Legend Of the Lost - Story of Senate House, Calcutta
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LEGEND OF THE LOST – The Senate House

The generation born in Calcutta after the 1960s, may not be aware about the existence of an elegant structure in the city known as Senate House. But there was a time when this graceful building stood before the water body of the Gol Dighi (College Square) as a symbolic temple with the mission of spreading higher education in undivided Bengal.

Old Picture of College Square with The Senate Hall and Sanskrit College
Old Picture of College Square with The Senate Hall and Sanskrit College

It was January 24, 1857, when the University of Calcutta was founded with a Senate of .41 members. As per the date of foundation, it is supposed to be the first institution in South Asia to be established as a multidisciplinary and secular Western style university, with a catchment area from Lahore to Rangoon, and Ceylon. The Syndicate of the Calcutta University started functioning on 30 January 1858 and the first meeting of the Senate was held in the Council room of the Calcutta Medical College,  since it did not have any office of its own till then. After that, the office of the university temporarily started in a few rented rooms in Camac Street. The meetings of the Senate and Syndicate were also held in a room in the Writers’ building for several years even afterwards. The old records indicate that the first school leaving examination, known as Entrance Examination, under  the university was held in March 1857 in the Town Hall of Calcutta with 244 examinees.

The Senate House - 1910
The Senate House – 1910

In 1862, a decision was taken by the Senate to construct a building for the university. Accordingly the classical styled Senate House building was constructed at a cost of Rs. 2,52,221/- and was formally inaugurated on the convocation day of the university on 12 March 1873. The beautiful building with tall Corinthian pillars was designed by a leading Victorian architect, Walter B. Granville, who was also the architect of the Calcutta High Court, General Post Office and St. James Church. In fact, the building was so splendid that the picture of the Senate House of Calcutta, with its palatial portico and majestic pillars, can be found even today in many books on history, architecture and even education. It was used for Senate meetings, housed the official chamber of the Vice-Chancellor, offices of the Registrar and also used as examination and lecture halls. Even it was the venue of the first edition of the All Bengal Music conference held on 27th December 1934.  In the same year there was a  proposal to establish an art gallery and museum in connection with post-graduate studies in Ancient Indian History and Culture. The proposal was materialized in 1937 when the Asutosh Museum of Indian Art was opened in the Western Hall of the Senate House.

In fact, since the inaugural, The Senate House remained as the most visible symbol of the University and one of the distinguished landmarks of the city of palaces until the building was brutally demolished in 1960.

The Demolition Process Of The Senate House
The Demolition Process Of The Senate House
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.

6 thoughts on “LEGEND OF THE LOST – The Senate House

  1. I have always heard about this structure from my parents. My mother used to mention that this building was imposing and gave the entire College Street area its distinctive character and glory. With the breaking down of The Senate House part of our history was also demolished and wiped out. Your article has mentioned little known facts about the first few years of the Senate and how the meetings were held. The Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art also started in the Western Hall of the Senate House. It was pleasant reading and thank you for the details.

    1. Thank you very much for your commendable comment.. Shall expect more such comments from you about my other stories in the series with your valuable suggestions, if any.

  2. The Communist Revolution happened to be one of the tragedy of Bengal killing both industrial development and intellectual development and give rise to something I like to call “pseudo-intellects”. I would have loved to see the Senate Building as it is part of our history. Having said that , here is where my love ends. I don’t like to see the glorification of the colonial empire in India. It was an oppressive regime force-feeding racial history in our society and appropriating existing system that existed in the country. I am also vehemently against the Mamata vision of turning this city into some sort of Gothic palace by introducing British Gothic architecture in the form of the hideous Big Ben tower. What I would like to see a revival of the Bengal Architecture before the Colonial era, the revival of terracotta tiles and long arches making up for new universities. Why can’t we revive a culture that existed for 6 centuries instead of this love for colonial buildings ? I have noticed this nature amongst many Bengalis where they praise those who oppressed them . I have no problem in saving the colonial architecture of Bengal with the cutting edge technology but that should remain at that . No more addition of new colonised buildings. Why can’t the real estate owners revive a neo-Vedic or neo-Bengal architecture.? Why sit for concrete and glass boxes. It is awful to see that. Also , why is the present Government content with just whitewashing white walls and redwashing the red brick monuments ?

  3. While we take the opportunity to thank you for your long and thoughtful comment on the feature about the Senate House, we would like to bring your kind notice to the following facts, which we feel, should be considered before making any controversial comment based on a biased attitude.
    Please note that, we do not have any intention to glorify the colonial rule in India and to the best of our knowledge nowhere in the story the so called glorification is reflected. We only intended to produce the history of a beautiful building, a distinguished landmark of the city, which was brutally and unwisely demolished without a second thought. The façade of the massive building with tall majestic pillars looked almost like a temple of Greece, which had nothing to do with the prevailing architectural style of the British Isles.
    In this connection please also note that, during those early days, apart from the forts and a few palaces of the Hindu Kings, most of the important structures of North and Central India were constructed with distinctive Islamic influence. At best they can be termed as Indo- saracenic architecture, which is not really pure Indian. However, during those early days of British regime, Bengal had its separate style of architecture, as you have rightly mentioned, Ekchala, Dochala or Aatchala structures. Well, how can you possibly imagine reviving that type of space consuming architecture to replace the modern space saving and accommodative type of buildings in small plots, is really beyond our imagination.
    Lastly, we strongly believe that heritage is a fine combination of culture and history and that should be conserved and preserved carefully. By demolishing buildings and changing names of the roads and localities, you cannot change your history, cannot erase your past.

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