In the late 17th century, the three villages that predated Kolkata were ruled by the Nawab of Bengal under Mughal suzerainty. After the Nawab granted the East India Company a trading license in 1690, the area was developed by the Company into an increasingly fortified mercantile base. Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah occupied Kolkata in 1756, and the East India Company retook it in the following year and by 1772 assumed full sovereignty. Under East India Company and later under the British Raj, Kolkata served as the capital of India until 1911, when its perceived geographical disadvantages, combined with growing nationalism in Bengal, led to a shift of the capital to New Delhi. The city was a centre of the Indian independence movement; it remains a hotbed of contemporary state politics. Following Indian independence in 1947, Kolkata—which was once the centre of modern Indian education, science, culture, and politics—witnessed several decades of relative economic stagnation. Since the early 2000s, an economic rejuvenation has led to accelerated growth.
As a nucleus of the 19th- and early 20th-century Bengal Renaissance and a religiously and ethnically diverse centre of culture in Bengal and India, Kolkata has established local traditions in drama, art, film, theatre, and literature that have gained wide audiences. Many people from Kolkata—among them several Nobel laureates—have contributed to the arts, the sciences, and other areas, while Kolkata culture features idiosyncrasies that include distinctively close-knit neighbourhoods (paras) and freestyle intellectual exchanges (adda). West Bengal's share of the Bengali film industry is based in the city, which also hosts venerable cultural institutions of national importance, such as the Academy of Fine Arts, the Victoria Memorial, the Asiatic Society, the Indian Museum, and the National Library of India. Though home to major cricketing venues and franchises, Kolkata differs from other Indian cities by giving importance to association football and other sports.
History of Kolkata
Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta in English, is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal and is located in eastern India on the east bank of the River Hooghly. The city was a colonial city developed by the British East India Company and then by the British Empire. Kolkata was the capital of the British Indian empire until 1911 when the capital was relocated to Delhi. Kolkata grew rapidly in the 19th century to become the second city of the British Empire. This was accompanied by the development of a culture that fused European philosophies with Indian tradition. The city is also noted for its revolutionary history, ranging from the Indian struggle for independence to the leftist Naxalite and trade-union movements. Labelled the "Cultural Capital of India", "The City of Processions", "The City of Palaces", and the "City of Joy", Kolkata has also been home to prominent people such as Thakur Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Maa Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Subhas Chandra Bose, Kazi Nazrul Islam, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, Mother Teresa and Satyajit Ray. Problems related to rapid urbanisation started to plague Kolkata from the 1930s and the city remains an example of the urbanization challenges of the developing nations.
Establishment of English trade in Bengal (1600–1700)
There is a long chain of events behind the arrival of the British East India Company in Bengal, specifically Job Charnock in Sutanuti in 1690. These incidents are documented in numerous records of the East India Company and by several authors [Bruce 1810 (Vol I and II), Marshman Vol I, Unknown 1829; see references below]. These documents tell the story of how the English were severely beaten and wiped out from Bengal several times by the forces of the Delhi emperor and how each time they came back to Bengal to continue their trade.
The agents of the East India Company first visited the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha, for trade during the period of Ibrahim Khan (ca 1617-1624), the Subahdar (Governor) of Bengal at the time of Delhi Emperor Jahangir. The first "factory" (that is, warehouse and trading post) was established in Surat in 1620 and later in Agra, and agents were further sent from these places to the eastern provinces to examine the possibility of opening factories there. However the transportation costs and logistics were unfavorable and the plan was abandoned. In 1634, a Firman (royal decree) was obtained from the Emperor Shah Jahan which allowed them to establish a factory in Bengal and allowed the company agents to reside at Pipili, Odisha. Two years later, the daughter of the Emperor was severely burnt and a doctor named Mr. Boughton was sent from Surat for her treatment. He was able to successfully treat her burns and in reward the Emperor allowed the company to establish factory at Pipili, Odisha, and for the first time the English ships arrived at an eastern port. During 1638, Shah Jahan appointed his son Shah Shuja as the Subahdar of Bengal and Boughton visited the capital at Rajmahal where his services were again used to treat one of the ladies in the palace, and in return, the company was allowed to establish factories in Balasore, Odisha and Hooghly, Bengal in addition to Pipili, Odisha.
