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Serampore (also called Serampur, Srirampur, Srirampore, Shreerampur, Shreerampore, Shrirampur, Shrirampore) is a famous and historical city in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is the headquarter of the Srirampore subdivision. It is a part of the area covered by Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority. It is a pre-colonial town (city) on the west bank of the Hooghly River. It was part of Danish India under the name Frederiknagore from 1755 to 1845.
The city is several centuries old and has witnessed both the growth and decline of the feudal system, the coming of the Danes and their settlement and then a cultural renaissance (known as the Bengal Renaissance) initiated by the British following the construction of the east Indian railway, along with subsequent industrial development.
There were three main phases in the process of urbanisation of Serampore:
- The Pre-urbanisation phase (the period before 1755);
- The Urbanisation phase (from 1755 to 1854); and
- The Industrialisation phase (1854 to 1947).
Before the Mughal era, the region between the Saraswati and Hooghly rivers was a thriving local community.
After this there arose the need for local artisana along with “service class” people who came from the neighbouring villages and settled on granted land. In this way, colonies such as Patuapara, Kumarpara, Dhulipara, Goalpara, Dutta Bagan, Khash Bagan were formed. This along with the fact that Sheoraphuli was a distribution point for local marketable goods produced in different parts of Hughli, induced many families – the Barujibis, Duttas, Deys, Das etc. – to come to settle here before 1755. The cultivating classes settled in such places as Sadgoppara, Mannapara, Lankabaganpara. The Jele-Kaibarta and ‘Sani’ Muchi, were already in the locality from the beginning, and had their own areas. The local Sunni Muslims, descendants of Mughal soldiers, traders and artisans, lived in Mullickpara, Mussalman Para and here a mosque still bears witness to their existence.
During the Mughal period, Akna (today’s Akra Bati Lane) and Mahesh were heavily populated. The hot humid climate of the area suited the textile industry and the local land was well known for its cotton and silk weaving. The Hindu weavers used to manufacture fine cotton pieces, while the Muslim weavers monopolised silk manufacture. In the fertile land, paddy, jute and betel-leaf were grown in abundance. The Kaibarta used the marshy land for fishing.
In pre-urbanisation age, communication was mainly by way of the river. Besides this, there was the ‘Badshahi Sadak’ or the grand trunk road. Before Danes arrived in this region, the Sheoraphuli Hat was the main internal trade centre and had close commercial links with Barisal, Khulna, Dhaka, Mymensingh, Rajshahi and other districts of East Bengal (now Bangladesh).
Between the 14th and 18th centuries, many foreign merchants, such as the French, Portuguese and Dutch – established their trading outposts, or “Kuthis”, here and were involved in trade and commerce.
During the Muslim period, the villagers on the bank of the Hooghly and Saraswati were included in the zamindaries of Sheoraphuli; these feudal lords not only collected rent but also dispensed justice.
The urbanization phase began with the acquisition of land in the area by the Danes in the early 18th century, as part of the Danish colonial empire. In 1755, the Danish East India Company sent a representative from its Tranquebar office to the Nawab of Bengal. Their intention was to secure a parwana (district jurisdiction) allowing them the right to do business in Bengal. They obtained the parwana by paying fifty thousand rupees in cash to Nawab Alivardi Khan, along with many gifts, acquiring three bighas of land at Sripur on the riverfront and then another fifty-seven bighas at Akna for the building of a new factory and port, which the Danes governed from Tranquebar. Subsequently, the Danes acquired the Serampore, Akna and Pearapur mahals by paying an annual rent of 1601 rupees to the zamindar (tax farmer) of Sheoraphuli in North Serampore. By 1770 the Danish merchants were beginning to make significant progress in trade and commerce in the area. Danish prosperity was assisted by the able administrative performance of Colonel Ole Bie, who was appointed the first Crown regent of Serampore in 1776.
The Danes also established a bazaar (the present Tin Bazaar) and allowed private godowns, or warehouses to be maintained. Gradually, the town developed and became elegant and prosperous, and merchants of both foreign and indigenous origin began to arrive and live there.
Initially the Danes were dependent on their factors for obtaining commodities (primarily silk and cotton fabrics), but they later got involved in collection of merchandise directly from the producers, and offered incentives to the artisans in the form of earnest money for making high quality products. They also created a class of trading middlemen, such as agents, banias, mutsuddis, and stevedores.
