Sutanuti was one of
the three villages which were merged to form the city of Kolkata
(formerly Calcutta) in India. The other two villages were Gobindapur
and Kalikata. Job Charnock, an administrator with the British East India
Company is traditionally credited with the honour of founding the city.
He settled in the village of Sutanuti.
SOURCE: GUARDIAN NEWS SERVICE
Job Charnock is heard of in various positions and places associated with
the East India Company from around 1658. After Cossimbazar and Patna he
stayed for shorter periods at Hughli, Hijli and Sutanuti. He was
convinced about the advantages of Sutanuti as a place of settlement but
his colleagues and superiors were not. However, the officials in Madras,
after certain debacles at Chittagong, allowed him, with the objective of
establishing a settlement, to sail for Sutanuti and he landed there on
24 August 1690, a date that has become historically famous. He lived for
two and half years after that.
As the city grew, different neighbourhoods sprang up. Mechhuabazar (later Jorasanko) was the fish market. Kalutola was home of the Kalus (Kaluas) or oil pressers of the company, who may have supplied mustard and other oils to the merchants. Kumortuli was named after the Kumors (Kumbhars) or potters who settled there. Jorabagan, also called Sheth Bagan in earlier days had a 110 bigha garden owned by the Sheths. Further north there were the settlements Bagbazar and Shyambazar. The area was citadel of Bengali aristocracy. Bosepara was set up by Basus and Pals migrating from Hooghly district. Nidhuram Bose is believed to have arrived before the British came to Sutanuti. Sometimes localities were named after trees. Bartala was named after twin banyan trees (bar or bat). Taltala was named after its tal (palmyra) trees. In those days areas such as Entally were part of the salt lakes, Ballygunj and Rasapagla (later Tollygunj) were sleepy villages.
The three-mile (5 km) Maratha Ditch was excavated by 1742 as a protections against the marauding Marathas (known in Bengal asBargis), but they never came and Siraj ud-Daulah easily crossed it with his forces, near what is now Sealdah. At around the same time, the palisades around the English settlement were strengthened, creating in effect a ‘white ghetto’.
Long before Siraj-ud-dowla sacked Kolkata, the psychological barrier
sprung up with a clear distinction between the ‘White Town’ restricted
mostly to the north of the old fort and ‘Black Town’ spread over
Sutanuti, Chitpur and Gobindapur. The sharp division was sealed by the
gradual withdrawal of the British from Sutanuti. Even
a deep trench, 16 to 18 feet (5.5 m) wide, was dug in 1710, ostensibly
to drain the White Town but also to separate it from the Black Town in
as the English gradually abandoned Sutanuti as a place of abode, there
stood at its northern most corner a pleasure resort called Perrin’s
Garden, where “once it was the height of gentility for the Company’s
covenanted servants to take their ladies for an evening stroll or
moonlight fete.” It also gradually fell out of use and repair and was
sold out in 1752. With
the commencement of construction of the new Fort
William, in 1758 and the demolition of Gobindapur, the
inhabitants were compensated and given land in Taltala, Kumortuli and Shobhabazar.
European inhabitants gradually forsook the narrow limits of the old
palisades and moved to around the Maidan.
Before the British came the most powerful families in the region were Sheths and Basacks, the merchants of yarn and cloth market at Sutanuti. With the arrival of the British these families flourished with renewed vigour. Janardan Sheth was a trading agent of the British. Shobharam Basack (1690–1773) became a millionaire by supplying textiles to East India Company.
The earliest names floating around are those of Mukundaram Sheth, who lived in the earlier part of sixteenth century and moved fromSaptagram to Gobindapur. When Gobindapur was demolished the Sheths moved to Sutanati Haat or Barabazar. Thereafter, the most important name is that of Janardan Sheth. He was the son of Kenaram Sheth (Kiranchandra Sheth according to some) and had two brothers, Baranasi and Nandaram. Janardan Sheth’s son Biashnabcharan Sheth had a roaring business of selling bottled Ganges water.
The Marwaris ousted the Sheths and Basacks as cloth merchants and changed the name of old Sutanuti haat or market to Barabazar. Even after that some of them continued to have business ties. Radhakrishna Basak (d. 1811), descendant of Shobharam Basak was Dewan of the Bank of Bengal, but the leading business families of the eighteenth century switched to investments in urban property. While Shobharam Basak left thirty-seven houses to his heirs. Ramkrishna Sheth left sixteen in Barabazar alone. The Sheths and the Basacks began to decline from the mid-eighteenth century – just as Kolkata began to grow into a large city.
Along with the Sheths and Basaks, Sutanuti gradually lost its visibility, replaced by numerous neighbourhoods, and retreated into the books of history and scrolls of honour. We hear of Nabakrishna Deb being offered the Talukdari of Sutanuti. Binay Ghosh, the renowned cultural-historian has distinguished four types of culture prevailing in old Kolkata – Sutanuti culture, Kalikata culture, Gobindapur culture and Bhawanipur culture. Sutanuti culture was the urban-feudal culture propagated by Nabakrishna Deb, Kalikata culture was the mercantile culture propagated by Sheths-Basaks. Gobindapur culture was the European nouveaux riche culture. Bhawanipur culture was the Hindu Bengali middle-class culture. Sutanuti is the place where Job Charnock landed in 1690. Around it grew not only the city of Kolkata but also the mighty British Empire in India. As the heart of Kolkata’s Black Town, as well as cradle of its culture, Sutanuti continues to hold nostalgic curiosity for anybody with an interest in old Kolkata.
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First uploaded: 23May 2013
Updated: 02 Jul 2013