Shakespeare’s Juliet might have said, “What’s in a name?” but I’d argue there is much ado with names. Names are something you carry with you from the moment you are born and continue to bear even when you are no more in this earthly realm. Whether it’s an embarrassing nickname or a unique first name, one must carry that burden or gift throughout their life. One ought to respond to something (their name) that they never chose, the same way Pavlov’s dogs responded when they heard the bell.
However, names have so much history and legacy intertwined within them. A surname like Tagore can signify a glorious heritage while a name like Rahul can carry a small personal history of how a boy was named after his father’s favorite cricketer. It is not just names of fellow humans but names of everything around us that carry historical contexts within them. Today we explore the history behind the names of some of the most famous streets in Kolkata and how its genesis is interwoven with the glory days of Bengal and also its colonial history.
From the transformation of Kolikata to Calcutta and finally, to Kolkata, each alteration in the nomenclature of this captivating city unveils a fascinating narrative. It comes as no shock, then, that the very names of numerous streets in the capital of Bengal, once a reigning seat of the British Raj, possess the power to narrate riveting tales. While a lot has changed in this fast-paced modern world, some of the names of Kolkata’s boulevards, which are centuries old, have remained the same. While just like some of us has had our names changed by affidavit, similarly, some of these iconic streets have been renamed over the years. In a city that breathes nostalgia, the nook and cranny of every street has a story to tell.
I. Ho Chi Minh Sarani
Originally christened Harrington Street by the British, this thoroughfare underwent a transformation during the Vietnam War. The then ruling state party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) renamed the street after the Vietnamese revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh Sarani, who served as both Prime Minister and President of North Vietnam, to symbolically align themselves with their communist counterparts. This new name was assigned by the Bengali's Communist Government at the height of the Vietnam War as a symbolic protest because the street houses the American Consulate.
II. Duel Avenue
Duel Avenue is the present-day location of the Kolkata Armed Police Headquarters and it derives its name from the infamous battleground of the 1780 Hastings-Francis duel. This duel unfolded amidst a bitter dispute between Warren Hastings, the inaugural governor of the Bengal Presidency, and Philip Francis, a prominent member of the Bengal Supreme Council, each staunchly defending their conflicting policies. The confrontation culminated in a fateful exchange of gunfire, leaving Francis wounded but resilient. However, it was Hastings who ultimately emerged victorious, triumphing over his adversary in subsequent impeachment proceedings.
Seeking an abundance of market stalls and budget-friendly treasures? Look no further than Hatibagan, the ultimate destination for all wandering shopaholics. Unbeknownst to many, the origins of this bustling shopping hub harbor an intriguing tale. During Nawab Siraj-ud-daula's attack on Kolkata, his mighty elephants were stationed in this very vicinity. In Bengali, the words Hati means 'elephant' and bagan means 'garden'. Another lesser-known anecdote suggests that a man named Hati once owned a grand villa adorned with blooming gardens and vibrant flowers until it was acquired by Mehtab Chand Mullick, who subsequently transformed the space into a thriving marketplace.
IV. Bow Bazar
According to local lore, during the era of haughty zamindars, this vibrant locale served as a hub for hiring singers, dancers, and traders. Alternatively, another tale recounts Bow Bazar as a cherished dowry bestowed upon the daughter-in-law of Viswanath Matilal, a figure of notable stature. Regrettably, historians have yet to unearth conclusive evidence surrounding the latter narrative, leaving the mystery of Bow Bazar's origin tantalizingly unresolved.
Once upon a time, the region near Esplanade and Dalhousie pulsated with religious fervor. Initially christened Wellington by The Bombay Gazette, this enchanting locale soon earned the moniker Dharmatalla for reasons as conspicuous as they were sacred. Nestled on the corner of Chowranghee, one finds the majestic Tipu Sultan Mosque, a testament to the architectural opulence bestowed by Prince Gholam Mohammad, son of Tipu Sultan. Historians also posit that the name might have stemmed from the presence of Buddhist trinities who once resided in the vicinity. However, the prevailing narrative attributes the nomenclature to the disciples of Dharmathakur, a revered religious teacher, who established his ashram here. Among his devoted followers were notable individuals like Haris and Dom, lending an aura of religious influence to this medieval Dharmatalla.
VI. Jessore Road
Stretching across the vast expanse between India and Bangladesh, Jessore Road draws its name from the historic town of Jessore nestled within Bangladesh's Khulna district, where this thoroughfare finds its culmination. Its existence can be traced back to at least the 12th century when it served as a strategic route for Turkish forces launching attacks on Bengal. However, Jessore Road gained widespread recognition in the Western world through the evocative verses of acclaimed American poet Allen Ginsberg. His renowned work, "September on Jessore Road," shed light on the harrowing plight of East Bengali refugees in the aftermath of the tumultuous 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
VII. Bibadi Bag
Embark on a bus ride during the bustling office hours, and you will witness a throng of weary commuters bound for the enigmatic Bibadi Bag. Once known as Dalhousie, a homage to the colonial conqueror, this iconic locale encompasses one of Kolkata's most historically significant landmarks—the Writer's Building. Within its storied walls resides a tale of unwavering patriotism, courage, and martyrdom. It was here that three young revolutionaries, Binay, Badal, and Dinesh, fearlessly infiltrated, cold-bloodedly assassinating the Police Inspector General. Faced with the imminent threat of capture, they opted for the ultimate sacrifice, embracing martyrdom. In a tribute to their valiant spirits, the government of West Bengal bestowed upon this historic site the name "Bibadi Bag," derived from the initials of these heroic souls.