Sobharan Basak and Anandaram Dhoba, the two local textile businessmen, were appointed as the first ‘factors’ for the Danes. Nandalal Chakravarty was their first agent, and subsequently he was promoted to “Dewan”. Patita Paban Roy, who came from Katulpur in Bankura, and Saphali Ram Dey were appointed agents for the supplying of saltpetre. Brothers Raghuram Goswami and Raghavram Goswami came to Serampore from their home village of Patuli, to seek their fortune. Raghuram secured a job at the commissariat of the Danish Governor, while Raghavram became the official moneylender to the factory. Between them, they amassed a huge fortune acquired vast lands and founded an aristocratic colony on the western side of Serampore with their family. Their descendants still live in Serampore today.
As a sop to the weavers of Akna and Mohanpur villages, the Danes gave advances for both cotton and fine silk products. The merchants also established their own factory to produce fine cloths. They collected ‘Hammer’ and ‘Luckline’ ropes for ships, various other kinds of ropes and agricultural produce. They inspired the cultivators of Pearapur to cultivate indigo in addition to paddy rice. Mr. Princep was their indigo agent.
Another notable source of their income was the Hoondi business. Colonel Ole Bie was also interested in making Serampore a charming, elegant, attractive tourist resort. It became a well-protected town and the maintenance of law and order was well developed. To facilitate municipal administrative and judicial work, a new Court House was built and a metalled road was laid on the river bank and magnificent palatial buildings were erected.
The local civil administration, however was carried out by a prototype of a municipality known as the ‘Village Committee’, with Ole Bie as its Governor. The balmy days of Danish overseas trade largely coincided with the service of Ole Bie as Head of the factory, serving from 1776 to 1805, with only a few interruptions.
Marshman and Carey
The beginning of the 19th century can be considered the most significant period in the history of Serampore, with the arrival of four English missionaries – Joshua Marshman, Hannah Marshman, William Carey, and Willam Ward – who between them were the architects of the Serampore renaissance. Although they came chiefly for the purpose of preaching Christianity, they dedicated themselves to the service of ailing and distressed people in and around the town, spreading education, social reforms and social reconstruction.
They established more than a hundred ‘monitorial’ schools in the region. Hannah Marshman established the first Girls’ School at Serampore, which received much public approval. Carey made an outstanding contribution by founding the Serampore Mission Press in 1800 where the wooden Bengali types made by Panchanan Karmakar were installed.
Perhaps the crowning work of Carey and his two associates was the establishment of the Serampore College in 1818 which acts both as a university through the Senate of Serampore College (University) and as an individual college. The founders had to spend their last farthing on the construction of its magnificent buildings. It was also the first college in Asia to award a degree.
Carey became famous as the father of Bengali prose. The Mission Press published three books – the Bengali translation of the Bible, Hitopadesh and Kathopakathan. Munshi Ramram Basu, the pundit appointed by Carey, brought out Pratapaditya Charita (1802) as well as Kashidas’ Mahabharat (1802) and Krittibas’ Ramayan (1803). The first issue of the second Bengali daily, Samachar Darpan came out in 1818 under the editorship of Carey.
At the same time, the Serampore Mission Press brought out the English daily, A Friend of India (precursor to The Statesman). Another outstanding contribution of the missionaries was the installation of India’s first paper mill, at Battala, set up by John Clark Marshman (the son of Joshua and Hannah Marshman) which was powered by a steam engine.
Between 1801 and 1832 the Serampore Mission Press printed 212,000 copies of books in 40 different languages. In this cultural development, the local inhabitants had only a passive role. Only a few among the affluent, comprising absentee landlords and businessmen, seized the opportunity for higher education by sending their children to the academic institutions of the missionaries. On the other hand, people belonging to the lower economic stratum sent their children to the monitorial schools, which provided a basic education. In the process, there emerged a class of local gentry, who had a favourable attitude towards the missionaries.
Serampore Town railway station and Sheoraphuli railway station two Railway stations in Serampore. 15 August 1854, India was the first rail traffic from Howrah to Hooghly. And that was the first stop on the first train station in the Bally and then the secound halt in Serampore. Serampore town and Sheoraphuli station is a very important unit. Howrah–Bardhaman main line railway. Many important Local, Passenger, Express train stop here.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport (CCU) Airport is 26 km [approx] from Serampore.