Shaista Khan was appointed as the Governor of Bengal in ca 1664 by Delhi Emperor Aurangzeb and was relieved upon his request in ca 1682. While he was returning to Delhi, Englishmen sent with him a request to the Emperor to obtain a special Firman to do business forever in Bengal; the Emperor was pleased to provide them the Firman and the occasion was celebrated with a 300 gun salute at Hooghly. The investment in Bengal soared, the Bengal residency was separated from Madras and Mr. Hedges was appointed as the chief officer to oversee trade in Bengal. His residence in Hooghly was secured with soldiers obtained from Madras. This is the first time English soldiers came on the soil of Bengal. However, the Firman was vague in many aspects and soon disputes started to grow between the English and the Governor.
During this time a local disturbance occurred when the Zamindar in Bihar attacked the Governor of Bihar. Mr. Peacock, the chief of the factory in Patna, was imprisoned by the Governor with the assumption that he was involved in the dispute. At the same time their saltpetre trade was disrupted by another rival British company. To protect their trade in Bengal, the original East India Company requested to build a fort in the mouth of Hooghly or on its banks. This request was immediately turned down by Shaista Khan and a 3.5% tax was imposed in addition to the already existing tax of 3,000 rupees, notwithstanding the Firman obtained earlier. Another incident with the Faujdar of Cossimbazar resulted in altercations between the Governor of Bengal and the company causing their ships to leave Bengal without obtaining cargo.
Enraged with this situation and determined to establish their authority, the company requested King James II in 1685 to permit the use of force against the Emperor’s army to settle the matter. Admiral Nicholson was sent with ships to attack the port at Chittagong, fortify it, make an alliance with the King of Arakan who was against the Mughals, establish a mint and collect revenue, thus making Chittagong a fort city for the British in the eastern part. Then he was ordered to proceed to Dhaka. It was assumed that the Governor would abandon the city and then a peace treaty would be offered which would guarantee free trade and other economic benefits for the British and he would give up the territory of Dhaka and Chittagong. Job Charnock was then at Madras and was directed to join the expedition with 400 soldiers from the Madras division.
Unfortunately the plan went awry; some of the ships, due to the change in current and wind, arrived at Hooghly instead of Chittagong and anchored off the factory in Hooghly after being joined by their Madras troops. The presence of a large number of war ships alarmed Shaista Khan and he immediately offered a truce. However the peace was broken again when some British troops misbehaved with Shaista Khan’s troops in Hooghly on 28 October 1686 for which the former were severely beaten by the latter. At the same time the admiral opened fire and burnt down 500 houses; property losses were about thirty lacs of rupees. However a truce was again obtained between Mr. Charnock and the local Foujidar, and the English were allowed to put saltpetre on board their ships. However, Shaista Khan upon hearing this ordered the closing and confiscation of all their factories and properties in Bengal and sent a large force to drive out the English from Hooghly.
Upon hearing the news of Shaista Khan’s plan, Mr. Charnock determined that it was no longer safe to remain in Hooghly and decided to move downstream to Sutanuti, a small hamlet on the banks of the river Hooghly on 20 December 1686. At this time their ships in Bengal required extensive repairs and the remainder of their fleet were considered in danger. In this situation they considered that they would be extremely fortunate if they could hold their current position instead of their desires on Chittagong and for this matter they decided to ask forgiveness from the Emperor and requested to reinstate the previously obtained Firman. Peace treaty was again offered by the Governor at the end of December 1686 but it was mainly to buy out time for attack and by February 1687 a large troop of Shaista Khan’s army arrived at Hooghly to drive the British out of Bengal. Charnock decided it was not safe to remain in Sutanuti and moved to the island village at Hijli. There he remained with his soldiers in an utterly inhospitable place full of mosquitoes, snakes and tigers. The Governor’s troops didn’t bother them there since they knew the British would not be able to survive long there. In fact, within three months about half of Charnock’s soldiers died and the remaining half were ready to be hospitalized.
With his back to the wall, Charnock was desperately willing to negotiate with Shaista Khan to get out of this mess. Luck favored him because of an unexpected event. At the time when Nicholson was ordered to proceed to Chittagong, Sir John Child was ordered to withdraw the company’s establishment from Bombay, commence hostilities on the western coast, blockade Mughal harbors and attack their ships anywhere to be found. Emperor Aurangzeb wanted to reconcile with the British to ensure uninterrupted voyage of pilgrims to Mecca and asked his Governors to make terms with them. As a result, a peace treaty was signed between Shaista Khan and Charnock on 16 August 1687. Shaista Khan allowed them to remain in Bengal, however to be limited only to Uluberia, a small town on the bank of river Hooghly south of Sutanuti, where they were allowed to make a port and do business from there, but their war ships were strictly not allowed to enter Hooghly. Charnock arrived at Uluberia, started making a dock there, however soon started to dislike the place and wanted to return to Sutanuti. At this time the Governor asked them to return and settle at Hooghly, ordered them not to build any structure at Sutanuti and asked Charnock to pay a large sum of money for compensation. While not in a position to fight against the Governor’s troops, two British agents were sent to Dhaka to plead to the Governor to allow them to return to Sutanuti and build a fort there.
