Gas Crematorium, Crematorium Street, Kolkata
Crematorium Street, Behind Lower Circular Road Cemetery, Kolkata
At first glance it may appear to be a small church, complete with a bell tower, red titled roof, a projected porch, long flight of stairs and pointed Gothic arches. A common sight in small towns of Europe.
But the building is located in the heart of Kolkata, next to the Lower Circular Cemetery and is approachable from both Mullick Bazar and Park Circus.
Its not a church but a crematorium, and what appears to be a bell tower with Gothic windows is actually a chimney.
Started in 1906, the gas operated crematorium was the first substitute for open wooden cremation pyres in the whole of India.
Strangely, the gas crematorium was not meant for Hindus but for Christians.
Today, with the shortage of burial space, many Christians in developed western countries are going for cremation.
After the cremation, the ashes are collected in urns and are buried in small plots, thus saving space and the process is known as urn burial.
Kolkata (Calcutta, as it was then known as) was always ahead of its time and the first crematorium for the Christians came up more than a hundred years ago.
It was also a welcome relief for the Britishers, working in India, who preferred to be buried in their home town back in Britain. In such cases, they were cremated in the gas crematorium and the ashes were shipped back home for urn burial.
Also, the converted Hindu Chirstians sometimes preferred to be cremated than buried and instead of the open wood fires along the Hooghly River, they preferred to be cremated next to a Christian cemetery.
Also the Bramhos, who followed an interesting mix of Eastern and Western philosophies, used the gas crematorium for their last rites.
Famous scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, who was a Bramho, was also cremated at this gas crematorium.
The gas crematorium functioned till the early 1980s and had to be stopped because of erratic gas supply.
Today the gas crematorium is under the Christian Burial Board and is kept under lock and key. The writing on the gate reads “Trespassers will be prosecuted.” So the only option to visit the gas crematorium is to get a formal permission from the Christian Burial Board’s office in Lower Circular Road Cemetery.
The permission can easily be obtained from the Christian Burial Board’s office on any working day and during the working hours.
The Gas Crematorium can be approached both from Mullick Bazar and Park Cirus and is located in a heavily populated area and is thus difficult to spot.
Although the compound is overgrown with weeds, the crematorium, which looks more like a small church, is more or less well maintained.
Although most of the windows have broken and roots of vegetation have penetrated deep inside the structure, but the century old structure still looks stable but gives a creepy feeling!!
The real surprise lies in the interiors. The furnace supplied by the French furnace maker Toisoul Fradet & Co., Paris is still in very good condition.
The company, once specialized in making crematorium furnaces, have supplied crematorium furnaces in Paris and several cities of France and Britain, including Marseille, Rouen, Dessau, Leeds and Bradford.
The furnace is in perfect order and the ash release levers still work. Another interesting feature of the furnace are the peep holes, three on each of the two sides. The holes are opened to see the progress of cremation.
- The Christian Burial Board for providing us the necessary permission
- Subhadip Mukherjee, fellow blogger and heritage enthusiast, who accompanied me to the Gas Crematorium, do have a look at his blog.