Chinsurah, a town located about 50 kilometres from Kolkata, might look similar to any other urban conglomeration in the state. What may, however, clued the uninitiated human eye is its rich Dutch heritage. And hence Chinsurah can be best described as a conglomeration between modernity and history.

The Dutch arrived here way back in 1628 and continued to rule the land for more than one and a half century. The local buildings and language depicts the conglomeration of two cultures. It is even said that ‘Calcutta' derived its name from the Dutch world--- Golgatha, meaning land of skulls. In the early 16th century, the bank of the river Hooghly was a coverted place for business and trade which lured European traders. The Dutch found Chinsurah a small and sleepy town suitable for carrying out trade and business.

The Dutch presence in the area saw cultural assimilation in various forms till 1864--- the Europeans participated in local religious festivals and even married local girls. The Shandeshwari temple has a pair of brass drums and a silver statue of Shiva which was gifted by the Dutch. Chinsurah started to emerge as an epitome of Holland. Fort Gustavus, built by the Dutch, now houses the Chinsurah court and is perhaps the longest court building in the world. St. John's Armenian Church built in 1695 is the second oldest church in Bengal. The church was constructed by the Armenians who came to Chinsurah in 1625 and lived peacefully with the Dutch. The Armenian custom of celebrating Christmas on January 6 has also become the custom here.

The clock tower of Chinsurah is another piece of architecture. The tower stands as a landmark Ghari More in the middle of the town and the London-made clock was set up in 1911 in honour of King Edward-VII and still in use since then. A small and simple old Dutch church lines near the clock.The grave of a Dutch woman, Susana Anna Maria who died in 1809, looks like a temple and is a marvel of Indo-Dutch architecture.

Susana was a rich Dutch lady who married a Briton. The monument, located near the station, is also known as Dutch mandir. The structure has a big dome with four open gates on all sides.

The famous Mohosin College once popularly knows as Presidency College of Hoogly was once the place of a French soldier Perron. Perron participated in the Maratha war and lived here as recluse after the defeat of the Marathas. England got the town from the Dutch in 1864 in exchange for Sumatra. However, the palaces that stand beside the river have their own tales to tell. Dilapidated thought they are, one can discern the smell of nostalgia wafting in the air. The needs of rapid urbanization have not left Chinsurah untouched. The new is coming up with the old.

This article was published on 9th November 2003 in The Asian Age

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For most of us, Holland is a distant reality with little or no relevance to our daily lives. Not so for the residents of Chinsurah, a small town on the banks of the Hooghly.

Dutch treaders came to Chinsurah in 1628, lured by the prospects of business and went on to rule and live there for the next 150 years. Not surprisingly, Chinsurah, which is just about an hour’s drive from Collate, is littered with Dutch monuments. The most imposing of these is the Chinsurah Court, originally built as Fort Gustavus. The only other piece of Dutch architecture that is as visible is the Clock Tower, set up in 1911 in honour of King Edward Vii, it stand on an island in the town centre, called Ghari More.

A small Dutch church near the tower is a popular tourist haunt, through the larger St. Joun’s Armenian Chruch at Mugaltuli is a bigger draw. Built in 1695 by an Armenian, the church is a marvelous piece of architecture and is said to be the second oldest church inWest Bengal. The Armenians came even before the Dutch in 1625. The church is still considered sacred by the few remaining members of the Armenian community in India and many of them come together to celebrate Chirstmas on January 6, not December 25 like everybody else.

The contribution of the Dutch is not limited to churches. A Shandeshwari temple on the banks of the river also has strong connections with the traders. Legend has it that a pair of brass drums and silver statue of Shiva were presented to the Hindustan by the Dutch and these have been preserved at the temple. There’s also a Dutch Mandir in Chindurah, although it’s actually the grave in unique in terms of structure because it has a large dome and open gates on all four sides.

Chinsurah’s Mohsin College sould also be visited for its history. The institution is housed in a mansion, which was once the palace of a French solider called Perron who participated in the Maratha war.

Travel Information

Take a local train from Howrah to Chinsurah, about 50 munites’ journey. From the station. Take a cycle rickshaw to go around.

This article was published on 17th November, 2002 in The Hindustan Times

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