The Bay of Bengal and the Ganges ensured that Bengal was always on the map of all seafarers looking to explore the vast Indian subcontinent for various reasons, including trade and territory. We have the Portuguese, French and English all leaving their footprints through History in Bengal. So in Present-day West Bengal, I set out to explore Chandannagar, the pride of French India. Chandannagar History & Present sums up the conflict in most urban towns in India, which have a glorious past.
History of Chandannagar
I did not realise that Chandannagar was governed as a part of the French territory until 1950 and was not directly under English control, while most Bengal was. This was quite a revelation to me. History states that it was established as a French colony in 1673 and later a permanent French settlement in 1688. The “Treaty of Secession” was signed in 1951 between the President of India and the French Republic, post which Chandannagar became a part of India.
Chandannagar French colony was located on the banks of the River Hooghly, which meanders through the Indo Gangetic Plain of India, has a story of its own with every turn that she takes. Chandannagar History & Present are trying to coexist in an identity bubble with shades per the circumstances. The prettiness is still there though oblique now and in the shadow of the Urbanization that has crept all across. Barring Pondicherry, there is no other town with a unique French past like Chandannagar.
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Present Day Chandannagar
Chandannagar is now a subdivision of Hooghly district in West Bengal. The city boasts a rich history and heritage. While the urban development has left its mark on this town, the few French buildings and architecture have passed the test of time and can be still seen today, reminding one of the French days of Chandannagar with a distinctive Indian theme to it. I cannot help but think back on Chandannagar , its History & Present that silently yet forcefully impact the traveller who comes visiting.
According to Popular legends, Chandannagar gets its name from the moon-shaped look of the bank of the Hooghly River where it is situated. At the same time, some say that it gets its name from the trading of Sandalwood. I could not say which one is more apt; however, both seem plausible.
As I sit on the bench overlooking the Ganges, caressing the land intimately in this part of the world, the river’s strength is there, but for now, all I see is the delicateness. The town around me has grown in the embrace of the Ganges through the centuries.
What is my blog all about ?
My blog focuses quite a bit on history, art in India, among other places of travel that I keep doing. In addition to exploring offbeat places, I am also interested in increasing my awareness of Historical institutions and places within India. Read through the posts on the Kerala folklore Museum in Kochi which showcases the cultural heritage of Kerala. Then we have the reclusive Panch Kedar Trek into the Himalayas to see a slice of timeless History and legends. I am sure, visit to them would be fascinating to anyone purely from a visitor’s inquisitive to say the least. In case interested, read about the lonely vigil of St Augustine’s Tower in Old Goa or on the churches of Goa.
I will always look at early 2020 as a great time for I came across so many events in Kolkata. One such beautiful example was by Art Rickshaw in Hindustan Park. The theme of Old Currency building presently is in line with acknowledging the cosmopolitan transformation of Kolkata through the links to the past two centuries of art. Before I forget how about seeing something simple yet unique, visit the Train Museum in Kolkata and of course the iconic Indian Museum, Kolkata.
Chandannagar Traveller Info
Chandannagar Weather info
So, with this background info, I set out to explore this quaint town in the early hours of the morning before the scorching Bengal sun displayed its power over all in the region. The weather in Chandannagar is pleasant, primarily in the winters and early spring, while the summers are scorching, with the temperature rising very high indeed. The places to visit in Chandannagar that so starkly remind me of my theme Chandannagar History & Present are
- Chandannagar Strand
- Sacred Heart church
- Nandadulal Temple
- Rani Ghat
- Chandannagar PatalBari
- Chandannagar College
How to go to Chandannagar from Kolkata
Chandannagar is 40 km by road from Kolkata. While if one takes the local train network, several trains run from Howrah to Chandannagar. Once one reaches the town, it is best to hire a local toto/ rickshaw to explore it, including all the tourist areas in Chandannagar. The Rickshaw Totos are the best way to explore the villages in Bengal, especially those with a history. These totos can take you into the world that lies away from the main town road, in the narrow winding alleys where the history awaits, is silent, and has often broken.
