a story for another day. 
The Setts moved to Banstolla, present-day Hariram Goenka Street along with the family deity, “Gobindo Jew” where the family still resides. That’s the heart of Burrabazar, the old market area of Calcutta where haphazard buildings and narrow lanes jostle for space.
Last year a cousin and I went on a long walk around the area and visited the temple. The image is from pictures we took there. That temple where regular prayers are offered on a daily basis along with the strip of remaining houses bear testimony to the prosperity of the Setts in an earlier time. I have many, many memories of that house and the temple. As children we visited often. Now a lot has changed. Families have moved and sold their shares, it is not a place I relate to anymore. But I still fondly remember those long verandahs and large rooms with their glowing crystal chandeliers where we spent many a day and night with our cousins and other relatives. 
The Setts, (along with the Sils, the Mullicks and the Basaks) were the true founders of Calcutta, now lost in the annals of time. Reminds me of a line from a famous book by Richard Llewellyn: "how green was my valley, the valley of those that are gone."

1 comment:

  1. Oh Ipsita....another gem from you. Do organise a walk for us