Culture

Chandannagar- Bengal’s Hidden Gem! It Was One Of The Most Important French Settlements In Asia!

Chandannagar, is a town on the river Hooghly . It is a former French colony located about 35 kilometres north of Kolkata, in West Bengal, India. Chandannagar (Chandernagor as called by the French)is connected to Kolkata by local train from Howrah station.  It is also connected via river transport or roadways.It takes about an hour to reach there by car from the Howrah bridge via the historic Grand Trunk road.

Chandernagore was established as a French colony in 1678 and remained so till 1951 till a plebiscite decided a merger with Bengal. The city has a unique culture due to the mixed Bengali culture and French culture, different from other cities in West Bengal. Indo-French architecture is seen in the colonial bungalows, most of which are in a dilapidated state.

History

The First Director of the French East India Company, Deslandes paid 40,000 coins to the Mughal subahdar in 1688 to gain control of the area and build a factory there. But Du Plessis was the first Frenchman to possess any subsequent land holding in this area and bought land at Boro Kishanganj, now located at North .

The prosperity of Chandannagar as a French colony started soon after. The army consisted of 130 foot soldiers, 20 among them were Indians. The Fort de Orleans was constructed in the year 1696-97 and was better defended than its French and British counterparts. After the initial success the French trade languished due to the lax policy of its Directors.

In 1730 Joseph François Dupleix was appointed governor of the city, during whose administration more than two thousand brick houses were built in the town and a considerable trade was carried on. The population of the city reached to be around a lakh at this time. From Dupleix’s time to 1756, Chandannagar was the main center for European commerce in Bengal. The city had centres of trade involving opium, indigo, silk, rice, rope, sugar, etc. The fine clothes of Chandannagar were exported to Europe.

In 1756 war broke out between France and Great Britain, and Colonel Robert Clive of the British East India Company and Admiral Charles Watson of the British Navy bombarded and captured Chandannagar on 23 March 1757. The town’s fortifications and many houses were demolished, and Chandannagar’s importance as a commercial center was eclipsed by that of Calcutta situated down river. Chandannagar was restored to the French in 1763, but retaken by the British in 1794 in the Napoleonic Wars. The city was returned to France in 1816, and was governed as part of French India until 1850, under the political control of the governor-general in Pondicherry. By 1900 the town’s former commercial importance was gone, and it was little more than a quiet suburb of Calcutta, with a population of 25,000. But it was noted for its clean wide thoroughfares, with many elegant residences along the riverbank.

Like the other three French occupied colonies of India, Chandernagore was under Pondicherry. There was only one Governor for the entire French India. He lived in the principal city of Pondicherry, from time to time he would visit the colonies. There was one Administrator under the Governor in each colony. Though there were courts and magistrates here, a separate judge used to come from Pondicherry for session trials. There was a High court in Pondicherry for filing an appeal.

India became independent from Britain in 1947. In June 1948 the French Government held a plebiscite which found that 97% of Chandannagar’s residents wished to become part of India. In May 1950, the French allowed the Indian government to assume control over Chandannagar, officially ceding the city to India on 2 February 1951


Sharanya Alva

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