Chandannagar Places to see
The Chandannagar Strand is the flagship creation of the French Era. A paved pathway with delicate lights and lush foliage overlooking country boats on the Hooghly is ideal for strolls. This is how I feel the French conceptualised it. For now, in present times, it is still a beautiful tourist spot along the banks of the Ganges. About a km in length, it still retains its relaxed charm for the town folks to take a walk and gaze at the boats still plying on the Hooghly while the calm wind of the Ganges soothes the skin and reduces the onslaught of the afternoon sun.
Sacred heart church
Just a short distance from the Strand, the Sacred Heart Church is a must visit. The church was designed by the French architect Jacques Duchatz in the year 1884. It is said to be a vivid example of French Architecture. The church is in white and blue with a status of Christ welcoming the believers/traveller. The interiors consist of beautiful colourful stained glass, frescos and reliefs.
Seeing me peering into the Church Hall from the outside, the men out there asked me to go inside and visit the place. As I walked through the long corridor of the single hall towards the altar, the beauty of the high windows, antique crafter furniture, and long rows of benches spoke of the long history this church had witnessed.
The next place that I wanted to see was Nandadulal Temple. Built-in the year 1739, dedicated to Lord Krishna. The temple idol has been built over a secret passage leading to the Hooghly River. This passage is no more accessible. The temple is said to be the largest Do Chala styled temple in Bengal.
The Rakshits used to be an extremely influential Indian family in Chandannagar, having clout and wealth. The Rakshit Ghat is thus aptly named after them, and the most famous of them, Durgacharan Rakshit, was bestowed with numerous French decorations during the erstwhile times. There is also a Rakshits mansion out here, but sadly I could not gain entry without some local introduction.
Patalbari meaning an underground house, is a 150-year-old French mansion. The current owners, the Khans of Mankundu, bought it 70 years ago. The lowest floor of the house is submerged under the Hooghly river, thus having a unique construction. The house’s history has seen its share of freedom fighters, writers, and poets, including Rabindranath Tagore and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Situated at the very end of the Strand, the Patalbari is uniquely surrounded by trees, the Ganges and a vast garden.
The origin of the Chandannagar government college dates back to 1862. In 1901 it was named as College-Dupleix. It was quite a spot for the gathering of freedom fighters and nationalists following the partition of Bengal in 1905. Finally, in the year 1952, it was named Chandannagar College.
This single storey college is so steeped in history with colonial-style deep verandahs that it is a delight to study here. The wide pillars and louvred timber screens are part of the frame that I think is designed for the student to dive into the academic ocean. It was declared a Heritage building in 2010.
House of MotiLal Rai
As they say, sometimes you come across places that you never thought will come in front of you. Same happened to me as I got the opportunity to visit the house of a freedom fighter from this region who was called Motilal Rai.
An eminent freedom fighter from this region who opposed the British and also waged a resistance against them from this place . His ancestral house is so well preserved even to this day along with a temple constructed in the most simple manner respecting his beliefs . this place is a short distance from BoraiChandi Mandir.
Additional places to visit
- Rabindra Bhavan Auditorium
- Boraichandi Mandir
- Indo French Cultural Chandannagar Museum
- St Joseph convent Chandannagar
The above places were closed during my visit, so maybe later, I will make another trip to this part of Bengal. The principal festival of Chandannagar is the Chandannagar Jaggadhatri Puja, held in Oct-Nov each year. It is a four-day festival similar to Kolkata Durga Puja; however, the scale of the idols is one of the prime attractions.
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My conclusion on Chandannagar History & Present
Chandannagar West Bengal definitely is a place worth visiting just to soak in the history that can be seen, especially if one is staying around this region or has a strong urge to research on the history and association of Chandannagar with the French as well as the British. For me, it was a place worth coming back to again, in the winter sun as well as during the Jaggadhatri Puja to see and soak in the vibes of Chandannagar.