At the same time, when the news of failure of Nicholson reached England, it was decided that until a fort was built on the bank of the river, the English would never be able to do business with ease and would always be on the mercy of the forces of the Governor. For this, Captain Heath was sent to Bengal with 160 soldiers either to fight and win against the forces of the Governor or to bring back all the properties of the company to Madras and abandon the trade in Bengal. Captain Heath arrived in October 1688 in Bengal, took all of company persons on board, set sail to Balasore on 8 November 1688. He reached Balasore on 29 November, pounded and destroyed the town including their own factory and released some English prisoners from the Governor’s prison. They left Balasore on 13 December for Chittagong, reached there on 17 December, found the Governor’s fortification too strong to destroy and decided to wait until his demands are answered by the Governor. However, instead of waiting for Governor’s answer, Captain Heath set sail to Arakan, arrived there on 31 January 1689 and offered treaty to the king that English will fight against the Mughals at Dhaka and the king would provide them settlements in his dominion. When a fortnight passed without any answer from the king, Captain Heath, frustrated and dejected, returned to Madras on 4 March 1689. This was a total failure of English objectives in Bengal during the early period of 1689 which caused them abandoning Bengal as their trading location in eastern region.
Emperor Aurangzeb, enraged with the situation that the British fortified in Madras, occupied territory around it, captured Mughal ships, went into alliance with his enemy Sambhaji, he ordered his commanders everywhere in India to exterminate British from the country and seize their properties anywhere to be found. Warehouses in Visakhapatnam were destroyed and many English men were captured and put to death. Shaista Khan went after them in Dhaka, captured them and put them behind bars.
Shaista Khan retired from his duty as Governor in ca 1689 and Ibrahim Khan was appointed as the new Governor of Bengal by Emperor Aurangzeb. By this time Aurangzeb was camping at Visapur and was much aware of the fact that he was losing revenues from the British trade and the British ships could cause him much trouble by stopping the pilgrimage to Mecca since they controlled the sea-route. At the same time, the British were desperate to open negotiations with the Emperor after they left Bengal and Mr. Child was sent to him. He decided to accept the offer and ordered the Governor of Bengal to allow British to return there. As a result, Ibrahim Khan invited Mr. Charnock back to Bengal; but Mr. Charnock refused to come back until a specific Firman with terms and conditions clearly specified was issued by the Emperor so that they would not be subjected to further humiliations. Ibrahim Khan again sent letter to Mr. Charnock explaining that he had requested for the special Firman from the Emperor and it would take a few months before it arrived, and in the mean time Mr. Charnock was welcome to settle in Bengal and the Governor would pay him 80,000 rupees for the goods that have been destroyed by Shaista Khan’s regime. With this friendly invitation, Mr. Job Charnock with 30 soldiers returned to Sutanuti on 24 August 1690 and hoisted the Royal Standards of England on the banks of river Hooghly, thus beginning a new era of British involvement in Bengal. In the next year, Ibrahim Khan sent the order from the Emperor to Mr. Charnock which allowed unrestricted trade without paying any other taxes except the usual 3,000 rupees.
Mr. Charnock died in January 1692. While the English were always looking for fortification of their factories in Bengal, Ibrahim Khan never allowed them to do so. In 1695 the town of Hooghly was seized by Sobha Singh along with an unknown Afghan Rahim Khan, and the English at Sutanuti requested from the Governor to use their own armed protection for their factories when their factories were surrounded by the enemy. Ibrahim Khan allowed them to protect their own factories, but did not allow any fortification explicitly. However, in the absence of specific orders the permission to defend their property was taken as a permit to build fortress and construction began immediately overnight with all available manpower. The fort was built on the bank of river Hooghly at Sutanuti with mortar brought from Madras, completed in ca 1701 and was called Fort William after King William III of England. This was the old Fort William and construction for a new one (the present one) started after Siraj Ud-Daulah attacked Fort William in 1756. In 1690, Job Charnok, an agent of the East India Company chose this place for a British trade settlement. The site was carefully selected, being protected by the Hooghly River on the west, a creek to the north, and by salt lakes about two and a half miles to the east. There were three large villages along the east bank of the river Ganges, named, Sutanuti, Gobindapur and Kalikata. These three villages were bought by the British from the local land lords. The Mughal emperor granted East India Company freedom of trade in return for a yearly payment of 3,000 rupees.