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INSTITUTIONS FOR HIGHER EDUCATION IN COLONIAL CALCUTTA – Presidency College

Presidency College Calcutta main Entrance

In the early days the indigenous primary schools of Bengal used to teach only Bengali, simple Arithmetic and Sanskrit. The ‘tolls’ or the local small schools run by individuals, imparted lessons in advanced Sanskrit grammar and literature, theology, logic and metaphysics. But the enlightened Indians of the period, like Raja Rammohun Roy, felt that this process of teaching and learning does not have any practical implication and English should be taught to the young generation for interaction with the British businessmen.

In fact, many Hindu parents, while fully comprehending the usefulness of English education, were skeptical about sending their boys to English missionary schools, where they were subjected to considerable religious influence. They felt insecure having seen how the Christian missionaries were tactfully shaking the faith of Hindu boys in the name of imparting higher English education.

During the early nineteenth century there was a distinct intellectual and cultural awakening in the enlightened section of the Bengal Society, known as Bengal Renaissance.The plan of imparting English education by David Hare – one of the most prominent educationists in Bengal – received the general approval of that enlightened society. Immediately, a committee was formed, fund was raised and finally, on a wintry morning of January 20, 1817, a batch of 20 male students hailing from affluent and enlightened Bengali Hindu families of Kolkata, came together at the rented house of Gorachand Basak at 304 Chitpur Road, marking the first working day of Hindu School. Between the year 1817 and 1823, the school had to shift from Basak’s house at Garanhata  to the house of Roopchand Roy in Chitpur Road, and thereafter to the house of Firinghi Kamal Bose, at 51 Upper Chitpur Road. Finally, In 1825, with the help of the British Government, a school building was built at the north of Goldighi (now known as College Square) on a plot of land donated by David Hare.

Established in 1817, Hindu school is the oldest western-type school in India and one of the oldest existing schools in Asia. Since the days of the British era, this institution has been nicknamed as the Eton of the East for its academic excellence.

The Hindu College was originally divided into two wings – a school  or Pathshala, which used to teach basic English, Bangla, Grammar and Arithmetic to the students under the age of 14, and a college or Mahapathshala for imparting modern subjects to the young adults. At the initial stage, the Hindu school was established in 1817, as Hindu College. However, In 1855, the Pathsala part of Hindu College became Hindu School and the Mahapathsala part came to be known as Presidency College and it became a Government Institution. Therefore, date of establishment of Hindu College is considered as the establishment date of both Hindu school and Presidency College. However, it was only in 1944 that girls were permitted to join the college. Since then, the college has been a coeducational institution.

Presidency College Calcutta - Clock Tower
Presidency College Calcutta – Clock Tower

The campus of the College was developed gradually. While the main building was built in 1875, the clock tower was added towards the end of the nineteenth century. The building which housed the Baker Laboratory and the science departments was built in 1913. The combined campus of the Hare School and the Presidency College has two common playgrounds. There is a statue of David Hare in the complex, which is always properly maintained.

It should be mentioned here that, on the 7th July of 2010, the Legislature of West Bengal conferred the status of a full University on Presidency College, in recognition of its rich heritage of academic excellence.

Presidency College Calcutta - The Corridor
Presidency College Calcutta – The Corridor
Presidency College Calcutta - The Staircase
Presidency College Calcutta – The Staircase

Presidency College is all set to celebrate its bicentenary during January 2017. Ridiculously, last Wednesday, the 14th December 2016, its heritage gate was demolished to make way for the fire brigade.

Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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