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Abode of the deity within dwelling house

After a long gap Bangiya Sahitya Parishat has resumed its monthly lectures. In the first of that series, Debashish Bose gave a talk last Saturday on the thakurdalans of Calcutta, or the arcades where various deities used to be worshipped in the spectacular villas that mercantile princes and other moneyed families used to construct here. Many of the buildings are tucked away in dark and dank alleys.

Bose, a physician, is known for his valuable work in the area of heritage buildings. His lecture was lucid and was spiked with his earthy sense of humour.

Bose said when the Brits wrote about Calcutta of yore they never looked beyond “white Calcutta”. Strangely, Bengalis, with a few honourable exceptions such as Prankrishna Datta, Mahendranath Datta, Purnachandra Dey, Kiranchandra Datta, Jatindramohan Datta and Radharaman Mitra, did the same. But Calcutta’s past is rapidly being eroded and no effort is being made to document it.

The stately homes of Calcutta comprise two sections — the façade and the thakurdalan. There is hardly any discussion on the architectural styles of the latter. Bose’s talk covered thakurdalans significant for their tectonic styles.

A grand staircase led up to the thakurdalans embellished with a procession of arches supported by columns. But now that the present owners of these mansions can hardly afford to celebrate pujas, thakurdalans are being walled off or are being turned into godowns. But as Bose said, it is difficult to save them by legislation alone.

Perhaps, Raja Nabakrishna Deb of Sovabazar was the first one to build a thakurdalan within the building itself with living space on all three sides. This became the prototype. But nonetheless there were many stylistic variations and Bose went on to list them.

He said he has been able to compile a list of 154 thakurdalans — 31 in the area between Rabindra Sarani and the Hooghly, 98 around the straight axis of Bidhan Sarani-College Street-Wellington Street, nine near Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road, 13 in north Calcutta, one in Tala-Paikpara and two in Entally. The areas of Thanthania-Jhamapukur and Malanga-Bowbazar can boast the maximum number of thakurdalans.

What was most interesting is that Bose made a caste-wise enumeration of thakurdalans. He also spoke about the contribution of masons to the design of these arcades. Photographs of thakurdalans were projected on the wall of the hall to illustrate the talk. But visibility was poor. Bose rightly said this heritage should be preserved as a tourist attraction. But will anyone pay heed to this plea'

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