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.
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.
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.