Few weeks ago, suddenly an old news article attracted me. The article was about the only Greek of Kolkata. A certain number of Greeks came here during the colonial era. 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.
Let’s first discuss the arrival of Greeks in Kolkata or Bengal.
In pre medieval era, 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.
During the colonial period of India, like other Europeans, Greeks started coming to Kolkata in the later part of the 17th Century. No specific information is documented regarding this. But 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, Greeks lost huge properties in their home country and thus started coming and settling in Kolkata. By the beginning of the 19th Century, more than 120 Greek families lived in the city.
But at the beginning of the previous century, Greek Families started moving back to their countries. At present, 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 architectural symbol of Byzantine legacy can be found in these architectures.
Greek Orthodox Church:
Located in Kalighat the Greek Orthodox Church is the only orthodox church in India.
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. This is not only the only Greek Church of Eastern of India, but also the only Orthodox Church in the present day.
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.
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.
Excellent pieces of murals can be found on tombstones. Specially the mural where a girl hugging the cross is sculpted.
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 facade. The building is named as Ralli’s Building and currently serves as a branch of Life Insurance Corporation of India.
Visiting Curzon Park, a 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.
The fountain was shown In the film “Parashpathar” where the protagonist actor Tulsi Chakraborty found shelter in a rainy evening in Kolkata.