VIII. Lovelock Street
Set aside any notions of a Valentine's Day rendezvous or tales of star-crossed lovers, for the story of Lovelock Street is steeped in the rich history of British colonial influence. Named in honor of the esteemed businessman Arthur Samuel Lovelock, a partner of the renowned Lovelock & Lewis Co., India’s first audit firm, this thoroughfare carries the weight of a distinguished legacy. Following Lovelock's untimely demise on November 18, 1903, the community mourned his loss and paid homage by christening the street with his illustrious name, forever immortalizing his entrepreneurial prowess and enduring contribution.
IX. Ezra Street
Nestled between the bustling thoroughfares of Brabourne Road and Rabindra Sarani, lies the distinguished Ezra Street, a testament to the influential legacy of the Ezra family. In the bygone era of the British Raj, these Jewish magnates, David and Elia Ezra, not only amassed wealth but also championed the cause of education for young girls in their locality. Their philanthropic endeavors spanned the construction of schools and the creation of architecturally splendid abodes such as the Esplanade Mansion and the Chowanghee Building. Today, as one traverses this storied lane, the echoes of the renowned Jewish family's name evoke a sense of nostalgia and a glimpse into a bygone era.
X. Sudder Street
Located next to the Indian Museum it is named after the Sudder Dewany Court, established by the British in 1772, where people who lived outside Kolkata but within the Bengal Presidency sought legal remedies. The street is also home to the Hotel Plaza. The plaza was once a residential property where the poet Rabindranath Tagore composed Nirjharer Swapna Bhanga while staying with Jyotindranath Tagore and Kadambari Devi. At present, Sudder Street is famous for its cheap hotels, wonderful eateries, small and unique shops, and housing foreign tourists.
XI. Park Street
During the jubilant Christmas and New Year festivities, Park Street illuminates with an ineffable charm. Adorned with renowned bakeries, elegant churches, and stately mansions, this iconic thoroughfare possesses an allure of its own. However, few are aware that Park Street underwent a metamorphosis and now bears the name of Mother Teresa Sarani. Initially christened after the Deer Park of Sir Elijah, who served as the Chief Justice of Kolkata from 1783 to 1789, this beloved street embraces a new identity intertwined with the essence of compassion and service epitomized by the revered Mother Teresa.
XII. Shakespeare Sarani
Since the era of Girish Ghosh, the pioneering figure in Bengali Theatre, this beautiful road was known as Theatre Road. It is now known as Shakespeare Sarani since it was renamed in 1964 to celebrate the fourth birth centenary of the legendary English playwright. Over the years, it has witnessed the staging of countless iconic plays. The street was once the home to the illustrious Calcutta Theatre from 1813 to 1839. This revered space in the heart of Shakespeare Sarani, unfortunately, succumbed to the ravages of a tragic fire and was never rebuilt, leaving a void in the city’s theatrical landscape.
XIII. Prince Anwar Shah Road
Imbued with regal history, Prince Anwar Shah Road pays tribute to the illustrious Prince Gulam Mohammed Anwar Ali Shah, one of the twelve sons of the revered Tipu Sultan. Following the demise of his father in 1799, Prince Anwar Shah found himself exiled to this very area. As a poignant memorial to his father's legacy, the prince commissioned the construction of a grand mosque at the entrance of this road in 1835. Today, Prince Anwar Shah Road also hosts one of the city’s first malls, the South City Mall, built on the site of the abandoned Usha factory that once produced ceiling fans.
XIV. JBS Haldane Avenue
Proudly bearing the name of esteemed British scientist JBS Haldane, the eponymous avenue stands as a testament to his profound contributions. Haldane, having assumed leadership of the Biometry unit at the Indian Statistical Unit in Kolkata during the 1950s, sought to revolutionize scientific understanding within the city. However, disillusioned with the bureaucratic constraints of Bengal, Haldane heeded the call of Biju Patnaik, then the Chief Minister of Odisha, and relocated to the vibrant state. The presence of the iconic Science City within this avenue, aptly named in homage to the disenchanted genius, serves as a poignant reminder of Kolkata's brain drain during that era.
XV. Camac Street
For those in search of an upscale venue to celebrate weddings or host lavish parties, Camac Street stands as the epitome of niche sophistication. During the days of Lord Cornwallis and Lord Wellesley, a prosperous merchant by the name of William Camac resided here, amassing substantial wealth through the trade of Indian products in Britain. Over time, this resplendent street underwent a transformation, now bearing the name Abanindranath Thakur Sarani, an homage to the renowned artist Abanindranath Thakur.
XVI. Beadon Street
Nestled in the vibrant tapestry of north Kolkata, Beadon Street draws its name from the distinguished Sir Cecil Beadon, who served as the lieutenant-governor of the Bengal Presidency from 1862 to 1866. It was during Beadon's tenure that the esteemed Calcutta High Court was established, unifying various legal institutions under one roof. While the street has now been officially designated Abhedananda Sarani, paying homage to the esteemed disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the legacy of Sir Cecil Beadon endures as a significant marker of Kolkata's historical narrative. The Chaitanya Library, a veritable treasury of antiquarian books, proudly graces the hallowed Beadon Street, embodying the city's rich literary heritage.
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