Sunday, November 4, 2012

Delhi's Bengal connection

Everyone in Delhi knows that if you want to look for the city's Bengalis, you should head to the fish market at Chittaranjan Park. Bhattacharyas, Basus, Dasguptas, and Sens - they can all be found looking for the freshwater fish that are so dear to the Bengali heart. 
The 2011 Census figures place Delhi's Bengali-speaking population at 208,000. Although most of these have arrived in Delhi in the last 200 years, the city's connection with Bengal is actually very old. To look for its origins, we must turn to ancient history, to the Grand Trunk Road that connects eastern and western India.

Known as "Uttara-patha" or the Northern Road, this highway has existed from the time of the Mauryan Empire (322 BC to 185 BC). At the time, it extended from Tamluk, a port on the mouth of the Ganges in Bengal to Taxila (now in Pakistan) on the West. Trade flowed along this road, across this broad swathe of India, bringing the people of Bengal into contact with ideas and goods from far and wide.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Legaleagle86

In the 15th Century, the Afghan Sher Shah Suri, who ruled from Delhi, widened and repaired the Grand Trunk road, and it became the key to administering the Suri empire. In the map below you can see the area that the Sur dynasty ruled, and how the Grand Trunk Road must have helped them manage their dominions. When the Mughals defeated Sher Shah, they inherited this road. They also maintained it, by building inns (serais), stationing garrisons, and setting up milestones (kos minars).

Sher Shah's Empire:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sur_Empire
Bengal was important to the Mughals, even though Mughal officers stationed there detested the humid climate (and scoffed at the rice and fish diet!). According to this book, by the late 16th century, Bengal was producing so much surplus rice that not only did it supply the needs of the Mughal empire, but also for the first time, rice emerged as an important export crop of the Empire. Even in distant Central Asia, fine muslin cloth was called Dhaka, highlighting the importance of Bengal as a centre for textile production. Bengal also supplied the Imperial court's voracious appetite for luxury goods like raw silk. Bengal’s agricultural and manufacturing boom coincided not only with the consolidation of Mughal power in the province but also with the growth in overland and maritime trade that linked Bengal ever more tightly to the world economy.
Woman wearing fine Dhaka muslin, Francesco Renaldi, late 1700's
It was but natural that the East India Company should seek a base in Bengal. With the decline in the Mughal empire, the Company increasingly grew more powerful, until it replaced Mughal rule completely. While Delhi or Agra had been the political capital of the Mughals, Bengal's commercial importance meant that Calcutta became the capital city from where the East India Company traded and ruled.

With the setting up of the East India Rail, closer links emerged between Calcutta and Delhi and made trade and commerce easier. Between 1882 to 1866, the East India Rail (which originally connected Calcutta to Varanasi) was extended up to Delhi and Agra.

I found this interesting map of the East India Rail, and how it progressed from Calcutta to Delhi, via Varanasi (the rail station in Varanasi is called Mughal-serai, and it was one of the many points along the Grand Trunk Road where the Mughals has built inns).


And here is a photo of the very first train that ran on the East India Railway.

Although the rail link made it easier to come from Bengal to Delhi, the first big wave of Bengali settlers only came in 1919, when the British shifted the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi. The new arrivals were mostly government employees, from the postal department, the railways, the tax collection department, etc. They settled in Timarpur in North Delhi, and near Gole Market, and they eventually went to work in the many government buildings of Delhi.
Gole Market:
http://blogs.thehindu.com/delhi/?p=21830
The next wave of Bengalis came with the partition of Bengal in 1947. When India became independent, Hindu Bengalis from East Bengal (which became part of Pakistan) arrived in Delhi. The migration was a time of sorrow and despair, as people left behind everything that was dear to them. Government employees were given a chance to swap their posts between India and Pakistan. Others - mostly educated and well-to-do Hindu Bengalis with family and connections in India, also migrated. Most went to Calcutta, but some came to Delhi. 

Some 2000 plots of land were allotted to these families in Chittaranjan Park, which then became the biggest settlement of Bengalis in Delhi. If you read this article on the Bangiya Samaj, you'll see how the Bengali community in Delhi banded together, and how they kept their culture and interests alive. I found it endearing, to read about the attempts to set up a library, organise festivals and meeting places, play indoor games, stage plays and keep the community spirit alive.

Today, the Bengalis are very much a visible part of Delhi. The Kali Bari temple at Chittaranjan Park has expanded to become a major cultural centre. 


Kali Bari, Chittaranjan Park
The market at Chittarajan Park sells not only fish, but also little things that bring a slice of Bengal into Delhi.

Palmyra fans and old-style wooden cutting boards
 And of course, what Bengali market is complete without a sweet shop?  :) :)
A Bengali and his sweets can never be parted!

10 comments:

Rajiv Nag said...

Hey Deepa - great blog! Thanks
Found the history of the Bongs' connection to Delhi particularly informative.
Although I live in CR Park and the places you mentioned are all familiar to me, I found your perspective on CR Park very refreshing.
Look forward to your next blog - keep it up

Ishwinder Kaur said...

Very well research post Deepa!

Septachon said...

Great blog on March 24, Deepa! It's been a long time since I had red carrots: I see only the orange ones in our super market.
Mooli is acceptable in English, but its known as daikon, a winter radish.

Sudipta said...

Hey, I came across this post of yours seems quite from nowhere and I realized an error in your erudition saying that " The Bengalis came in a big wave in 1919 when the British shifted the capital from Calcutta to Delhi or if it maybe a typing one for which I am clueless " for the reason my study on the same says the year of the Coronation Durbar to be 1911 with which the intellect had to flow likewise.

Happy Blogging

Deepa Krishnan said...

Dear Sudipta, thanks for your comment. The foundation stone for the new imperial city was laid in 1911, yes, but nothing progressed, especially because of the outbreak of world war I. Only after the war the city began to be built and people started moving.

Shubhjit Majumder said...

Dear Deepa,this is a great blog however you mentioned the population
only 2 lakh which wrong info.Please check the population.Because it cannot be 2 lakh if there is 450 registered and 200 unregistered durga puja in New delhi.The first Durga Puja held in 1842 by Majumder's of Rajshahi from east bengal.If there is so durga puja so population can be 20,00000 lakh not 2,00000 lakh.

Shubhjit Majumder said...

Dear Deepa,you have mentioned 2 lakh
lakh Population .According to census
in 1971 0.5 million bengali arrived from East bengal that 5 lakh.Proper Settlement of Bengali in new delhi is last 200 years.First durga puja in 1842 by majumder's of rajshahi(east bengal).Large population came in before 1900.when capital shifted to New delhi huge population 1911,1947,1971.So how come it possible population is 2 lakh.It can be 20 lakh not 2 lakh.Please reserch and update

Deepa Krishnan said...

Dear Shubjit -

It is as per the 2011 census:
http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/Census_Data_Online/Language/parta.htm

Shubhjit Majumder said...

Dear Deepa,
In that link it says 2001 census not 2011 census....and other language population is also not correct updated....it seems like an unresearched page link

Deepa Krishnan said...

Yes you are correct, it is 2001. But I looked up 2011 also, and the population of Delhi in the central areas (where typically Bengalis stay) has actually decreased. There is overall 20% increase in outlying areas, but I don't think we can assume that means 20% growth in Bengali-speaking population. Therefore I still prefer to go with 200,000 figure which comes from the http://www.censusindia.gov.in/ website.