Rewriting the history of Kolkata ’s foundation


By Madhubani Dutta Baral

A recent tête-à-tête with Indranil Halder and a coffee time adda (আড্ডা – a Bengali term for relaxed conversations about random topics) over the book, Calcutta Then Kolkata Now by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray and Pramod Kapoor raised many debatable questions about the truth of Kolkata’s foundation.

An excerpt from page 11 reads as below –

“The history of Colonial Calcutta dates from August 24, 1690, says P. Thankappan Nair, the city’s dedicated chronicler. That was when the East India Company’s Job Charnock slipped anchor in the Hooghly. Nine years later he paid Rs 1,300 to the Savarna Raychaudhuri family of Barisha for zamindari rights over the three villages of Kalikatah, Sutanuti and Govindpur.”

Digging through the pieces of history from a video posted by Indranil Halder, I started to put together a version of facts as established by Saborno Sangrahashala of Barisha, West Bengal, India. And it all started with the Battle of Plassey.

The Battle of Plassey & Raja Nabakrishna Deb:

The Battle of Plassey (23 June 1757) was fought between Siraj ud-Daulah and Robert Clive that changed history in many different ways. Under the leadership of Robert Clive, thrived many conspiracy facts revealed the involvement of Mir Jafar, Jagath Seths and Saikat Jung.

But did you know that Raja Nabakrishna Deb of Shobhabazar was the one who mainly helped the British to establish its anchor in Kalkatah and its surrounding provinces?

His grandfather Roopkini Deb was a manager in the Sabarna Roy Chowdhury family. He used to teach Persian to Warren Hastings and was well-associated with the British in Bengal, one of the richest provinces in the world.

In 1756, when Siraj ud-Daulah attacked Fort William, Raja Nabakrishna Deb proposed an ethereal plan to Robert Clive. He suggested, removing Siraj ud-Daulah from Bengal and using the enormous revenue to capture and drain the rest of India. The operation was potentially financed by Jagath Seths, who were Asia’s biggest banker of that time and facilitated by Umichand, Maharaja Rajballav and others.

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Once Siraj ud-Daulah was defeated, the Bengal treasury was looted in Murshidabad and divided between the conspirators. It is said that Raja Nabakrishna Deb robbed 12 boats full of gold and constructed the Shobhabazar Rajbari (Royal Palace) in 1700.

In 1756, it became the place for Durga Puja celebration which was inaugurated by Robert Clive. Dancers were invited from Allahabad to perform at the festival. The Hotel Wilson of Kolkata was engaged to cater for the British guests. And then began the reign of British East India Company, the growth of British Empire globally and the expansion of Kolkata.

The Truth behind the Birthday of Kolkata and Job Charnock

Now, back to the proclaimed facts about Kolkata’s birthdate on August 24, 1690, and Job Charnock as the founder of the city – a story conveniently fabricated by the Shobhabazar family for years now!

English administrator, Job Charnock was born in 1631 and he came to Kolkata in 1691. Years before his arrival, the regions in and around Kolkata were inhabited by the Armenians, the Dutch, the Portuguese and the French who were conducting business with two eminent merchant families, the Sheths and Basaks of Saptagram while the administrative duties were looked after by Sabarna Roy Chowdhury family. In fact, these families were among the first to settle in Sutanuti. There is clear evidence that the Armenian church was erected way before Job Charnock’s arrival and therefore Kolkata and the adjoining areas had already been operating with the demographics of a city.

Rather than being blindfolded from the truth for years, this neglected history of Kolkata deserves extensive research and attention. Bengalis were fed deceiving truths and history about the origin of Kolkata where the contributions of Sabarna Roy Chowdhury have been systematically vanquished.

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Books by Sucharita Roy Choudhury and Sushil Choudhury also highlight this same fact. They are extremely critical of the British and the gang including Nabakrishna to dish out myths about Siraj ud-Daulah – the last nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa which was continuously looted over centuries following the Battle of Plassey.

In 2003, the Kolkata high court pronounced Kolkata as not a city founded and civilized by the British. The city boasted of a rich history and since the 2nd century BC, it had a significant literary, administrative and archaeological presence established by the Bengalis years before the British arrived. In 1996, the British Library wrote to the Sabarna Roy Chowdhury family upon request. Confirmed by the Deed of Conveyance supplied by The British Library, which highlighted, “Manohar Roy son of Basdeo, the son of Raghu and Ramchand, the son of Bidyadhar, son of Jagdis, and Ram Bhaddr, the son of Ram De, son of Kesu conjointly sold and made a true and legal conveyance of the village Dihi Kalkatah, and Sutanuti within the jurisdiction of Parganah Amirabad and village Govindapur under the jurisdiction of Parganahs Pagan and Kalkatah, to the English East India Company.”

The deed was written in 1698.

It is clear that neither Job Charnock nor the self-proclaimed elites of North Kolkata were in any way related to the birth of Kolkata. While the role of the Sabarna Roy Chowdhury family and their ancestors like Lakshmikanta (after whom the Lakshmikantapur in 24 Parganas was named) should be celebrated, again and again, the truth about Kolkata’s existence before the British arrived needs to be narrated in history books for the school circular. It should be talked about in the media and celebrated by Bengalis every day. 2023 has already kickstarted with magic and Kolkata is at the top of my list.