Europe along the Hooghly, Serampore, Chandannagar, Chinsurah and Bandel
Europe along the Hooghly
Serampore (Danish), Chandannagar (French), Chinsurah (Dutch) and Bandel (Portuguese)
Almost a century after Vasco da Gama landed on the West Cost of India (1498), the Europeans started making inroads in Bengal. Using Hooghly (also known as Ganga or Ganges) as the main source of navigation, they started making inroads in Bengal.
Soon, European settlement started growing along the Hooghly River in the present day Hooghly District. Long before the British made Calcutta their stronghold, the Portuguese had settled in Bandel. They were closely followed by the Dutch in Chinsurah, Danish in Serampore and the French in Chandannagar.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to settle in Bengal and also have the distinction of building the first Christian Church in Bengal.
The Church of Our Lady of the Happy Voyage was initially constructed in 1599 and demolished by the Mughals in 1632 and was rebuilt the same year.
Sadly, the Church has been reconstructed several times and today represents a modern structure.
It is popularly known as the Bandel Church. The word Bandel means ‘mast’ in Portuguese.
The Bandel Church compound houses a mast, which was gifted by a Portuguese ship captain, after his ship was damaged in a storm in Hooghly.
Apart from the mast and church, nothing much remains of Portuguese history in Bandel. For More information read Bandel, Church and Imambara
Its all Dutch
In 1825, the British exchanged the island of Sumatra, in Indonesia, for Chinsurah, with the Dutch. Thus ended the Dutch rule in Chinsurah or Chuchura.
The Dutch fort of Gustava has long been demolished by the British and nothing much remains of the Dutch legacy in Chinsurah.
The Dutch Church was demolished in 1980s, but the Dutch Cemetery still stands and is a reminder of the golden days of the Dutch.
The cemetery contains a assortment of graves scattered under the shade of ancient trees. The oldest dates back to 1743 while the newest one is on 1840. For more information read Chinsurah (Chuchura), Remains of a Dutch Legacy.
A slice of France
Unlike Bandel, Chinsurah and Serampore, Chandannagar still boosts a lot of French heritage. Chandannagar was a French colony till 1950 and French is still taught as a third language in many of Chandannagar’s schools.
The Chandannagar Strand is considered as the most beautiful stretch of the Hooghly and still houses a few French mansions.
Just off The Strand, is the Sacred Heart Church, one of the prime attractions of Chandannagar. The church interior has beautiful stained glasses.
The Durgacharan Rakshit Ghat on the Strand is a interesting mix of Indo – French architecture. Also on the Strand is the Duplex’s Museum, housing a French Museum. For more information read Chandannagar, a slice of France.
Serampore remained under the Danish rule till 1845, after which the Danish Governor decided to sell it to the British East India Company.
Built in 1818, the Serampore College, with its grand facede, reminds one of the glorious days of Danish Serampore.
Danish missionary Carey, along with Ward and Marshman, started the Serampore Mission Press and published the first Bengali translation of the Bible. They also started the Friends of India newspaper.
Serampore also houses two Cemeteries dating back to the Danish days. The Baptist Mission Cemetery in Serampore contains the family graves of Carey, Ward and Marshman, while the Danish Cemetery houses several other Danish graves.