South Park Street Cemetery – a tryst with Calcutta’s past
With love in their heart and memories that are forever, the tombs of South Park Street Cemetery was built by the grieving family members. South Park Street Cemetery has always been an enigmatic place for me. While in school (The Assembly of God Church School, Park Street), I was always overwhelmed by the cemetery. I always wanted to see what is there inside those gates, but finally got a chance after so long. The historic Calcutta has always interested me and South Park Cemetery is a perfect place to experience it. So along with Agni, I was at the Park Street Cemetery to ease our curiosities.
As I entered the gates, I was awed seeing the huge tombs and obelisks. The place clearly had the old world smell with an eerie feel. Calcutta, during those days, was much different from that of today. A much calmer place and it had real jungles and not the concrete forests! In this cemetery are the tombs of men and women who inhabited Calcutta during the early 18th century. They led a difficult existence and were not blessed with the modern amenities. They lived in clingy dwellings without high ceilings and airy verandahs. Neither did they have any medical knowledge and expertise to save themselves from the tropical diseases like malaria and fevers. They lived at the mercy of changing and harsh climate. Above all the loneliness and nostalgia for home was hardest for them. They often succumbed to various diseases at their youth and the cemetery bears witness to that. Most of the tombs show that the dead had not even reached their forties!
The cemetery was earlier a marshy land with patches of jungle. It was later built by Sir Elijah Impey and renamed as the Park Street Cemetery. The cemetery is the home of various tombs and mausoleums, thus becoming a fascinating place for those attracted towards the history of Calcutta. The architecture of the tombs is reminiscent of the grandeur of Europe at those times. The British who were living at such distance from their homeland showed their love of classicism while commemorating their friend and relatives. Roman architecture was made to glorify the memory of Colonel Charles Russell Deare, who fought in North America and the West Indies and was slain by a cannon ball while fighting Tipu Sultan. There are other tombs which paid tribute to other personnel in the British army and sailors.
Among these are also found the tombs of William Jones, a Scholar, polyglot and an Indophile. His tomb is one of the tallest in the ground.
The tomb of Hindoo Stuart or Major General Charles Stuart is present. His love for Indians and Indian things had earned him the name “Hindoo Stuart”. Other important names are the tombs of Lt. Robert Kyd, a botanist, Sir John Royds, Lt. Col. James Lillyman (builder of Fort William) and Lt. Col. Colin Mackenzie(Surveyor General of India and Orientals). The most famous tomb is that of Henri Louis Vivian Derozio, the radical educationist and poet who disseminated Western learning and science among the youths of Bengal.
Not only does the cemetery has tombs of famous and known people but also has tombs from the common people of the community. There are tombs of teachers, cattle breeders, postmasters, housewives. Among them, there are tombs of many women and children – their life ended at a very tender age. There are family mausoleums – having graves of the members of the same family.
As I looked at the graves and tombs, I could clearly picture the life during those times. Their descendants are present – may be in India, or in any other part of the world. They might remember their ancestors who are lying so far from them.
Visiting the Cemetery had been a humbling experience. It reminded us that death is the ultimate truth.
Many of the information provided here has been taken from a booklet sold at the South Park Street Cemetery.
The Cemetery is open from 8.00 AM to 5.00 PM