The Greek trail of Kolkata

Few weeks ago, suddenly an old news article drew my attention. The article was about the only Greek of Kolkata. During the Raj era, a certain number of Greeks came in the city, established homes, church, cemetery, office building and left the city in previous century. They were not huge in number but left their legacy in the cityscape. I decided to explore the Greek trail of my city on that very afternoon.

Unfortunately, now a days the city houses only four Greek structures. But before telling the story of my journey along the Greek trail, Let me discuss about the arrival of Greeks in Kolkata or Bengal.

Greek Orthodox Church

Bengal’s ancient relationship with Greece was started 2000 years ago. There was a trading relationship between Greece and Bengal through the port of Tamralipti. Mention of “Tamalitites” (mispronunciation of Tamralipti) was found by the historians. But no Greek architecture was constructed in that age. The connection between them was lost gradually due to the political unrest in Europe and India in the medieval era.

During the colonial period of India, Kolkata was the capital city of undivided India and thus the city was gradually flourishing. Ambitious people from various part of Europe started coming to the city and started settling here. Like other Europeans, Greek fortune finders arrived Kolkata. The earliest Greek tombstone in Kolkata, now unfortunately lost, was dated to 1713 indicating the probability of settlement of Greeks in the city even in the 17th Century. After the Turko-Russian war in 1774, significant number of Greeks lost huge properties in their home country and came to Kolkata to start a fresh career. By the beginning of the 19th Century, more than 120 Greek families lived in the city. Most of them stayed in Amratala Street near Dalhousie area. Greek Orthodox church and the cemetery was originally founded in this neighborhood.

But at the beginning of the previous century, Greek Families started moving back to their countries. Grrek church was shifted to the new address at Kalighat and the cemetery was moved to new location at Phoolbagan. At present, No descendant of Greek families stay in Kolkata. Sister Nectaria Paridisi of the Greek Orthodox church is the only Greek left in the city. Even in the Greek Church, mostly Bengali Christians attend the Sunday mass. 

While leaving, Greek families sold all of their houses, mansions either to British or reach Indian families. All of them are renovated and presently no symbol of Byzantine legacy can be found in these architectures. As mentioned earlier, only four structures are the silent speakers of the forgotten community. They are scattered in the cityscape.

Greek Orthodox Church:

I started exploring the Greek trail from the Greek Orthodox church. Located in Kalighat the Greek Orthodox Church is This is not only the only Greek Church of Eastern of India, but also the only Orthodox Church in the present day.

Greek Orthodox Church

The first Greek Orthodox Church of Calcutta (Kolkata) was built in 1752, but it was soon abandoned. During the time of Warren Hastings the second Greek Orthodox Church came up in the Amratala area (Near Dalhousie Area). Most of the cost of construction was borne by Haji Alexios Argyree, a prominent Greek merchant of Calcutta. It was opened to the public in 1781. In 1924, the orthodox church was finally shifted to its present location at Kalighat – at the junction of SP Mukherjee Road and Library Road.

The Greek Orthodox Church looks more like a Greek Temple than a church, with its four Doric columns in the portico supporting the giant triangular pediment. The antique look of the church added a beauty in the city’s architecture.

With the Greeks moving out, the church became non-functional and was finally locked down in 1972. And then, in 1991, it was reopened on the initiative of the Greek embassy. At the time, Sister Nectaria, who was posted in South Korea, was asked to come and take care of the church.

Inscription written in Greek

From the Greek Orthodox Church, by Metro Rail, I reached to Esplanade for my next destination – Panioty Fountain.

Panioty Fountain:

Can you remember the first seen of the movie “Parashpathar” by Satyajit Ray? The protagonist character Mr. Paresh Chandra Dutta (acted by Tulsi Chakraborty) found shelter inside a small structure in a rainy afternoon. The structure was dedicated a Greek and known as Panioty Fountain.

Panioty Fountain

Located inside Curzon Park, the dilapidated marble structure attracts the eyes of everybody. Panioty Fountain, the utterly neglected Greek monument, was originally built with the patronage of Lord Curzon in memory of Demetrius Panioty. The Panioty family played a crucial role in the colonial history of India. The four pillared architecture was built to serve drinking water to the thirsty pedestrians. Unfortunately with the end of the colonial era, the fountain stopped working due to lack of maintenance. 

Ralli’s Building:

Walking towards north west along Marx Engles Beethi Road followed by a left turn from Dalhousie Sqare and further walking along Hare Street I reached in front of LIC of India Hare Street Branch Office – officially known as Ralli’s Building.

Ralli’s Building

Old timers of Kolkata still recall the memory of Ralli’s Ceiling Fan. The company is no more but its office is still there with its gigantic Stone clad façade. The building is named as Ralli’s Building and currently serves as a branch of Life Insurance Corporation of India. 

Greek Cemetery:

My last destination was Greek Cemetery. Availing AC12 (alternatively S12) I reached at CIT More Crossing and taking an auto rickshaw I reached at Phoolbagan – the new address of Greek Cemetery.

Greek Cemetery

Like Greek Orthodox Church, the Greek Cemetery was constructed in Amratala Street and after 1924, moved to its present location – Phoolbagan. Most of the tombstones were shifted to the present location. The earliest grave belongs to a businessman – Alexander Argeery who died in Kolkata in 1771.

Sculpture in Greek Cemetery

Excellent pieces of sculptures can be found on tombstones. Specially the mural where a girl hugging the cross is sculpted.

Greeks are no more in Kolkata. But personally I feel these structures are more Bengali than Byzantine.

Reference: 

  1. Greek Orthodox Church of Calcutta (Kolkata) by Mr. Rangan Datta
  2. India’s only Greek cemetery lies in utter neglect in Kolkata
  3. The only Greek of Calcutta

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