The Establishment of Kolkata under the Influence of British Reign

The uniqueness of Kolkata history, compared to other Indian metropolises such as Mumbai and Delhi, lies in its establishment as a colonial settlement and its long history of cultural fusion. The site was on the bank of a canal where there are ample resources for agricultural industries and convenient transportation. However, it did not start growing in a rapid pace until it was under the control of the East India Company in the end of 17th century[1]. Job Charnok was the first agent of the East India Company to build settlements in this area, after which forts, factories and docks appeared. It became a spot of trade of the company, well protected by the Hooghly River on the west and a salt lake on the north east. Until 1911, it was the capital and the largest city of the British Indian Empire.

 

The impacts of the British colonial reign are the most evident in Kolkata’s remaining architecture relics. Mostly to demonstrate their administrative supremacy over the region, grand stone structures were erected across Kolkata[2]. Foreign architectural languages that came with the reign of the British are still dominant on the streets of Kolkata, such as traditional Greek column orders with base and entablature, colonnade with arches, gothic pointy towers, and Byzantine domes. Yet, the native architectural styles and craftsmanship of India also left their marks on the buildings amid all the imported styles and icons. In the end, the major monuments in Kolkata could be seen with a mixture of cultures and styles, which showcases Kolkata’s growth in a context of colonization.

 

One representative of this fusion of styles is the Marble Palace built in 1835. It was built to be the residence and artwork collection gallery for a Bengali merchant[3]. Influenced by the western architecture languages, the major facade of this building shares a large part of similarities with Parthenon, which is regarded as the inspirational origin of western architecture. Pediment, frieze, columns and base are all aligned on the building’s facade, lending the building a western look; yet incredibly delicate and detailed carvings covered the top of the pediment and the entire frieze that give the building a light and hollow look, which can be seen in most native Hinduism temple facades but fundamentally different from the thick and mass look of Parthenon. This is an example where the fusion of architecture styles is quite evident.

Pic.1 Marble Palace, Kolkata

 

 

 

[1] “History of Kolkata (Calcutta).” Calcuttaweb. Accessed December 22, 2016. https://www.calcuttaweb.com/about/history/.

[2] Http://daily.indianroots.com/author/the-indian-explorer/. “Then & Now: Colonial Calcutta.” IndianRoots Daily (Blog). 2014. Accessed December 22, 2016. http://daily.indianroots.com/then-now-colonial-calcutta/.

[3] Desāī, Mādhavī, Madhavi Desai, Miki Desai, and Jon Lang. The bungalow in twentieth-century India: the cultural expression of changing ways of life and aspirations in the domestic architecture of colonial and post-colonial society. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2012.

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